How did “The Assassin’s Secret” come about?
I’m afraid that all replies to questions of this sort will be boring, today. This was just a story. I began writing it with no real idea of where it was headed or what it was about, accumulating detail in the way that is only possible in stories that take the form this one does, plotless descriptions of a status quo. Every discovery the reader makes along the way is one I made along the way. I wouldn’t want every story-writing experience to be like this one, as planning and foreseen direction also have a place, but, by God, I would be poorer if I could not have the fun of occasionally wandering down such blind paths.
So many delightful send-ups of tropes and clichés: Have you been collecting these along the way or did they all flood back to you once you started writing?
If you have spent any time stumbling around this subgenre as a reader, you have internalized this stuff, and it will bubble up at the oddest moments.
Do you have any favorite examples of similar send-ups of cultural/literary touchstones?
At this point in literary history, almost every subgenre exists in two forms: the purest one, which is just one stage removed from real life, and the one based on prior iterations that is just love for the genre, feeding back on itself. Thus, we have crime fiction that really is based on the culture of illegality and human corruption, and crime fiction that just boils the tropes and gives us stuff like the cop on the edge, the loveable gangsters, and—most notably in this context, since the real things probably doesn’t exist—the wealthy international assassin for hire, who gets fresh contracts on a regular basis. (Even Forsyth’s Jackal, relatively realistic as the book and first movie were played, is likely fantasy.) The most prominent example of a trope gone self-contained is the subgenre spawned by the James Bond movies (and I do mean the movies), of impossibly dashing “spies” who are really more like superheroes, battling madmen and their globe-spanning conspiracies. It’s kind of startling to be reminded that they exist in the same genre as the works of John le Carré.
If we’re talking about assassins in particular, I can point you to any number of grand examples, but two under-appreciated motion pictures that manage a degree of emotional realism while bringing us into the lives of professional assassins are Panic (2000) with William H. Macy, and The Matador (2005) with Pierce Brosnan.
Did you have in mind an actual motivation for the mysterious woman who comes and leaves without a request?
Not at all. See, here’s the trick. One way to make a story resonate, to foster the useful illusion that its world is larger than the details included in the text, is to include some compelling questions that cannot possibly be answered. A prior Lightspeed story of mine, “The Thing About Shapes to Come,” leads up a long-belated conversation between mother and daughter, but refuses to tell you what got said between them; the specifics are left to the reader’s imagination, and even I, the author, do not pretend to have a definitive answer. Here, I deliberately leave the woman’s backstory, and her reticence, unresolved. Why does she change her mind? It is left as an exercise to the reader. If I had to come up with something here, it would be a guess, and that guess would be that it is possible to have every possible motive for murder, and to still decide that the karmic price is more than anyone should want to pay.
Any news or projects you want to tell us about?
The contracted novel in progress is alas still not ready to be announced, but the month this story sees print is also the month you can find the grand finale of my Gustav Gloom series, Gustav Gloom And The Castle Of Fear, in stores. See Gustav face to face with the evil Lord Obsidian! See everybody, good and bad, get what they deserve.
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