An interview with Daniel Polansky, author of Low Town
Low Town takes several noir elements - a disgraced anti-hero detective, a shadowy underworld rife with thugs and drugs, and a horrific murder that drives the plot - and arranges them in a fantasy/sci-fi setting. The result is a wholly unique mystery/thriller. Is it accurate to describe Low Town as "Tarantino meets Tolkien"?
It's not exactly how I think of it, but it's certainly flattering. In my mind it's more Dan Brown meets the Old Testament.
"Low Town" refers to a poor, drug and crime ridden district of a major city in not only a foreign land but an alternate world/universe, that is populated by a diverse and colorful array of people and cultures. Were these inventions informed by people and places in the real world?
In terms of the broader world, I read a lot of history so most of it is grounded in that. I always tried to keep in mind that however alien the world of Low Town may be, the characters are all human, affected by the same fundamental drives - greed, guilt, loyalty, bigotry etc. - as we are. In terms of the characters and situations and so on, you do your best to take from your own experiences, though obviously, I've never knifed anyone.
Your hometown is Baltimore, which has seen its share of crime and inner city turmoil. Did life in Charm City shape your fiction writing?
I have no idea what you are talking about. Inner city turmoil? Baltimore is an edenic paradise, Plato's Athens but without all the pederasty. Where are you getting this misinformation?
The principles of good versus evil are murky in noir fiction, and Low Town is characteristic of the genre. Are the gray areas of character easier to portray than stark black and white?
There's not really a clear good/evil axis to most of our decisions. People muddle through as best they can - if you are lucky enough to be in a situation where your basic needs are met, you can more easily spend energy thinking about your neighbor's. Should society descend into anarchy, on the other hand, it all becomes more of a zero sum game. All that is to say I don't know what a stark black or white' character would look like, so I guess in that sense it's easier to write people with more mixed motivations.
Drug dealers, hustlers, brothels, dirty politics, corrupt cops...and sorcery. Where did the idea for Low Town come from?
Honestly I sat down to write something a little more in line with the typical fantasy norms, but as it turns out I hate elves so I realized I needed to do something different. I guess I liked the idea of introducing a faster pace to a genre that tends to bloat a little, and Low Town seemed like one way to do it.
What kind of research and preparation went into crafting Low Town? Which other fantasy/sci-fi authors influenced you, and do you have a favorite?
I wear my influences pretty heavy on my sleeve, Chandler and Hammet in particular. As far as fantasy goes, Gene Wolfe is a giant, deserved of far more regard than he gets. George RR Martin is probably the only person who ever wrote a good high fantasy book, cruel though it was to strand us mid-series.
What do you think the main character, the Warden, would have become if the "Crane" hadn't rescued him from life on the streetswhere he ultimately returned on his own terms?
I'm not sure that I think of the Warden as having been saved by the Crane exactly, or having returned to the streets on his own terms. For better or for worse, I think of the Warden as fundamentally a pretty selfmade man.
How did you make the journey from earning a philosophy degree to becoming a novelist at the ripe old age of 25?
Well I'm 26 actually, but I guess that doesn't change the question. I wish I had a better story for you, but my post-college history is pretty dull. I lived in China for a while, I went broke and came back to the US, I got a job, I wrote the first draft of Low Town, I quit my job, I went traveling again, I got an agent, I went broke and came back to the US, some gentleman at Random House drank too much at lunch one morning and gave me some money, and now I'm traveling again.
Finally, have you sampled pixie breath and/or dream vine?
Are you a cop? Because, honestly, that reads like the kind of question a cop would ask. If you're a cop you have to tell me, or its entrapment.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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