Creating Giant Thief: An Interview with David Tallerman

David Tallerman’s short fiction has appeared in dozens of professional magazines, and his story, “Bad Times to be in the Wrong Place”, is featured in this month’s issue of Urban Fantasy Magazine. But he is also a talented novelist; his fantasy series, the Easie Damasco trilogy, was published by Angry Robot books in 2012. We’re excited to hear his thoughts on the world and characters that he’s created.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: What is it about the fantasy thief trope that attracted you to write the Easie Damasco trilogy?

DAVID TALLERMAN: Partly distrust, I think. Thief and rogue are almost synonymous in fantasy, and we’ve seen an awful lot of thieving rogues and roguish thieves. But thieves aren’t quite so entertaining in real life, and the ones I’ve had personal experience with weren’t charming at all, so I thought it would be interesting to write about a fantasy thief who just plain wasn’t a nice person – as Easie Damasco most definitely isn’t, especially at the point when we first encounter him.

On the other hand, it was really appealing to have a character who could say or do the things that no one else would; as some reviewers have pointed out, Damasco really isn’t the protagonist of the books so much as a hanger-on who sometimes manages to nudge the plot one way or another and generally gets to comment on it from an outsider’s perspective. Having someone who’s a thief and a genuinely dishonest human being who has no place in the company of more traditional fantasy heroes, but who still basically thinks he knows better than they do, that was a lot of fun to write.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: Is the door closed to any further Easie Damasco books?

DAVID TALLERMAN: The short answer is, yes. The slightly longer answer is that I did have the bare bones of a fourth Damasco novel in my head, and the keen-eyed will find the odd clue as to what it would have been about in Prince Thief. It’s a fun story, and one I’d have liked to have shared. But the truth is that I don’t own the universe or characters – the publisher, Angry Robot, does – and the response to the initial trilogy wasn’t strong enough for them to express interest in more books.

Truthfully, though, there are so many other things I want to do, and as far as Easie Damasco goes, I feel like I told the story I really wanted to tell. I was hugely lucky to get to do that. So while my thoughts sometimes drift back to Damasco and what the future might hold for him, it’s not an itch I’m desperate to scratch.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: The transition from amusing fantasy rogue to someone with a burgeoning conscience feels very natural. How hard was that to get right?

It was definitely tricky. I wanted any developments in Damasco’s character to feel genuinely hard-won. Here was a character with a clear philosophy of why it was basically okay for him to do the things he did, who was immensely good at justifying his own wrongdoing, and someone like that doesn’t just change overnight. So, yeah, a lot of work went into trying to make the character development convincing, to have Damasco sometimes backslide, to make it a conscious process rather than just him waking up one day with a fully-formed conscience. After all, even when you want to do the right thing, it’s not as though it’s easy to see what that is.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: Was this always the planned character arc?

DAVID TALLERMAN: I always intended that Damasco would be a somewhat better person by the end of Giant Thief than he was at the start, even if that wasn’t entirely the same as him ending up as a “good” person. But until I sold the first book, I only had vague ideas of what a sequel or sequels would involve. Once I knew I had two more books to play with, it seemed sensible to continue with what I’d begun. On the other hand, like I said above, I was adamant that any kind of continuing moral development couldn’t be smooth sailing. So if Damasco’s conscience grows more involved as the story goes on, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he makes better decisions on the back of it!

Urban Fantasy Magazine: Although the Tales of Easie Damasco are pretty light hearted there are some complex moral issues explored. Do you feel that fantasy is a good medium for exploring complex moral issues?

DAVID TALLERMAN: Absolutely. Fantasy lets you talk about huge issues in the abstract, without getting bogged down in the specifics that tend to derail real-life debates. A fantasy world can serve as a great Petri dish in which to fling ideas about and to set ideologies up against one another; in the real world we tend to moralise after the event, whereas in a fantasy novel you can present these difficult situations and face them head on, as they’re happening.

One of my goals with the Tales was that there would be no easy answers and no clear right and wrong: all the characters have good reasons for the things they do, and the ones with what may seem like the best intentions don’t necessarily achieve the most good. You know, it’s easy to pick on the fantasy warlord, to present that kind of character as being flat-out evil, but in real life they would have their motives, their people they’re trying to do right by. So I wanted to write characters, both good and bad, who genuinely believed that they were doing the right thing, even when it was obvious to the reader what the negative consequences of that were.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: Your stories have appeared in a great many markets – is there a binding theme to them?

DAVID TALLERMAN: I hope there isn’t. I always try to fit the themes, and everything else, to the particularly story rather than the other way round. I find preaching boring, in or outside of fiction, so I try never to push a standpoint or an agenda. For me, the debate is more interesting than the conclusions, so often I’ll let characters voice opinions that run directly contrary to what I think, or use stories to challenge my own ideas; which means, I suppose, that any themes that do get through are ones that have escaped my self-vetting!

Urban Fantasy Magazine: What would you say your voice in short stories says about you as a writer?

Again, I write in so many different genres and sub-genres and styles that I hope there isn’t a characteristic voice; if there was then I suspect I’d be doing something badly wrong, because you can’t approach fantasy, science fiction, horror and crime all in the same way. The main thing I’d want a reader to take away from my short fiction is that they enjoy a given story and consider it well-written, and if that should make them seek out something else by me then that’s great.

Urban Fantasy Magazine: If you could travel inside the world of any fantasy novel, which world would you want to visit and why? Which one would you never want to visit?

DAVID TALLERMAN: I wouldn’t mind hanging out in Jack Vance’s Lyonesse books; they seem like a fun place, and it might even be possible to survive the experience. As for ones I’d avoid, I’d have to say absolutely everywhere else. Fantasy worlds tend to be pretty hideous places, especially for those of us who just want a quiet corner, a glass of wine and a good book. I mean, I can’t imagine that attitude going down too well in Westeros!

Urban Fantasy Magazine: What’s one question you think would be really fun to answer, but that will probably never come up in an interview?

DAVID TALLERMAN: That’s a tough one. I guess for me, since as many of my influences come from things like comics, video games, films and anime as they do from genre literature, I’d find it interesting to get to talk about how those other media have fed into my work. If only because I don’t get to geek about comics, video games, films and anime as much as I’d like to!