BRIAN: Andy, welcome to the Underground. It’s a pleasure to have you here. I must admit, you’re one of the most fascinating guests we’ve had here at the Underground. You’re a very successful software developer, but what went through your mind that made you take up writing?
ANDY: From at least high school on I always intended to write a bunch of novels. Work just got in the way.
And the thing about making games is that you can no longer do it mostly by yourself. These days, most games are big teams of over a hundred people, with budgets over 50 million dollars. All that means that it’s not about your creative expression (most of the time), but about getting it done, well, on time, and on budget. And the roll of team lead is largely about firefighting and resource (achem...people) wrangling.
So, I really wanted to focus directly on the creative aspects. Dozens of story ideas have been bouncing around in my head for years, and I felt it was time to let a couple of them out.
BRIAN: These days readers often roll their eyes at the thought of yet another vampire novel. Yet, in Darkening you made vampires fresh again by returning to their mystical roots. What led you to write a vampire novel for your first book?
ANDY: There are two answers to that, the visceral and the cerebral. With The Darkening Dream, the visceral part was this image I had – and some might consider me disturbed – of a dead tree silhouetted against an orange sky, a naked body bound to it, disemboweled, and bleeding out. The sound of a colossal horn or gong blares. The blood glistens black in the sunset light. Bats circle the sky and wolves bay in the distance. But sacrifice isn’t just about killing. It’s a contract. Someone is bargaining with the gods. And on the cerebral side, I've always been a huge vampire fan and I've read and watched a large percentage of the oeuvre. But also as a history buff I wanted to write a supernatural story that was more grounded in real history and legend. I'm always thinking, "that could have been so much better if they didn't make up the historical backstory" so I started with the villains. What kind of ancient evil creatures might still be around? What do they want? And what legitimate human reason would they have to destroy the world (Buffy-style)? I don't exactly answer the question in TDD, because the motives of 5,000 year old baddies should be mysterious. But trust me, they have a plan, and the sheer audacity of it will literally shake the foundations of the heavens.
BRIAN: The occult, magic, mystical and religious references abound in Darkening. While I was reading I kept wondering how much of this was research-based and how much was coming from your imagination.
ANDY: In constructing The Darkening Dream I wanted the meta-story to play off conventional tropes. Broadly, a cabal of ancient supernatural beings has sent one of their number to recover an artifact needed to destroy the world. And surprise, it turns out a group of teens are all that stands between them and Armageddon.
How much more Buffy can you get?
But that’s just the high level. I also wanted to ground this preposterous scenario in real history and legend. So as a methodology, in designing my array of supernatural beings and occult practitioners I turned to historic sources. Before our modern science and technology rendered magic quaint, it was the domain of religion and superstition. Of belief.
And each spiritual and magical system has its own framework. Proponents wrote out of certainty, out of faith. I merely dig up their writings and take them at their word. So in essence, it’s all researched, but I adapt it from real belief systems into those that work in a story framework.
BRIAN: Darkening has the best characters I’ve seen in a horror/fantasy book in a long time. Sarah and Alex especially were original and very believable. Did you have specific inspirations for these two? Also, why did you place this Salem in the early 1900’s?
ANDY: Sarah and Alex both draw on different aspects of myself in a lot of ways. Both are pretty analytic, but Sarah has more of spiritual side. In each successive draft (and TDD had 9!) I tried to increase the depth of characterization and the emotional torture. Good storytelling is about character and requires proper arcing.
As to the time period, I chose it for a number of reasons. I wanted a time before mobile phones and the internet and a time when people’s knowledge of the world left a little more room for mystery. Additionally, as I always intended this as a series with long lived (achem… immortal) characters, I wanted some runway to cross through history. I also loved the idea of a “vampire in the trenches” so I stuck it right before World War I.
BRIAN: You’re an information technology professional and an author. From this unique perspective what are your thoughts on technologies like Kindle, IPads, and how do you see this impacting the publishing industry in the next ten years? Do traditional/hardcopy books have a future?
ANDY: Let’s dust off the crystal ball. First of all, there’s the print/digital swing. I expect ebooks to be the dominant part of the market within as little as 2-3 years. Print won’t totally go away anytime soon, but it will become increasingly niche. The bookstore – and, in fact, many types of retail store – are doomed. Once Barnes and Noble goes away, and it will, mass market print sales will be down to the “Wallmart 200” or similar, available at big chains, supermarkets, airports and the like. The idea of having any kind of broad inventory visible at retail will soon be laughable. It’s possible that POD kiosks or something much briefly mitigate this, but I doubt it. Even if you are a paper diehard, you’ll have to buy online (aka Amazon) unless you love a diet of James Patterson.
Then, once distribution and the lock on distribution is meaningless, the hold big publishing has maintained on content will be gone. The walls are already crumbling. Business models are going to have to change because the kind of high overhead, slow moving operation of the past will be disrupted. How this all falls out, who knows. I don’t myself worry about the “mountain of crap” argument. There’s already far, far more books than one could ever look at. The system just doesn’t show them to you unless you’re looking. I recently bought a number of books on life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Do you think those featured on anyone’s bestseller list? Marketing dollars will still matter. Word of mouth will still matter. But like in other industries this will be a chaotic mix of big money blockbusters and random upstarts. Barrier of entry is low and getting lower.
BRIAN: Your website says you finally scored a literary agent for your latest project, Untimed. Can you tell us about your experience trying to secure representation for The Darkening Dream and what lessons you learned from that experience?
ANDY: With TDD it was pretty frustrating. The process itself is highly irritating. You write this single page query, which cannot possibly capture the execution of your novel, and then you fire it out. Most of the time you get no response or a generic rejection based on the query, not the book itself. Not once in perhaps 200 queries did I receive feedback on the query itself. I did two rounds of querying on TDD, one in 2010 and one in 2011. Even though the book was much better (and shorter) in the later round it‘s clear that for agents submissions are growing on one hand and sales declining on the other. In the earlier round I had a lot of requests for the book, and usually heard the same thing back, “the writing is great, your ideas are very original, but it’s too long and too complicated.” So I spent nine months paring it down to half the size. But then on the second round, all I heard was “vampires are dead” (of course). Most agents didn’t want to read it because the “trend had peaked.” I don’t believe in trends and I don’t think buyers buy based on trends. Trend thinking leads to two movies about Snow White or comets. Vampires are a perennial, they never really go out of style.
So, when I came up with the idea for Untimed I made sure it was very high concept and the first chapter ended in a big inciting event. I also chose a much more voice driven first person present voice. Untimed grabs from the start, it doesn’t take any time to build like TDD does.
BRIAN: We hear a lot about how new authors have to self-market and develop a “platform.” I’ve seen a lot of author websites, but I have to say yours is perhaps the best organized and pleasing to the eye that I’ve seen. Do you have any advice to authors who are trying to get their websites up and running? What are your thoughts on self-marketing and publicity?
ANDY: I use Wordpress. It’s a pretty good platform that makes it really easy to build a flexible and sophisticated author website. I self-host, which allowed me to pick a solid theme framework and customize it heavily. I went for one with the general layout I wanted and then tweaked the CSS to make it look good, adding custom elements. Wordpress also has a plugin for nearly everything, but getting it to all work together in a clean fashion can be pretty time consuming. I spend a lot of time on the site.
Also, start as early as you can building your Twitter and FB platforms and collecting followers. It takes time.
BRIAN: Can you tell us a little about your latest book, Untimed?
ANDY: Untimed is a YA time travel novel that chronicles the crazy adventures of a boy no one remembers, who falls through a hole in time and finds himself lost in the past. It’s very different with an extremely immediate first person present voice (in this book the only thing anyone can hold on to is the present). It rocks. Seriously rocks.
Right now (as of early May) it’s out on submission to New York and London publisher’s via my agent, Eddie Schneider of JABberwocky.
BRIAN: As a video game designer and author, if you had to choose between creating video games and writing books, what would it be?
ANDY: As a serial creator (having made over a dozen major video games) it was interesting how similar the process was to any other complex creative project. Video games and novel writing are both very iterative and detail oriented. They use a lot of the same mental muscles.
BRIAN: When can we expect a video game version of The Darkening Dream?
ANDY: TDD might be a bit of a challenge to adapt into a game. My villains are few and full of personality, and they don’t have a lot of minions. Generally in a game, you need tons and tons of minions to mow through. Untimed is actually more “video gamey” as it’s got more varied scenery and more action. Still, games and books are very different mediums. Games are gameplay based and novels are story and character based.
BRIAN: Andy, thanks for stopping by the Underground! A complete review of Andy’s book, The Darkening Dream, is available here on UBR. If you enjoyed this interview, like Underground Book Reviews on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our newsletters.
99 cents of Andy Gavin links:
About Andy's writing
About The Darkening Dream
The Darkening Dream on Amazon
Free sample chapters
Andy's second novel, Untimed, available soon