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Writing Level-Up: Anthony Huso and The Last Page

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Aug 17th, 2010
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The Last PageMost of the books I read end up finding their way to Half-Price Books–even if I enjoyed them. But, I have a bookshelf (shoddily but proudly built by my own hands, I might add) reserved for my favorite authors and the stories that have lingered in my imagination long after I’ve read them, things like Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn or Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and pretty much anything written by Gene Wolfe and Roger Zelazny.

Anthony Huso’s The Last Page has earned a place on those warped timbers. Huso’s novel debuts today, and he’s kindly offered to subject himself to a few of my questions–readers and aspiring writers will find some gems in his answers. But before we get to that, let me tell you a little about why I like the book:

The Last Page stars Caliph Howl, reluctant High King of Stonehold, a backwater kingdom gnawed by external enemies and on the verge of civil war. Mix into that Sena Ilool, Caliph’s old college lover, now an agent of the Shradnae witchocracy. Despite the fact that she’s been sent to spy on him, Caliph is hopelessly obsessed with her, even when it becomes apparent that Sena is pursuing a personal agenda far grander and more monstrous than even the witchocracy could anticipate.

I’ve mentioned before that my favorite stories are those that have the power to transport me. The Last Page swallows the reader into a rich world that blends weird technology with a whiff of steampunk, cryptic blood magic, and a splash of lovecraft in the form of horrific creatures lurking in the sewers and the membranes between realities. Like Wolfe, Huso also delights in slinging neologisms that spark in the imagination, or unearthing crusty old words into the light of day. But beware: the story doesn’t do any hand-holding. Never does it pause to explain what a chemeostatic torch is, but that’s okay, if you’re attentive to the text, you’ll pick it up soon enough–even if the meaning is never laser-precise. And thats part of the draw: the edges of this world are always smoky and threatening.

Aside from that, there’s the pure action-coolness of airship battles, soldiers who ambush their enemies from giant bulbs of meat, and witches with skills that put Sam Fisher to shame.

Now, on to the questions:

1. Tell us a little bit about your path to publication.

Rugged and fraught with deep apathy.  How did I overcome?  Well, rugged, you can kind of gun the engine, and muscle your way through.  But deep apathy will screw you over, bottom you out and leave you hanging, unable to move for long periods of time.  Good news is that there are Samaritans that happen along the road and do nice things for you, anything from encouragement to  actively pimping your work to people they know.  I was lucky.  I had reached the point when I was about to chalk my writing up as a pipe-dream and abandon it forever when Marc Laidlaw, for reasons he’s unable to explain even to himself, agreed to look at my book.  He was my sterling champion, I shit you not.  He gets free chocolate milk shakes in my presence until the day he dies.  My suggestion: be friendly and open.  You never know when that magical connection will materialize.

2. If you were a brand new writer, picking up the pen (or the keyboard) for the first time today, is there anything you’d do differently? Maybe pitfalls for others to avoid?

I would never (again) pay a middle-aged woman in a black and gold moo moo $350 to “evaluate” my manuscript that I wrote at the age of 23 and then sit quietly and despondently as she told me that one of her “readers” evaluated it and that, sorry—it has no real value.  She even thanked me for my business and suggested I keep on trying…bring it back and pay her another $350 to evaluate it again when I thought it was good enough.

Yes, we are stupid when we are young.

Also, when someone tells you that your story is horribly boring, don’t despair.  They probably don’t like gunfights, or mid-air collisions, or whatever.  That’s not your fault.  My favorite rejection letter of all time is, and I quote: “Seeing as how I find fantasy to be ridiculous and genre writing wholly without merit, I don’t think I’d be the right person to represent you.”  Well.  Not much you can say to that except “Thanks for the most memorable arrogance of all time.”  Then you move on.  Keep at it.  And above all, learn to accept that a lot of what you write really  is total garbage and will need to be rewritten: even the stuff you feel euphoric about right after you finish writing it.  Also, if you are not writing for yourself, you will probably fail.  You may fail anyway, but if you are writing for yourself, you are doing something right and something important.  We learn from our own writing, deep mysterious things about the universe and our place in it.  No I’m not being sarcastic.  It’s true.  Believe it or not.

3. What do you want people to know about The Last Page?

It is a story that I wrote for myself.  I always say it is the story I had to tell.  Fantasy allows me to pull real demons out into the light, in a semi-safe framework, where I can dress them up in other clothes and parade them around, let them wreak a little havoc and then try to shoot them through the left eye.  I always aim for the left eye.  It should be noted that sometimes I miss and the demons live on.  Some people wrestle with their demons directly, using the same sorts of characters and places where those demons first appeared.  Vietnam is a great example.  I prefer to transform my demons into something that *feels* the same but still manages to mask the origin.  Fantasy lets me do that.  The Last Page is about things much bigger than the characters, about the characters coping with those things and about how that coping affects the characters on the inside.  Yes I know this is vague enough to describe a library-full of books, but this is what all the best stories in the world are about.  And besides, I have red, tentacular oyster abominations in my book that will suck the juices from your body before humping grub-like back into the underworld.  So that’s sort of new.

4. What was the hardest part about writing The Last Page for you?

The hardest part of writing anything for me is figuring out how to cope with really dark concepts in a way that will still be palatable to the widest range of people.  I don’t want to whine or cry.  I want to have emotionally charged scenes without the bathos.  This has lead me to use a fairly terse voice in much of my writing.  As a result, scenes where the emotional content is delicate and nuanced take me many, many passes to get right.

5. If you had to inhabit body of one of the characters in your book, who would that be? Why?

Caliph Howl.  Caliph accomplishes things I never could.  He also has a hot girlfriend.  But I think, really, Caliph is a seeker of good things.  He wants to do what’s right, which is something I can get behind.  Even when everything is going wrong and the answers to the problems facing him are unclear, Caliph will stick to his guns.  He represents a kind of maudlin idealist perhaps, easily lampooned—and he has his weaknesses—but he is undeniably good.  He tries to hide his soft side under a rigorous pragmatic approach to life, but he can’t hide it from me.

6. Magic in The Last Page is esoteric and dangerous, consisting of an intriguing blend of blood sacrifice and reality-warping math equations. How did you end up with that approach?

Most fantasy today is what I consider canned fantasy.  That is, the book starts out saying that Jenny is a werewolf and that it’s kinda hard to deal with the vampires on the west side of town.  Or, Ernie is an acknowledged powerful sorcerer.  Everyone knows he’s got spells and he can sling them.  The mish-mash of fantastical creatures enters the picture and it soon becomes a dog’s breakfast of recognizable mythology crammed into a map that looks a lot like Europe, only upside down.   Not every book is like this, but the ones that are, I think are doing exactly what I don’t want my fantasy to do.  That is, they are making magic mundane.  You can feel it when you read the first few pages of X book.  The way the author treats magic is the way you or I would talk about a gun.  It’s an accepted, concrete element of the world.  It is banal.

My reaction to this is strong.  I say, what is the point of writing about fantastic things if you make them sound run-of-the-mill?

Horror does a splendid job of playing with the reader’s mind, making the thing that is or is not lurking in the darkness an entity of uncertainty and ill-conceived danger.  In fine, the beast in the horror short is probably far more fantastic than the talking coat rack in the fantasy novel.

Fantasists have much to learn from horror.  In horror, we feel the awe.  We feel the tension, the danger and the edge of the known, where it crumbles and falls into the void.  There are no recipes in horror stories for the one true way to break the witch’s curse.  Think about it.  Just saying that there is a recipe to break the witch’s curse somehow makes everything ok.  There’s suddenly a known solution.  Go get the golden fleece or whatever.  Sure you might have trouble getting there, but at least you know what you’re doing.  In Horror stories, the protagonist is often overwhelmed by things he or she has no means to understand, let alone fight.  It was critical to me that magic in my setting borrow from esotery.  It was important that people in the world could doubt in the power of magic.

Magic is therefore something unstable, dangerous, and of questionable value.  Businesses have an interest in it much the same way the US military experimented with psychics: if there’s a chance it will give them an edge they might as well try.

I could write for several pages on this.  Suffice to say that magic in the setting of The Last Page is designed to be more Lovecraftian , tapping into numbers and ratios that are above the normal systems of reality.  Like Neo bending the rules of the Matrix.  My hope is that this produces the kind of awe I would expect from a work of fantasy.

Many thanks to Anthony for stopping by! You can read more about Anthony Huso and The Last Page at his spiffy website.


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    I love this concept from start to finish — magic that works on blood sacrifice and esoteric mathematical equations? That’s six different kinds of cool right there!

    Totally going to read this book now.

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About Me

Ricardo Bare
Austin, Tx

Ricardo Bare is a writer and game designer living near Austin, Texas. Currently he works as a game designer for Arkane Studios, which in 2012 released Dishonored. Ricardo started his career in the games industry working on the Deus Ex series, winner of the BAFTA and numerous other Game of the Year awards.

Ricardo is the author of Jack of Hearts and Fool of Fate, the first two books in a young adult fantasy series.


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