I have interviewed many wonderful authors and I am almost always pleased about their honesty in their responses. There is always so much to learn from their experience. Ontario-based author Brenden Carlson is no exception. What an intersting person. Midnight, his second in a book series, comes out July 20 and is from Dundurn and retails for $17.99.

Congratulations on the almost release (July 20) of your second book featuring Det. Elias Roche and his automatic partner, Allen Erzly, Midnight.

The books are set in a “gritty, tech-noir version of 1930s Manhattan,” and I must say I found the scenery and way of life rather depressing.

How did you come up with the idea for Night Call, the first book in the series? Did the scene come first or the characters?

I’ve been trying to figure that out for some time. I know its sort of cliché to say ‘it came to me in a dream’, but otherwise I’m not sure where to point to regarding the starting line for this series. I remember in my late teens/early 20s, I was working construction in the summers and I passed the time on my breaks by reading the original Sherlock Holmes stories. I found myself really enjoying Watson’s more brash and run-and-gun attitude in certain circumstances. I’d say that got the ball rolling regarding inspiration for one of my characters, and the rest of the setting followed suit.

How long did the Night Call take to create, from idea to finished copy? Were there a lot of changes from what you pitched to what we see today? What did you like about the changes?

From beginning to end, the entire process took five years. There were plenty of false starts, drafts thrown away, half-baked ideas, back and forth on what I wanted to do, or even what I was capable of doing.

“The biggest problem with being a debut author is seeing so vividly what you want to write, but never quite reaching that because of either inexperience or because years later, when you look back on what you wrote, all you see are mistakes you should have fixed or never should have been. Ah well.”

Honestly, the finished product is leagues better from what I initially pitched. I credit that to my editorial team because they have an eye for the obvious that I often lack in the heat of writing. The changes they suggested and I made helped the themes I wanted to include actually stick out, and made the world I wanted to craft more encompassing and real. I don’t think my books would be anywhere near publishable without their help.

Was your intention always to make the books a series? Why or why not? Will there be more books featuring Det. Roche and Allen Erzly?

The intention was always a series, though at the beginning I envisioned something much larger than what I want to write now. I think three novels is a good way to start a writing career, without dragging things out longer than they have to be – I don’t want to become Douglas Adams and want to murder my characters after Book 4. Regarding further books, I did originally want the third to be the final nail in the coffin, so to speak, but I am toying with a fourth, final book. I guess we’ll see what the future holds and if my publisher keeps loving what I put out.

Was Midnight easier to write than Night Call? Explain?

Oh, it was exponentially easier. I wrote it in about six weeks in the dead centre of my master’s degree, and I stayed up until 5 a.m. some nights to get it out. I think it was the perfect storm of me getting the first book out of the way, combined with me being so fed up with school at the time that I just wanted to escape it and focus on something else. I love Midnight so much more than the first book; I feel like I captured what I wanted to say more effectively in this one than I had in my first.

You are an organic chemist – what does that mean exactly? How did your background help in creating these books?

I just recently finished a master’s degree in Organic Chemistry, which – to put it simply – is the study and synthesis of carbon-containing molecules. While it didn’t directly influence big things in my novels, what was inspiring were the stories of ancient chemists from the 1930s to ‘70s.

“Scientists in that day and age were more detectives than anything else, using logic and deductive reasoning to find out what they were creating and what it could do to benefit the world. Scientists these days – including myself – rely more on technology to figure things out for us, and one professor I had would tell us that ‘were those old chemists alive today, they’d put us all out of business.’”

I guess it was my fascination with that bygone era that inspired who Roche was: a detective with both the deductive reasoning and antisocial attitude of a chemist.

What do you enjoy about writing these books? Was there ever a point when you were stumped? How did you get past it? Can you please tell me a bit about your writing process (including when you write, time wise)? Is there anything you don’t like about the writing process?

I think the writing process can be incredibly rewarding, yet challenging. One of my biggest issues is writing myself into a spot where I’m not sure where to go or move to. I’ve really mitigated this with a separate “Things 2 Write” book where I sketch out plot threads and ideas in a broad sense before typing out the minutiae. My wife has given me plenty of flak for staying up until 4 a.m. writing, definitely a product of my time as a student, a terrible habit I’m really trying to break.

The best and worst part about the process is line-by-line edits. I’ve heard from other writers that it’s the creative equivalent of slicing your fingertips with a razorblade, and I agree. But I do love what comes of it, seeing the grand picture come together as the little pieces are straightened out and set in place. It’s a necessary struggle I’ve been forcing myself to grow more accustomed with, and it’s much less painful now than it was when I first jumped into the retail book trade.

What sort of research did you do for these books? Manhattan in this book is different from Manhattan in the 1930s from our world. Why did you set your books Manhattan? How did you make it recognizable (but not)? Have you been to Manhattan?

Most of my research went back to some of the great inventors of the ‘10s and ‘20s, and how their intentions had been golden, but the technology they had access to severely limited their capabilities. Beyond that, most of my research into America was easy to gleam by stepping across the border – before the lockdown, of course.  

I’ve never been to Manhattan personally, but the setting was perfect as being the epicentre of America-isms, down to its prevalence in American media as the ‘centre of the world.’ And to be truthful about my research and my making it recognizable, most of what is written reflects modern-day America more than it does the 90-year-old era. As you mentioned before, the scenery and way of life are rather depressing, because it’s a reflection of real life, sans robots.

What was the response like for Night Call, which released in October 2020? Did you take any feedback you received from that book into Midnight?

I think response was good. I saw a pretty big split on my online reviews, with half of the reviewers hating it, and half of them loving it. I can understand some of the scores: some parts were too trope-y, I wasn’t as skilled at prose as I am now, and some of the subtext I meant to gleam in the book wasn’t taken as well as it could have been given the issues present in 2020. Nevertheless, plenty of the feedback – constructive or not – was taken, with some of it already implemented in the second book from just how I had grown as a creator. Here’s hoping people see the second book as a marked improvement as I do!

What do you think people who liked Night Call will like about Midnight? If you didn’t read Night Call, can you still enjoy Midnight? Why or why not?

I think there’s more to gain by reading them both, as I really wanted to put out Night Call as the sort of benchmark when it came to world building and character development, and have Midnight come in to flesh out details and show the progressive change of characters from Point A to Point B. I’ve already read some reviews of people who read the second book but not the first, and they seem able to follow along, so I think people can enjoy Midnight without all the context of the first book.

According to Twitter, you are also a dungeon master (I am assuming this is Dungeons and Dragons) and you do something with vampires. What is it about these things that you love? Will we see these creatures in book form?

Indeed, you are correct, I’m an avid tabletop RPG player, often taking the lead role in running games. Call it the storyteller in me yearning to be free. I’ve played plenty of games with friends before and during the pandemic, and I can attribute them to being a big help in keeping me going through tough times. I love the sense of community and fun that me and my friends get playing these games; it’s so much more involved than a board game or just playing video games, I think it really does bring people together, and I’m thrilled that popularity in these games is on the rise.

I’ve had some fantastic narrative games with friends in the past few months. Whether those stories will ever be fleshed out in paperback form … I suppose we’ll see.

In a Dundurn blogpost, you talk about your two passions and how you balance both. Can you please explain.

Balancing is one word to use … I’d think the word shoehorn fits better, seeing as I would somehow make time to write no matter what was going on. My views on what I was once passionate about (specifically the sciences) have changed immensely in the past year, and I have a newfound appreciation for the slowness of homelife after I finished my degree. I now see my relationship with chemistry as slightly toxic – at least in academia. While balancing passions is something one can do for some time, eventually one wins out, or more like one is thrown to the curb. I’m very glad my love of writing wasn’t the thing I threw away.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently rewriting parts of my third book in the series; after a few months away, I felt bad about what I did in some parts and wanted to make some amends. Otherwise, I have a few short stories lined up that are in the works, along with a larger project that I’m about 200k words deep into. It’s a mystery even to me which of these will be published first!

Do you have a dream project?

I’m happy to say I do, and I’m even happier to say that I’m working on it right now. I’ve been told genre-jumping is difficult, but I’m up for a challenge. I’ve wanted to put myself into that general fiction corner of the bookstore, and I think this might be the thing to do it.

Anything else you would like to say?

Writers: be nice to your editorial team. Readers: subtext is important.