Lou Paduano is best known for his Greystone series of urban fantasy novels, and has also received acclaim for the DSA science fiction series. Lou lives in Buffalo, NY, with his wife and two daughters. Find more information about his books, forthcoming releases, and more, by visiting his website at loupaduano.com.
You’re possibly best-known for your Greystone urban fantasy series. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Greystone started out as an urban fantasy/detective story mash-up that quickly grew into a straight urban fantasy adventure series. The elevator pitch is Soriya Greystone and Detective Loren hunt down myths, legends, and monsters in the city of Portents. Soriya brings the action and the lore. Loren brings the humor and the outsider perspective for the reader.
The first five books in the main series are collectively known as the First Cycle. There is an overarching mystery behind the scenes that plays out through each of the books and culminates in A Circle of Shadows. Greystone is always a blast to put together. The fun starts with the research of the monsters involved, and goes through every phase of the drafting. The urban fantasy genre really is one of the best around, giving authors and readers so many places to go, while keeping things grounded in “reality.”
There’s the principal Greystone series, and also the Greystone-in-Training prequel series—what’s your advised reading order for those starting out with your work?
When it comes to reading the books, I always recommend starting with the first book in the main series, Signs of Portents. It introduces the world and the main players perfectly. Publication order works best for Greystone because now that the prequel trilogy is completed, the series circles back around to Book 6 – Alpha and Omega (which is forthcoming, I promise).
What Alpha and Omega represents is a restart for readers and author alike. I’ve been away building new worlds, so coming home to Portents was a challenge. Getting the chance to explore Soriya and Loren’s first meeting, and how their initial case impacts everything that happens in the second half of the series really reminded me why I love this world so much. The seeds planted in the prequel trilogy are picked up in Book 6 and carry on through every book thereafter.
It’s going to be a fun ride.
The series is set in the city of Portents. What inspirations went into building this world? What do you think is important when choosing a setting?
The importance of setting has grown for me with each book I’ve produced. And it sure as hell was important when building the world of Greystone. Because of the ties to detective fiction, at the start, Portents was built to be a very gothic city. Readers liken it to Gotham City, though Soriya is a much better dresser than that city’s urban protector. ☺
A lot of the historical elements that come out in Greystone, when it comes to Portents, stem from my love of James Robinson’s Starman series. Jack Knight lives in Opal City, but James goes above and beyond to make “The Opal” a living, breathing character in her own right throughout the book. I wanted that same passion behind Portents. That’s why there are so many different locales, monuments, twisted hidden histories revealed in the books. Portents is as important to the story as any one of the other characters in the series.
Settings speak to the characters who live within them. They reflect their personalities and feed into their storylines as much as the main plot might. There isn’t a scene that goes by that I don’t think about the where of the moment almost as much as the why of it. Those elements add a real life flavor to the prose that, I hope, makes each scene memorable for the reader.
Can you describe the two central characters, Loren and Soriya, and their relationship?
Loren and Soriya are peanut butter and chocolate. They shouldn’t work well together, but when they are mixed, man nothing tastes better. Loren is the reader’s perspective. He, literally, is clueless about Soriya’s world, as she explains the secrets of Portents, from immortal librarians to soul sucking avatars of Death that have come to call on the city.
Soriya thrives on the secrets, and loves being able to share them with him. He hears them and wants to run for the hills, knowing he can’t until the job is done. There is a great respect shared between them, but at the end of the day Loren hates everything about what is going on, while Soriya relishes the fantastical with a youthful glee.
You’re also known for the DSA series, which is more in the science fiction area. Can you give us a brief summary of it?
The DSA is a clandestine government agency that handles scientific anomalies. Ben Riley, their newest recruit, is pulled into their world and finds himself at the center of a conspiracy to alter the fate of humanity. It’s told in a seasonal structure, with six books making up a single season for the series to give it that X-Files kind of vibe of stories building on top of stories toward a massive climax.
Fun fact: The DSA stands for The Department of Special Assignments. It’s a terrible designation that I saddled on the group, and it has become my favorite running gag throughout as each and every character gets a chance to poke fun at their place of employment for having the worst name ever conceived.
How has your background influenced your writing? To what extent does your own life influence your writing?
Writing becomes more and more like breathing to me on a daily basis. I don’t know what I would without it. It has been a part of my life since grammar school, though there were a fair number of years I hid the gift away in shame. It definitely was not the cool thing to enjoy doing when you’re a teen. Where that passion came from can be attributed to an overactive imagination that continues to scare the bejeezus out of me when it gets dark, and a great love for serialized fiction.
When it comes to my life influencing my writing, I try to keep the two as separate as possible. There are exceptions, of course. If you read an office scene in any of my books, you can definitely tell they have been pulled from my past employment. Most of the people are less than congenial, and there is a quiet desperation to escape hidden behind their musings.
Beyond that, I try to keep the excitement on the page. I’m too busy with my kids to go off chasing monsters in the dark.
Can you take us through the process of writing a book? What do you do first?
Process is my absolute favorite part about writing. Mine is pretty involved, as I try to line up as many elements of a story as possible well before the drafting phase.
My first step is to outline. I start out small with a single line to denote a story beat, then build from there. By the time I am done, I have a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the novel which tells me the setting for the scene, whose perspective we’re following for the scene, and all the action beats and expository information needed to advance the plot.
Dialogue is my next step. I handwrite the dialogue for the entire book. I find it flows much easier that way. When I’m done, I mash it up with the outline to stage each chapter in a script-level draft. This gives me a chance to remove any extraneous dialogue that the prose can easily handle, or to add an action beat that I discover while the characters are shooting the breeze.
I draft from there, which by this point is more like a third or fourth draft, but that’s what helps me see the story as a whole while also refining my original vision to make it the best story possible.
What is the most challenging part of writing a book?
Every piece comes with its own unique challenges. For me, though, the writing is always the enjoyable part of the process. From outline, to dialogue, to draft—creating all that is so much freaking fun.
The editing is the real challenge. Figuring out the absolute best way to say what you’ve been trying to say this whole time can be painstaking. You really have to live in your story to see what should stay and what really needs to go. It’s a tedious and completely aggravating process at times, but every effort goes to making the end result that much stronger in the long run. (That’s what I keep telling myself, at any rate, in between chocolate bars hidden away since Halloween.)
What other books and authors have inspired you?
In terms of books, I look to authors like Ian Rankin, Andy Weir, and C.S. Lewis for inspiration. I love to lose myself in the worlds they create.
As a comic-collecting geek, I would be remiss to ignore people like Brian Michael Bendis, James Robinson, and Grant Morrison. Bendis, especially, opened my eyes to the importance of dialogue.When it comes to all forms of media, none get higher praise than J.M. Straczynski. His work on Babylon 5 changed my life, and I would not be who I am today without him.
Which of your books are you most proud of?
I will give the easy answer here, and say that every single book holds special meaning for me. They each have become my children that I get to share with the world. If I had to pick one, it would definitely be The Medusa Coin. I knew the second I finished it that I had done something truly fantastic. It was the first time I really felt like I nailed the story, and knew the reasons why it worked (which can be even more important at times).