Today I’m pleased to welcome Andy Gavin to Off the Page talking about his new book The Darkening Dream.
Andy Gavin is a serial creative, polymath, novelist, entrepreneur, computer programmer, author, foodie, and video game creator. He co-founded video game developer Naughty Dog and co-created Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter. He started numerous companies, has been lead programmer on video games that have sold more than forty million copies, and has written two novels including The Darkening Dream, a dark historical fantasy that puts the bite back in vampires.
When not writing, I enjoy spending time with my family. Reading (mostly speculative fiction and history). Food and wine. I’m an incurable gourmand. Photography, video games, technology, history, travel, and archeology are a few of my other passions. I’m particularly fascinated by the ancient western world.
When and why did you start writing?
I’m a lifelong creator and explorer of worlds. As far back as first grade I remember spending most of the school day in one day dream or another. I had a huge notebook stuffed with drawings, story bits, and concepts for an elaborate Sci-Fi/Fantasy world I cobbled together from bits of Star Wars, Narnia, and Battlestar Galactica. By fourth or fifth grade not only was I loosing myself in every fantasy or Sci-Fi novel I could, but I was building Dungeons & Dragons castles and caverns on paper. Then from 1980 on the computer.
Since third grade I’ve read rather obsessively, so I was naturally interested in writing. I began fairly seriously in ninth grade. In high school, I won several national literary awards for my short stories and I was an editor and contributor to our high school literary magazine. In college, despite being a diehard science guy, I took creative writing classes (sometimes I was the only guy) and submitted stories to Science Fiction and Fantasy magazines (not that they ever bought any!). I co-wrote the stories for many of my best selling video games. But video games aren’t as story driven as novels, so don’t judge these in the same light.
If you could only read one book over and over again for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
That would be tough. If I had to pick a single favorite it would be George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones (and the sequels). But as fantastic as that is, I’d still get bored after – I don’t know – four or five more reads. Failing that, one could go for something gigantic like the unabridged Richard Burton translation of a 1,001 Arabian Nights. My edition is at least 11 volumes. That would keep one busy for a while!
Give us some back story about The Darkening Dream, where and when did you write it?
I wrote the first 20,000 words of The Darkening Dream in 2008, then got busy when my son was born and sat on it until August of 2009. After that I pounded through the first draft in about three months, then spent the next year revising and revising (about nine drafts!). As my first novel, this one took a lot of rewriting. It’s 95k words, but at it’s largest it was 186k!
What inspired your story?
There are two answers to that, the visceral and the cerebral. 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 been obsessed with vampires for decades. Not because they are romantic, but because they are undead – and I really mean undead – and because older ones are creatures that have stretched across the centuries. But it always bugs me in stories full of supernatural where they touch on the historical roots of superstitions but don’t bother to do the research. I always felt that, as they say, “truth is stranger than fiction” – if, like me, you count myth as truth – and so I wanted to write a fast paced supernatural action story where the spooky stuff is all based on real spooky stuff. And truly, the real deal is much more creepy.
What was your favorite part of The Darkening Dream to write?
My 900 year-old vampire. He’s just so deliciously evil and fun to write. Al-Nasir, as I affectionately like to think of him, is mid-upper management, like an undead Executive Vice President of Acquisitions. I wanted a personage of exceptional age, power, and menace, yet also no CEO or CTO level player — even if he has aspirations. Al-Nasir has been sent west from Europe to Salem Massachusetts. This is no small thing for a vampire, particularly in 1913. A steamship is a dangerous place for the daylight challenged — especially if they have a habit of snacking on the crew. But come he does, under mysterious orders from the loose cabal of occult baddies with whom he works. Al-Nasir finds things. And with the patience and tenacity only the dead can muster.
Your book’s going to be made into a movie, who would you cast in the main roles?
I don’t actually spend much time thinking about that as I see them as their own people. But… The girl we cast for the cover nails Sarah’s look. A young Rachel Wiess would’ve been perfect. Failing the time warp, perhaps Nina Dobrev, but she’s too tall and by the time it got made too old. Constantine: Christopher Lee for sure, but we can only hope he’ll still be around. And while we’re going for dream cast, I think George Clooney could actually carry al-Nasir. He has the intensity and Nasir sees himself as charming. Steve Buscemi might make a great Parris. Paul Giamatti as Joseph. Chloe Grace Moretz as Emily. And last, but not least, perhaps Anton Yelchin as Alex.
Are you a Pantser or Plotter? Why?
Personally I find the two different modes: plotting vs. just writing, to use different sides of the brain, and therefore useful to stagger. I can only handle a few days of plotting before I need the release of getting it out there. There really isn’t any rush in writing as good as just pounding out a great scene that’s already gelled in your head, and it’s even better when the scene and characters take on a life of their own and bring something novel to the process. Looking back on it, I realize that as a computer programmer I took this same exact alternating approach (between designing the algorithm and just coding) and that the rush and rhythm were nearly identical.
Do you have any tricks to your trade, bottomless coffee, a magic pen, a special muse?
My work space is extremely messy but with a great view of Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean. I write on a 12 core Mac Pro with two Apple 30” monitors. Yeah, I’m a computer geek, and an Apple weenie to boot. I write in Scrivener which is a totally awesome writer’s word processor. Any writer still using Word is crazy. Unless something distracting is going on I try to have my butt in the chair by around 10am (after working out) and more or less keep it there until around 6pm. If drafting new prose I try to do about 2000 words a day. I write, then I do a polish pass. If I had to rewrite significantly during that pass I’ll do a third sweep to cleanup.
Then I print and run to my wife for instant feedback. Next I email it to my Mom and my “story consultant” (one of my friends who reads it right away). Feedback is good. I find that I’ll often redraft a chunk on the basis of these early comments.
If you could be any fictional character for a day, who would it be and why?
God. Not only is he the protagonist of the best selling books of all time, but being omnipotent, could extend that one day into forever! – mostly kidding.
Even as the modern world pushes the supernatural aside in favor of science and steel, the old ways remain. God, demon, monster, and sorcerer alike plot to regain what was theirs.
1913, Salem, Massachusetts – Sarah Engelmann’s life is full of friends, books, and avoiding the pressure to choose a husband, until an ominous vision and the haunting call of an otherworldly trumpet shake her. When she stumbles across a gruesome corpse, she fears that her vision was more of a premonition. And when she sees the murdered boy moving through the crowd at an amusement park, Sarah is thrust into a dark battle she does not understand.
With the help of Alex, a Greek immigrant who knows a startling amount about the undead, Sarah sets out to uncover the truth. Their quest takes them to the factory mills of Salem, on a midnight boat ride to spy on an eerie coastal lair, and back, unexpectedly, to their own homes. What can Alex’s elderly, vampire-hunting grandfather and Sarah’s own rabbi father tell them? And what do Sarah’s continuing visions reveal?
No less than Gabriel’s Trumpet, the tool that will announce the End of Days, is at stake, and the forces that have banded to recover it include a 900 year-old vampire, a trio of disgruntled Egyptian gods, and a demon-loving Puritan minister. At the center of this swirling cast is Sarah, who must fight a millennia-old battle against unspeakable forces, knowing the ultimate prize might be herself.