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Interview: Anton Strout: Strange Talents, Bureaucracy and New York City by Drew Bittner
Review by Drew Bittner
Interview  
Date: 28 January 2009

Links: Review: Deader Still / Review: Dead to Me / Anton Strout Website /

In Dead to Me, Simon Canderous turned away from a life of petty crime, and now uses his singular talent to help the good guys. Simon is a psychometric, able to read the history of an object by touch; this proves to be an amazingly helpful tool in investigating weird crimes. And New York City has plenty of weird crime.

Now, in Deader Still, author Anton Strout shows that the past is never really gone… and Simon's talents may be put to an impossible test when he faces off against three Illinois gypsies, a psychotic ex-girlfriend and the remnants of a really nasty cult. SFRevu caught up with Anton to ask about the series, where Simon came from and where he's going.

SFRevu: Anton, thanks for doing this interview. First off, for those who may not have read the books, who is Simon and what does he do?

Anton Strout: Simon Canderous is just this mid-twenties guy, you know? He used to do bad things with his touchy-feely powers, but a brush with the law kind of knocked the wind out of his sails on that front. Now he tries to do good working for Other Division, which is a caseload catch-all branch of the Department of Extraordinary Affairs.

SFRevu: What is the Department of Extraordinary Affairs all about?

Anton: They're a Manhattan-based agency that polices paranormal activity in the five boroughs of New York City. They're a bit underfunded, understaffed and bogged down in office politics, paperwork and red tape. The entire operation is hidden behind The Lovecraft Cafe, which is part coffee house/cinema located in the Village.

SFRevu: Simon's partner Connor has been in this game a lot longer. In a way, the two are a classic cop partnership.

Anton: Yeah, the seasoned pro/rookie combo has been around for years. It's a Joseph Campbellian Power of Myth Master/Apprentice thingie going on. Of course, given the nature of paranormal activity, the lifespan of most agents is relatively short, so anyone who lasts more than five years in the field kind of earns the Master role. Connor's about ten years older than Simon, but in DEA years, that makes Connor Obi-Wan to Simon's Luke.

SFRevu: Simon has a love life as well. Jane is not quite your everyday girlfriend, is she?

Anton: I guess it depends on what definition of "everyday" you're used to. Let's see, she's an ex-temp for a cultists rights organization, dabbles in arcana with a penchant for technomancy, used to stalk around on rooftops spying on Simon... fun girl.

SFRevu: Deader Still has two main narrative threads—-Simon's problems with Mina, his ex-girlfriend, and what looks like a vampire attack on a boatload of lawyers. Is this really the worst week of Simon's life or is it fairly typical?

Anton: For Simon, I'd say its more of a worst week scenario, because usually his day job with the DEA doesn't cross over with elements of his criminal past. Mina rolls into town and sort of shakes up his personal life while he's trying to deal with a fairly typical but overwhelming caseload.

Extraordinary is in the Department's name, so a lot of this is par for the course for him... although it has been about two years since there's been any vampiric activity in Manhattan.

SFRevu: The book has its share of puns as well, from "Inspectre" Quimbley to the mysterious "Enchancellors" who oversee the Department to the "Fraternal Order of Goodness" itself. It seems pretty clear that you're going for a very unconventional urban fantasy, both in character and workplace.

Anton: There's a lot of urban fantasy out there... most of it seemingly of the dark nature, but no one was telling the type of stories I wanted to read, so that's why I write what I write.

I got a little bored by the kick ass heroine archetype that is so prevalent in our genre these days. I wanted to do something about fairly normal people coping with things that normally would snap the average persons mind if they ever encountered them.

I remember how I used to cope with the dark madness of the paranormal when playing the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game: with a little humor, because when something horrible is shambling towards you in the dark of night, you either laugh or cry. I choose laughter.

SFRevu: Were there any inspirations, books or movies, etc. that led to creating Simon?

Anton: I'm a huge fan of the Whedonverse and Buffy, and I miss that mix of paranormal and the funny. Douglas Adams and his books influenced me a lot, as well as Robert Asprin and his Myth-Adventures series of traditional fantasy books.

Also, I was watching Ghostbusters again the other day and I was like "Ohhhh, that's where a lot of my style comes from!"

Specific to Simon, he comes from this short story character in The World According to Garp by John Irving. There's this piano player who has magic gloves that allow him to magically fix things, but he can't ever feel anything. That got me thinking about power and limits it could have on having a life or developing feelings.

In Simon I have a hero who, with a touch of his hand, can read the history of and feel everything about the past of someone. It's ruined every relationship he ever had. Now he's getting better at controlling it, but he still chooses to wear gloves to block it all out.

SFRevu: Do you see Simon having a definite story arc? Will we reach a "last great adventure" for Simon, Connor and Jane?

Anton: The series isn't a trilogy per se, but there are elements of the first book that play out through the third book in the series, due out March 2010.

There's also a fourth under contract that's a standalone, but there are a whole lot of tales still to be told from the archives at the Department of Extraordinary Affairs. My secret desire is to do a historical biography of Benjamin Franklin, Necromancer.

SFRevu: I know it's early, since Deader Still is just about to come out, but what will Simon be doing next?

Anton: Well, while most things are resolved in Deader Still, there are a few, shall we say, cliffhangers at the end of the book. The next book will pick up several months after the conclusion of certain events in Deader Still. It's shaping up to be a keen little romp through New York City. I'm having a hell of a lot of fun writing it.

SFRevu: Now tell us about yourself. You have a pretty diverse creative background!

Anton: I've been a jack of all trades, master of some. I spent years as an actor and musician in a variety of bands, won an award for this faux folk musical I cowrote. Was a teacher for a bit. Common theme through it all was that I wanted to teach or entertain... I was always telling stories, one way or another.

Then I took a job about ten years ago with Penguin Group USA in their paperback sales department. Ace Books is a part of them and being a publishing insider certainly helped me get a foot in the door, but the books themselves had to win over an editor, which they did. Obviously, or we wouldn't be doing this interview now, would we?

SFRevu: Is there anything you'd like to tell our readers?

Anton: By all mean, get thee to a bookery. If you're not buying my books, help support others in the sci-fi/fantasy community. It's a rough time for writers and publishers out there, so if you want to keep the books coming, do what you can to support your favorite authors and the industry. But mostly, buy me... daddy needs to pay for his house made out of solid gold and leopard print!

SFRevu: Thanks, Anton! Look for Deader Still on sale February 24-- and be sure to visit Anton online.

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