Interview with Sean Patrick Traver
Welcome back to what what is almost the end of the legion of excellent guests who have taken part on interviews or blog posts on my blog. Today I’m pleased to welcome author, Sean Patrick Traver in his first ever interview. Sean is the author of Grave’s End.
Here’s the blurb:
Los Angeles PI Dexter Graves was pretty sure his life ended back in 1950, after femme fatale Ingrid Redstone shot him through the head. When Graves involuntarily rises from his grave sixty years later, he finds himself drawn to freelance sorceress Lia Flores, who introduces him to an underworld he never could’ve imagined—a place where magic and crime intersect. Suburban shamans, rogue necromancers, criminal cabals and computer-savvy mages all co-exist (often uneasily) within the secret cityscape Lia has learned to call her home. She and her spirit familiar Black Tom set out to discover the meaning behind Graves’ unheralded intrusion into her enchanted life, but neither the witchgirl nor the skeletal detective has any idea they’re being set up by an old-school player on the LA scene: mobster/monster Mickey Hardface, also known as Mictlantecuhtli, the ambitious king of the Aztec realm of the dead.
Funny and fast-paced, this genre-bending love letter to the City of Angels blends surreal magical fantasy with the narrative drive of a taut crime story. Epic in scope and rooted in California history, GRAVES’ END adds a new chapter to the mythology of the post-Halloween holiday known as el Dia de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead.
And after showing you the excellent cover, here’s a small excerpt:
The Bindercotts’ aged Latina housekeeper was vacuuming, alone, mid-morning, in bitchy Bethany Bindercott’s outgrown frillygirl bedroom. She bumped the noisy vacuum against the leg of Bethie’s canary-yellow dresser, dislodging a baggie of mota that had until now been taped up underneath it.
Pilar, the housekeeper, shut off her roaring machine and picked up the baggie, considering it in the bright, suddenly silent bedroom.
Ten minutes later Pilar was parked out on the Bindercotts’ back deck, toking up in the clear autumn sunshine.
The hills just outside the irrigated housing development in Santa Clarita that her employers called home looked dusty brown and about as dry as kindling. As little as ten years ago, she remembered, this whole area had been a waterless wasteland, fit for little more than the surreptitious disposal of inconvenient corpses.
On the big green lawn in front of Pilar—right out in the center of Big Bill Bindercott’s personal practice putting green, in fact—something broke through the sod.
A gopher, maybe? If so, it was a damn big one. Whatever the thing was, it seemed to be forcing its way up from underneath the lush, professionally-tended lawn. Pilar squinted to see better, shading her eyes against the sun’s glare.
Out on the putting green, skeletal hands and arms emerged from what looked increasingly like a small sinkhole, clawing and scrabbling at the grass around it. A grimy skull popped up, one with a distinctive exit wound above the right eye socket.
Pilar’s own eyes widened. She looked down at the ineptly-rolled joint in her hand.
Dexter Graves (or what little remained of him after sixty years in the earth) hauled himself out of his grave and came staggering across the broad back lawn he found himself on, holding his cracked braincase like a drunk wallowing in the throes of crapulence. Up the steps and onto a redwood deck he went, where he stopped, looking down at an older woman in a light-blue uniform with bulky white sneakers on her feet who was parked in an Adirondack chair. A maid, Graves surmised, judging by her attire. The housekeeper was frozen, looking back up at him with a forgotten smoke dangling from her fingertips.
Must’ve scared the living shit out of her, Graves thought, wandering in from the backyard like this. Hell, he could’ve been anybody! A certain comfort level in the face of wild absurdity had often helped him keep hold of his wits, both during the war and several times thereafter in his current line as a PI, but he knew not everybody could roll with the punches in a similar fashion. He was still a little confused himself after waking up underground, not quite sure of where he was or exactly how he’d gotten here.
“Estoy muerta?” the maid whispered, looking up at the dirt-encrusted skeleton who wasn’t yet up to speed regarding his own situation. “Usted es la Santa Muerte? Esta esto la Apocalipsis?”
“Sorry, sister,” Graves’ reanimated bones replied, in a predictably gravelly voice. “Never did learn to habla the old es-pan-yol. Wouldn’t mind a puff on that smokestick, though. I have never had a hangover like this before.”
Graves plucked the hand-rolled cigarette in question from the lady’s fingers and put it between his teeth. He expanded his ribs as if to inhale, but with no lungs to pull air, nothing happened. Graves examined the joint critically while patting around the region where his pockets should’ve been. “Guess it went out,” he said absently. “Don’t know where my lighter got to, either. Hell, I’d hate to lose that thing now…”
Graves offered the joint back to its original roller. She stared at his skeletal hand. “De nada,” she managed to croak.
Graves thought she looked sort of shellshocked, for some reason. She had that sort of half-comprehending stare. He shrugged and went to stick the reefer behind an ear that’d turned to dust years ago. It bounced off his collarbone and tumbled to the deck.
“What the…?” he muttered, turning to look at his reflection in the house’s glass back door. His appearance came as a bit of a shock, to say the least.
“Holy hell, wouldja look at that?” he shouted, reeling back in bewilderment. He was nothing but a string of bones, literal bones, and the smooth, soil-blackened plate of his forehead was marred by what looked suspiciously like an exit crater. “Geez, no wonder my head feels like it’s got a goddamn hole in it. Now how in the—?”
“Oh, yeah. Ingrid.”
If that doesn’t whet your appetite for more, here’s an interview with the man himself, Sean Patrick Traver:
1. So, why don’t you tell us all a bit about yourself?
Let’s see… I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California—an experience that left me with the ability to sleep through moderately severe earthquakes. Today I live in a fortress made of piled-up books with my wife Tam and our cat Tyler, where we watch movies and TV and sometimes try to wedge in little things like human relationships or going to the store, as time allows.
2. Can you tell us a bit more about your book? Where did the idea come from? How long did it take to write?
Graves’ End is the title of my book, and I’ve been describing it as ‘a magical thriller.’ It tells the story of a modern-day witch who helps an undead detective solve the mystery of his own resurrection. It’s got action, humor, horror, and even a romantic moment or two. The inspiration for it came together at the crossroads of several things that I obsessively love, including the lore surrounding the practice of witchcraft and the hidden history of Los Angeles. The images of lively, celebrating skeletons associated with the Mexican holiday called el Dia de los Muertos have always fired my imagination, and they became my jumping-off point. The Day of the Dead is still observed here in the City of Angels—California was a part of Mexico not so very long ago, and the heritage remains. Later on LA evolved into the classic setting of the noir genre—the native habitat of hardboiled private eyes and sexy femmes fatale. I wanted to write a story about reanimated skeletons and homegrown witches. Something with a weird sense of humor and a unique take on magic. Something set in my own neighbourhood and in my own era that would dig down through the sedimentary layers of local history to stir up old ghosts, and Graves’ End is the tale that grew out of that mix. There were about three years between typing out the words ‘Chapter One’ and holding a printed book in my hand.
3. Do you have a favourite book or author? What are they?
I have many favourite books and authors, including Neil Gaiman, Tom Robbins, and Elmore Leonard, but I’ve been reading Stephen King the longest, since I was about eight years old, and I still plunk down my money for his new books as soon as they come out. There have been highs and lows over the years, but I still respond to his sly humor; the valor his characters tend to display in the face of horrors both supernatural and man-made; and his powers of description, which for me can be so evocative that they sometimes border on hallucinatory. Deep immersion in other worlds is one of the best tricks a writer can offer, I think.
4. What do you do for fun when you’re not writing?
Sleep? I like to sleep. I find it relaxing.
5. Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
I do, I have two new novels that I’m working on now, both set in the same enchanted Los Angeles as Graves’ End and starring some of the same characters. Brujachica: The Education of a Witch delves into the relationship between Black Tom Delgado and his student Lia, while Red Witch: The Tales of Ingrid Redstone chronicles Ingrid’s adventures in the land of the dead and across LA’s timeline, too. I hope to release one or both of them in the next year.
6. What’s your favourite genre to read?
Novels by practicing magicians are a fun sub-genre. Two of my favourite graphic novel authors, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, have each written extensively about their personal experiments with occultism. Gerald Gardner, one of the founders of modern Wicca, wrote a book called High Magic’s Aid back in 1954, and I thought it was a surprisingly fun read. The infamous Aleister Crowley wrote a novel called Moonchild in 1917. More recently, Lon Milo DuQuette (a contemporary explicator of mystery traditions and mystical philosophies) has brought the whole thing full circle by making Crowley a character in a novel of his own, titled Aleister Crowley – Revolt of the Magicians. I find that fiction written by real-world advocates of magic is filled with insights I can apply to my own witchy characters.
7. What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
To me writing a novel is like nurturing a recurring daydream. I’ll play music that reminds me of my characters in order to get inside their heads. I also have a habit of collecting objects that my characters own within the story. While writing Graves’ End I gathered up an antique cigarette lighter that matches the one owned by Dexter Graves in the story, as well as Black Tom’s walking stick and a large garnet that Ingrid wears on a necklace. They’re like totems that keep a part of my mind anchored in the fictional world. Accumulating Star Wars toys did something similar when I was a kid. I do most of the typing involved in my writing mid-morning, but then I’ll also randomly tweak and screw around with what I’ve written throughout the rest of the day, as the mood strikes me. I don’t aim for a set number of words or pages per sitting—I just try to advance the plot enough that I know where it’s going next, so I can jump back in the next time I plop down at the keyboard. Holding on to the mood and keeping up momentum are all-important, once I get a story rolling. I also like to give my most recent pages one last glance before going to bed, so they’re on my mind as I fall asleep. I’ll often wake up with new ideas or narrative knots untied that way, as though my subconscious has worked them out for me in the night.
8. Who inspired you to write your book?
I’m going to say Russell T Davies, the showrunner and head writer on Doctor Who during the Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant years. I’ve never met Mr. Davies (and I know I’m crediting one person with something that many helped create), but it was his particular take on the character that first drew me in. The wit, the logical complexity, and the emotional power that he brought to the show all inspired me. In fact, I doubt I ever would have found my way through my novel if the Ninth Doctor hadn’t shouted “Everybody lives!” at the end of ‘The Doctor Dances’ and reminded me, right when I needed it, of what matters most to me in fiction.
9. You can be any comic book superhero – Who would you be?
I wouldn’t mind being as rich as Bruce Wayne, but I’m neither homicidal nor civic-minded enough to be a conscientious Batman. Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen has practically godlike powers, so that might be as close to wishing for unlimited wishes as I can get.
10. What skills do you possess that would help you survive a zombie apocalypse?
Absolutely none. I’m toast. Unless those superpowers kick in…
11. What TV shows do you enjoy?
There’s some amazing stuff on TV at the moment. Game of Thrones has been just awesome—Tyrion Lannister has my vote, if democracy ever comes to Westeros. True Blood is funny and creepy and clever, and of course I’m looking forward to the next series of Doctor Who. Breaking Bad is probably my favorite of the moment, though. It has a real narrative elegance to it, as well as fascinatingly complicated and ever-evolving characters, not to mention a sense of humor drier than the gorgeous New Mexico desert it’s filmed in.
12. You can pick one series to return to the TV. Firefly or Angel?
Firefly! Without hesitation. I think I’d give up the rest of television in its entirety to have Firefly back. I’m holding on to a last flickering hope that Joss Whedon might have a chance to revive it again, now that The Avengers has gone and made all the money.
13. What’s your favourite Monty Python film/sketch?
Eric Idle’s Galaxy Song. “So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure / how amazingly unlikely is your birth / and pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space / ’cause there’s bugger all down here on earth!” Ha! If those aren’t words to live by, then I don’t believe I know any.
Thanks very much to Sean for taking part in the interview, I hope everyone enjoyed it. If you want to learn more about Sean and his work: