Pete Mesling published his first short-story collection, None So Deaf, in 2016 and had a story appear alongside a reprint of Clive Barker’s “The Midnight Meat Train” in Doorways Magazine. He also had the pleasure of working directly with the late Richard Matheson on an online retrospective of his career in film and television.
Mesling has additionally sold fiction and poetry to such publications as All-American Horror of the 21st Century, the First Decade: 2000 – 2010; Best New Zombie Tales, Vol. 2; Black Ink Horror; two of the Potter’s Field anthologies; The Literary Hatchet; the Hammer Film tribute anthology Spawn of the Ripper, from April Moon Books; and the Poetry Showcase series from the Horror Writers Association. He is also the official Clive Barker proofreader for Gauntlet Press, from Everville onward.
He has just released his latest crime/thriller novel, The Portable Nine, and took some time out to discuss it with IndieMuse.
What is the significance of the title?
The title refers to a group of mercenaries who haven’t worked together for some time when the book begins, and who have secluded themselves in various corners of the globe. They’re called together by their leader, a man named Davenport, after a vicious act is perpetrated against someone very dear to him, all based on an assumption that he has killed a man he has not, in fact, killed. This not only sets in motion a reunion of the Portable Nine, but it also sets the stage for a deeper awakening among them. They learn how much they’ve missed the dangerous game of vigilantism on a global scale.
What is the key theme and/or message in the book?
As I emphasize in the preface, I was interested in exploring the limits of morality, but never at the cost of a good time. This is a fast-paced thriller, and I didn’t want anything to get in the way of that. Still, themes do emerge, and if I were to boil the book’s message down to one word, I might call it satirical. I think it satirizes our permissiveness toward violence in popular culture, and the arbitrary lines we draw around labeling certain types of violence acceptable. At the same time, I’m telling a very violent story. I kind of revel in the contradiction of that.
What is the future for the characters? Will there be a sequel?
There’s an Easter egg related to this in the back matter of the book, but I might as well come clean here for the first time publicly. The Portable Nine is the first book in a series, and the hook is that there will be one less member of the Portable Nine in each successive book. In other words, book two will be called The Portable Eight, book three will be called The Portable Seven, and so on.
I love the concept of the series! How far ahead do you plan into how the story or remaining characters will be shaped as the series goes on?
Ha! Not as far as I should, probably. With one book in the can, I’m kind of locked into certain things, which is good. I like that sense of immutability, which will only deepen and expand once the second book is out, I’m sure. So I try to map certain large possible events as far out as possible, but I don’t want to get in the way of the element of surprise. For instance, I don’t know which member of the Nine is going to buy the farm in book three yet, but I know the thematic direction I want that book to go in. (I know a lot more about book two, since I’m pretty far along with the actual writing of that one, but my lips are sealed.)
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Every book signing/reading and writing conference is a kind of pilgrimage, in my view, so meeting Clive Barker, Robert McCammon, Stephen King, Ursula Le Guin, Richard Matheson, Mort Castle, Gary Braunbeck, William F. Nolan, Richard Christian Matheson, Barry Hoffman, George Clayton Johnson, Jane Yolen, Tom Monteleone, Allen Ginsberg, Rich Payne, F. Paul Wilson, Joe Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, Jonathan Maberry, Marge Simon, Tim Waggoner, Michael Arnzen, Tom Robbins, Lee Murray, John R. Little, Mark Matthews, and Joe Hill were momentous occurrences in my writing/reading life. I’m sure there are more that I’m failing to dredge up from the memory banks right now.
Then there are the more traditional pilgrimages: Poe’s grave in Baltimore, the Dickens House in London (as well as Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner, where he lies buried), George Eliot’s grave at Highgate Cemetery (also London).
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
Ego is an emotion to be harnessed, like any other. It’s vital to my creative process. How can you not engage your ego when you look at all the creative output that exists in the world and insist that you have something to contribute to the pile? The ego can be a great motivator. It can also guide your critical eye and shape your artistic tastes. Of course, it also has a role to play when it comes to marketing and promoting your own work, especially if you’re a self-published writer. The trick is to leave that bastard at the door when you step back into the real world. Ego in the wild can easily turn toxic.
Who is your favorite author and why?
This distinction goes to Charles Dickens, without question. This presents a fairly obvious danger. On the one hand, I’d love nothing more than to possess his narrative powers, but as much as I adore his dense, beautiful prose; his surgical approach to characterization; and his loving commitment to realism, it would be folly to emulate his style in almost all cases. The English language has simply changed too much since his time. But there’s an escape hatch! You can always write a story set in the 19th century (check out the works of David Morrell, Dan Simmons, and Alan M. Clark, among others, if you don’t believe me).
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Here’s the goal: become a full-time writer so I can make guitar music my regular hobby again. Music is one of the main reasons it has taken me so long to make inroads as a published writer. It means a great deal to me, and it’s been a painful sacrifice in furtherance of my writing. But it remains a necessary sacrifice. I used to try to alternate my time between fiction and music, but I found that both efforts suffered as a result. This way, one suffers while the other grows. I have to view it as a means to an end, or I’ll lose my mind. Not that I never pick up my guitar or throw something together in GarageBand, but it usually lacks the serious approach I used to apply to my music.
Would you rather have an endless summer or an endless winter?
This one would have been a puzzler some years ago, but thanks to climate change, winters in the Pacific Northwest have become quite civilized, while summer heat annoys the hell out of me. So I’ll take endless winter.
Paperback or ebook?
Paperback. I’m always looking for ways to minimize the amount of time I spend with technology.
Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
I’m almost halfway into the sequel to The Portable Nine. I also have a crime collection coming out later this year and a fantasy novel for young readers scheduled for publication early next year. There are numerous projects in the planning stages as well.
Thanks to Pete for stopping by IndieMuse. IndieMuse readers can now post their own thoughts and reviews on books released in 2021 by clicking on the review tab on our official book pages including The Portable Nine.
The Portable Nine by Pete Mesling
Meet Davenport, also known as the Mad Marksman of Malta. He is a hunter. Not of game or fowl, but of men. What he hunts he finds, and what he finds he exterminates—until his trusty revolver fails him at a crucial moment in Italy, that is, leaving a job unfinished and his resolve shaken. Mistakenly thinking the blow has been struck, a criminal mastermind known as the Black Phantom performs a cruel act of retaliation. The once and would-be assassin has no choice but to reunite with a storied band of skilled mercenaries in an effort to exact revenge.
Davenport. Abel Hazard. Miranda Gissing. Dr. Joseph Intaglio. Mr. Bonnet. Twitch Markham. The Butcher. Lovinia Dulcet. Robin Varnesse. These are the Portable Nine. They operate outside the law, but they are not without a code of ethics. Outcasts all, they are heroes to the underdog and enemies of the ruthless. Intelligent and fearless, they will stop at nothing to see that their brand of justice is meted out.
Elizabeth L. learned to read when she was only three years old, and her love of books has only grown since then. Though she reads many different genres, horror will always be her first love. Born and raised in Texas, she shares her home with two kids and a handful of furry critters.
Curation Results: The Portable Nine
|Curator Notes: "Riveting series starter! Mesling shows he has the chops for the dark crime genre and not just horror. Recommended!" —gHoster|