Neil Gaiman’s American Gods seems to be getting a lot of attention these days, which makes me happy. I had the chance to interview him over sushi many years ago, when I still worked in the media, and he was one of the nicest and most honest writers I’d ever met. Plus there’s all that creative stuff. He’s the kind of writer you really like to see succeed and blow up in mainstream popularity, especially given all the work he does on behalf of others.
I also like seeing American Gods get lots of attention because of that time Robert J. Wiersema went on the CBC’s Next Chapter and suggested readers of American Gods may also like my first Cross book, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice. Check it out if you haven’t heard it already – the segment starts around the 41 minute mark.
“Give me the impossible city, the perfect Paris,
its people wearing shoes made of saltwater,
its streets full of whipped cream and opera,
its fire-breathing street vendors selling
both balloons and bourbon bottles.
Give me books written on illuminated
garlic skin by domesticated foxes;
the cloud-breaking Eiffel Tower
afloat on the buttery backs of croissants.”
(Photo is of me in a gallery in Paris, many ages ago. Long before I’d dreamed up Cross and The Mona Lisa Sacrifice!)
There are all numbers of things fantastic in my third Cross novel, The Apocalypse Ark. There are angels and a crazed Noah, sorcerous pirates and sunken cities, a vampire and a white whale, to name just a few. In one sense, the book is a stand-in for the ark of the title, which in Cross’s universe is not the ship that saved humanity but is instead the storage place for all of God’s misfit creations. There are many such misfits in the book. In another, more personal sense, The Apocalypse Ark is a return to some of the things that inspired me to begin writing when I was a child.
The cast of curious creatures is nothing new for the series. The first two Cross books, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice and The Dead Hamlets, also have their share of the mythological and wondrous. With those books, though, the fantastic was much more grounded in the real. I’ve always loved fantasy, but I really wanted to create a fantasy series that was about our world rather than some made-up realm — I wanted readers to feel a real-life connection to the characters and places in the books, even if the characters were immortals, faerie and the like.
In The Mona Lisa Sacrifice, the fantasy elements are very clearly tied to our world — the Gaudi church in Barcelona inspired much of the book (as I’ve written about before), the gorgon is linked to a statue in the Louvre and a glass skull in the British Museum, Cross’s love Penelope is enmeshed in the spiritualist movement, an abandoned factory in Detroit is the setting for a key scene and so forth. There’s even a real-life painting or two that play a role.
I continued to find the fantasy in the real with The Dead Hamlets, where the Tower of London plays a key role, as does the castle that likely inspired Hamlet. There are a few other things, such as a certain cemetery, a legendary historical text, Westminster Abbey, the church where Shakespeare is buried, a real-life haunted theatre and rumoured ghost, and so on. I let my imagination run a little more wild in The Dead Hamlets, creating settings and characters that are definitely out of this world, but for the most part I was working within pre-existing myths, legends and texts.
With The Apocalypse Ark, I set sail for the seas of the imagination instead of the real world, though. The novel originated in a mad fantasy rather than the real world, after all — the idea that Noah was God’s jailer rather than humanity’s saviour and had gone mad and sought to end the world. As with the other books, I wanted a wild assortment of mythic characters and magical settings, but rather than find their origins in real life I wanted to anchor them in books, movies, and other works of art that had meant something to me. (Some of you may say there is no difference between real life and art, but bear with me….)
In many ways, The Apocalypse Ark is a tribute to the works that inspired me as a youth and lit the fires of my imagination. Chief among them is the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, based on the Jules Verne novel. I remember seeing the movie in a school gymnasium right before the holidays when I was in elementary school. I sat on the floor in the dark with hundreds of other students and watched, mesmerized, as the secret submarine Nautilus emerged from the depths and its crew did battle with a giant squid. It was a dark, stylish film with more than a little moral ambiguity and complex ideas for a young child such as myself. It was a far cry from the usual Disney fare I was used to, and I was hooked immediately.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was one of those things that changed the way I thought about books and movies — Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Amber were a couple of other notable atomic texts for me. It wasn’t long after I saw the movie that I found myself reading HP Lovecraft’s books and devouring the Conan tales, which are every bit as dark and disturbing as Lovecraft. If I were to go back through my life, I could probably follow the wake of the Nautilus through all my younger, formative years, right into university, where I discovered Melville’s tale of Ahab and the white whale. Another work of art that changed everything for me.
There’s so much of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in The Apocalypse Ark — the Nautilus and Nemo are both present in more than a passing manner. There’s a bit of steampunk to it, which was deliberate as I see 20,000 Leagues as one of the early steampunk works — not only for its stylish vision but also for its critique of capitalism and industry. The whole Cross series follows an antihero, of which we have a couple examples in 20,000 Leagues. Jules Verne even makes an appearance in The Apocalypse Ark! And, of course, The Apocalypse Ark does have a memorable giant squid attack. I hope it’s memorable, anyway….
I also wrote in the other books that influenced me, the ones that Verne’s Nautilus led me toward. The Sunken City may remind you of a certain Lovecraft aquatic abode, and I tried to channel the madness of Moby Dick with my own version of Ahab and the white whale.
It’s not all echoes and homages, though — I like to think I managed to create my own dark and wondrous world populated by deranged angels, cunning vampires and crazed kraken and the like. I would love it if readers set sail into the sea of my imagination and find it as much a shock and inspiration as that moment I found myself huddled in the dark on a gymnasium floor, watching a strange new world come to life before me.
I hope The Apocalypse Ark carries you away, dear reader, much as 20,000 Leagues carried me away to a world I never could have imagined but can now never forget.
Is there a secret Mona Lisa hidden away under the painting we all know? New scans show a different woman lurking underneath it. Of course, readers of The Mona Lisa Sacrifice may have a different theory….
As all writers know, most of an author’s day is spent obsessively checking your Amazon ratings, with little bits of writing thrown in here and there when the Internet is down.
All right, I kid. A little. Most writers I know do check their Amazon ratings from time to time because it’s one of the few ways they can see how their book is doing. The problem is that when you see a spike in sales, you often have no idea what’s caused it. Did you get a good review somewhere? Did a popular blogger link to your work? Did you make the Bad Sex in Literature Award again? It’s all a bit of a guessing game. Most of publishing is….
Sometimes you can trace the direct cause and effect, though. Yesterday my first Cross book, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice, got a very kind mention on the CBC show The Next Chapter, hosted by Shelagh Rogers. (The bit begins around the 41 minute mark.) Robert Wiersema, a fine writer and one of Canada’s most thoughtful reviewers, compared The Mona Lisa Sacrifice to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Now, it’s a huge honour to be mentioned on The Next Chapter at all. And to be compared to Gaiman? Well, that left me feeling humbled and beyond honoured.
I remember travelling to Toronto years ago to see Gaiman give a reading, back when I was still a struggling writer. It was a magical experience for me, partially because of his wonderful stories and charming performance. He’s a charmer, that Gaiman. But I also saw how much he loved what he was doing, and how he was doing it on his own terms. Gaiman became an inspiration for me in that moment. I wanted to be a writer who made people love stories again, just like Gaiman. I never thought I’d be compared to him in casual conversation, let alone on a national radio show.
I don’t really have words for what the CBC thing meant. It was one of those moments when you’re feeling exhausted and discouraged and thinking about throwing in the towel at this writing game and then someone’s kind comment reminds you why you’re doing this and drives you back to the computer.
But back to that cause and effect. I was a kids’ fun park most of the day, playing subterranean mini-golf with my son — yes, apparently subterranean mini-golf is a thing — so I didn’t have my usual time to obsessively browse Amazon. Damn kids adding to my quality of life! Late at night, after everyone was in bed, I finally got around to checking Amazon to see if the CBC thing had connected me with any new readers. I was totally blown away by what I saw. The Mona Lisa Sacrifice managed to hit the No. 1 and No. 3 spots in Amazon.ca’s Historical Fantasy bestsellers (for paperback and Kindle versions) and No. 3 and No. 5 in Amazon’s Contemporary Fantasy bestsellers — bookending Gaiman’s American Gods at No. 4! It even hit No. 3 and No. 5 on the Canadian Literature bestsellers.
I was a bit shocked by this. I’ve made joking posts in the past about trying to hit the No. 1 spot in an Amazon category — any Amazon category — but I never really expected to manage that. It turns out getting compared to Neil Gaiman can really help your sales! Who knew?
Sales rankings are just numbers, though. They rise and fall — usually, like the numbers in my bank account, they keep on falling. What those rankings really mean is that some people are now reading The Mona Lisa Sacrifice who hadn’t heard of it before yesterday. So thanks, Robert Wiersema, for the shout-out! Thanks, Shelagh Rogers and The Next Chapter, for hosting such an incredible book party! Thanks, Neil Gaiman, for being you! And thanks most of all to everyone who’s ever taken the time to read any of my books! You’re the reason I sit down at my computer and write every day. When I’m not checking my Amazon rankings, of course….
(The thing that makes this better is I interviewed Gaiman once for The Province newspaper where I work and he was one of the nicest and most charming writers I ever met. Good karma all around.)
Holy hell. Robert J. Wiersema is on CBC’s The Next Chapter comparing my first Cross book, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice, to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Comparing it in a good way! It’s moments like this that inspire me to get back to the computer and write some more. Thanks, Rob! (The segment starts around the 41 minute mark, but the whole show is worth a listen.)
In a celebration of spring, the ebook versions of my Cross books, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice and The Dead Hamlets, have returned. The books disappeared a few days back as my publisher, ChiZine, switched distribution providers. But now the Kindle and Kobo versions are back, and the other formats will be online again shortly.
And the flowers did bloom and the clouds did part, and the angels did sing their glorious song. And then Cross murdered them for their grace.
Updated to reflect the new rankings. OK, I really have to go and do some work now!
One of the interesting things about watching The Dead Hamlets go out into the world — don’t forget to call, Hamlets! — is the way the book has renewed interest in the first Cross novel, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice. I knew some people would come to The Dead Hamlets first and then pick up The Mona Lisa Sacrifice, but I’d just assumed it would give the ol’ Mona Lisa a minor boost in sales.
Instead, the two novels have been running neck and neck, and The Mona Lisa Sacrifice has had intriguing spikes in sales where it shoots ahead of The Dead Hamlets. (Yes, I compulsively check my Amazon ratings, just like any other author. I need to do something when I’m not writing but the baby is napping on me!) So it’s nice to see the second book renew interest in the first one — or generate new interest, whatever is the case.
I was blown away and excited to see The Mona Lisa Sacrifice hit No. 5 in Amazon.ca’s Contemporary Fantasy bestseller list, while The Dead Hamlets hit No. 9. Mona Lisa also hit No. 7 in Amazon’s Historical Fantasy bestsellers, while Dead Hamlets hit No. 9. I don’t think any of my books have charted that high before. As a bonus, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice hit No. 25 in the CanLit bestseller list. I never expected to be a CanLit bestseller at all with these books!
Anyway, thanks for reading my Cross books. Knowing there are people out there who like them makes it that much easier to finish the third book in the series.
My publisher ChiZine is selling all their ebooks at 50% off until Sunday, March 15th, to make up for the technical difficulties as they switch ebook distributors for Kindle, etc.
That’s right, you can get each book for less than the price of a Starbucks drink. And they’re better for you than that Starbucks junk. Well, better for your body. The books are probably kind of harmful for your mind….