Knowing that a B.A. in English wasn’t likely to land him a good-paying job, Anthony Huso did the only thing he could think of: he got the degree as quickly and cheaply as he could. Having dreamt of being an author since age eight, he reveled in his classes until June of 1996 when, after three years of school, he left the University of Minnesota with proof that he could read.
Interviewers were unimpressed and, true to his expectations, he found himself making $10 an hour as a home health aide, a door-to-door vacuum salesman, and later as a bill collector.
Jobs that paid the bills were just that: jobs. When the workday was over he left them behind, completely. At home he continued doing what he loved, creating, writing and tinkering with computers.
A self-described nerd (and proud of it) Anthony was completely surprised when his experiments with video game design landed him a job at Arkane Studios, a game company based in Lyon, France.
Deciding it was time to begin living rather than continue dreaming he took a chance, sold his house, quit his job and cashed out his 401k. He spent an amazing year living in France, sightseeing in Switzerland and Italy with his wife and three daughters.
After a year in Europe he returned to the states and continued working in games, this time based in Austin, Texas.
Delighted to finally have a job that encouraged his creativity, and inspired by the many people he had met in the game industry, Anthony took eight months to rewrite a story he had been fiddling with since college.
He submitted The Last Page to several potential agents and publishers.
After a couple years worth of rejection and good advice, he finally sold the The Last Page and its sequel to Tor Books in early 2009.
LS: From reading your bio, I get the sense that telling stories has always been part of your life. How did your childhood and/or family influence you in your professional ‘storytelling’ careers?
Stories are, I think, fundamental to families: even dysfunctional ones. My childhood was not happy but my mother did the best she could. A large part of her effort was in helping me understand that the world was bigger than me, bigger than my current situation; that there was a deeper history to my family and to life in general. She told me stories: about how my great grandparents came over from Sweden; how they homesteaded the farm in western Minnesota; how my great grandfather stood on his head for this 90th birthday. Many of these stories were from that tantalizing time before I was born, a time that I felt deeply connected to, yet removed from. I was told about how Dan, the guy that helped homestead, always carried a knife around, cutting off snake heads and plugs of tobacco indiscriminately. I heard about invasions during wet years, of salamanders from the sloughs surrounding the farm. I was told about terrible winters and horse-drawn sleighs and all of these wonderful, ominous interesting things that had happened within and surrounding my family.
And then something miraculous happened. I started hearing the same stories, or related stories from other people, like my grandmother, or my uncle. That’s when I first started to grasp the way that reality can change for you when you’ve founded your beliefs on a story, only to hear it told in a different way by someone else. The concept of the untrustworthy narrator entered my life at a young age. The trust that the reader invests in the POV of any character has since fascinated me and I toy with that concept quite a bit in Black Bottle.
LS: Was there a single book or writer that influenced you as a child?
As a child I think it was mostly oral, you know? Listening to the stories. Dr. Suess was huge though. The surreal, haunting-yet-safe images and rhymes of such bizarre things as happen in “One fish two fish red fish blue fish” or “Green Eggs and Ham” were tremendously impactful. The Lorax was another that struck a chord with me for reasons related to my answer to your first question: trying to understand the universe that existed before you were born and all that.
LS: Talk, if you would about inspiration. How important do you think outside influences are in motivating your muse? What type of inspiration do you rely on? Music? Art? Fiction?
Music, art, fiction, all that “stuff” can be analyzed individually as the distillation of someone else’s process, which of course is interesting. But that’s really just an exercise for understanding the “other”. When it comes to understanding the self, I think everyone else’s end products wind up in your compost pile, mixed together, allowing you to analyze what you’ve collected and why. Why did I like this? Why was this important to me? From that fermentation comes your own end product which goes into someone else’s compost pile. It’s collective yet intimate. I think it’s hugely important.
LS: Talk, if you would, about The Last Page and Black Bottle. What was the genesis of this story and how has it changed from first conception?
The genesis is in the compost pile, of course. It’s in the ferment of anxieties, hopes, ideals and so forth. For both books I wanted to write about a relationship framed by a terribly dark world, battered by that world, colored by it, tainted by it, yet clinging to something undeniably real. Further, I wanted the story to be apocalyptic in a strictly unsympathetic way. I wanted it to be harsh and surprising and not pandering to the reader. But most importantly, I wanted it to read the way I wanted it to. That last bit sounds preposterous of course unless, I suppose, you write. I’m a very selfish, self-centered writer and I write for me, to help me understand my life and the things I’m feeling. That’s the origin of all my characters and stories, which then evolve as I wrestle with those concepts. What am I getting out of this? That’s what interests me most. Secondary is: Okay, so I wonder if what I just wrote resonates with anyone else.
LS: What characters do you find the most difficult and, alternatively, easiest to write and why?
Kids are hard. Any child in a story I write is drawn directly from experiences with my own kids at certain stages in life. There was that magical moment when my daughter was six and I could listen to her and pull directly from that as a way to understand not all children in general, but at least one truthful rendition of a child speaking and thinking.
The characters that are easiest are of course the ones that are most like me. xD
LS: What is your writing process like? Do you need to outline and research before you write?
My process consists mostly of me thinking about the end of the story I’m going to write, visualizing the way I want it to end and the impact I want it to have. Once I understand the end of the story clearly and completely, the things that happen in the middle fall fairly easily into place. I don’t use outlines, but I do you Microsoft One Note to create and organic array of pictures, blocks of text and main ideas.
LS: How do you know when a story is complete?
There’s that whole thing about art is never finished, right? But I think I know a story is complete when I come back to it after several months away, read it, don’t hate, and realize that its usefulness to me on a personal level is no longer in the active struggle to get it out. When the story transforms from a process of understanding into something that I passed through, historically, then I know I’m done.
LS: Every writer struggles with rejection. What has your writer’s road been like? Did you ever want to give up? What kept you going?
Oh hell. No matter what you do someone’s going to hate it. That’s a cosmic law. That’s also why I’m so selfish in my writing. When the thing I’ve written pleases me there’s a mathematical law that says it’s also going to please someone else. That’s a fact no one can dispute. I don’t know how many, but it *will* please someone else. The thing that keeps me going is that writing is genuinely useful to me on a personal human level. I’m not doing this to get rich or please person X. I’m not interested in studying formulas or plot arcs. What I’m interested in is understanding my thoughts and my life before I die, and thinking about things that interest me. Writing lets me do that. I’m enormously grateful to Tor for giving me the chance to publish these two books that are, at a metaphoric level, deeply personal expositions.
LS: The scope of the publishing industry is changing. What is your opinion of the evolution of the e-book and self publishing and their impact on the industry?
Heads to Google to read the most recent opinion from that-one-guy-that’s-really-smart-about-ebooks. No. Honestly, I don’t care much about this. I have a self-published e-short story that’s made some spare change. There’s this whole shtick right now about being your own business-savvy, get-rich-quick miracle by avoiding the blood-sucking publishers. I think that’s BS. You have big success stories along with stories of utter failure: same as it ever was. Guess what? People who publish books are doing it because they love books. How the industry evolves is actually not super interesting to me because that’s just an end-user question and it’s wholly disconnected from why I write. People have been writing for thousands of years and they will keep on doing it. How that material is disseminated and digested is minutiae.
LS: What are you reading right now? And what’s your favorite “guilty pleasure” read?
I was reading Railsea by China Mieville until I got pulled into playing Dawnguard on XBOX. I make video games for a living and got excited to be a vampire. What can I say? *That’s* a guilty pleasure if there ever was.
LS: What would you consider your personal dream fulfillment?
Strangely, I’m 41 and I’ve hit it. I published my novels. I saw Europe. The dreams I had as a kid have mostly come true and I’m incredibly grateful for that. What I’m looking forward to most now is getting to know my kids as they turn into grownups. I’m so interested to know who they’ll become. I’ve been telling them stories.