Sunday, April 11, 2021

Dan Stout

Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes noir with a twist of magic and a disco chaser. Stout's stories have appeared in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post and Nature. He is the author of The Carter Archives, a series of noir fantasy novels from DAW Books.

The new title in The Carter Archives is Titan Song.

My Q&A with Stout:

What's in a name?

I love this question. There is so much in a name, and my thoughts about character names changes with what stage the manuscript is in.

First, there’s the process of finding a name that works during the drafting process. This is really for me, in the very early stages. I spend a great deal of time trying on different options before settling on character names. Names have a “feel” to them, and I can be working with a character for a while, trying to find their voice, and then I change their name and immediately they start taking on a different persona.

But I also have to make sure that readers will recognize and remember the names. You can have great characters, but if they’re named Stan, Steve, and Steph, most readers will struggle to keep them separate.

On top of all that, Titan Song is a blend of fantasy and noir mystery. To pull off that combo, I need to deliver a mix of elements from both genres. I can use names to underscore each of those core genres, such as by mixing common 21st Century names with unusual variations or period names to emphasize the otherworldliness of the setting.

Finally, sometimes names are just fun! In Titanshade, all the male members of a specific species have names that begin with A. That’s a bit of worldbuilding that started as me poking fun at myself for giving characters' names that were too similar.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

I’m pretty sure my teenage self would give me the highest of fives!

When I was a teenager, I saw a book with cover art that clearly was blending noir and high fantasy. I wasn’t able to buy it at the time, but that idea always stuck with me. I think that teenaged Dan would be proud to know that a few decades down the line, he’d be writing his own take on that concept.

Honestly, finding the joy in writing has a lot to do with finding the overlap in who I am now and who I was at different points, whether I was 15, 25, or 35. All those versions of me wouldn’t agree on much, but the things that we do agree on? Those are deeply held beliefs, and I think the passion comes through in my writing.

(At the same time, if my teenage self saw my modern author photo, he’d be a lot more appreciative of that full head of hair he's got…)

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

The honest answer is that it depends. I’ve written three books, and for two of them, the beginnings flowed out effortlessly, while for the other it was pretty painful going. I’m still early enough in my career that I’m learning what makes the difference between those two states, and how to use that knowledge to make my life a little easier.

On the other hand, endings are always fun. I like to know the ending of the story before I get too far into the book, so that I can set the trajectory of all the various moving parts. Also, I write sequentially, so by the time I get to the end, it’s been a long, difficult process, and writing those final scenes is a moment of great catharsis.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Oh, man! Everything influences me. I’m a sponge, soaking up details and holding them against each other, looking for conflicts and contradictions, the kind of thing that creates inherent tension in a character and on the page. The news is definitely an influence, but not just the headlines – I love science news and sports.

Film noir is definitely an influence on Titan Song, as well as my writing in general. Individual books are greatly influenced by music, and I often hang a photo or painting over my desk that encapsulates the emotion I’m striving for in a book or specific scene.

My spouse is a theatre person, and we spend hours watching television, film, and stage plays, then unpacking the storytelling craft to see what we thought did or didn’t work.

I keep a bookshelf filled with my journals and scrapbooks, and everything I find of interest gets pasted in on their pages. Whenever I need a jolt of inspiration I know that I can always riffle through those pages and find something that will inspire me.

And honestly, those are just the first things that spring to mind. I've drawn on everything from hikes in the park to old Soviet propaganda posters for inspiration, and hopefully I'll be able to keep drawing on the things around me for more books in the years to come.
Visit Dan Stout's website.

My Book, The Movie: Titanshade.

The Page 69 Test: Titanshade.

The Page 69 Test: Titan's Day.

My Book, The Movie: Titan's Day.

--Marshal Zeringue