I’ve had the great pleasure of interviewing Brian Francis Slattery. Brian Francis Slattery is the author of several books and one of the authors of a serial that I write a lot about- Bookburners. He has won the Philip K. Dick Award with his book Lost Everything and is a prominent short story writer.
In this interview, I’ll especially focus on Bookburners. Bookburners is an episodic series in which we follow Sal, a former cop who, instead of jailing bad guys, finds magic artifacts and locks them away. Want to read it? Click here.
Now, for the questions:
Given that this is the first question, I’ll ask you about the beginning. How did you get into writing?
I’m one of those people who always wrote, from a very early age. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t into writing. But I got into writing professionally pretty slowly. Baby steps. I was an editor first, and still am. Then I tried my hand at journalism and it stuck. I got very lucky and had a first book published. I pretty much pinch myself about the rest.
Following up on that, how did you get sucked into the Bookburners’ world?
After writing four books on my own, I was interested in some sort of collaborative project. Maybe a graphic novel? Some other multimedia thing? I was open to anything (still am). When I heard Serial Box was starting up, I jumped at it. Four years later, I’d say collaborating with other people is even better than I expected it to be. Working with Andrea, Margaret, Max, and Mur has been one of my most satisfying writing experiences so far.
Every author has a special kind of writing, we can see that in Bookburners. However, the writing’s quite cohesive too. How do you manage that?
We talked from the very beginning about how to balance our individual voices and overall cohesiveness. Because we were deliberate about it, we settled pretty easily on a certain mode of writing—simple, clear, straightforward—that could serve as the best vehicle for the story we wanted to tell, while also letting each of us flex our particular writing muscles in new and interesting ways. A great editorial team helps, too.
In Portugal, there are a lot of sacred cities, how come the Bookburners haven’t come here yet?
It’s funny you mention that, because my wife and I took a trip to Portugal several years ago that remains quite vivid in my mind—from the architecture to the food and music to the people we met to the general feel of the landscape—and I have been looking for an excuse to set one of the episodes there from the beginning. We do have another season ahead of us, so who knows? A chase through the near-vertical alleyways of Lisbon? A secret society in Évora? A dive into the river in Porto? It could happen.
In your episode “An Excellent Day for an Exorcism”, we know that demons live in a different dimension from ours. Is it Hell? If so, does that mean that God is real?
You’re asking me a lot of interesting questions! I imagine you’d get a somewhat different answer from each writer on the Bookburners team, but at least from my perspective, I’ve operated under the assumption that the wide world of magic is essentially incomprehensible to us. It’s bigger and weirder than the reality we’re used to, and the various concepts we have to try to get our minds around it—from religious and spiritual to paranormal and pseudoscientific—latch onto pieces of a much greater puzzle. So I write from that point of view. That isn’t to say that one interpretation is right and another is wrong. Part of the fun for me as a writer (and hopefully for readers) is to leave room for readers to make sense of the magic in Bookburners in their own ways, much like the characters in the story do.
You’ve written some of the most gruesome episodes so far. Whilst writing, did you ever think you were going too far?
Part of the pleasure of collaboration is the ability to take risks. We all suggest ideas in our initial story meetings that end up on the cutting room floor. We all try things now and again that don’t work, and we take out those parts. I’ve pretty much written every episode with the intent to push things as far as I can, and regarding the gruesomeness of them, I’ve been waiting for my collaborators to pull me back. So far they haven’t.
On that note, how do you manage to write something that will both shock the reader but also make them want to read more?
I’m pleased that the gruesome stuff is having that effect! From my perspective, I write scenes like that with two things in mind. First off, I see myself as essentially a journalist in the world of magic. I try to convey what happened in the most straightforward way I can think of. But we also try to write from a specific character’s perspective at any given point, and I don’t like writing scenes of consequence-free violence. One way to make sure those consequences are felt is to write from the victim’s perspective rather than the perpetrator’s. I do this as often as it makes sense to do so (though there are exceptions), and it’s definitely my hope that this helps the reader connect to the story, even if that connection might hurt a bit.
Now, to finish things off, which of your works do you recommend to those who love Bookburners?
I am the worst at self-promotion, and one of the things I love about Bookburners is the way the collaboration has changed both the kinds of stories I’ve been telling and the ways I’ve been telling them. That said, I’d say in some ways that Bookburners is a cross between my second book (Liberation) and my fourth book (The Family Hightower), in that it’s a collision between weird stuff and a detective story. But I’d suggest that people who are interested in what makes Bookburners tick should check out all of our creative output. And maybe watch more Spanish movies.
That’s all we have (for now!). Thank you so much, Brian Slattery, for giving me this opportunity and answering my questions.