[Ed: Mur Lafferty's 2013 debut novel Shambling Guide to New York City was an outstanding work of urban fantasy and contributed to Mur's winning a much-deserved John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the 2013 Hugo Awards. Now, Mur's back with a sequel, Ghost Train to New Orleans, and she and her publishers, Orbit, were kind enough to give us an exclusive excerpt from the novel, along with Mur's introduction, below. -Cory]
Chapter 3 of Ghost Train to New Orleans has our hero, Zoë, and her writers aboard a ghost bullet train to write a travel book for monsters. Zoë and another human have just discovered the train is about to experience an old fashioned train robbery with cowboys and horses and everything.
I love these cowboys. This is an example of the "iceberg" of fiction - you will see one scene with these cowboys and learn only a little about them. But I had to come up with why these cowboys wore business attire underneath their cowboy clothes, why they are so bad at their jobs, and how they died to become ghosts anyway. Their whole story doesn't appear in the book, but I know these people. I really want to tell their backstory in an upcoming short.
Ghosts are an interesting creature to use in urban fantasy. They always seem to have their own creation myth; if everyone who died turned into a ghost, there would be billions of ghosts wandering around the world, which would make them not so much scary, but an annoyance. If only some people turned into ghosts, who and why? And if vampire and zombie undead existed, why did the person's spirit leave the body instead of turning the proper undead?
I got my inspiration from Gail Carriger's Soulless, where vampires sometimes fail in their attempts to turn humans. In Gail's world, the human dies. In mine, I decided, if a vampire os zombie fails, a ghost is created instead. Since vampires seem to have more fun than ghosts, and ghosts are failed vampires (or, in some cases, zombies) this makes the ghosts decidedly bitter as a whole. In the world of the Shambling Guides, ghosts are insubstantial all the time, and can do little with the physical world unless they possess a human, which is very difficult to do unless the human is weakened or willing. Ghosts love the ghost train, though, since that's where they can take physical form. The job market for work aboard the ghost train is highly competitive.
As for New Orleans, I'd wanted to return there since I got my initial inspiration for the book in 2005 when I wrote an RPG supplement for a charity gaming book to benefit the Red Cross after Katrina. In my supplement, a zombie continued her job as a tour guide even after she had died because she loved her home so much. I took my first expansion of this idea to New York, but I'm excited to return this idea to New Orleans and her jazz and parties and beignets.