Joseph Nassise’s new Jeremiah Hunt novel, Watcher of the Dark is available today from Tor Books. DIABOLIQUE contributor Shelia M. Merrit had a chance to chat with him following her review of the new novel. Check out her interview with the author on Watcher of the Dark, which The Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Nominations just announced as a nominee in the Urban Fantasy Protagonist category.
DIABOLIQUE: Watcher of the Dark is your third novel with protagonist Jeremiah Hunt. What is it about Hunt that drives you to write about him, and how do you keep his character fresh in each book?
JOSEPH NASSISE: When I first created the character of Jeremiah Hunt, I wanted to present an individual who was unlikeable but interesting enough to capture the reader’s attention. Once I had their attention, my plan was to slowly show what had made him the way he was at that point, to see if I could turn interest into sympathy. Once I had that, I wanted to see if I could change sympathy into genuine respect and get the reader rooting for the same character they had originally despised (or at least disliked.)
I think the first book – Eyes to See – managed to pull that off pretty well. At that point, Jeremiah had gone from being a pariah whom everyone disliked to a man on the path to redemption, which is often a very bumpy and difficult road, and I wanted to see what happened to him along the way. That journey is what makes Jeremiah particularly interesting to me, as I think all of us are on that road in one respect or another. We can all understand what it means to blame ourselves for our past failures and how difficult it can be to actually change our ways, so taking that journey with Jeremiah allows the reader to see the echo of their own story within the pages of his.
Jeremiah is human and keeps making mistakes, just like all of us, so coming up with new material to keep each successive book fresh isn’t all that difficult. It is just the natural flow of Jeremiah’s life and the consequences of the actions he takes. Befriending Dmitri and Denise leads him from Eyes to See to the events of King of the Dead. The actions he takes in King of the Dead, particularly at the end of the story, directly lead him to the events that occur in Watcher of the Dark. And of course what he is forced to do in Watcher will take us into the next volume…
DIABOLIQUE: Readers new to the series will have no difficulty catching up on Hunt’s history and previous exploits, thanks to your gift for concise recapitulation. How did you decide where to structurally insert the bits of information?
NASSISE: This is definitely a process that is part art and part science. You want enough information laid out up front that a newcomer to the series doesn’t feel lost, as this will often cause them to put the book down and stop reading. On the other hand, you don’t want to put in too much information and annoy all of the faithful readers who have been with you throughout the entire series. So, for me, I like to be as minimalist as possible — give the readers just enough information that they know what is going on and understand the complexities involved in the situation without overwhelming them. Once I know what information to include, I then start to look for places where it can be inserted without disrupting the flow of the current storyline any more than necessary.
DIABOLIQUE: In Eyes to See and King of the Dead, the premiere and follow-up novels in the series, you alternated the narration between first person and third person. With Watcher of the Dark, you retain Hunt’s first person narration throughout the book. Is there a reason for the format change?
NASSISE: There were a certain group of readers who were uncomfortable with the point of view alternating between the first and third person, which made me concerned I might be losing a fair number of readers I wasn’t aware I was losing. With that in mind I sat down to try and write book three, Watcher of the Dark, entirely in first person via Hunt’s point of view. I’m pleased with the results and I hope fans of the series are as well!
DIABOLIQUE: Hunt makes some rather uncomplimentary observations about the Los Angeles film industry in Watcher of the Dark. Are his comments indicative of personal experiences you may have had in regard to movie making in L.A.?
NASSISE: Just the opposite, actually. I’ve had three of my novels optioned by Hollywood and each time it has been a pleasant experience. (None have yet made their way to production, but that’s the way it goes!) I love movies and would be thrilled to work as a screenwriter at some point in the future, so I don’t have anything against that scene at all. Hunt’s comments were purely for characterization purposes.
DIABOLIQUE: Of the many adversaries Hunt has dealt with, his opponents in Watcher are particularly intriguing. Tell us about the demonic femme fatale Ilyana Verikoff. Was she concocted purely from your imagination, or were the human aspects of her personality modeled on someone?
NASSISE: My first series — The Templar Chronicles — was very male-oriented with only one major female character (and a minor walk-on role from a certain hedge witch that Jeremiah Hunt fans are quite familiar with,) so when I set out to write these books I wanted to be sure to populate Jeremiah’s world with female characters who were just as interesting — if not more so — than their male counterparts. Whisper. Denise Clearwater. And now Ilyana Verikoff.
Like Hunt, Ilyana is a bit of an outcast, neither fully human nor fully demon. Like many of those that Hunt encounters in this new shadowy world, she has considerably more power than he does and certainly understands the supernatural world far better, but that doesn’t mean she is any more in control of what’s going on around her than Hunt is. Both of them are fighting their way toward some kind of redemption and that naturally brings them together in certain ways as the story progresses.
I didn’t model Ilyana on anyone in particular — she’s more an amalgam of traits from various people I’ve known throughout my life.
DIABOLIQUE: Segueing on the topic of fascinating women, you employ one from real-life in your narrative; in 1932, actress Peg Entwistle did jump from The Hollywood Sign to her death, and there have been “documented” sightings of her ghost haunting the vicinity over the years since she died. Was referencing Peg a means of giving your tale local verisimilitude, or was it simply a wink to readers who happen to know about her?
NASSISE: Using Peg was definitely intentional. I wanted to capture some of the real-life setting of Los Angeles and details about the local ghosts seemed a nice way of putting Hunt into the middle of it all, given his particular skill set. The Hollywood sign is certainly an iconic LA image and it seemed a great location for a scene, so I went looking for statistics on how many suicides had occurred there with the idea in mind of having Hunt encounter the ghost of one such individual. My research led me very quickly to the ghost of Peg Entwistle and she seemed the perfect kind of character for Hunt to interact with.
The Cathedral of our Lady of Angels that the team visits in chapter eight is another example of an LA landmark that was designed for adding local verisimilitude to the tale.
DIABOLIQUE: You spend lots of time with your protagonist. During your multi-book journey with Jeremiah Hunt, have you ever been metaphorically slapped by the character — with him exclaiming, “Hey Joe, that’s not how I’d behave!”?
NASSISE: Because my books are pretty meticulously planned out before I even put one word down on paper (metaphorically speaking,) it is often very difficult for my characters to surprise me. I certainly had plenty of “I wonder if this will work?” moments when developing the story line, and Hunt was a rather vocal influence on my subconscious during that process. To me, Hunt is just this ordinary guy who gets sucked into something much bigger than he ever imagined and, like many people in over their heads, he’s just muddling his way through it all the best he can. His lack of planning and foresight, never mind his sarcastic nature, often get him into trouble and the solutions he comes up with for these problems often hand him in ever deeper than before. So in working with Hunt, I have to constantly be asking myself “What’s the worst thing that can happen if he does X?” and go from there.
DIABOLIQUE: What do you have planned for Hunt in the next novel?
NASSISE: In the previous books, Hunt has always been careful not to antagonize the Preacher any more than necessary. The Preacher is a major enigma to him and while Hunt knows the Preacher is playing some game in the background he hasn’t looked too closely to see what it is. Circumstances necessitate a change in Watcher of the Dark, however. Hunt deliberately acts in ways that are contrary to what the Preacher desires, even demands, and that puts him squarely on the other side of the line. By the end of the novel his relationship with the Preacher has radiclly changed and I want to explore that more in the next book.