Today’s guest is Max Gladstone, author of the four novels in the Craft Sequence! While Three Parts Dead was his first published novel, it’s actually third in the sequence chronologically while the recently-released Last First Snow is first. Two Serpents Rise is second in both publication and chronological order, and Full Fathom Five is fifth in order, of course. You can read more about the order in the author’s article “This is How I Numbered My Books and I’m Sorry.” You can also read more about what happened when supporting characters from previously published books were brought together in Last First Snow, released earlier this week, below!

Last First Snow by Max Gladstone

Revisiting Old Friends

Who are you, really, when you’re alone?

We, humans I mean, base whole religious traditions around the struggle to answer this question. We climb mountains, sit under trees, whip and starve ourselves, we contort ourselves into singularly uncomfortable positions, we take long walks alone with a few thousand of our closest friends through the Spanish countryside, we take mushrooms and talk to God, all to discover who we really are when nobody’s watching.

It’s such a tricky question because most of who we are, we are with other people. We live through networks of association—we’re parents, friends, lovers. We’re particular sorts of those things: the kind of friend I am to people with whom I’ve argued philosophy for the better part of a decade is very different from the kind of friend I am to other fencers, say, or to gym acquaintances. The matter gets even more complicated when categories overlap, and our particular relationships with particular people of course grow more complicated than any category. We move through whirling masks, occupying roles as needed.

And yet when we talk about characters in fiction, we tend—and I was taught—to think of them as atoms. This one’s funny; that one’s brave. She’s clever, she’s fierce, he’s timid, he’s stoic, she’s eloquent, they’re inventive. Then we toss a bunch of characters together, and see what kind of molecule they form!

Whenever I work that way, I end up with characters who feel vivid on their own, but as often as not refuse to talk to one another on the page. It’s only after I let them break one another open a bit, and wear off one another’s self-complete edges, that my characters start living. They bind with others and reveal themselves.

Which approach served me well until I started my most recent book, Last First Snow. While Last First Snow is, like all my novels so far, a self-contained fantasy legal thriller, many of its central characters have featured in previous books in a supporting role: the efficient and powerful Craftswoman Elayne Kevarian mentored the young necromancer Tara in my first book, Three Parts Dead; Temoc, last priest of the dethroned gods, was a shadowy revolutionary in Two Serpents Rise, and the King in Red, skeletal sorcerer king turned utility magnate, also loomed large over that book. They all shone in their previous worlds. At first, writing Last First Snow, I thought, this is great! All I have to do is throw these people together and magic will result!

There was a lot more confusion than magic, in the first hundred pages of that first draft. I’d come to know these characters in different contexts, in different relationships. They didn’t have the right slots and protrusions to fit into one another. But I kept drafting, turning, examining—and something cool happened.

They fit. But not at all in the ways they’d fit with the casts of their original books! To give an easy example: these characters weren’t afraid of one another as everyone in their original books was of them, so in Last First Snow they could be more blunt, sensitive, and vicious all at once with one another. They opened up, and pushed each other to edges I never anticipated. The characters didn’t break, mind—and what I learned about them fit with what I’d known before. I just discovered the facets of themselves they’d shown to their friends and enemies in previous books (and to me!) were only a piece of a larger whole.

Which, I guess, is the point of all the travel, tree-sitting, body-contorting, pilgrimage-walking, flogging, starvation, mushrooms, and prayer. We want to knock ourselves out of our old webs, to learn how we behave in new ones.

It worked that way for my characters, at least!