I had a really fun cyber visit with my friend Gabriel Land, who currently resides in Thailand. Exotic surroundings, spicy cuisine, and the feel of sun and salt water on his skin seems to invigorate his creative juices. We chatted about his newly released urban fantasy novel, and his venture into his current project, a hard-boiled detective novel set in Thailand.
What did you like to read as a child? Who were your greatest influences?
I remember reading the CS Lewis Narnia series and digging into the novels of Susan Cooper, such as The Grey King. Their fantastic prose haunted me in a way and stayed with me to this day. Imagery such as walking through a wardrobe into another world has a strong effect on a kid. Later I ate up biographies of famous names from the history of the American west, such as Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and Annie Oakley. I’d like to work in the western genre at some point.
You’ve had a long history with writing, film, and acting. Tell us a little about that.
I was raised in a creative environment, around a lot of books and around the theater. I got to see how things worked from backstage, and observe the rehearsal and direction process that went into a stage play. Acting was also a natural fit for me as I can be dramatic, and also a clown.
My first experience actually on stage was in high school. I was the loud guy, very disruptive. And I thrived in front of a crowd, rather than getting scared. Some of the most memorable times I had in theater was when something unpredictable happened, when an actor didn’t come on stage on their cue, and I had to improvise dialogue. Later I moved on to fringe theater. I never had a singing voice though, so musicals were never my number.
At 19, I wrote my first stage play. It’s a slapstick comedy cross between a play by Moliere and a Jackie Chan movie. I was into martial arts and Chinese culture at the time.
Later I parlayed my experience with theater into screen acting and spent about a decade struggling in Hollywood. I got a lot of encouragement from family, friends and strangers to stick with it. One high profile job I landed was as a contestant on Jerry Springer’s dating show, Baggage. It paid well and I had the chance to work in front of a live studio audience which I thrived on, improvising and cracking jokes. Other than that, I did a lot of work as an extra, some student films, and bit parts in independent movies.
After coming to Thailand things started to pick up. There is much less competition here for actors, so I landed a lot of commercial jobs. One of them was my best acting role yet, where I had a lot of dialogue (which was dubbed into Thai). I was impersonating famous survivalist Bear Grylls to advertise a ride-hailing app. It was a very physical role that called on my clowning ability. Plus I have some training in wilderness survival, so this was the perfect role for me. A lot of these clips are on my youtube channel.
I’ve tried to step away from acting because it takes so much energy to go to auditions. If the right role came along, and a good script, I would seize the opportunity. Agents here in Thailand still contact me a lot.
I like to say I spent ten years in Hollywood, undercover as an actor, gathering intelligence on the film industry. What I learned informs my writing. It’s a tough industry that I am confident I will one day navigate with my screenplays.
What inspired you to write your first novel?
I felt compelled to write an homage to my hometown of Seattle. Hammers of Thor is very much a Seattle novel, one that hopefully speaks to people about the character of that city. The rain, the clouds, the mountains, forests, hills, and water everywhere, all make an appearance. I feel very lucky to have been raised in the Pacific Northwest for so much of my childhood.
What made you decide to live in Thailand?
In a sense Thailand reminds me of Seattle, because of the rainy season, while at once being completely foreign. I’ve made six trips over from the U.S. now, and the monsoon season is my favorite time. It’s cooler. The air is cleaner. The skies are epic and they just open up. Bangkok is chaotic, it has the second worst traffic in the world after Mexico City. The rain just kind of shuts the city down, calming the traffic down as everyone takes shelter.
Thai people are great. They are outgoing and warm, playful and humorous. Other great benefits of living in a foreign country are just absorbing a new language, a new way to interact with people, and a new way to look at life. And now that being here has become more routine and familiar, it is influencing my writing. I tend to write settings I’m familiar with. My second novel will be set in Thailand.
Your first two short stories on Amazon are science fiction, and you recently published your first urban fantasy novel. Tell us about Hammers of Thor.
Writing Hammers of Thor demanded a lot of study of both Norse and native American mythologies. Especially when writing the professor Redding character, who’s kind of the Indiana Jones archetype. He is a PhD in mythology so I had to give him an air of knowledge when it comes to history and myth. He is also experiencing a lot of conflict within the academic community as more students come in and focus on STEM subjects. Fewer people are interested in mythological history anymore.
Each character in the book has a very distinct voice. Thor was the most fun to write. He speaks in a sort of iambic pentameter, and his dialogue called on my knowledge of some of the works of Shakespeare. Thor is a fish out of water. He’s half-immortal, so his wounds heal fast and he has the strength of a silverback gorilla, but he knows brute power can only get him so far. He has to keep a low profile or he will be facing an army even he can’t vanquish. He can’t speak modern English and everyone thinks he’s crazy.
Raven, who is the protagonist, uses smaller words and more slang than lexicon, being a teenager. However she is wise in her own ways. Conveying that wisdom without using big words was an interesting challenge. I am really attached to all three of the main characters in the book, and I hope to write a sequel soon so I can hang out with them again.
The supporting characters in Hammers of Thor are also quite unique. How did you come up with some of those realistic portrayals?
Most of those characters are based on my own experiences and people I have known. Some of the names haven’t been changed because the people I knew in my past didn’t use their legal names anyway.
As a teenager I spent a lot of time hanging out on the street corners in a famous part of Seattle called ‘The Ave’, near the University of Washington. There I met and interacted with a lot of fellow wayward youth, many of them suffering from drug addiction, most homeless and many coming from abusive homes such as the character Raven. On the Ave the street youth all gave each other street names, so in the book they do, too. Life there was like a real life Charles Dickens story.
I know you love a good mystery. Tell us about what you’re currently writing.
I’m moving into crime fiction for now, as I want to negotiate the technical challenge of writing a mystery novel. I will be working in a style of prose that comes naturally to me and is closer to the voice of the protagonist in Fringe Drifter, one of my scifi shorts that’s on Amazon. I’m about halfway through a mystery set here in Thailand called Pattaya HEAT. It is a blend between hardboiled detective and espionage.
Pattaya HEAT is a story where no one is who they seem and the protagonist has to assume a lot of cover identities to track down a killer, someone who happens to also be involved with an intelligence service. It’s written from third person POV but from only one perspective, like your book Pretty Corpse. After writing Hammers of Thor I’m finding it quite challenging to not head hop at all but rather keep with one character.
-What are some of the unique challenges of writing in different genres?
I would say the biggest challenge is marketing. In a sense, writing in different genres is natural for me. I tend to shy away from routine. However, early in a writer’s career, branding is important. It’s best to stick to one genre while building an audience.
What is the greatest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your writing career?
I’ve worked a lot of odd, laborious jobs that at the time took all of my energy and left me little time for writing. Luckily when I am back stateside I land a lot of contract jobs in the marketing industry, so I can take time off in between gigs to get back to the keyboard. I couldn’t imagine working 9-5 year-round and also writing. I know some people pull it off and I commend them.
Writing takes a tremendous amount of energy. Particularly a novel. Before I ever wrote fiction I wrote multiple screenplays and I was just not prepared for a novel. There’s so many things to keep track of, more reversals, more secondary characters, more subplots. I am probably putting eight hours a day into Pattaya HEAT. Only a few of those hours are actually spent writing, the rest of the time I am thinking about the plot.
What is the best thing that you love about your work?
The catharsis, definitely. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. In a sense I consider both acting and writing as a sort of shamanic process, a way to channel the spirit world. Only one has to be careful what they are channeling, because there are a lot of nefarious spirits on the other side that want to get through to make their mark here.
Especially with Hammers of Thor I sensed at one point that I was no longer writing the book, rather that it was writing itself. It was almost like the narrative already existed, and it was just waiting for me or anyone else to channel it onto paper.
Unfortunately I am finding Pattaya HEAT much more of a slog, albeit a rewarding one. This probably has something to do with the nature of the genre. Mysteries are just more reliant on plot structure than fantasy or sci-fi novels. Everything has to work in our present world, to fit together and make sense. There’s less allowance for the blatant use of a deus ex machina, for fantastic plot devices to appear out of thin air.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I would say that happiness for me is contingent on having access to a calm, peaceful environment, including ample time spent in nature and with good people. A few years back I went along on an artist’s retreat to a cabin up by Lake Klamath. Many of us left our smartphones back in Portland. I was surprised how easily I adapted to being disconnected.
I’d say that if anyone has access to a cabin in such an epic place as Lake Klamath, and good friends to go there with on weekends, there’s not much more to ask for. That is, assuming this theoretical group of people has not fled Portland due to a zombie outbreak and failed to bring enough food with them.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Probably my dry wit, which doesn’t carry over well to the types of humor over here in Asia. Luckily I am also an adept physical comedian. That is how people of different cultural backgrounds tend to communicate after all: through the use of sign and physical language. One way or another, the message gets across. Unless it doesn’t. In some far flung parts of Thailand and in a country like Laos, a lot of people can’t speak any English whatsoever and navigating that territory is part of the adventure.
Who is your hero or heroine in fiction?
I would say that generally, the private detective from hardboiled fiction is my favorite kind of hero. They suffer from character flaws. They must face their own demons as much as the criminals they are hunting. They are the antihero, but almost always they do the right thing in the end, despite possessing the capacity and even tendency to do the wrong thing by reflex. They are human.
In the western genre there is an equivalent: the man with no name character, made popular by Clint Eastwood in the Sergio Leone movies. The man with no name operates beyond the reach of any system that would render him into something he is not.
This is some different sort of hero. He has chosen a hard freedom. He lives by a code akin to something the philosopher Nietszche said, that “One has to constantly struggle to keep from getting overwhelmed by the tribe. If you do it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. That is a small price to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
Does that sound familiar? It does to me. It sounds like the writer’s life. And for that reason I like to encourage everyone to develop a writing practice, whether they intend to make a living at it someday or not. It’s the best way to know thyself.
Who is one author that most influenced you?
Definitely Raymond Chandler. I connect with his prose more than any other writer. He deftly blended genre fiction with poetic prose, only in a very lean and almost journalistic, gonzo way. A book of his like The Big Sleep conveys the underbelly of Los Angeles, and turns the microscope on the tragic characters who fall through the cracks.
To me tragic characters have so much weight, and they deserve a spotlight in any narrative. Comedy included.
When you’re not working, what are some of your favorite ways to relax and have fun?
My number one favorite physical activity is ocean swimming and free-diving. To go underwater is to change dimensions, to go to a different place. Arguably this is a water world we live on. The vast majority of life is in the oceans. Us land mammals are in the minority here.
I also do a lot of mountain hiking and running. But for me the beach is where I feel most at home, and barring that, I’ll settle for a lake or a pool or river. I’m like a fish, I can’t keep out of the water.
Gabriel Land Amazon Author Page: