SM: Only three things?! Hmmm… Let me think. First, I hate the beach! The sand, the water, the sun, the whole package! Secondly, I dislike nature in general. I grew up in Seattle and I could hardly wait to get away from the mountains, Puget Sound, the trees, and all the “wild things.” I much prefer cities! Central Park is wild enough for me – lots of trees and rocks and streams and then I can walk across the street and get back on the subway. Of course, it’s anathema for someone from Seattle to say this, but the first time I stepped up out of Grand Central and looked around 42nd Street, I said, “This is Home! This is what a city is SUPPOSED to be like!” Thirdly, people at my “day job” have compared me to Dr. House: not that I look anything like Hugh Laurie but I can be disdainful and dismissive and uncooperative with anyone who disagrees with me! My partner went to Disney World and brought me back a Grumpy the Dwarf shirt because it encapsulated my personality PERFECTLY! HMPH!
BBB: What actors would you choose to play some of your characters if your book were made into a movie or a TV show?
SM: I have been thinking about this for a while! I have the first scene of the movie clearly in mind, as the camera pans along the Vltava river valley and then comes in close over the Prague skyline and then comes in even closer to the Old Town Square just a mob erupts from a side street next to the Astronomical Clock and hustles Fen’ka to the stake awaiting her in the midst of the square. But the actors who would play the roles? I think George would be played by Victor Garber or Alan Rickman. Magdalena could be Michelle Williams and Elizabeth would be Olivia Wilde. I think Fr. Dmitri would be Sean Griffiths or Tom Wilksinson.
BBB: How do you keep track of your world building?
SM: For the COME HELL OR HIGH WATER trilogy, I replicated a calendar from August 2002 so I could make notes on it of what happens on which day, including both real-life events (like the stages of the Prague flood) that are brought into the story as well as the fictional events the characters act out. I also made a chart of the modern academic characters in the books so that I could keep track as they developed — which colleges they are each affiliated with, their subject specialties, hair color, etc!
BBB: Please tell us more about Come Hell or High Water, Part 2: Rising and the storyline that drives it.
SM: Magdalena is convinced that she is helping right the wrongs of centuries and clear Fen’ka’s name but she is clearly out of her depth and dealing with much more sophisticated, ancient powers that have other agendas. She works with George and Elizabeth without realizing that she is helping them unleash the full power of Fen’ka’s dying curse against Prague. There are academics in Prague for a conference, experts in magic and evil and the supernatural, who realize the danger the city faces and they struggle to keep one step ahead of George and Elizabeth – not always successfully!
BBB: How many more books there be in this world?
SM: I have several planned! There are the 3 books in the COME HELL OR HIGH WATER trilogy and then another 6 that I have sketched out. I do not anticipate that any of them will be trilogies or multi-volume stories but I have begun working on 3 of the next books and have titles for at least 5 of the 6 to come.
BBB: Did you do any kind of research to determine the details of your characters lives / lifestyles?
SM: Some of the research is simply the result of living and observing and keeping a careful eye on the kinds of people or personalities drawn to certain occupations or situations. But some of the research involves a lot of time with books and articles or interviewing people who know more than I do about some places or people or characters. I often have to make research trips not just to the library but to Europe, as well! For instance, I spent a week in Waterford (southeast Ireland) so I could get all the details about the Dearg-due, a Waterford “native” so-to-speak.
BBB: Are you a plotser or a panster? or a Planster (a combo of both – lol)
SM: I like the “planster” designation! I think I am a combination of both “plotser” and “punster” approaches. I always begin with at least a broad outline of the plot in mind and then start writing. Some chapters are much more carefully plotted while others just kind of happen as I write them. I had to be very careful in Part 3 of the COME HELL OR HIGH WATER trilogy because the flood that nearly washed away Prague in August 2002 is an important event in the book and I had to be very aware of the weather and what parts of the city closed at what time, etc.
BBB: What types of creatures can readers expect in your world?
SM: I always do a lot of research and bring creatures or characters from traditional folklore into the world I create. That’s why the troll under the Charles Bridge is a giant-goddess rather than a grumpy old male dwarf, because trolls in the oldest stories are large semi-divine female figures but modern retellings of troll stories make them into something else. I always like the lesser-known characters as well, like the Dearg-due from Waterford, Ireland. I have an upcoming book that features an Estonian werewolf: a werewolf who is known as such to his neighbors and who can fly because his role in the village is to fight the terrible storms in the sky that could destroy the fields and livelihoods of the villagers.
BBB: What’s coming up for you in 2012 and 2013?
SM: I am not only working on editing Part 3 of the trilogy but I have 5-6 more books in the series sketched out, as I said earlier. I anticipate working on these books — and I will be able to retire from my “day job” this summer so I will be able to write and research full-time thereafter! I’ve already planned a research trip for next September!
Stephen has degrees in medieval history and theology from Yale and St. Vladmir’s Orthodox Theological Academy. A former priest, he served as the Eastern Orthodox chaplain at Columbia University. His previous academic writing has dealt primarily with Late Antiquity and Byzantine church life. “Come Hell or High Water” is his debut novel.
He is also the Chair of the CORE Executive of Inter-disciplinary.net and organizes annual conferences on aspects of the supernatural, evil and wickedness, and related subjects. It was an I-D.net project that took him to Prague for the first time in 2001 and he immediately fell in love with the city! He has been back many, MANY times!
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