Interview with Anthony Neil Smith, author of CASTLE DANGER

How long has the idea for “Castle Danger” existed? What enabled you to finally bring it to life?
It was gestating for at least a handful of years before I wrote it, especially the opening section that led up to finding the body on the ice. It took a long time to figure out the character of Manny, and I went back and forth with the idea of who he was at that point. Allan Guthrie was my sounding board, and there came a point where he mentioned a possible “injury”, and for some reason Manny’s life opened in front of me. I was able to get past the first section because I now knew what he wanted, what the obstacles were, and how he needed to proceed.
When I finally pitched the full idea to Allan, he thought it was really intriguing. It took a few months, though, for him to come back and say, “Can I see that pitch again? I want to show it to someone…”

What makes Castle Danger different from your past work?
Most obviously, fewer dead bodies. The violence in the book is less than what I’ve written before. That wasn’t part of the plan, but it just happened. What violence there was came organically from the story—it was necessary. But in the past, my characters tended to end up in much more gory or explicit situations.

No spoilers, but who is your favorite character in the book?
I really liked writing about Paula, and her personality bloomed more and more every time she showed up. Without spoilers, I can tell people that Paula is a transwoman who looks an awful lot like Paul Stanley of KISS without the make-up, and she knows it, so she adopts the name Paula Livingston (think about it for a moment…).

When you wrote the character Manny, how did you want readers to respond to him?
No idea. I mean, as the protagonist, I want readers to get into these stories he’s telling—both his own journey and the case he’s following—but if his personality comes off a little off-putting, that’s okay, too. He starts the book angry and depressed, and he only “gets better” when he discovers why he feels that way, and starts trying to do something about it. Without spoiling the journey, I can say that I tried to put myself in his place: confusion, anger, distrust, and he’s not being completely honest with himself, meaning he’s not with the reader either. But hopefully, the reader will bear with him as he bares all (ha).

There are male and female characters in the book. As a man, how did you channel what Manny was feeling as he transitions to a woman?
It’s of course very hard to inhabit a person who is going through things that I haven’t had to go through, but I only write about characters who interest me rather than trying to make sure they’re all sort of like me. As Manny goes through this, I had to research what a lot of trans people experience, as well as try to imagine how Manny himself would react. He’s not a stereotype, so I didn’t want it to be “by the book”, but the similarities to others’ experiences had to feel psychologically honest.
I continue to use the pronoun “him” for Manny in this book, because I don’t think he’s quite come to terms with who he wants to be (or who he really is) at the end of it, but that’s because his journey continues in earnest in the second CASTLE DANGER book, called THE MENTAL STATES.

What is the most interesting reader feedback you’ve ever received?
My editor on CASTLE DANGER definitely set me straight on how a woman thinks when it comes to dress, make-up, and other physical details women go through every day that men take for granted. So that was helpful.
But for another book I wrote, a very explicit and nasty thing called XXX SHAMUS, I would call up a friend of mine to tell him what I had written about that day—usually very salacious, pornographic sex scenes—and we’d laugh about just how ridiculous it all sounded. But then I asked him to read the final draft. He called me up after and said, “Dude…that was NOT funny.” He was surprised at just how serious the story was, and how the sex just added to the malaise of it all.

Any other juicy tidbits about the writing process or Castle Danger, which you’d like to share with us?
My writing process is kinda boring—morning writer, after coffee. But I do listen to a lot of music while I write, something to match the mood of the book. There’s a big gay dance club scene in CASTLE DANGER that was one of my favorite parts to write. It felt really *big* for Manny as part of his journey. So I was listening to a lot of dance music, including two bands I love—The Gossip (with Beth Ditto) and Minneapolis darlings Tickle Torture, who do some crazy shows and tunes. I would’ve loved to use lyrics from those two bands (filthy lyrics), but using lyrics means clearing rights and paying money. Instead, I handed them over to my line-editor and German translator Len Wanner, and he ended up creating the fake lyrics for that scene that are perhaps even filthier than the originals. That could be a whole new career for him!

Thanks, Neil!

Anthony Neil Smith

Anthony Neil Smith is a Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English, Philosophy, Spanish and Humanities at Southwest Minnesota State University. He also writes dark, sordid crime novels.

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