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Interview: Rob Thurman by Drew Bittner
Review by Drew Bittner
Date: 25 May 2010

Links: Author's Website / Review: Chimera /

Rob Thurman is best known for the Cal Leandros series of urban fantasy adventures, but that may change. This author has just released Chimera, a near-future sf thriller about a hitman for the Russian Mafia whose obsession with his missing brother seems to have paid off...or has it?

Rob sat down with SFRevu to answer some questions about the new book and the life of a modern genre writer.

SFRevu: Okay, Rob, I read Chimera and I have some questions... ;)

Rob: Like it? Six years. Long time. Didn't think anyone would ever take it.

SFRevu: Well, persistence pays off. That and having two series running at the same time. Say you met a new reader at a signing. How would you describe Chimera to them?

Rob: That's easy enough. Classic Dean Koontz from his Lightning and Watchers days.

SFRevu: Sounds good to me. I had a blurb in some paperback editions of Watchers--the Asbury Park Press item is mine. But I disgress.

Chimera is a stand-alone novel, an SF thriller, and not part of your extended urban fantasy world. What made you want to write in this new sub-genre? And what does SF allow you to do that urban fantasy might not?

Rob: Truthfully, it's definitely a thriller, action-thriller, but labeling it beyond that is difficult. I think for lack of a more specific label it is considered SF because of the advanced genetics, but it's set in the here and now. And as for advanced genetics, the bad guys always have the better toys, no matter what genre you're writing or reading, right?

As for what made me want to write Chimera, this is the book I wrote after I wrote Nightlife, the first in my Cal Leandros urban fantasy (UF) novels... which I couldn't sell. As I spent three and a half years trying to sell it, without an agent (none would accept it; male protags just weren't what they were wanting), I wrote Chimera. I thought that if UF wasn't receptive to a book about brothers kicking monster ass (and this was before the TV show Supernatural--those blind fools! They could've been ahead of the curve!) that I would write instead something with brothers along the lines of Lighting or Watchers by Dean Koontz. They had great convoluted plots, damaged characters made whole, non-stop action, and usually a fantastic twist.

Little did I know when I pitched it to agents as in the 'Dean Koontz' genre that I would be informed that there is only one person in the Dean Koontz genre...and that's Dean Koontz. But by then Nightlife had sold (despite those inconvenient male protags) and Chimera went on my dusty shelf, biding its time.

And now its time is here. If it does well enough, I might be prodding my publisher to do a sequel. It's complete in and of itself, but I'd like to revisit that world. Like all truly fun and twisted books, you always leave one bad guy out there...just in case.

SFRevu: Stefan and Michael go through an awful lot of really horrible stuff-- did you have a favorite predicament in which you placed them? and what was the one challenge they faced that was hardest to write them out of?

Rob: I think the attack at the fast food joint was probably one of the more action packed, 'how the hell do they get out of this' scene. You have the major bad guy, you have the minions (you're not a real villain without some minions), you have a stampeding crowd that is running for their lives, but also pissed off you came between them and their deep fried heart-clogger of the day. I did like that scene. It had a sense of true, inescapable danger to it.

Then there's any scene with the malevolent ferret, Godzilla.

SFRevu: I liked Godzilla! Every "buddy movie" should have a psychotic ferret in it.

Okay, then. The relationship between brothers is a strong motif in this book. it's also the backbone of the Cal and Niko series. Does that sort of relationship have a special meaning or is it just fertile ground for strong, emotional storytelling?

Rob: I have no brothers or sisters or I'm sure I probably wouldn't find it such a fascinating subject as we would've half-killed one another growing up. But being an only leaves a lot of wriggle room with writing siblings. You can idealize them while showing their flaws all in one. And who never wanted a brother who'd always watch your back and never give up on you (as opposed to the real kind that stole your shit and threw your bike under a passing car?)

SFRevu: I have a brother AND a sister and I can tell you that there are good and bad days. Lucky for us, none of us has the issues your characters do--that I know of.

Now that you've written a novel in the SF/thriller category, are there other subgenres you'd like to explore?

Rob: I like detective novels. I lost my baby teeth gnawing on the television while watching Starsky and Hutch reruns. Love cops, love private detectives, love all that.

SFRevu: What book(s) inspired you to write? What writers have taught you the most--directly or indirectly--about your craft?

Rob: The Stand (Stephen King) which is the best book for learning the art of characterization that will ever be. Big fan of classic King. Salem's Lot, The Talisman (with Peter Straub), Firestarter (one of the most undervalued horror novels ever...although I honestly don't consider it to be horror. You could say Chimera is in the same genre as Firestarter.)

Robert McCammon (back when vampires were frigging terrifying and not out shopping for kinky underwear.) His book They Thirst (out of print) is fantastic horror. A Boy's Life, again, defines genre. It's not horror--a thriller, I guess.

Steven Brust has a great, great voice. I'm a fan of the Elvis Cole series by Robert Crais.

SFRevu: I'm a big fan of McCammon's too--books like Swan's Song and Stinger are terrific. His short story collection Blue World is real good also.

How do you see the state of urban (or dark) fantasy? What separates this subgenre from horror?

Rob: How much balls you have. How far you're willing to go.

In my Cal Leandros series, many have said the third book, Madhouse, was more horror than UF. I don't really get that. If your characters are fighting true monsters, that should scare the crap out of your readers...bottom line. Why would a monster not be horror? Where's the fun in that?

Since we seem to be losing horror as a separate genre (huge pity that), perhaps dark fantasy should take a few more steps, step up to the plate. But different readers all seem to have different views of what true horror is.

Some of King I consider to be horror, some I don't. I don't consider Koontz horror at all, yet he was shelved there when there was a horror section. Clive Barker, damn...his books should come with a bottle of Prozac and that's a compliment.

SFRevu: Is there any one book you've read recently that you wish you'd written?

Rob: Yes, one that made money.

SFRevu: Ba-dum-bum. Rob's here all week, folks!

Rob: But seriously in the past year I've been writing so much (Chimera was six years old and needed updating) I haven't had a chance to read much, which is a crying shame. I used to read a book a day before I started writing. Didn't read every an entire book a day, even with work. I miss that beyond belief.

I've been having an urge to go hit some old graphic novels I missed years and years ago. V for Vendetta maybe. I've eyed Stephen King's Dome, but I'd have to hire a crew of five to carry it out to a pick up truck to get it home. What's it weigh? A thousand pounds? Two? Not sure I have the bucks for that.

SFRevu: It's one heavy book, I can tell you that. What's coming up next?

Rob: Roadkill (Cal Leandros 6) came out this past March.

The Grimrose Path, the second in my Trickster series is out in September. We find out some interesting things about Titans (they can make you go mad by pure accident) and Thor (who dyes his hair and follows the Scandanavian women's volleyball team); we also find out that demons will kill you, and angels will make you want to kill yourself just to avoid their sanctimonious bitching. And in March 2011, Blackout (Cal 7) will be out.

Anything you'd like to say in closing?

I tell this to everyone and a lot of people don't want to hear it, but it's true. Authors are walking, talking Gilligan's Islands. If you don't watch a TV show, it gets cancelled. If you don't buy an author's books, they get cancelled.

I once had a fan who was so proud she'd hooked all her friends on my books. She'd buy one and then her ten friends would read them in succession like she was a lending library. And I thought, 'Great. I love you're spreading the word, but at the same time eleven people read a book it took me seven months to write and I made 48 cents from that before taxes. Eleven people, 48 cents.'

And it wasn't one book in the series, it was several. People were just amiably waiting their turn, which added up to thirty-three readings. What's 33 x 48 cents? Damn sure not enough to buy you that Prozac that comes with the Clive Barker books.

If you like an author's books, buy them. It's the only way you'll be able to keep liking them or soon they'll be that author you used to like and whatever happened to them anyway?

Hope you enjoy Chimera. Action, thrills, genetic monsters in human form, irritable ferrets, and an ex-Russian mobster doing his best to both save his brother and be a role model. When you carry a gun, beat up people for a living, and work out of a strip club, that's not always easy.

SFRevu: Thanks for talking with us, Rob! Chimera is in bookstores now!

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