Ginger Nuts of Horror
Today folks, I am really honoured to be a part of Andy Gavin's Blog Tour, now as some of you may know, Andy is the man behind among many other things, Crash Bandicoot. Andy has now turned hands to writing, So grab your self a coffee and sit down and enjoy a fascinating interview with the man himself.
Hi Andy, how are things with you?
Great! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
Can you please give the readers a little bit of background information on yourself?
I’m an unstoppable storyteller who studied for his Ph.D. at M.I.T. and founded video game developer Naughty Dog, Inc. at the age of fifteen, serving as co-president for two decades. There I created, produced, and directed over a dozen video games, including the award winning and best selling Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter franchises, selling over 40 million units worldwide. I sleep little, read novels and histories, watch media obsessively, travel, blog (a million hits last year!), and of course, write.
Holy moley you created Crash Bandicoot; I’ve spent hours playing that as has my son. So what was the genesis of the game?
My partner Jason Rubin and I thought it up while driving from Boston to Los Angeles in August of 1994. I have a detailed rendering of the story here on my blog.
I see that Ultima was an early influence on your upbringing; don’t you just wish they would bring out another Ultima game?
Ultima III, IV, and V are still some of my favourite RPGs (not that I’ve played them in 20 years). A revamped from scratch Ultima Online would be awesome, but I don’t see it on the horizon.
Looking through your bio, you have done and achieved a hell of a lot, what drives you. A lot of people after selling 40 million computer games would be tempted to put their feet up and take a break but not you?
I feel stressed and unproductive when I’m not churning stuff out. Busy is in my DNA.
If you ever get the grant to hardwire circuitry into the visual cortex, would you hook me up?
Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.
Do you ever just sit down and do nothing?
I watch TV. But that’s like “research” for me. I like long (sometimes 6 hour) gourmet meals with friends. I read. But I rarely just “veg.”
What skills and knowledge do you think your career path to date has taught you with regards to writing?
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.
You are also somewhat of a foodie. What is your all time favourite food?
I don’t have a single favourite food. I like new and complex dishes that wow me. Although I also have certain favourite comfort foods. You can check out my food adventures on my blog.
It’s a well known fact that all foodies secretly have a love for junk food. What’s your dirty little junk food secret?
Spicettes, the funny flavored gumdrops. And Skittles. I love Skittles.
As someone who has created a well loved computer game that is played by millions, why did you start writing?
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. It’s no longer 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 fire fighting 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.
Why fantasy, what is it about the genre that holds your appeal?
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.
Even to this day, I have trouble getting really excited about any story or game unless it has a fantastic element. I still love good old well written classic fantasy.
And what is it about the genre that you dislike?
Only that sometimes, people use it as an excuse for cardboard characters. This is why George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books are so good, they’re fantasy populated by complex people.
Who would you say has been the biggest influence on you and your writing?
There is no single one. But Tim Powers is a favorite for his ability to bring to life the fey in a grounded yet truly otherworldly way. Stephen King is another (not all his books but many) for his uncannily ability to characterize people in just a sentence or two and his unerring ear for dialogue. Dan Simmons for the massive scope of his world building and command of pathos. George R. R. Martin for his mastery at making his gigantic cast of characters feel developed and above all, human.
If you could give any book to someone who doesn’t read fantasy, in an attempt to change their mind, what book would you choose, and why?
George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. As massive and complex as it is, it has a lot of crossover appeal because of the well developed characters.
And how would you describe your writing style?
Detailed, yet lean. As Stephen King once said, writing is a magic in of itself, being a form of telepathy. You attempt to paint the story as you see it into the reader’s brain. I strive to do this in as a complete and yet compact way. I want the prose itself to be evocative, but also clear and functional. Some writers favour lyricism over clarity, I prefer the later. I don’t spend a lot of words repeating myself of spelling out the emotions of my characters, and instead choose to leave that to the reader’s imagination. I think I’m very good at dialogue and action.
Let’s talk a bit about the mechanics of your writing. How do you go about the writing process? Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow?
I’m a pantser who wants to be a plotter. I hate to outline, yet I must have a scene or chapter fleshed out before I can write it. If I do, it pops out at 750-1000 words an hour. If not, it doesn’t come at all. But I can only really outline a few chapters ahead. I have a detailed discussion of that here.
Pen and paper, or computer for the first draft?
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 J. I explain why in gory detail on my blog.
Do you have any rituals that you go through when you write?
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 J. 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.
How do you edit, do you edit as you write, or do you edit after each draft is finished?
After I write a scene, I do a cleanup sweep. If that has a lot of changes, I do another. Sometimes I’ll do edit and refactoring passes on chunks or all of the book. I’ve learned to try to make the changes while rereading as little as possible, and then clean it up in the sweep. As usual, I have a blog post about that too.
Tell us about The Darkening Dream. Is there significance behind the title?
There are a number of layers to that, but essentially The Darkening Dream refers to the existence of the magic world layered behind the real world. One of my main goals with this book was to create a sense of complex magic and occult that was fully compatible with the history and world that we know. The supernatural lurks beneath the surface, driving people and events, but never obvious to the bulk of mankind. In this context, Sarah and her friends are dragged literally and figuratively into The Darkening Dream, the ever more costly world of magic, where all power is purchased at a price.
In the books synopsis you say “As the Nineteenth Century gives way to the Twentieth, modern science and steel girders leave little room for the supernatural. But in dark corners the old forces still gather.” Is this book a sort of love letter to simpler times? Do you hanker for a time where life wasn’t so industrialised, maybe even more spiritual?
I chose 1913 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. A also loved the idea of a “vampire in the trenches” so I stuck it right before World War I.
But you are also correct in that I yearn for an interpretation of the past with a greater quality of mystery to it, where dark and fantastic forces lurk in the shadows.
Who is the book aimed at?
The book has a couple different audiences. At one level it's a fast paced horror story packed with action, pretty solid characters, and even a bit of dark humor. I tried to marry a fairly hardboiled realistic tone with some pretty wild and dark stuff. The overall effect is pretty creepy and should appeal to those that like HBO fantasy dramas (True Blood, Carnivàle). There's also a lot of interesting history and religious and occult detail in there which appeals to an older more historically oriented audience. But I tried not to ever let it bog the story, which (at Renni's insistence) just moves and moves. Finally, the book has young characters and some romance for the younger fan of urban fantasy (Laurell K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher).
Why did you choose a female as the lead character?
For a number of reasons. Fundamentally, it’s about contrast. A bookish female is the less expected character in the role of budding sorcerer and central pivot. I enjoyed trying to get inside the female head. They’re more exotic and foreign. I like exotic and foreign.
Would it not have been easier to write from a male perspective?
The Darkening Dream has it all in that department with its six or seven points of view.
And how did you go about creating her, did you draw on people that you, a quirk from this person, a mannerism from that person?
Sarah draws a lot from myself and some from people I know, but fundamentally she is her own person. Like most of my characters, I feel her in my head the way I might speculate on how a friend might react to a conversation.
Let’s talk about the world you created for the novel, how much research did you do before actually sitting down to write the book?
I write, research, write, research and so on. I started the book and then found that I needed to read dozens of books to fill in certain aspects of the story.
Were you ever tempted to just wing it?
Oh yes. I love reading for research, but often I’m impatient to get to writing.
So far how well has the book been received?
Reviews have been great. About 50 professional and blog reviews have been posted and eighty-seven on Amazon. The overwhelming majority are positive, even some going as far as to say it’s one of their favourite books ever. A few people love the book but don’t love the ending. But even Publishers Weekly, notoriously hardass, gave it a starred review and said, “Gorgeously creepy, strangely humorous, and sincerely terrifying tale.”
A number of the reviews call it a vampire novel, are you happy with it being called this, or would you say this is a book that just happens to have a vampire in it?
I accept that, but I don’t really think of it as a vampire novel. It’s a “supernatural shit happens” novel. The vampire is one of several villains. You could just as easily call it a “witchcraft novel,” but people don’t. Still, I love vampires, that’s why I included them, so it doesn’t bother me.
Will there be any sequels to the book?
I do have a sequel planned. I even outlined a big chunk of it. I don’t want to include spoilers on the first book here, so it’s hard to discuss, but let it be said that The Painted Man’s ambitions with The Horn are but the tip of the iceberg of his larger and even more nefarious plan.
Your second is due for publication this year as well; can you tell us about Untimed?
I have a second finished novel (it’s been through four major drafts and a full line edit). It’s called Untimed and 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 mid June) it’s out on submission to New York and London publisher’s via my agent, Eddie Schneider of JABberwocky. I’m very interested to see what the publishers have to say about it and if they can make an offer that is overall more compelling than publishing it myself.
If you could time travel, and the laws of physics allowed you to change the past without ever erasing your existence, what would you change?
I’m working on that in my new novel, the sequel to Untimed.
How would you say this book differs stylistically to The Darkening Dream?
Untimed is much lighter than TDD in feel. It’s very fast and focused and has only one fantastic conceit with a lot of ramifications. That is: time travel, and my associated villains the Tick-Tocks. All the same, it shares a love of history, mystery, and a tendency to touch semi-comically on dark and heavy bits of the human condition.
Can you tell us about any future projects?
I’m in the middle of the first draft of a new novel, the sequel to Untimed.
Thanks for popping over for a chat; do you have any final words for the readers?
This interview probably had the most questions ever! But I hope you enjoyed it and urge you to check out my books. They can be found on the author part of my website: http://andy-gavin-author.com
http://andy-gavin-author.com about my writing
http://the-darkening-dream.com my current novel
http://the-darkening-dream.com/amazon the book’s Amazon link
http://the-darkening-dream.com/sample free sample chapters
http://untimed-novel.com my second novel, available soon
http://andy-gavin-author.com/headshot-small my headshot
http://the-darkening-dream.com/cover the cover art