Arthur Slade is the author of The Hunchback Assignments: Empire of Ruins.
Presenting the semi-historical adventures of a hunchback secret agent in a believable way must be a daunting task. How much research do you do? Do you have any favorite go-to sources for that kind of thing?
I have a bit of research addiction (it’s the best way to avoid writing). I read three general histories of the Victorian period and two books that had interviews with Victorian people, complete with accents, just so I could get a feel for how people spoke and what they would be concerned about. Since each book is inspired by Victorian novels (Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) I usually read those texts two or three times and listen to the audiobook (it’s a way of injecting the text right into my subconscious). One of my favorite sources is What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool. It has many tidbits. And that’s what we writers like to use to keep the mortar of our stories together. Tidbits! I also make far too much use of Slang Dictionary by John Hamden. It is chock full of slang from Victorian times. For example “his upper storey is unfinished” is slang for “He’s crazy.” Fun, eh?
I’m reading the teaser text for Empire of Ruins, and I see things like godfaces that cause magic and Egyptian ruins in the Australian outback, and I’m immediately reminded of the work of “weird” writers like H.P. Lovecraft, as well as that of pseudoscience writers like Erich Von Daniken. Are any of these an influence to you?
I think Lovecraft scarred my brain (but I couldn’t stop reading him anyway). So his work does influence mine, though there aren’t any Cthulhu characters in this one. And Von Daniken certainly had some interesting theories, I did gobble those books up as a youth. Mostly this latest book is influenced by H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quartermain books. He was Indiana Jones before there was an Indiana Jones: an upstanding British adventurer with upstanding courage and and upstanding moustache. He would go off on adventures to strange countries at the drop of a hat and often even went to fantastical lands. So I channeled some of that adventure towards Empire of Ruins. I also drew inspiration from Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon.
In your everyday life you podcast, participate in virtual visits to schools via Skype and more. The Hunchback Assignments feature technology as well, albeit of a fantastical steampunk nature. Where does this fascination come from? A bit of a sillier question, I admit, but one I must ask: If you were transported to the world of the Hunchback Assignments would you be a mad scientist or something like that? Where would you see yourself fitting in?
Oh, I’ve been a science fiction geek since I cracked open my first Heinlein book. Star Trek and Star Wars are now imprinted on my DNA (my wife wouldn’t let me get tattoos). I especially enjoy reading about and writing about the Victorian period because they were both adventurous and creative. People seemed to be inventing things left and right. I have a book called Inventing the 19th Century that has descriptions and drawings of many of the inventions (like the Bell Casket–a casket with a long rope that led up to a bell, in case you were accidentally buried alive and you woke up from your coma. All you’d have to do is ring the bell and hope someone came along and dug you out). There was a sense that the whole world could be understood and rationalized. As far as where would I fit in the world of The Hunchback Assignments: I’d love to be a mad scientist. Either for good or evil, whoever would pay the most. Most likely though I’d just be the grumpy guy driving the characters around in their Hansom cab. Or I’d be a chimney sweep…
Modo has a gift and a curse: his shapeshifting abilities and his physical deformity. Has your own talent ever been a gift and curse as well? Did you have a hard time fitting in when you were growing up? What about now?
I think my talent only has been a curse in that it prevented my from trying to get a real job. I always just wanted to create things. I was lucky enough to fit in during my high school years, partly because I had a good group of friends who were also readers and into fantastical worlds and Dungeons & Dragons and didn’t care what anyone else thought. I seem to fit in now. Of course, I live in a bunker 200 metres under the Canadian Shield. There’s no one here to bother me.
If you had an opportunity to meet Victor Hugo for coffee and discuss your books, how do you think the conversation would go?
I think he’d have his hand out. Not to shake mine, but to ask for his share of the royalties. Actually him and Jules Verne might put me in a wrestling hold and empty my pockets. : ) It would be fun to talk to either of them, of course. I would thank them for giving me and my imagination a leg up. Then we’d go explore Notre Dame Cathedral together and end the day with dinner on the deck of the Nautilus. Now that would be a great day!