Jonathan Wood is the author of multiple short stories as well as the ‘Hero’ novels whose third installment, ‘Anti-Hero’ is being released this month. The focus on his tales are set in a world of heroes, villains, and zombies. He brings a fun mixtures of what would usually be a diverse set of genres that are both entertaining and engaging.
Science Fiction (SF): What can you tell us about your latest novel ‘Anti-Hero’?
Jonathan Wood (JW): This book takes Arthur and his team to New York City, where they’re working with a division of the CIA called Area 51. Together with their liason, the hippy CIA agent Gran, they’re trying to track down a friend of theirs who has recently become an AI and who seems hell bent on destroying the world. And soon enough there are zombies, rottweilers the size of buildings, mech suits, squids made out of trash, and mushrooms that spew spore-filled, propaganda-spouting floating heads.
Also, for me at least, ‘Anti-Hero’ is the culmination of a lot of the ideas that I’d been exploring in the first two books. It takes questions about what it takes to be a hero, about what sort of decisions can we live with, and about loyalty, and it pushes them into a morally darker space than I’ve entered before.
SF: ‘Anti-Hero’ is the third of your ‘Hero’ books. Can you tell us a little more about the series?
JW: Sure. The series is primarily about Arthur Wallace, an Oxford police detective who gets embroiled in the machinations of MI37, a small, underfunded division of the military charged with defending Britain’s sovereign borders from everything magical, alien, and generally batshit weird. Arthur ends up leading their field team, which consists of Kayla, a Scottish swordswoman with super powers and psychoses; Clyde, a magician who could win the Olympic gold medal for run-on sentences and tangents; and Tabitha, a Pakistani goth with anger management issues. Generally unprepared for pretty much anything his new role throws at him, Arthur gets by with the help of his mantra, “What would Kurt Russell do?”
It’s very serious literature, I tell you.
SF: What inspired you to mix the worlds of the police, superheroes, and horror all while throwing in just the right kind of humor to make it mesh?
JW: There are four main elements that went into the genesis of ‘No Hero.’ First was the New Weird movement, which was big when I sort of came of age as a writer. That was very much the fiction I’d been wanting to read my whole youth, and these odd stories that just mashed all genres together just pressed all my squee buttons. My first attempt at bringing that influence to bear was a very dark, poe-faced novel that trudged along and was very serious all the time. That lead directly to the second element, where my agent, having seen the general response to the manuscript, suggested I try writing something with a bit more zip to it. Then, I think the third element is just that I’m just not wired to be all that serious all the time. Before I got into novel writing I’d been trying to make it as a sitcom writer in the UK. I’d never tried to be funny in a genre piece, but given how important humor is to me, it made sense to bring it in. And then, I guess the final element was a friend saying to me, “you know urban fantasy is just swords and sorcery with a modern setting, right?” That was set me off on the path of having urban fantasy as my primary genre influence. And I’d written a few flash pieces about this guy Arthur Wallace, and he seemed the perfect vehicle to bring everything together.
SF: What has been the hardest part of keeping a regular cop able to handle the insane situations that you’ve been throwing at him?
JW: Trying to make it seem even vaguely realistic that Arthur will survive to the end of the novel. In the real world, I think, Arthur would have died at the end of the first chapter of the first book. But if the Kurt Russell reference didn’t clue folk in, eighties action movies are a big influence on the books too. As long as the action is fun and fast then I can sort of fudge the biology of the beating Arthur just took. Plus humor is a great sleight of hand tool. One of the reasons “What would Kurt Russell do?” became such a mantra in the books is because it helps cue up the idea that maybe this situation shouldn’t be taken entirely seriously. For the main part, my readers have been very forgiving.
SF: Have you brought any real life experiences into your work?
JW: My life has been disappointingly short of high-action hi-jinks. The closest I can come is to say that I’m a copywriter at an ad agency for my day job, so my real life writing experience has helped there… but yeah, that’s about as exciting as I can get. Well, apart from that time I fought a zombie T-Rex…
SF: As a writer of short stories and novels, what do you prefer about each style?
JW: At this point I really like short stories as a sort of palette cleanser. I’ve been living with Arthur and his coworkers for a long time, so it’s nice to break out and do something totally different, explore different characters and genres. I recently got to write a story for the anthology “Kaiju Rising” and it was just so much fun to take my writing in a completely different place. I think I’m a very different short story writer than I am a novel writer. I can take risks there that I can’t with novels (I’m pretty sure no one would want to read a post-modern detective story about the way narrative is a completely false construction at novel length, for example…). But, all that said, I think novels will always be my first love because you can just go so big with them. You can weave in all these elements of drama and action into a very complex tapestry, moments and events echoing off each other, so the emotion becomes very intense. I dig the hell out of that.
SF: Having read the first two novels I have to ask, are you as huge of a fan of Mike Mignola as I am?
JW: Oh my god, I love Mike Mignola. The ‘BPRD’ comics are probably the single biggest individual influence on No Hero. In fact, the first draft had much more of a noir tone to it than the finished product because of the Mignola influence. I first came across HP Lovecraft through the ‘Call of Cthulhu’ role playing game. When I finally got to Lovecraft’s books I discovered that I’m not actually a huge fan of his prose style (not to knock him at all, it’s a very subjective response, and it’s grown on me since then). But in general, I’ve preferred interpretations of Lovecraftian themes than the source material. ‘Hellboy’ and ‘BPRD’ just happen to be my favorite interpretations.
SF: If you could co-write something with any author out there (living or dead) who would it be and why?
JW: I actually have a side project going on at the moment co-writing a novel with my friend, Natania Barron, (a fantastic author in her own right, I highly recommend her book ‘Pilgrim of the Sky’) and it is some of the most fun I’ve had writing. We both come at writing from very different angles, but from an almost identical aesthetic space. It’s been a wonderful learning curve. So it’s hard not to say her. That said, if I was to enter the realm of complete fantasy… perhaps Warren Ellis. I have so much respect for him as both a thinker and an author. I’ve loved everything of his that I’ve read be it his blog, his comic books, or his novels.
SF: What piece of advice would you suggest to aspiring authors out there?
JW: Firstly, keep at it. Write every day. Write for as long as you can every day. It took my about 9 years to write something that could be published, and for at least 5 of them I was writing 90 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Writing that much is the only way I got good enough to get published. I still keep to that schedule, because it lets me keep on being publishing.
Also, try publishing short stories. Don’t be scared of rejection. They’re a good way to judge when your work is finally good enough for human consumption.
Start a twitter account. Not for the social networking but because it’s a great way to learn to edit and be concise. Flash fiction is great for that too.
Consider audio fiction. It’s hard to find time to read when you’re writing 90 minutes a day. Audiobooks are a great way to keep fiction in your life.
That’s probably enough to be going along with.
SF: If a live action movie or series based off your novels ever happened, who would you love to see play Arthur Wallace?
JW: I am mildly embarrassed to admit the depth in which my wife and I have discussed this very question. I guess it’s just one of those fantasies that it’s fun to play out when you first get a book deal. We finally settled on Ewan McGregor, though this was almost 5 years ago and McGregor was already possibly a little too old for the role. These days, I kind of like James McAvoy. I’m not sure why I keep picking Scottish actors for an English character, but I think both possess the ability to be both funny and serious at the same time, which is a tone I try to hit in the Hero books. But I think that’s in the same realm of reality as me co-writing novels with Warren Ellis.
SF: If you can share with us, what is the next piece that you are working on?
JW: The fourth book in the series, Broken Hero, is coming out in January next year. I’m in the final stages of finishing that up right now. For that one, I’ve decided to stop resisting, and embrace the ultimate pulp thriller villain, so Arthur and the rest of MI37 are facing off against the Nazi’s clockwork robot army. I think it’s about time they did.
SF: Finally, is there anything that you would like to share with our readers?
JW: Just a thank you to all the people who have supported the series so far. Writing has been a dream of mine pretty much since I learned to spell. And it wouldn’t be possible without the folk who buy the books, write the Amazon reviews, and recommend it to their friends. I think I’ve been lucky enough to land some of the best fans in the world.