It was our good fortune to meet up with Glen Cook, author of the Black Company, Starfisher, Dread Empire and Garrett series, as well as a host of other books. With chutzpah exceeded only by our bar tab, and with the courage born of strong drink, we foisted ourselves upon him.
When we explained who we were, and asked for an interview, he graciously accepted, although he did seem to be surreptitiously eyeing the exits until we offered to get him liquored up and buy him dinner.
"Now you're speaking my language," he said.
From that point on, we had a terrific time. We think we got a great interview, and Mike even remembered to jot down a few notes so that we could share some of it with you.
This was our first chance at a face to face author interview, thanks to the restraining orders, so it is a little different from the usual QM format. It was much less formal, and we didn't pursue our questioning with the usual laserlike focus we are able to achieve when we make up the questions well in advance and email them out.
We hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did. Glen was a great guy.
Now go buy his books. Chop chop.
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Quantum Muse: When did you start writing?
Glen Cook: I wrote stories back in grammar school, mostly fantasy or science fiction. The first short story I remember was "Hawk" which I wrote in seventh grade. It was about a Civil War battle, fought out west. In the desert. Seen through the eyes of a hawk. I wrote my first novel in seventh grade as well. I don't remember much about it. It was science fiction. Aliens came to earth and got involved in an ancient battle between Rameses I and the Hittites.
In high school, I wrote several things for the literary publication of the school. Then while I was in the service and at college, I put my writing aside and didn't really start again until I was working in an auto plant for GM.
QM (after repeated unsuccessful attempts to get the waitress to divulge the beer list): So, what made you start writing again? Were you too lazy to rob banks?
GC: While I was at work, I was reading a fantasy book by Lin Carter, and I threw it across the room and swore I could do better. I started working right away, using the company's typewriter and paper. I found out it's harder than I thought it would be.
QM: Were you able to write at work?
GC: I worked for 33 years at an auto assembly plant. There were a lot of days I sat in the parking lot for a while and talked myself into going in. I always made it through the door. A lot of guys couldn't make that final step.
(At this description of real work, Ray broke out in a cold sweat.)
I got a job that almost nobody else wanted. It was hard to learn, but once I did learn it, I could do it with almost no mental effort, so I was able to work on my writing. I wrote three books a year on that job.
QM: Can you tell us a little about the Black Company series?
GC: I wrote the first one, and somehow it wound up on the desk of the horror editor at Tor. She told me it was a good story, but she couldn't publish it because she didn't like a single character in it.
QM: We're used to that kind of reception.
GC: Well, I wanted to write a book about real medieval mercenaries. These aren't kind and gentle people. Not exactly left-leaning democrats.
QM: How did you get past that?
GC: That was all worked out at a room party at a convention. The meeting went later and later and we got drunker and drunker and eventually she had some changes she wanted and I had the story I wanted.
(We were reassured that we may be able to play to our strengths someday and drink an editor into submission. Our chances seem much better now that we don't have to rely solely on talent.)
QM: When you wrote the first Black Company book, did you see it as the first of a series, or a stand alone book? How long did you expect the series to be if that was the intent?
GC: The first three were planned. Some time later I started working on what would become the first Book of the South. That part of the series grew larger than I expected. I planned on three books.
QM: You definitely got the feel of a military unit down cold.
GC: I'm surprised at how many people in the military like that series. Apparently it was read and passed around by quite a few people during Desert Storm. I'd think if I was out in that situation, that's the last thing I'd want to read about.
There was also a Marine recruit company that adopted the Black Company banner for their unit flag. I guess one recruit got a copy and passed it around and it was a hit.
It's also a big hit overseas. There's a big following in Russia, including a whole pirated translation, which I'm not real happy about. I am the guest of honor at a convention in Poland. They're flying me over and meeting me with a limousine at the airport.
QM: (Furiously scribbling notes to check on emigration to Poland where writers may be held in higher esteem than fry cooks.) Go on. Tell us about the marketing of your books.
GC: I have an agent who does most of that kind of work. I've had some interesting experiences. The jacket blurb on Soldiers Live was full of inaccuracies. Dead characters were quoted, the wrong places named. I did get that changed. That's the one time I've been successful getting anything changed on a book jacket.
QM: It was a nice illustration.
GC: I guess.
QM: Your covers tend to look like the artist at least read the book.
GC: Most of the time it's in the contract that the artist can't. They just get a few paragraphs of description of what the publisher wants and they paint from that.
GC: The cover of The Black Company was a cover somebody made up for me. It was just an example. The marketing guy absolutely didn't want it. But, while it was on his desk, a buyer from a large chain bookstore came in and, not knowing anything about the book, said "I'll buy fifty thousand copies of anything with that on the cover," so they went with it.
(At that point, Mike began to alternate his drinking with sobs and curses.)
QM: Is it necessary to do a series, or is possible to make a career on stand alone books?
GC: The publishers want series, obviously. Originally, they wanted me to do the Garrett series along with another similar series, so it would be one book every six months. Eventually I'd just do the outlines and they'd get some poor unknown author to flesh out the stories. That's why you see so many books by a famous author and an unknown. You can make half the money basically by selling your name. The thing is, once your name is on enough bad books, maybe it isn't worth all that much any more.
QM: Who were you influences?
GC: Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, Raymond Chandler, R. S. Prather, R. H. Parker. Most of the old fantasy or mystery writers.
QM: What current authors do you like?
GC: I don't really read much fantasy or science fiction these days. I do like Steve Erickson. I like his style, but he's brutal to his characters.
QM: What's next for you?
GC: The next Garrett book, Angry Lead Skies, will be coming out soon.