One of the things I love about genre fiction is its lack of fear for new ideas. I recently came across an author who embodied this fearlessness. In his debut novel, A Sorcerer Slain, Dave Sivers has blended two seemingly unrelated genres to create crime fantasy novels. I enjoyed it so much that I included it in my list of 25 best fantasy books! I wanted to know more about what it was like to blend genres, and Dave very kindly agreed to be interviewed.
First things first: thanks for subjecting yourself to my third degree!
Thanks for inviting me! I’m always grateful for opportunities to talk about my work and about writing in general.
You’re two books into the Lowmar Dashiel series. Could you tell us a little about them?
Sure. Dashiel calls himself a personal inquisitor, a profession he invented when he was down to his last few coins. He never looked back. He’s what crime fans would recognise as a private eye, but his world is one of demons, dwarfs, sorcerers and swords. He has an irascible dwarf sidekick named Grishen.
In the first book, A Sorcerer Slain, the head of the Sorcerer’s Guild has been murdered and his named successor, Zarna, is the prime suspect. The Guild regulates magic use in the kingdom of Balimar, and the death of its head, and lack of a natural replacement if Zarna is convicted and executed, will spark a terrifying new sorcerers’ war. Because everyone in the ‘establishment’ has an agenda, the King himself asks Dashiel to investigate. What the King does not know is that Zarna is the love of Dashiel’s life, and he will do anything to save her.
The sequel, Inquisitor Royal, is a much darker book in many ways. In Sorcerer, Dashiel travels to other parts of the kingdom looking for answers, whereas this book is firmly fixed in Balimar’s capital, Andruan. As a consequence, there’s a much more claustrophobic feel, to which the city’s seedier areas and labrynthine alleyways contribute. Once again the King seeks Dashiel’s assistance, this time with two cases: a sadistic maniac is preying on the city’s dwarf population; and a mysterious assassin is stalking the royal family. If that wasn’t enough, there is an attempt on Dashiel’s own life, which might be linked to one of the cases, or could be one of his many enemies seeking revenge.
How did you come to combine crime and fantasy genres? They don’t seem like natural bedfellows.
It started somewhat by accident. I started writing a fantasy short story about a manipulative sorceress who dupes a man into doing wrong for her and realised the themes were somewhat noirish. So I made the main male character the fantasy world equivalent of a private detective and played up the sorceress’s femme fatale traits. I liked the characters and the world they live in and decided to put them into a full-lenght novel. The original story became the first meeting between Dashiel and Zarna, which is told in flashback in A Sorcerer Slain.
Crime fantasy isn’t something I’ve come across before. Why do you think that is?
Some of Juliet E McKenna’s novels are in similar territory to my Dashiel books but are not called crime fantasy. On the whole, I think there is a tendency to make books fit one of the genre categories in the bookshops. It’s a shame, because books that do straddle genres may not be picked up by everyone who might enjoy them.
Some might say that we don’t see much genre blending because, rather than appealing to two sets of fans, you appeal to neither. Is that something that worries you?
I think there is more genre blending than we realise. In the US, there is a genre known as ‘romantic suspense’, which combines romance and crime, we have John Connolly, whose Charlie Parker crime novels have strong elements of horror and fantasy, and then there are the historical crimes, such as Ellis Peters’ Cadfael books and Lindsey Davis’s Falco novels, which are set in worlds very different to our own in the 21st Century. Having said that, I do think there are probably crime fans who like their books ‘realistic’ and might be turned off by magic and dwarfs threading through their whodunnit. I’ve had plenty of positive feedback from people who like escaping to other worlds but also enjoy a good mystery. No book is going to appeal to absolutely everyone.
You’ve said before that you think the self-publishing revolution allows for work that publishing houses wouldn’t take risks on. Where do you see this revolution heading?
I think, like all revolutions, it’s too soon to tell. Battle-lines are being drawn between those who are suspicious of, or downright hostile to, self-published e-books and those who see them as a real opportunity to get the stories they have sweated blood over actually read. It’s also evident that some writers who are still developing their craft are publishing too early. One thing I do know is that the e-book genie is out of the bottle and a new publishing landscape will establish itself over the next few years. It can’t possibly look like the status quo. There is a niche for e-book reviewers to build reputations for themselves and act as filters that help readers find good books that they will enjoy, and there needs to be some way of getting over to writers that the old route of finding an agent and becoming commercially published may not be the only way any more, but they still need to ensure that their book is the best it can be, and of a marketable standard. I’m not sure what the latter will look like, but I hope it will be constructive and won’t involve crushing sensitive egos.
Leaving the future alone for now, I was interested to read that your first published piece was under the name Melanie Blake in “Take A Break”. That’s a long way from crime fantasy novels! How did that come about?
I’m quite an eclectic writer and like to try different things. The Melanie Blake story came about when I was doing a Writers Bureau course in the 90s. I had to do a piece for a selected publication and I chose Take a Break because they did some punchy stories with a bit of a twist. I chose the Melanie Blake handle because I thought it would improve my chances of publication in a women’s magazine. Whether that was true, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll take Melanie out for another run some time!
Your novels are only available as ebooks. Can we expect to see paper books in the future?
Not as self-published books – the commercial route is still the way to get physical books out there. I still dream of seeing my titles on the shelves at Watestones one day, but for the moment I’m enjoying the challenges of being self-published and having to market myself and my product.
You’re not tempted to use Lulu or another Print-On-Demand service?
It’s not in my plans at the moment, but I would certainly never say never!
Finally, what can we expect to see from Dave Sivers?
I publish short contemporary crime fiction on my website and have a full-length crime novel as a work in progress. Meanwhile, I’m also working on the third Lowmar Dashiel mystery, which should be available in autumn 2012.