It’s one of those questions you answer carefully when it comes from an editor, particularly one you’ve worked with before who has launched their own small publishing company. Sure, I said, I’ve thought about it. Why do you ask?
Jenn explained her reasons for asking. We went back and forth about the details. Somewhere along the line, I signed a contract. On this level, the why behind EXILE is easy: Jenn was interested in working with me, and she offered an advance. When you’re a writer, working freelance, that’s a combo you don’t turn down.
But there’s more to EXILE than opportunity and income; there always is, when you set out to write something, even if you convince yourself otherwise. So for the rest of the post I figured I’d tilt my lance at the dreaded not-so-easy answer and try to unpack some of the deeper motivations behind the book.
WHY I REALLY WROTE EXILE
I’ve had the character of Keith Murphy kicking around my head for a long, long time. He showed up back in 2003, at least in prototype, the POV character for a story I knocked out for a RPG forum writing contest where we wrote stories based on four or five visual queues. This was a good three years before I started taking short-story writing seriously, but you can still see the early story on the ENworld forums in all it’s “I wrote this in twelve hours or so and didn’t bother to edit” glory.
He wasn’t called Keith yet. I’m not even sure he was a hit man. But he was a guy on the run, being forced to lie low on the Gold Coast, and he ended up at hiding out in one of the dingier places I lived during my early twenties.
Even so, he kicked around in the back of my skull, biding his time. Waiting for his moment.
And I knew, when I started Flotsam, that I wanted to write about the Gold Coast.
‘Course, spend enough time looking at my fiction and you’re bound to notice the Gold Coast peeking in at the edges. In stories like Visitors, published in Fablecroft’s After the Rain, its use as a setting is overt and obvious. In novellas like Horn and Bleed, where I obscured the city behind false names and layers of misdirection, pretending it wasn’t really there.
It happens ‘cause I was a Gold Coast kid and the city is familiar terrain. It’s a convenient setting, rather than a necessary one, and those stories could be transplanted without too much disruption to their meaning.
That isn’t the case with EXILE.
My family moved to the Gold Coast when I was six years old. We stayed three years, did a stint in a small town out near Warwick, then returned to the Gold Coast and stayed for good. I lived there from age twelve until my mid-twenties, when I finally got my shit together and left the Coast for Brisbane. My parents are still down there, living in the same house they bought when I was thirteen. I end up visiting two or three times a year, which is a bewildering experience.
Here’s the thing about the Gold Coast: it’s a deeply fucking weird place to live. Where most cities have a vaguely spherical shape built around a central feature, the Coast is a thin sliver of a city smeared up against the coastline. Its principle industries are tourism and taking care of the elderly who think it’d be a nice place to retire. There are beaches. There are nightclubs. There are way too many theme parks.
It’s a deeply alienating place to grow up, too, especially if you’re not into beaches or nightclubs of theme parks.
I grew up knowing that I’d leave, eventually; that everything I did there was essentially biding time until I figured out what to do next. My friends and I tended to drift through life, killing time, waiting the city out. My experience of the Gold Coast is predicated on a feeling of transience and never quite belonging.
That transience – almost impermanence – is one of the most interesting aspects of the Gold Coast. It’s the perfect place to hide out, to reinvent yourself, or to simply disappear. It’s got a vibe much like Las Vegas, where so much attention is focused on a narrow stretch of the city that the rest seems to fade out of view.
And when I started writing EXILE, I knew wanted to visit that experience of the city in fiction. To write a story that was inherently, 100% Gold Coast based; a story that wouldn’t work in Brisbane, or Melbourne, or any other Australian city. So I set out to write the story of Keith Murphy’s homecoming, returning to the one place in the world I knew he didn’t want to go.
TAKE ME DOWN TO PARADISE CITY
I spent a lot of time listening to Guns’n’Roses while writing Keith Murphy’s story. It started ’cause I liked the irony of Paradise City when it’s applied to the ‘Coast, but also ’cause I knew I wanted to write a protagonist who was, for lack of a better word, a bloke. A guy who goes out and kills all sorts of occult creatures, but doesn’t think of it as a big deal. It’s just a job, one that needs doing, and he happens to have a knack for it.
EXILE explores what happens when the job goes wrong.
And a funny things happens when you set your protagonist loose on a setting; they evolve in ways you don’t really expect, and respond to things in slightly more complex ways. I may have set out to write a story that explored the idea of drifting through life on the coast, but Keith Murphy turned out to be a guy who’d been drifting ever since he left.
In a lot of ways, EXILE and the two novellas that follow it in the Flotsam series are among the most personal things I’ve ever written. The story may revolve around demons, magic, and ghosts, but the setting pillages more heavily from my own life than anything I’ve ever written. It’s an attempt to try and lock down the pieces of the Gold Coast that mean something to me, whether that meaning is good or bad, and show people a side of the city that isn’t often seen in fiction.
My suspicion is that I’ll be done with Gold Coast stories after the Flotsam series is over. It’s a setting that’s dominated my storytelling for a couple of years now, but it’s getting harder and harder to write about the Coast in an authentic way. I’ve been away too long, forgotten too much, and things keep changing in my absence. While I doubt Flotsam will be my last Gold Coast story, the trilogy will definitely be my last for a while.
One of the perils of following a writer’s blogs is the periods where they have new work out. I’m currently in that period, since EXILE has been out in ebook for about three days now, and while this blog isn’t about to become all-promo, all-the-time, you’re going to get the occasional post showing up where I talk about the book directly. Naturally, this is all a cheap ploy on my part to convince you to buy a copy. If you’d like to oblige me, avail yourself to the following purchase options: