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Thunderin' Felix Gilman's Thunderer

Felix2bgilman      Thunderer

Felix Gilman's epic urban fantasy Thunderer was published in hardcover by Bantam Spectra earlier this year, to a rousing round of praise from the likes of Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and SciFi Weekly. Realms of Fantasy reviewer Paul Witcover wrote in part, "Gilman exuberantly plunders sources literary, historical, and mythological in bringing his protean labyrinth of a city to life, and the mysterious act of creation by which the imaginary is made real, and the real imaginary, becomes one of the novel’s main themes...This masterly first novel is as stunning and unexpected as a thunderclap out of a clear blue sky..." I recently interviewed Gilman via email about being a first-time novelist, our mutual contacts, and much else. Can you describe where you are while answering these questions?
Felix Gilman: In the day-job office, on a weekend. I am somewhere near the top floor of a very tall jet-black building. Through porthole-thick pressure-sealed windows I can see fog, wintry haze, the topmost parts of the Brooklyn Bridge, hundreds of thousands of other, more distant windows. Inside the office things are mostly beige, with some patches of grey or powder blue and highlights of brushed steel and glass. Document heaps flourish in the corners. Computers are hunkered down on every flat surface, whirring, watching. Beetle-like BlackBerrys rustle through the carpety undergrowth, foraging for scraps of unoccupied Time. Beware! There are lawyers here. Is being a published novelist everything you thought it would be? What didn't you expect?
Felix Gilman: I don't know what I expected, particularly. I'm very psychologically self-defensive, so I went into this with cringingly low expectations. I was genuinely surprised to see the book On Shelves! In Stores! Like A Real Book! But of course one’s expectations only ratchet up. I believe social scientists call this the "hedonic treadmill." Before you're published, you think if only I can get this turkey published, that'll be OK, I don't care what happens after that because I will be PUBLISHED and then everything will be OK forever. That lasts about three days, then you get used to being PUBLISHED, and it starts to seem normal, just an unremarkable background fact about yourself, like height or gender.  And then you start thinking screw this, why haven't I got a bestseller? Life is so unfair. What's the most absurd thing that's happened to you since the book came out?
Felix Gilman: All the pressure to join the Scientologists. You know how it is, I'm sure--your name gets out there a bit, you've got a bit of a public profile, you’ve given one or two interviews, next thing you know the bloody Scientologists come calling. "Tom," I keep saying, "I'm sorry, I just don't think it's right for me." He won't take no for an answer, and he's so eager. I always end up letting him leave some literature and saying he can come back next week, just to be polite, you know, but I haven't read any of it yet and it's getting really embarrassing. We share an editor at Bantam--Juliet Ulman. I've found her to be unreasonable, truculent, frequently high, and likely to hurt me with knives and a baseball bat. What's your experience been like?
Felix Gilman: Much better these days, I'm happy to say. Ever since the Incident we've been communicating solely through our respective lawyers, and there's been no further violence. We share an agent in Howard Morhaim. I've found him to be unreasonable, truculent, frequently high, and likely to hurt me with his deadly martial arts. What's your experience been like?
Felix Gilman: Jeff, he hurts you with his martial arts because he is trying to teach you the Buddha nature through suffering. Open your mind, man. Having run through the gauntlet of agent and editor approval...what has reader response been like? (I believe we share the same reader, too.)
Felix Gilman: Very much more positive than negative, at least as far as I can tell from my obsessive, constant self-googling. A lot of people have been really gratifyingly enthusiastic. But I haven't actually done any readings yet, or signings, or anything involving physical-world interaction with anyone who's read the book who I didn't already know personally. Maybe the vast offline majority of the human race hates the book. Probably they do. Who knows? They could be thinking anything, there’s no way of telling. Have you gotten fan mail yet?
Felix Gilman: Mail? No. Who uses mail these days? If an unsolicited envelope arrived for me I would assume it was a summons or an audit letter or a bomb. Some people have been nice enough to show up at my website and say nice things, though. Is it odd to have a book out?
Felix Gilman: Yes, absolutely odd. Do you know the story--probably apocryphal--about Wallace Stevens' funeral? So, supposedly all his co-workers from the Hartford Insurance Group, Inc., where he was a vice-president, show up at the church, all of them in their old-style 1950's hats and coats; and to their surprise the other half of the church is full of poets, bohemian types, maybe even some proto-beatniks, who knows? And the insurance men listen to the eulogy with mounting bafflement. And on their way out, one insurance man turns to another and is heard to say, "Wait--so Wally wrote poetry?"  Sometimes one feels like that about oneself. Has your view of the book changed at all since you've read reactions to it?
Felix Gilman: I have received enough good reviews that my fear that it completely sucks in every respect has been substantially abated. You seem like a nice enough fellow, despite the cowboy costume. Do you find it's a liability to be nice in this business? I've wondered if you ever wish you were mean.
Felix Gilman: Is this like a prison-pecking-order thing, and you're supposed to beat another author with a chair when you first get published, just to show everyone else you mean business? OK, I'm game. Who do you suggest? No one too big, please. I would suggest Dawg the Bounty Hunter. I think he has a new book out. Now, what does your wife do and how has she reacted to all of this?
Felix Gilman: She's a PhD student. She does something to do with computers and medicine and genes or something. I don't really understand it, to be honest. Hang on, I'll ask her: "What am I working on? I was under the impression that I had until the end of the year to pick a research area and another year after that before I settle on a specific thesis topic... Yes? Well, then I refuse to answer the first part of that question at this time. As for the second, my vast collection of blurry photos of Felix awkwardly standing around in bookstores next to his book speaks for itself." There you go. What are you working on now?
Felix Gilman: I recently handed in a sequel to Thunderer, called The Gears of the City.  Now I have half a dozen half-started or not-even-started things begging for attention. I don't know. The answer to your question is: things. Sorry to be so vague.


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