Welcome back to CR! For new readers, let’s start with an introduction: Who is Walter Goodwater?
Good to be back! My name is Walter, and I’m a software guy by day, and exhausted writer by night. (My two kids under four certainly contribute to that exhaustion). I’ve been reading fantasy my whole life, starting with Tolkien in the 5th grade, Dragonlance in the 6th grade, and Terry Brooks in the 7th grade. After that, I was hooked. I love writing fantasy because creating a new world is such an ideal way to shine new light on things in our own world in unexpected ways.
Your latest novel, The Liar of Red Valley, is due to be published by Solaris in September. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
It is a horror/fantasy set in Red Valley, a drought-stricken rural California town where magic and monsters are more of a nuisance than noteworthy. Dark, hungry things fly over the town at night. Junkies invite demons into their heads. The local dive bar has an almost human clientele, and a mysterious door in the back no one goes into (unless they are really desperate). People growing up in this town live by three simple rules: Don’t cross the King. Never, ever go in the River. And don’t trust the Liar. Sadie knows these rules as well as anybody, but since her mom died, she’s the Liar now, which means she keeps the towns secrets. And if she’s going to survive in Red Valley, she’s going to have to break some rules.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
My last books were set in the last and in places I’ve never been to, so for this one, I wanted to write something more authentic to my own experience (in other words, have to do less research). So I decided to set it in a place very much like the town I grew up in. From there, I thought about what magic and monsters would feel authentic in a small town, and how to tie into the inherent creepiness that setting can provide. Small towns are weirdly insular and everybody ends up knowing everybody’s secrets, so that’s where the idea of the Liar came from, and the rest flowed from there.
In case readers missed your debut series, how would you introduce your Cold War Magic series?
I like to say that the Cold War Magic books are like chocolate and peanut butter: Cold War espionage is great, fantasy is great, why not put them together? They start in the 1950’s and follow Karen, a magical researcher at the Office of Magical Research and Deployment, who is sent to Berlin to investigate an issue with the magical wall that separates the city from the rest of the world. What she finds are long-buried secrets, new dangers, and restless ghosts from the war.
Did you learn any lessons from writing that series that informed how you approached your latest novel?
I read somewhere (I think on Twitter) someone saying: “I want my first book to be my worst.” I think about that all the time, and hope it is true for me. As much as I love my debut, I’m always hoping to improve and evolve as a storyteller, and there were some new challenges with this one. The Cold War Magic books were pretty meticulously outlined and I followed those outlines closely; last time I was here, I was extoling the virtues of outlining. But The Liar of Red Valley refused to be that straightforward. I started with an outline, but struggled endlessly against it. Even when I was done with the book, I went back and completely rewrote the first third. So the approach that worked for the earlier books just didn’t pan out for me here. But I love the finished product, and love the growth required to pull it all together.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
The last year has been a rough one for my creative output, but I have recently started on a new novel: another contemporary fantasy, this one inspired by an intersection of world mythology and social media.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I always have a book on the nightstand and an audiobook for the car, so I’ve got two. I’m reading The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins, which is a dark (and I do mean dark) fantasy/horror novel about a missing god, a library with mystical knowledge, and the cost of revenge. And I’m listening to Broken Horses, a memoir by one of my favorite musicians, Brandi Carlile. I love her music, and hearing the stories of her life that led to and inspired her work has been really rewarding. Plus she has special song recordings after each chapter, so audio is definitely the right format for this one.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
I think I speak for all of humanity when I say the last year and more has been tough. We have young kids, and it hasn’t been easy explaining everything that is going on and why we’ve had to make changes to our lives. I’m hopeful that vaccinations will allow us to move back to something resembling normal soon, because I foolishly let my 4-year-old son find out that LEGOland is a thing and he’s desperate to visit once the “bad germs” are gone, and I can’t wait to take him.
Also on CR: Interview with W.L. Goodwater (2018)