Q: Hi Robert! To start, what can you tell us about "Queen of the Dark Things"?
It’s the further adventures of the Colby Stevens, the boy who has seen too much. This time around he’s trying to come to grips with all of the things that went wrong in the first book as we learn more about the lost years he spent as a child wandering the world on the other side of the veil. QUEEN OF THE DARK THINGS explores sections of the supernatural world only hinted at in the first book, delving into the folklore of ancient Judaism and the Outback.
Q: Where the idea came from and what can you tell us about your writing process?
I’m a both a huge fantasy and folklore fan. One story I always wanted to see was about children plunged into a genuinely frightening and dangerous fantasy world in which they find themselves woefully out of their depth. But I also wanted to read stories about the various wonderful folklores that exist in our own world. Eventually I was inspired to marry the two and tell the story of a young boy who ends up exactly where he doesn’t belong and continually pays a terrible price for it, slowly, over time, becoming the kind of hero that emerges from that very sort of thing.
I’m big into research, so I usually spend a couple of months reading countless works on the people, events and folklore I plan on writing about. Part of the idea behind the Colby books is to force myself to play by the rules established by religion, history, and superstition, giving the work a slightly more grounded feel. I usually fill a notebook or two with monsters, stories and anecdotes to pull from once I begin. And when I sit down to write, I try to adhere as closely as possible to the established narratives. One of the great things about fantasy is that it can introduce you to long passed down stories and beliefs, so I try to write them in a way that you not only enjoy the book, but feel like you have a broader understanding or knowledge of our own shared history. It always tickles me when I hear from people who have discovered a whole new trove of stories and monsters to dream about.
My hope is that people read the Colby books and go out on their own to read about King Solomon, the Seventy-two, Aboriginal Clever Men, Dreamtime, and the Batavia and come back to revisit the books with an even deeper appreciation for the story.
Q: Have you planned the entire series from the start and how much it changed from the initial idea?
Yeah. Initially DREAMS AND SHADOWS was meant as a standalone, but when a friend asked me if there were more, the ideas began bubbling to the surface. I worked out an outline and the various mythologies I wanted to play around with, seeding the ideas and laying the groundwork for them in it. Over the course of writing the second book, I found an even better ending to the series than I’d originally intended and set about working toward that. Otherwise, the major events and background have remained intact and the third book is, as of right now, very close to what I’d imagined before writing its predecessor.
Q: "Queen of the Dark Things" is a much darker novel than it's predecessor. How come? What is a logical progression of the story or has else something influenced the change?
The world on the other side of the veil is a scary place, populated by our worst nightmares. As that world gets bigger, it gets scarier, just as the real world does as we grow up. Colby’s just a young guy trying to make sense of it all. As answers come, he finds they lead only to bigger questions and the answers to those questions aren’t always what he wants to hear. Also, structurally, Colby’s story is only three books long, and this being the second act, things inherently need to get darker and more dangerous. The ending I’m working toward needs to be earned and the only way to do that is take Colby to darker places than we’ve seen him go previously.
Q: Was is hard writing Colby as he is now, suffering heavily after the death of his friend?
The hardest part is conveying the deep sense of loss he feels without making the whole book about him moping around. I’m always bothered when I read a series and the hero doesn’t really acknowledge the hardships that have come before him. I really needed the audience to know that the loss of his friend changed him dramatically. It broke him. And now he needs to learn what we all must at some point in our lives: how to move on.
Q: Standing in the stark contrast to him is Kaycee, a strong character whose scenes I've particularly enjoyed reading. What can you tell us about her?
She’s the Ying to Colby’s Yang. Where Colby often pities and questions himself, Kaycee doesn’t. She’s had it much harder than Colby and always looks forward instead of back – sometimes to her own detriment. Kaycee is what Colby might have become had he made different decisions. Playing the two against each other as I do, I get to paint an external struggle that mirror’s Colby’s own inner conflict. As he tries to find a way to save the soul of his friend, he is in a way trying to find a way to save his own.
Q: In these two books you have created a very imaginative setting. It is steeped in real places such as Austin, Texas but there's plenty of fantasy elements in it. How do you get to create something like that? Is world-building hard for you?
The toughest part of building this world is figuring out how all the pieces fit together. These stories and monsters are all drawn from existing myth. I have to ask myself: if this were real, how might it work? And how would these elements interact with all of the other ones I’ve used? I love world building and always find it fun, but the challenges I’ve set for myself with this world are particularly rewarding.
Q: There are lots of myth and fairy tale elements in your works. Where does this love for old tales come from and how have they influenced your storytelling?
All fantasy is drawn from what was, at some point in history, someone else’s religion. Demons, angels, fairies, djinnis, giants, elves, dwarves, dragons. All of them. I’m fascinated by these stories, as all fantasy fans are, but I’m particularly drawn to what lead people to believe in these things in the first place. If you look closely enough into these stories, you can find our own histories and evolution splayed out before us and who we are becomes ever the more clear. These are the things that keep me up nights, but in the best way. So of course I have to write about them.
Q: Your works have been compared to works by authors such as Neil Gaiman and William S. Burroughs. How do you feel about it?
It’s both a kind blessing and a curse. Every writer longs to be compared to the greats, but it’s also heartbreaking to read reviews by folks disappointed by the comparison. “I picked up this book because it was compared to Gaiman and Cargill is no Neil Gaiman.” That’s never easy to read, not because you aren’t living up to the legend that came before you, but because someone didn’t enjoy your work because of the expectations the comparison built up. At the end of the day, every writer just hopes and prays that someday someone compares a young newly minted writer to you and the cycle can begin anew.
Q: Does being compared to such literary titans puts additional pressure on you?
Not really. When all is said and done every writer is just a person and every book just a collection of words. You do the best you can do and history will make the decisions as to how it all shakes out. Half of any given work is what you give to it; the other half is what the audience brings in with them. You only get to control your half. Sometimes a comparison like that, as I mentioned, forces someone to grade you more harshly than they might have originally, but sometimes it works in your favor. Sometimes people believe a work to be better just because other people do. So in a case like this you take the good with the bad. I take the flattery with a grain of salt just as I do the admonishments.
Q: Who were the authors who originally inspired you to write and what recent titles would you recommend to our readers?
Stephen King’s FIRESTARTER was the first novel I ever read and was the inspiration for becoming a writer. It lead me to read all of King’s works and once I was done with those I moved on to the man King dubbed his successor, Clive Barker. CABAL melted my brain and introduced me to the idea of marrying horror with fantasy. Soon after I discovered Robert Anton Wilson, Hermann Hesse, William S. Burroughs and Franz Kafka and each further inspired me each in their own way.
Joe Hill’s 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS is one of the very best horror/dark fantasy anthologies of the last decade. It’s essential reading for fans of either genre. My good friend Ari Marmell recently put out his most inspired work, HOT LEAD, COLD IRON, an Urban Fantasy gumshoe novel set in 1930’s Gangland Chicago, and it is damned excellent. And Saladin Ahmed’s THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON is some of the most inspired and original fantasy in years – a high fantasy adventure set in Muslim mythology. These are easily some of my favorites.
Q: To conclude, is there going to be a third book in the series? If yes, what can you tell us about it?
That’s the rumor. I certainly want to write one. All I can say at this point is that it is the logical conclusion of the series, ending Colby’s story in a (hopefully) satisfying way while doing something I’ve never seen in another work of its kind. When all is said and done, it should leave plenty of room for other stories in the world while leaving the audience feeling like they’ve read a complete story.