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Guest Blog by Daniel Polansky


Please welcome Daniel Polansky to The Qwillery.  Daniel is the author of the Low Town trilogy and the Empty Throne duology and more.  His most recently published work is The Builders from Tor.com.  I asked Daniel how travel influences his writing?



Guest Blog by Daniel Polansky




Prompt: How does travel influence your writing?

Answer to follow.

*       *       *

        So I spent the early part of the spring traveling east from Istanbul towards the Caucasus, the last outskirts of Europe before one reaches the endless plains of central Asia. Where the first stronghold of Christendom held out against the tides of Islam which swept merciless against it, where the rump of old Armenia still survives, diminished but proud, where the descendants of ancient Zoraster have long since trade the sacred fires for the Salah, and the Salah for Stalin's grim dream of equality (for are we not all equal beneath the ground?), and finally for a Capitalism as pure as the petrol they pull up daily from the Caspian. For years now it has been my custom to wander aimlessly through side corners of the planet, with a backpack and a dense paperback to hold while I stare out the windows of rumbling buses or old Soviet-style trains, a hard cot to spend the night, two Lari for a cup of weak tea.
       I came through the Azari-Georgian border around noon, having woken up that morning in a small mountain town so little frequented by tourists that children would follow me in the streets shouting their simple English phrases and laughing and blushing when I responded in kind. It had taken forty-five minutes to clear customs, explaining to two very friendly security guards that I was not a spy, not so much I think because they believed I was but mainly because they enjoyed the novelty of speaking with an American. A walk over a bridge took me to a small clearing, a handful of money changes, taxi drivers, and folk just milling about whose purpose I could not entirely fathom. There was also a Marshrutka, a shared van, one of tens of thousands which dot the ex-Soviet countries and are the primary means of public transportation for much of the population.
       This particular specimen, bucking form, did not have a sign indicating its destination. I was on my way to Signaghi, which was either two Marshrutkas and three hours or one taxi and forty-five minutes distant. I was equanimous on the method. By custom I prefer to use the cheapest possible means of getting anywhere, a holdover from when I first started traveling, before I sold Low Town, when taking a taxi from the Kosovo bus station to my hostel meant I would not be eating dinner that night. These days it is more a loose rule than a necessity, and I was about half-thinking that I'd already met my daily quota of discomfort and therefore my self-esteem could swallow using private transportation.
       “Tbilisi?” I asked a neighboring taxi driver, pointing at the van.
       “Borjomi!” he said, kidding or lying. Borjomi is a town in far the other end of the country, obviously not where the van is headed.
       “Borjomi!” I answered, in jest. “Batumi, Ankara, Istanbul!”
We laughed together. Of course, in any country which does not have a standard meter system – which is most of the world – a taxi driver is to be trusted less than a rattlesnake on mescaline. To this day I have a moment of nervousness even when getting into a standard NY yellow cab, half expecting them to try and cheat me. (Traveler's tip: never put any of your belongings in the trunk, lest you provide a rapacious driver with an opportunity for ransom). But by the standards this one was not so bad – he was, mostly I think, playing, or at least I knew enough about where I was not to fall for his con. I waved him forward, thinking to at least price him out, but before he could enter a fee on his phone – one which would be double what I would ultimately pay, and four times what the journey would have cost a local – I felt a hand on my backpack, turned round swiftly to discover it was attached to an elderly man of classic Georgian stock, scowling furiously through a gray beard. “Tblisi!” he insisted, and pointed at the van.
       Bowing to fate, I took a cramped seat in the front, straddling my backpack. Leaning over me, the old man began to engage in a loud and vocal debate with the infuriated taxi driver. What was he saying? My supposition, based upon the events to follow, was that he was accusing the taxi driver of trying to defraud an idiot tourist, in clear violation of the traditional Georgian ethic of hospitality. That I am not an idiot tourist – or at least, that I knew the taxi driver was lying – is something that I could not possibly hope to explain.
       Without warning – or so it seemed to me – the driver of the van, who up till this point had shown no inclination to win me as a fare, or indeed any interest in the proceedings generally, swung open his door and sprinted round to yell at the taxi driver.
       Chest bumping. Thick-fingers shaking at thicker beards. Loud words in a language which, I am told, has virtually no relation to any of the rest of the Indo-European offshoots. Fists raised, dropped, raised, dropped. The old man tried to push past me to take an active part in the almost-melee, but not wanting the death of a grandfather on my conscience, from cardiac arrest or physical violence, I turn so as to obstruct his passage. Three minutes passed. Five minutes passed. None of the other passengers are willing to meet my eye. I very much want to film this on my iPhone. Oh, God, how much do I want to film this on the iPhone. A step too far. Seven minutes. The taxi driver who initially began the conflict sat down, exhausted. A second took his place as the van drivers chief combatant. An Orthodox nun, seated deeper in the van, got out to try and reconcile the parties, though her efforts were to no effect.
       The fervor died down, finally, and the van driver got back to the wheel. I wore the idiot smile which I have come to realize is the best aegis a foreigner can hold in these sorts of situations. An hour or so down the road, when it was time for me to get out, I discovered that the old man who began the trouble had already paid my way, a bit of generosity for which, in a country the average income of which is about 600 US dollars a month, I felt deeply ashamed. But of course there was no way to repay his kindness without causing deep insult, and we had already established that he was an individual of high moral character and very low threshold for annoyance. I bowed deeply, and he nodded in return, and the door closed and the van continued on down the road.

*       *       *

       I ran into a college acquaintance of mine last week, a woman I hadn't seen since graduation. We exchanged the usual pleasantries, traded thumbnail sketches of the last decade of our lives. As a rule I don't tell people that I'm a writer – it's more trouble than it's worth. I tell people I freelance, which has the virtues of being vague and not exactly false.
       She did not press me for detail. She was, like most people, waiting around to talk about herself, and I was happy to provide her with the opportunity. Her story was a familiar one – like many vaguely artistic people living in our great metropolis, she did a lot of things, primarily service oriented – though, she added quickly, what she really did, that is to say, what defined her spiritual essence if not what actually paid her rent, was write.
       “What do you write about?” I asked.
       “My life, mostly,” she said. “Things that happen to me.”
       I smiled and nodded and wished her well and continued on, thinking – fantastic, just what the world needs, another autobiography of a Brooklyn hipster.
       The first thing you are taught is to write what you know. The problem with this advice is that is assumes you know something that anyone else would care to learn. Of course, a brilliant writer can make the quotidian profound, can mine day-to-day existence for insight into the nature and substance of the human condition. We mediocrities are better served in setting ourselves a lower bar, by trying to do something, to become something, which might be of interest to people who are not our immediate kin.
       I have attempted to acquire these experiences by aimless wandering. There are, certainly, other methods but this is the one that suits me best. I'm not brave enough to be a soldier, and I'm not pure enough to be a priest. I'm too mean to be a humanitarian. I have, happily, never suffered the sort of personal tragedy which might make for an interesting or an evocative tell-all. There are no new continents to explore, and while I haven't researched it exhaustively my understanding is that astronauts require some mathematical ability, so that puts me straight out. .
       But travel is something, at least, some break from dull-suburbia, some exit from the elite high school → private college → expensive MFA program track which has become the literary establishment's preferred paradigm, and which is slowly strangling English letters. Certainly, somewhere, there is a person writing a moving and brilliant prose about the nature of modernity, of banal existence in modern America. They exist. I have read them. They represent the tiniest fraction of writers, nor do I operate under any illusion that I am the second coming of Proust.
       So I strap a backpack on and go poking about in small cities in the second world, in industrial capitals, in bus station depots and dusty alleys. Some of these experiences see direct reflection in my writing – a child brutalizing a stray dog in a New Delhi slum made it into Tomorrow, the Killing, for instance. More often it offers an impression or a feeling which, processed and digested, gets regurgitated somewhere down the line. Getting lost walking from a ferry in Salvador de Bahia with night falling, watching the wolves coming out, knowing myself a lamb. Waking up before dawn in the middle of the Namib desert, watching a baboon knuckle its way across red sand, and the world newborn, still slick with afterbirth.
       So, to return to our prompt; travel is how I have sought to become an interesting person, which I believe is an asset to, if not a requirement for, becoming a decent writer. Not that I can promise I've accomplished either, but at least I put in the effort.





The Builders
Tor.com, November 3, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 224 pages

Guest Blog by Daniel Polansky
A missing eye.

A broken wing.

A stolen country.

The last job didn't end well.

Years go by, and scars fade, but memories only fester. For the animals of the Captain's company, survival has meant keeping a low profile, building a new life, and trying to forget the war they lost. But now the Captain's whiskers are twitching at the idea of evening the score.





About Daniel

Guest Blog by Daniel Polansky
Photo by Dan Stack
Daniel Polansky is the author of the Low Town trilogy and the Empty Throne duology, among other things.














Website ~ Blog ~ Facebook
Twitter @DanielPolansky



Interview with Daniel Polansky - August 16, 2011

Please welcome Daniel Polansky to The Qwillery as part of the 2011 Debut Author Challenge interviews.

TQ:  What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Daniel:  I can write anywhere. I’ve written on Punjabi trains and in communes in Estonia. Of course, none of the writing is any good, but it does get done.

TQ:  Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?

Daniel:  A brief smattering of people I think are great: Thomas Wolfe, VS Naipul, Rebecca West. In terms of folk I’ve cribbed from, dues go out to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser? (Plotters make outlines, etc. Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants.)

Daniel:  With LOW TOWN it was the latter, but with subsequent work I’ve made it more of a priority to have some idea how a book will end before starting it.

TQ:  Describe Low Town / The Straight Razor Cure in 140 characters or less.

Daniel Low Town primarily concerns the misadventures of The Warden, a small time drug lord whose iniquities are interrupted upon discovering the body of a murdered child. In a bout of ill-considered self-righteousness, he decides to hunt down the killer. Trouble ensues. I’m not great at counting characters...

TQ:  What inspired you to write Low Town / The Straight Razor Cure?

Daniel:  Poverty.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Low Town / The Straight Razor Cure?

Daniel:  I didn’t really do any research specific to Low Town -- it was more about crafting something from the morass of random things I’d already learned.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?

Daniel:  When I write I don’t really find myself dividing the narrative in that way, so I don’t really think I have an answer.

TQ:  Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in the book?

Daniel:  My favorite scene is at the end when the entire narrative is revealed to be an elaborate dream. In retrospect I guess that was sort of a spoiler.

TQ:  How many books are planned for the series?

Daniel:  It’s going to be a trilogy.

TQ:  What's next?

Daniel:  For me? I’m going to buy another cup of coffee and get back to working on Low Town’s sequel. For anyone reading this, sprint out to your nearest book store and get a copy of my book. If you’re reading this late at night, break in, take a copy, and leave exact change on the register.
Visit my website, DanielPolansky.com, and leave a comment using the Facebook plugin on the lower left of the page so I know who you are. The first 7 chapters are on the website, along with two book trailers, a contest...all kinds of fun stuff. I’m on Facebook (facebook.com/DanielPolanskyAuthor), Twitter (@DanielPolansky), Google+ (+DanielPolansky), and GoodReads (goodreads.com/DanielPolansky), so there are lots of ways to connect.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Daniel:  Thanks for having me!


Daniel has written a short piece as well to share with all of you today:

Slums of the Shire

     Occasionally you'll be with a group of people and they'll get to talking about their favorite historical epochs, nostalgic for lives they never led. One person will talk up their childhood love of the Wild West, another reveal a penchant for Victorian England. This last one just has a thing for corsets, but it's better not to call them on it.

     When my turn rolls round I take a sip of whatever we're drinking and look at my shoes. “The mid 90's were pretty good,” I say lamely. “Slower internet and everything, but at least we had penicillin.”

     Perhaps it's my being a history buff, but the past sucked. For about a millennium and a half after the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe just seems like a real shit place to reside. Lots of rooting in filth until you die at thirty a half mile from where you born. Nominally the nobles had it better, but still, your fever would have been treated with the application of leaches and your pretty young bride had like a one in two chance of surviving child birth.

     This probably is why I don't understand fantasy—that is to say that collection of high medieval tropes collected by Tolkien and gleefully reproduced by two generations of descendants.

     Take elves for instance—though perfectly capable of imagining a world where higher intelligence evolved in a species separate from humanity, my powers of make believe fail when positing that the relation between said species would be anything beyond unceasing warfare. Even a cursory glance at human history reveals our collective willingness to commit genocide on fellow homo sapiens—how much quicker would we have been to eradicate a separate species competing for identical resources? If elves existed, our ancestors would have hunted them down to extinction and erected a monument to the accomplishment.

     But I digress.

     Even when nestled comfortably in a quest to kill a dragon or overthrow a dark lord or what have you, strange thoughts plague me. What does the shady side of Gondor look like? How many platinum coins would a dime bag set me back? What is the point of hobbits? They're just short, fat people. People are plenty fat as it is.

     Low Town is sort of my attempt to answer some of those questions (not the last one). It's the story of the Warden, a former intelligence agent and current drug dealer, whose gradual slide into self-destruction is briefly checked by the discovery of a dead body in the neighborhood he runs. An ill-timed bout of conscience rattles the easy cage of venality he's built for himself, and leads him on a collision course with the life he'd left behind. The Warden is a guy trying to survive the next few days, and not particularly squeamish as to what that requires—the sort of person more likely to populate a classic crime novel than to be found stocking the fantasy section of your local Borders (RIP).

     More broadly, Low Town is an attempt to meld the best aspects of noir with a low fantasy setting—a meeting of tastes which I think complement each other nicely. The spare language and fast pace of good noir offers a pleasant counterpoint to the sprawling—one might even say bloated—length of much modern fantasy. On a somewhat broader level, the tendency of fantasy to focus on world shaking events often renders it irrelevant to the average reader, whose life relatively rarely devolves into single combat against vaguely satanic analogs. By contrast, noir is concerned with the individual, with greed and lust, sins all of us can comprehend to some degree. Low Town centers on the conceit that a world with magic wouldn't be altogether different from a world without it. People are still (on the whole) selfish, stupid creatures, focused almost exclusively on the immediate satisfaction of their basic desires, only now some of them can shoot fire out of their hands.

     That's the idea at least. It comes out today (August 16th) in the US and Canada, and on Thursday (August 18th) in the UK and Commonwealth. I hope you check it out and see if I've succeeded, or if I'm just a pretentious clown. Or both.


About Low Town

In the USA/Canada:

Low Town
Low Town 1
(Knopf Doubleday, August 16 2011)

Drug dealers, hustlers, brothels, dirty politics, corrupt cops . . . and sorcery. Welcome to Low Town.

In the forgotten back alleys and flophouses that lie in the shadows of Rigus, the finest city of the Thirteen Lands, you will find Low Town. It is an ugly place, and its cham­pion is an ugly man. Disgraced intelligence agent. Forgotten war hero. Independent drug dealer. After a fall from grace five years ago, a man known as the Warden leads a life of crime, addicted to cheap violence and expensive drugs. Every day is a constant hustle to find new customers and protect his turf from low-life competition like Tancred the Harelip and Ling Chi, the enigmatic crime lord of the heathens.

The Warden’s life of drugged iniquity is shaken by his dis­covery of a murdered child down a dead-end street . . . set­ting him on a collision course with the life he left behind. As a former agent with Black House—the secret police—he knows better than anyone that murder in Low Town is an everyday thing, the kind of crime that doesn’t get investi­gated. To protect his home, he will take part in a dangerous game of deception between underworld bosses and the psy­chotic head of Black House, but the truth is far darker than he imagines. In Low Town, no one can be trusted.

Daniel Polansky has crafted a thrilling novel steeped in noir sensibilities and relentless action, and set in an original world of stunning imagination, leading to a gut-wrenching, unforeseeable conclusion. Low Town is an attention-grabbing debut that will leave readers riveted . . . and hun­gry for more.




In the UK/Commonwealth:

The Straight Razor Cure
Low Town 1
(Hodder & Stoughton, August 18, 2011)

Welcome to Low Town. Here, the criminal is king. The streets are filled with the screeching of fish hags, the cries of swindled merchants, the inviting murmurs of working girls. Here, people can disappear, and the lacklustre efforts of the guard ensure they are never found.

Warden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer; now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and a way of inviting danger. You`d struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his.

But then a missing child, murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley.

And then another.

With a mind as sharp as a blade and an old but powerful friend in the city, he`s the only man with a hope of finding the killer.

If the killer doesn`t find him first.




About Daniel

Photo by Dan Stack
Daniel Polansky was born near Baltimore, Maryland.  LOW TOWN is his first novel.

Daniel's Links:

Website
Facebook
Google+
Goodreads
Twitter

2011 Debut Author Challenge Update - July 21, 2011

The Qwillery is pleased to announce that Daniel Polansky has joined the 2011 Debut Author Challenge. Daniel's debut, Low Town / The Straight Razor Cure is being released in August.

In the USA/Canada:

Low Town
(Knopf Doubleday, August 16 2011)


Drug dealers, hustlers, brothels, dirty politics, corrupt cops . . . and sorcery. Welcome to Low Town.

In the forgotten back alleys and flophouses that lie in the shadows of Rigus, the finest city of the Thirteen Lands, you will find Low Town. It is an ugly place, and its cham­pion is an ugly man. Disgraced intelligence agent. Forgotten war hero. Independent drug dealer. After a fall from grace five years ago, a man known as the Warden leads a life of crime, addicted to cheap violence and expensive drugs. Every day is a constant hustle to find new customers and protect his turf from low-life competition like Tancred the Harelip and Ling Chi, the enigmatic crime lord of the heathens.

The Warden’s life of drugged iniquity is shaken by his dis­covery of a murdered child down a dead-end street . . . set­ting him on a collision course with the life he left behind. As a former agent with Black House—the secret police—he knows better than anyone that murder in Low Town is an everyday thing, the kind of crime that doesn’t get investi­gated. To protect his home, he will take part in a dangerous game of deception between underworld bosses and the psy­chotic head of Black House, but the truth is far darker than he imagines. In Low Town, no one can be trusted.

Daniel Polansky has crafted a thrilling novel steeped in noir sensibilities and relentless action, and set in an original world of stunning imagination, leading to a gut-wrenching, unforeseeable conclusion. Low Town is an attention-grabbing debut that will leave readers riveted . . . and hun­gry for more.





In the UK/Commonwealth:

The Straight Razor Cure
(Hodder & Stoughton, August 18, 2011)


Welcome to Low Town. Here, the criminal is king. The streets are filled with the screeching of fish hags, the cries of swindled merchants, the inviting murmurs of working girls. Here, people can disappear, and the lacklustre efforts of the guard ensure they are never found.

Warden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer; now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and a way of inviting danger. You`d struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his.

But then a missing child, murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley.

And then another.

With a mind as sharp as a blade and an old but powerful friend in the city, he`s the only man with a hope of finding the killer.

If the killer doesn`t find him first.






Look for an interview with Daniel in August 2011. You can keep up to date on 2011 Debut Author Challenge happenings on the 2011 DAC page.
Guest Blog by Daniel PolanskyInterview with Daniel Polansky - August 16, 20112011 Debut Author Challenge Update - July 21, 2011

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