Thursday, April 26, 2012

Interrogation Room Suspect #12: Shawn Thomas Odyssey

Today, author Shawn Thomas Odyssey faces the not-so-harsh glare of the Interrogation Room spotlight. His debut novel, THE WIZARD OF DARK STREET, a mystery for fans of the unusual, has been nominated for the Edgar Award. Believe me, detectives, we're going to get to the bottom of how he conjures his particular brand of magic.

Oona Crate was born to be the Wizard's apprentice, but she has another destiny in mind. Despite possessing the rare gift of natural magic, Oona wants to be a detective. Eager for a case to prove herself, she wants to show her uncle--the Wizard of Dark Street--that logic is as powerful as magic. But when someone attacks the Wizard, Oona must delve even deeper into the world of magic to discover who wanted her uncle dead. Full of magic, odd characters, evil henchmen, and a street where nothing is normal, The Wizard of Dark Street will have you guessing until the very end.

For eight mysterious years Shawn Thomas Odyssey labored extremely long hours in a 140-seat (and rumored to be haunted) professional theatre in Santa Barbara, California. There he worked as an actor, a musician, a stagehand, a set builder, a scenic painter, casting coordinator, and was the person they sent into the dank, dark underbelly of the theatre to find rusty old props and spider infested wigs.

Upon his perilous escape from this life of daring stagecraft, he began an equally death-defying career as a music composer for film, television, and video games, creating scores for HBO’s Deadwood, and the Activision/Dreamworks video game Kung Fu Panda.

As if these daunting careers were not enough, he sought out even more fearsome territory by writing all kinds of treacherous stories, plays, and books, and acquired a tireless obsession for research into a subject he likes to call “the Dark Street phenomenon.” He is married to a mysterious dancer whom he met while working at the haunted theatre, and along with a passion for collecting magic wands, he enjoys playing unusually dangerous music in a band whose name to this day remains a tightly held secret.

Without further delay, let the interrogation begin... 

Kristen Kittscher: You’ve worked for years in the theater and as a composer for film, television, and video games — and you’re in a band, as well! To what extent does your work in theater and music influence your writing?

Shawn Thomas Odyssey: Fearlessness.  From my years in the theatre I learned how to trust that everything will work out.  We would say, “On the night.”  Which meant that whatever you were trying to do (get the lighting to work, or remember your line)  it would happen on the night of the performance, even if it wasn’t working up to that point.  Somehow we always pulled it off.  And from film and TV scoring, I honed that same skill even more, to a level of trust in myself.  There was usually no time for self doubt.  And we all doubt ourselves, but it never stopped me.

Kristen: In the world of THE WIZARD OF DARK STREET, there is “natural magic” and “learned magic.” Oona is a “natural magician” who nevertheless wants to rely on logic to solve her mystery. The interplay between logic and intuition seems to be a major theme of the novel. How do logic and intuition apply to your own creative work?  Would you say your writing magic is more natural or learned?

Shawn: I’d say there are different stages.  The first draft of a book comes to me in a very intuitive way.  That’s the magic.  It flows through me as it pleases, no matter how structured my own attempts are at taming it.  That first draft is a testament to the unpredictability of magic.  But then of course there is the revising and rewriting, which in a mystery novel must be structured so that everything works out in a satisfyingly logical way.  A lot of rewriting is craftwork, skills that are learned over years and years of writing.  Of course the more skilled the writer, the more craftwork shows up in the first draft.  So magic first, structure later...and then more magic!

Kristen:You’re a native Californian who’s lived in Bakersfield and Santa Barbara, yet WIZARD is set in a magical version of 19th century New York City. Can you tell us a bit about why you chose this setting and how you created it? 

Shawn: I had two urges at once.  I wanted to write a mystery, but also I had this idea pop into my head about a magical world that consisted of a single street.  A very long street.  I began to take copious notes on who lived there, how magic worked, the history, etc.  The street was Victorian.  It came to me that way.  I didn’t decide.  And when I asked the question, “where does this magic street lead to?” it turned out it was connected to Victorian era New York City at one end, and at the other end was the land of Faerie.  A world of reason connected to a land of magic.  In the middle is this fantastic street filled with ordinary people, and not so ordinary crimes.  Most importantly, I discovered Oona Crate, the twelve-year-old natural magician who wants to be a detective.

Kristen: THE WIZARD OF DARK STREET is a spectacular debut novel. Some of our blog followers are aspiring mystery authors who hope to have their own debuts someday soon. Do you have any words of advice for those starting out writing mysteries?

Shawn: Make writing fun!  Enjoy the process!  It’s wonderful to get published, and to get recognition, but those moments go by really fast.  In the end, it’s you and your writing.  You and the muse.  It’s about growing and exploring.  Sometimes it’s hard and frustrating...but if you have the right attitude, you’ll love even those parts.  Don’t take yourself too seriously and you’ll likely find each step in the process is quite wondrous and mysterious; perhaps even more mysterious than what you are writing about. Write and read a lot, but be sure to have other things besides writing that you are into.  It will feed you.

Kristen: Who were your favorite mystery authors and sleuths when you were a kid? And now?

Shawn: I didn’t get into mysteries until I was older.  As a kid I loved Roald Dahl and JRR Tolkien, though I do remember checking out some books from the library about how to be a detective, and how to do magic.  I guess I’ve been interested in both for quite a while.  Eventually I fell in  love with Jeremy Brett's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes on British TV.  That was an enormous influence on the writing of The Wizard of Dark Street.  And though they didn’t come out until I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I loved the Harry Potter novels, especially the early ones, which had not only fantastic characters, but also a brilliant sense of plot and mystery set in a magical environment.

Kristen: Congratulations on your Edgar nomination! What was it like to hear that news?

Shawn: I found out while I was attending  the American Booksellers Convention in New Orleans.  I was checking Twitter on my wife’s laptop in a courtyard in the French quarter.  There were several posts about it (it had just been announced that morning).  I shouted out loud, and I’m sure people thought I was mad, but I didn’t care.  I was on cloud nine all the rest of that day.  My editor and the marketing team from my publishers at Egmont were at the convention, and we all celebrated at dinner.  A few weeks later I learned of my nomination for an Agatha Award as well.  I realized that I’d probably done a pretty good job of it.

Kristen: Any upcoming projects you'd like to tell us about? We’re hopeful The Wizard of Dark Street will have a sequel…

Shawn: Yes, the sequel is due out next spring (2013). Just finishing up edits (and title) now. It is so much fun!

Thanks so much for enduring The Interrogation Room, Shawn. We wish you the best of luck at the Edgar Awards today!

Fellow detectives, be sure to grab a copy of THE WIZARD OF DARK STREET here!

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