Sunday, April 29, 2018

Nothing Is What It Seems [Interview]

Mists of the Dead by Travis Adkins resembles a blend of Warhammer fantasy, zombie horror and Monty Python humor. This is nothing like Adkins previous work, Twilight of the Dead and After Twilight...more like something one would find in a hardcore RPG session. There is a lengthy setup as characters are introduced one by one, while Warrel the Suave has several detailed interactions in the process of preparing for a lengthy journey with a famous wizard.

Once the travel party is underway, I almost died laughing at the name of the God of Crossroads, but I managed to keep reading. The variety of creatures they encounter is amazing and the descriptions are so good, at times I felt I was right there with Warrel and the others.

The novel is well-written and has a lot to offer readers, but there were times I struggled to get through the slow pace. I had several false starts in the reading process because I needed to be in the right mood for this genre mix. I also disliked Warrel quite a bit...he has such a high opinion of himself, very irritating...but his annoying qualities made him a more interesting character.

I asked Adkins to stop by the Lair to answer some questions about his latest release to offer more insight into Mists of the Dead...

Author Travis Adkins with his wife, Rebecca.
Q. Mists of the Dead is quite a departure from your writing style in Twilight of the Dead, or any of your previous work, for that matter…where did the idea for this story come from?

The idea began, very roughly, as a short story I started writing to go into Permuted Press’ Undead Anthology volume 2 or 3, (wherever it would fit,) way back in the day. It had the characters Warrel, Kogliastro, and Gumgen, and began on the Smuggler’s Trail. Characters had no backstory, and the story itself was going to be straight-up swords & sorcery versus zombies.

But I abandoned it. I don’t like sitting down in front of my computer and just “making up” a story as I go along. It feels too cheap—like I’m cheating the potential reader. It feels no different than when you were a kid at bedtime, or sitting around a campfire, and asked a grownup to tell you a story. Some people are better at it than others, but nonetheless there is a flood of improvised stories that in the end mean nothing. They have no substance. I don’t want to contribute to that, which is why I’m nowhere near prolific as I’d like to be.

But, it seems, no idea of mine stays abandoned forever. In my mind, over time, the characters grew, new situations were presented, and the world expanded. I keep a plethora of notes and outlines. My notes are probably as long, if not longer, than the novel itself. I add notes to stories every day. And only when the story was fully-formed, and had meaning, and had structure, did the urge become irresistible to sit down and put it together. I think that’s mainly why I don’t consider myself a writer—I’m more of a “story-putter-togetherer.”

“Where did the idea for the story come from,” though was your question. And the best answer I can give in a short amount of space is, there is a multitude of ideas wrapped in a skin of plot to hold them together, and bones to give them structure. In many ways the events and situations are an allegory for my autobiography.

Q. When I read this story, it kind of reminded me of the Gotrek & Felix books from Warhammer. Which genre influenced you more: fantasy or horror?

Every genre influenced me, but certainly fantasy and horror are at the forefront. Also, in the interest of sharing equal time: the unsung genre that most contributed was Victorian poetry and prose. It was verse I had never truly explored until I met my wife, who teaches Victorian literature, and so I desired to read the books she taught so as to better converse with her on the topic. For many years I did not write; I only read. And read and read and read. I read everything from many genres. Nothing did not disinterest me. But when it came to Victorian prose, I was absolutely smitten. I found publishing houses that helped give me my fix: Norton and Broadview republish the classics, and a company called Valancourt releases the really obscure stuff.

In your first question you addressed the different writing style, and I think this is a good place to explain it. This writing style is my default now. It’s how I see words structured when I’m forming paragraphs in my head. Mists of the Dead was so Victorian, in fact, that the final editor (and owner of Henchman Press,) Leo Champion, asked me to break up some of the longest paragraphs—paragraphs that sometimes went on for pages. The ideas and concepts of a Victorian paragraph are meant to be ingested—and ruminated upon—as a whole. (Similar to how I say Kurt Cobain’s songs are meant to be understood.) I was resistant at first to break up my paragraphs, until Leo said, “The Victorians have been dead for a hundred years.” And then I understood I needed to poke my head up a little further from antiquity.

Q. Did you have a specific audience in mind when you were creating the character Warrel? Why did you choose someone like him to share this adventure?

I made a bard because, especially in Dungeons & Dragons-type fantasy, they are generally considered jacks-of-all-trades. I needed a protagonist who thinks, sees, and feels, questions everything, and wants to learn as much as he can. A bard takes interest in all things and has a grasp of many topics. And in Warrel, I wanted to make the quintessential bard—a poet, a musician, a romanticist, an acrobat, quick-witted, silver-tongued, and able to seduce anyone or anything—every hallmark of a bard, and make the character feel real, not just a caricature for a roleplaying session. What would a bard be like in the flesh?

I said earlier the book functions as an allegory, and one of my intentions writing it was to present a kind of humanist philosophy. Now Warrel isn’t the best humanist, because this is a story and he is a bard, but he learns and he thinks and he feels.

Q. What was your process for creating this world and the characters who live within?

I’d say more than half of my exposure to the fantasy genre comes from games—tabletop and video. And these games have many sequels and the worlds within stretch for eons without any real change. Sure, there are wars and other calamities, but nothing is ever invented. And I always questioned, “Really?” Why are these worlds stagnant for so long? You could look at a map, and aside from geopolitical changes, the landscape is generally the same.

So for my world, and in keeping with my Victorian theme, the first rule was: Change. And I don’t think it’s difficult for a reader to understand. This is every fantasy world you’re familiar with, with the exception that it’s finally entered an Age of Steam. They have railroads, telegraphs, and rudimentary photography. If it dips its toes in Steampunk, it’s only incidentally. I wanted to explore, much in the same way of Victorian controversies, the fear of all this newness, and in a fantasy setting what all this innovation means for magic users. Which species will thrive under the weight of technological progress, and which will succumb?

Q. Do you have plans to do anything more with this particular world?

I have notes and outlines for several other novels that occur on Erda. They’ll take place all around the same time. Different characters, some overlap.

I’m currently working on a novel called Wickhaven. In a departure from the narrative structure of Mists of the Dead, it will have several point-of-view protagonists, including a paladin of a dead god, an archer from the Gold Wall, and Bartolio, the half-dwarven librarian cleric we saw in Nimbo’s shop.

Q. What else can readers expect from you in 2018?

By request I wrote a story, (after a month of outlining and research,) for an anthology by Thom Brannon and Rob Pegler called Wizards of Mass Destruction. It should be out this year.

Thank you for sharing!

If you're not a true fan of the fantasy genre, don't even try to read this book...otherwise, prepare yourself for one hell of an adventure.

As always,

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