A new day, a new interview. Today’s is with C. D. Gallant-King, the author behind semi-finalist Hell Comes to Hogtown in Fantasy Book Critic.
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
I’m a Canadian husband, father of two, and a writer of fantasy/horror/speculative fiction/etc, all with a comic bent. In fact, I’ll write just about anything as long as I can make it funny. I honestly believe that all forms of genre fiction – SFF/romance/mystery/western/self-help – are all inherently ridiculous and have a limitless breadth of comic fodder to be abused. I also believe that “serious literary fiction” is too pretentious and doesn’t have a sense of humour, so why bother?
How do you develop your plots and characters?
I generally pick a few important plot points I need to hit, and then develop the characters and let them find their way there. I find it more natural, and a lot more fun, to let the characters grow on their own and dictate the story. When I outline and structure the story too much, I find it always comes off stilted and forced. To develop the characters I give them one or two interesting features/quirks and then let them grow by interacting with their world and the other characters around them. I don’t generally like a ton of backstory when I start; again, I find that too limiting. I like to throw odd elements together and just see what happens. For instance: What happens when a sad-sack comic book store manager and a womanizing pro-wrestler face off against a bloodthirsty demon hobo? Read Hell Comes to Hogtown to find out!
Tell us about your current project.
I’ve got a few things I’m working on. The big one is a sequel to said story about the comic book store manager and the wrestler, tentatively entitled Hell Comes Back 2 Hogtown. It’s a bit of a trick because I’ve always imagined a sequel for Hogtown and I had a rough outline in my head, but the original was so absurd and irreverent that it’s tricky to maintain that feeling while adhering to specific plot goals. Will I be able to pull it off? Stay tuned.
I’m also always working on my series of comic fantasy stories, Werebear vs. Landopus. I avoid the traps of balancing absurdity vs. plot by just making each subsequent entry more ridiculous than the last. They’re full of crude language, over-the-top violence and black humour, as well as just weird nonsense. The cast rotates, but you can look forward to vengeful heroes, disgusting dwarves who make weapons out of garbage, berserk angry hobbits, monster trainers who fight with vampiric chickens, and a gun-toting nun out to spread the Good Word of the Gunpowder God. Trust me, it gets harder and harder to top the insanity of each story.
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
The main character of Hell Comes to Hogtown is Fitz – a thirty-something university drop-out working as the night manager in a comic book store. He has no girlfriend, no money, no prospects, and his best friend is a drugged-out, womanizing small-time pro-wrestler who keeps getting into trouble. His life gets completely turned upside down when an other-worldly monster shows up in his shop, and then he and his buddy are framed for kidnapping the prime minister’s wife.
Fitz is a fun character because he is a total loser and nothing he does turns out right. I don’t like characters who are awesome heroes who always do the right thing and have a ton of skills, gear or magic to get them through any situation. I like someone who finds themselves in a tough spot, and trying to solve it only puts themselves and others into worse situations. Everyone loves an underdog. It makes it so much more rewarding if they eventually succeed, and even more crushing if they fail.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
Number 1: Just write. Don’t worry about the details. Too many new writers get bogged down with word counts, plot summaries, marketing and branding strategies (for a book that doesn’t exist yet), and worst of all, extensive world-building that doesn’t matter a shit if there’s no story. Just write the story. Finish it. If at all possible, have fun with it. All the other stuff comes later, and again, none of it matters if you don’t finish the story.
Number 2: Don’t listen to advice from anyone, least of all a self-admitted hack who is in no way qualified to be giving advice.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
Hell Comes to Hogtown is set in modern day Toronto, Ontario, Canada, so obviously all the inspirations comes from real locations in the area. A few people and places are fictionalized, but there are also plenty of real history and locales mentioned. As for the supernatural parts, I try to base my monsters and baddies on lesser-known legends and myths, avoiding the overly-used stereotypes of vampires, werewolves, fairies and the like. Minor spoiler alert: the villain in Hogtown is (hopefully) not what you or the characters think that it is. The monster(s) in my new book will be equally obscure and hopefully modified in new and unexpected ways.
What inspires you to write?
I have to write, I don’t need to wait for inspiration. You might as well ask what inspires me to keep breathing, or going to the bathroom.
As for where my ideas come from, that could be anywhere. From other books, from situations or conversations I have in real life, from movies, from weird things that my kids say. It doesn’t take much to spark an idea. Over time, as that idea rolls around in my head, it will bump into other ideas and either get replaced or grow into a bigger, more involved story. For instance, maybe someone will jokingly mention on a podcast that there should be more stories about werebears fighting land octopuses. And my niece playing Pokemon will get me thinking about monster trainers. And me thinking about the worst choices you could possibly have to make and imaging having to choose between sacrificing your wife and unborn child to save yourself otherwise all of you will die, only for her to announce at the last second that it’s not your child, and then cut off your arm in order to kill herself and save you.
And then, because it’s me, I mash all those ideas together and make it a comedy.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The hardest part of Hell Comes to Hogtown was because I wrote it without an outline, when I got to the end it didn’t have much of a narrative structure. The pacing was all messed up and certain scenes didn’t make sense and elements like character motivations and causation were all over the place. I actually wrote an outline AFTER I finished the first draft, and then had to move scenes around, add and cut significantly in order to smooth everything else and make it make sense. In the end I think it turned out as a better book, because I got the phase of writing whatever fun scenes I could think without being constrained by set goals and plot, but it took me way longer, and was a lot more work, than it would have if I had been working from a proper outline to begin with.
Funny story: Learning from that lesson, before writing Hogtown 2 I wrote out a long and detailed outline. Then I couldn’t touch it for 2 years because I was so stymied by the rigid structure that I didn’t want to write it. Plus, I knew how it ended and where was the fun in that? So I’ve basically had to throw it all out and start over.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
The early scenes between Fitz and Dee (the wrestler) were probably my favourite. I love back-and-forth quick dialogue, and because they have such a weird and contentious relationship it was a lot of fun. Dee is a crude and horrible person (at least on the surface), and he says some terrible, offensive things. He’s also the only person the otherwise awkward and introverted Fitz will talk back to, so their conversations often quickly and hilariously devolve into shouting matches. They kinda sound like a grumpy old couple. An obscene, mutually-abusive old couple. They love each other in their own way and at the same time they can’t stand each other, but because no one else will have them they’re kinda stuck with one another.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
I learned lots from Hell Comes to Hogtown. Not only did I learned I should probably have at least a modicum of an outline before I start, I also learned that I have more fun if I don’t. It’s just something I have to decide before I start a project. I also learned how to work with an editor (Amy Allen-Macleod is great, if anyone is looking for a freelance editor you should check her out – https://amyallenmacleod.com/). This was also the first book I wrote with the express knowledge that I was going to self-publish it before I started. Other things I’ve written just for fun, or for friends and family members, or maybe I thought I might send this to some agents/publishers. But with this one, I knew eyes were going to see it (hopefully a lot of them) so I wanted to make it as good as I could, and I wanted to do it right. I knew it wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but I wrote a book that I would enjoy if I picked it up, and that I would be proud of me to read if I did (if that makes any sense).
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
For some of my characters, I guess there’s a little bit of me in them. Fitz, for instance, has a lot of my insecurities, but turned up 1000%. So I start by thinking about how I might react in a situation, but then pushing it to the extreme.
In cases where I don’t relate directly to the character, you can understand and develop them by creating a couple of very clear motivations or aspects that define them. By having that, and always keeping that in mind, it’s easier to understand how they will react in any situation. For instance with Dee, I usually ask “what’s the most obscene or derogatory thing I could say in this situation?” and go from there. It works best when you have a motivation as well as another behaviour/disposition/trait that dictates how the character goes after that goal. For instance, if you know a character really wants to eat pineapple and only pineapple, and is generally a conniving and selfish person, you can come up with lots of ways that this person will try to take pineapples from other people, probably without much thought of how taking those pineapples hurts others, as well as ways they will try to avoid eating anything other than pineapples. From there, you start to explore WHY they love pineapples so much (if they’re a major character), or maybe why they hate all other types of food.
I’ve suddenly got a craving for a Pina colada.
What are your future project(s)?
I have ideas for more stories than years left in my life to write them.
This year, I will have short stories featured in two anthologies, STRANGELY FUNNY VI from Mystery & Horror (http://www.mysteryandhorrorllc.com/) and MASQUERADE: ODDLY SUITED from Dancing Lemur Press (http://www.dancinglemurpressllc.com/). Strangely Funny is a series of collections featuring comic supernatural and horror tales, so my writing fits perfectly there. This is my third year in a row one of my stories was selected. MASQUERADE, on the other hand, is a collection of Young Adult Romance. I don’t have a fucking clue how I got into that one.
Truth be told, I like dabbling in other genres. I’ve been itching to write some sci-fi/space opera, and I think I might have a western in me. As long as I can make them funny, of course. I would write children’s books but I would get too many angry letters from parents.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
A game designer. Preferably of table-top role-playing games, but I like making board games and video games, too. Game design is similar to writing in many ways. In some ways I even prefer it to writing, because games also feature a lot of input from the players, and the stories can change and evolve based on their interactions with the world you’ve created, instead of being forever frozen in set space and time.
Yeah, being a game designer would be fun. Either that or a forensic actuary.
What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
I am over the moon whenever a reader contacts me by any method, so please feel free to reach out at any of the locations below:
My mother-in-law’s house
My phone number is on the wall of the middle stall in the men’s room at the downtown Toronto bus terminal