Matthew Stover on ‘Caine’s Law’
First off, I thought Caine’s Law was easily one of the most quotable books I’ve ever read. Some of dialog in the novel is just priceless. Do you save up good quotes to use in your novels or do most of them come to you as you’re writing?
MS: Well, thanks. One of my weaknesses, as a writer, is my inability to resist a really good line – or, at least, a line I like (good or otherwise). I think it was Dickens who claimed that whenever he came across a beautiful sentence in his work, he’d strike it out (on the theory that a well-turned phrase might distract the reader into thinking about the prose, when Dickens wanted the reader to be focused on the story).
That being said, however, I started out in this biz as a comic playwright (as well as an actor), so I do my best to get my really good lines into dialogue, because it’s just more fun that way. I love the kind of dialogue that makes you chuckle and repeat it out loud. Part of the reason I enjoy writing so much of Caine’s story from his own first-person perspective is that it lets me essentially write a big chunk of a book as an extended monologue. And I like his (admittedly dark) sense of humor. He likes to quote Hesse: “Humor is always gallows-humor, and it is on the gallows [we] are . . . constrained to learn it.”
And no, I never save up good lines. Saved-up lines always sound stale. The really good ones are the ones that come out of nowhere when you’re already deep into a scene, because they spring directly from the characters and their situation. But that doesn’t stop me from occasionally stealing a good line from somebody else – or even from myself, as people who’ve read both my originals and my tie-ins can tell you.
When you finished Caine Black Knife, how much of Caine’s Law did you already foresee?
MS: All of it.
They were originally planned to be a single work (hence being “Act of Atonement I” and “Act of Atonement II”). But the further I got into the story, the more I realized that I was working on two different books. The dual narrative that dominates Caine Black Knife is tricky enough as it is; just imagine mixing that up with the multi-layered flashback, flash-forward and dream-sequence stuff in Caine’s Law. The whole thing would have been a giant mess – as long as Blade of Tyshalle, but lacking its narrative coherence.
What brought the whole project together for me was the idea of focusing CBK strictly on Caine’s actions in the Boedecken at the vertical city (later Purthin’s Ford) – without divorcing those actions from the broader canvas of what is now Caine’s Law. CBK is a complete story in itself, but it is also a piece of a bigger story – “Third of the Acts of Caine” – for which it’s both prologue and context.
Rooqoo Depot: Caine’s Law deals a lot with the ideas of people living and fighting with their gods. Did writing for the God of War franchise influence the events in this book?
The Acts of Caine have always been about fighting gods, metaphoric and actual both.
The telling of this story, the structure, the narratives and subject matter; it’s very complicated. Did you have any trouble keeping it all straight in your head and did you ever worry it might get too confusing for readers?
MS: I’m worried about it right now. But the story is the way it has to be. Trust me when I tell you that this version makes more sense than any of the others.
I have decided to hope that Caine’s fans will be willing to stick with the story even when it gets confusing. I’m pretty sure it all makes sense by the end. More or less.
There’s a strong theme on horses in this book. Can you elaborate where that theme came from? Plus how did you develop the idea for the horse-witch?
MS: I have a very dear friend, Robyn Drake, who is (in addition to being a fine painter and a writer herself) an equine services professional and a lifelong horsewoman. The story that Jonathan Fist relates to the Reading Master in “Reliable Sources” (“Nothing in creation loves the way a horse loves”) is very nearly a verbatim transcription of a conversation she and I had many, many years ago. It made a deep impression on me. All of the actual horse-lore in the book comes from Robyn; anything in there that isn’t literally true comes from me.
I didn’t develop the idea of the horse-witch. She is what she is, in the same sense that Caine is Caine. I will tell you this: in ways more profound than I can put into direct language, the chapter “Horse Time” captures what I wrote the Acts of Caine to say. That’s what I wrote three-quarters of a million words to get to – a story that takes place in the gap between what is, and what ought to be.
To Kill A Mockingbird plays an important role in this book. Not only is it name dropped, but several people in the book are asked who their favorite characters were. Who’s your favorite, and why?
MS: My opinion is pretty much the same as Caine’s.
Look, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most important novels in American literature. Not just in itself, but for its influence on our culture. Anybody reading this interview who hasn’t read that novel needs to put away their computer and grab a copy right away. Most of our other great novels – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, for example, or A Farewell to Arms – are brutally honest examinations of human nature and our place in the universe as we find it, like it or not. To Kill a Mockingbird, on the other hand, is at least partly aspirational – it’s a story that takes place in the gap between what is, and what ought to be. That similarity isn’t a coincidence. It’s the kind of book I wish I could write.
Duncan Michaelson was (loosely) modeled on Atticus Finch; he’s what Atticus might have become, had he been born into the ugly future Earth of the Acts of Caine. Caine, on the other hand, wasn’t based on anybody other than himself – but anybody who’s read Caine will recognize the resonances between him and his favorite character.
I had a tremendous amount of fun reading Caine’s Law. If there is another, how will you top it?
MS: I won’t top it. I never do. Blade of Tyshalle doesn’t top Heroes Die; it’s a different book, one that happens to have Heroes Die as part of its back-story. Caine Black Knife and Caine’s Law have the same relationship to the first two. If it feels like they’re more intense or insightful or powerful (or whatever) than what has come before, it’s probably just because I’m still getting better as a writer. When I undertake a Caine story, I’m always pushing out through the top end of my skill set, trying to do things I’ve never done before. So if there ever is another Act of Caine, you can expect it to be, as John Cleese used to say, something completely different. But just as much fun.
How many more Caine stories do you see in the near future?
MS: Ask my publisher.
I don’t have any more Acts of Caine under contract right now. Caine’s Law was intended to be the final Caine novel – but so was Blade of Tyshalle. Hell, Heroes Die was written to be a stand-alone. There’s something about these characters and the Earth/Overworld environment that I still find pretty compelling. If somebody wants to pony up the money, I have a scenario for a meaty multi-book epic called The Act of Faith Trilogy…
Switching gears, any thoughts about another book featuring Barra & Company from Iron Dawn and Jericho Moon? I really liked those books and would love to see those characters in action again.
MS: See my answer above…
Seriously: I have always wanted to go back to Barra & Co., and I have the greatest premise for a historical fantasy ever. I mean it. But before I can write it, I’d have to find a publisher willing to take a chance on re-starting a series that’s been out of print for most of a decade. It doesn’t seem likely.
If my career were to take such a positive turn that I could afford to spend a year or so writing for my own amusement, I’d probably start with the Barra story, because it would absolutely effing rock.
Your original work is more or less R-rated material. Do you find yourself having to tame your storytelling when you do Star Wars or is it just a matter of changing your mindset?
MS: I don’t hold anything back in my Star Wars work. That’s what I have editors for. I’ve spent about a third of my career poking into the darkest corners of the Galaxy Far Far Away – but no matter how dark they are, the stories still take place in Mr. Lucas’s universe, which still operates by the rules Mr. Lucas and LFL have laid down for it. My process is virtually identical when I’m writing Star Wars as when I’m doing my own originals. The difference lies in the laws of the universe in question.
Some Star Wars fans may not know your other works. Do you think they would appeal to Star Wars fans? (feel free to give us your best sales pitch)
MS: It’s all about the characters. I used to describe Caine as a dark side Mace Windu. Now I think he’s more like an un-disfigured Vader, using all his rage and dark-side power to fight people who are even worse than he is. For any Star Wars fans who might like that kind of story, there’s four novels’ worth out there.
Barra, on the other hand, is a female Han Solo with a stone axe instead of a blaster. And there’s only two about her. So far.
Do you have any Star Wars stories in the works? I really enjoyed your short story “The Tenebrous Way” that was featured in Star Wars Insider magazine, and would love to see another.
MS: Any time LFL and Del Rey want me to do more Star Wars, they know where to find me. I was very badly burned-out by the time I finished Luke Skywalker & the Shadows of Mindor, but that was more than three years ago, and I’m ready to jump back in.
With the increasing popularity of eBooks, have you considered self-publishing any stories?
MS: It’s not impossible. Iron Dawn and Jericho Moon are currently available only as e-books on fsand.com (unsolicited plug!), and they still sell a few copies now and again. I’m not quite at the point in my career when I can count on self-published e-books to keep my rent paid, though.
Currently you’ve been working on a comic book for the Acts of Caine series. When will that be out, and what else can fans expect from you in the near future?
MS: Right now, I’m looking for a publisher for the Acts of Caine comic; producing comic books is expensive (good artists – and we do have very good artists – expect to be paid for their work). And I kind of like getting paid myself. If we do end up doing a self-published thing, it’ll probably be a digital comic, distributed on the Internet. But as Yoda liked to say, “Always in motion, the future is . . .”
We’d like to thank Matthew Stover for taking the time to answer our questions. If you would like to find out the latest news on Matt’s Acts of Caine comic project, you can check out Overworld TV. If you haven’t already bought your copy of Caine’s Law, then head on over to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and get yours now.