Ari Marmell’s latest novel ‘Hallow Point’ gives us a noir crime novel set in a fantasy world with Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Only, this world also happens to take place in Chicago so expect political corruption, the mob, and so much more! Past ‘Hallow Point’ Marmell is a fantasy writer with novels and short stories published through Titan Books, Spectra (Random House), Pyr, Wizards of the Coast, and others. He is the author of role-playing game materials for Dungeons & Dragons and the World of Darkness line, as well as the tie-in novel to the hit video game Darksiders. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, George.
Science Fiction (SF): Ari, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us today. First off if you could share a little with our readers what ‘Hallow Point’ is about? Can you share a little about the lead character Mick Oberon as well?
Ari Marmell (AM): Mick is, on first glance, your traditional gangland-era private eye: very much a character in the mold of a Chandler or Hammett protagonist. Except, of course, neither Sam Spade nor Philip Marlowe could claim to be nobility-in-exile of the Seelie Court. Mick is one of the aes sidhe, living amongst the humans of Chicago because he wants nothing more to do with the realms of the fae—which doesn’t, of course, mean that the realms of the fae are willing to leave him alone. He carries a wand rather than a gun, manipulates luck and the minds of mortals with his magics, and can’t seem to avoid getting mixed up in either the underworld or the Otherworld.
HALLOW POINT is the second Mick Oberon novel (the first, HOT LEAD, COLD IRON, having come out last year). In this one, Mick is caught in the middle when an array of fae factions—including both the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, but outside and independent operatives as well—converge on Chicago in search of a powerful fae relic of ages past. It’s sort of what THE MALTESE FALCON might have looked like if the various characters involved weren’t human and the falcon itself was something more along the lines of Excalibur or the Sankara stones.
SF: While cross genre mixing has become popular over the years there hasn’t been much in mixing noir mysteries with fantasy. What gave you the idea and what challenges popped up while working on it?
AM: Mick was basically an “Athena character”—by which I mean he just sprang, full-grown, from my head. I’m not sure where the idea came from; he was just there, one day, as I was taking a shower. (That… sounds a lot more suggestive than I meant it to.) Once I had the character, it was all about coming up with stories that fit him—and that meant “noir fantasy.”
The trick is coming up with storylines that do, indeed, manage to fit into both those categories. It’s got to have enough of the noir/mystery aspect to stand apart from more traditional urban or historical fantasy, while still being the sort of story you couldn’t tell without the magic/supernatural aspects. (And of course, the presence of magic makes it that much harder to tell a good mystery.) Combined with the historical necessities—I really prefer to make the non-magic/non-mythic aspects as historically accurate as I can—and the result is a sort of story that requires a lot of care and planning to really pull off.
SF: Are you planning on continuing to tell stories set in the world that we’ve been introduced to with Mick?
AM: Oh, very much so. As I mentioned, HALLOW POINT is already the second novel in the series. (And it’s actually the third tale, as I’ve also published a Mick Oberon short story called “The Purloined Ledger.” It first appeared in the BROKEN TIME BLUES anthology, and has since been reprinted in my own short story collection, STRANGE NEW WORDS.) I’m currently in the early stages of planning the third novel, with more to come. I have multiple book concepts, and I already have a pretty strong idea of when/how Mick’s overall story arc concludes, so I very much hope to be writing these for some time to come.
SF: What kind of research did you do while bringing this world to life?
AM: I read a lot of various fae myths, the Mob, and on Chicago in the 1930s, as well as watching (or rewatching) a number of classic noir films. I collected several lexicons of 1930s-era slang. Finally, I did a large amount of spot-research; that is, looking things up as and when they became necessary. I got particular use out of several encyclopedias of fae myth, and out of a book called A TRAVEL GUIDE TO AL CAPONE’S CHICAGO.
And, of course, a large amount of Googling for specific facts.
SF: How do you think magic would end up being used in modern Chicago by authorities and by those trying to elude them?
AM: Well, the specifics would obviously depend on what magic can or can’t do. (As I mentioned, most of Mick’s own magics are related specifically to luck/chance and to the manipulation of the mind and senses.) But ultimately, I think you’d wind up with a situation very much like we have in the real world: basically a “scientific arms race.” The police/government come up with new forensic techniques; word of those techniques gets around, and criminals try to figure out new ways around those techniques. I think the same thing would happen with magic; it’s just the details that would differ. (In fact, while most humans don’t know about magic in the Mick Oberon stories, a few of them do, and a crook using magic to hide evidence is actually part of “The Purloined Ledger.)
SF: While genre mash ups are huge in literature these days they haven’t quite hit the mainstream in cinema. What is your favorite fantasy film and why?
AM: I’d love to see more genre mash-ups in film—not least because I’d love to see Mick on the big screen. (And I’d love to see more fantasy in film in general.)
Until that day comes, though, I have to say that—while this may not be the most original selection—my favorite fantasy film remains Fellowship of the Ring. I adore the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, but that first movie still contains a magic for me that neither the subsequent two, nor any other fantasy movies, ever quite managed to match. It’s very close to a perfect epic fantasy tale, making use of the archetypes that are so much the building blocks of the genre.
SF: If you could co-write a novel with another author who would it be and why?
AM: Oh, I could give you a laundry list of authors I’d love to work with. And I’m tempted to say George Martin, even though our writing styles are very dissimilar, just because I’d love to have access to an audience the size of his.
But I’ll limit myself to one and say Steven Brust. His writing heavily influenced my own, and I’m still a huge fan of his, and we’ve gotten along fairly well on those occasions where we’ve spoken. Although I do think our actual writing processes might drive one another mad. (I’m a diehard outliner, whereas Steven prefers to make things up as he goes.)
SF: What does your family think about your writing?
AM: They’re all very supportive. My wife, my sister, and my father all enjoy most of my work. My mother’s not a genre fan, but she owns my entire library and seems to enjoy telling people that I’m an author.
My cat couldn’t care less, though.
SF: What are the differences on creating novels vs role playing games? What do you like about each?
AM: They’re very different (though obviously related) skills. RPG writing is part fiction writing, part technical writing. You still need to be able to come up with many of the same sorts of creative ideas, but you have to present them as tools and pieces for other people to use, rather than weaving them into a story. Some people can go to the cupboard and the refrigerator, figure out what ingredients will go well together, and whip up a cake. Other people are good at creating and writing down recipes for other people to use. They’re related abilities, but being good at one doesn’t necessarily make you good at the other.
They’re both very creative endeavors, and they both require some descriptive skill to pull off. I enjoy creating my own stories, but I also like providing other people the tools for developing their own. And it’s sometimes fun to work with others, collaborating on building a world or a game system, as a break from the largely solo endeavor that is novel-writing.
SF: Having worked on quite a few RPGs at this point what can you tell us about the experiences?
AM: Well, I’ve obviously had good and bad experiences, but overall it’s been a positive endeavor. I’ve gotten to work with a great many good people, some of whom have become friends as well as co-workers. I’ve been able to contribute to games I love and grew up playing; it’s very much a childhood dream come true, in that respect. And I strongly believe my fiction is the better for it. In some respects, creating material for gaming is like creating the individual parts of a novel; the recipe, as I described it above. You have to create a setting that works outside the boundaries of a given story; or plots that have to work with a wide variety of character types. It gives you a look at the pieces, and teaches lessons that can then be used to make novels flow that much more smoothly.
SF: What is your favorite RPG? (Both tabletop and if you play them on a console or the PC)
AM: To this day, still Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve played and enjoyed almost every edition of the game, and I’m quite fond of the current one. It still provides an experience that I can’t quite capture with other games. How much of that is due to my own tastes in fantasy and how much to nostalgia, I can’t say, but it’s true either way. I still have fun with the game, whether by playing to the tropes of fantasy that D&D encompasses, or using the rules and expectations to play against those tropes.
I don’t do much computer gaming, honestly. Part of it is that I have occasional bouts of tendonitis in my fingers, and obviously the writing is of far greater priority than gaming. And part of it is that I know I’ll get sucked in and slack off on the writing if I let myself.
SF: Finally, is there anything that you would like to share with our readers?
AM: Only that I want to say thank you. I couldn’t do this without the support I’ve gotten, and I’m grateful for every one of my readers.