Hey guys! I hope you enjoy this interview with Andy Gavin, co-creater of Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter, and author of The Darkening Dream. I found it a pretty interesting read so I really hope you do too. Andy is also kind enough to offer one lucky winner a trade paperback of his book, so make sure you enter for that!
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
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.
Over the following decades I wrote dozens of stories and created and published over a dozen video games all set in alternative universes. And as an avid reader (over 10,000 novels and who knows how many non-fiction volumes) it was no surprise that I eventually decided to write some books of my own.
What made you decide to go from the games industry to being an author?
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 fire fighting and resource (ahem 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.
Who are your biggest influences, literary or otherwise?
I have so many, but to start: George R. R. Martin, Dan Simmons, Tim Powers, Orson Scott Card, Guy Gavriel Kay, Sherri S. Tepper, Octavia Butler, Iain M. Banks, Jack L. Chalker, Robin Hobb, Stephen King, Gene Wolfe, Katherine Kurtz, and Vernor Vinge.
But film and long form narrative television (AKA HBO drama) are hugely influential on me as well.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I’ve read so many novels (10,000 maybe) and watch so much film and TV that I have a rather large stable of archetypes bouncing around in my head. Usually characters start life as an archetype or structural need for the story. For example, in The Darkening Dream, I knew I wanted “an ancient vampire recently moved to America.” It’s a trope for sure, like in Salem’s Lot or even in Dracula (London instead of America), but I wanted to do my own take on it, sticking to certain familiar elements, then branching off in different ways. I tried to figure out who he would have been, and what he’d become. For example, he had to be from the Dark or Middle Ages. I wanted middle management. A force to reckon with, but not the oldest in the world. To be properly menacing, old vampires must be rare. So he couldn’t be too old. Perhaps, no more than two or three vampires have survived from antiquity. And we dare not utter their names.
What sparked the idea for The Darkening Dream?
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 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.
You have talked a little about your next book on your website, could you tell us a little about it?
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.
Why did you decide to go with indie publishing? What do you like about it?
I never do anything halfway. So in 2010 I read about 20 books on publishing and query writing and spent hundreds of hours researching and querying agents. But the return on time investment was horrible. You wait and wait and barely get any feedback at all. The process is entirely structured on the assumption that there are vast supplies of manuscripts and so the agents maximize their own time investment. If they miss some good ones because of it… there will always be more. And while this makes sense for them, it doesn’t for me.
And then I kept reading about publishing.
I’ve published dozens of projects myself (40+ million games sold!) and the overall process isn’t so dissimilar. Nor is the role of publisher. But as bad as game developer / publisher relations and contracts sometimes are… they are paradise compared to their literary equivalents. Book publishers prefer to preserve the status quo and monopolistic collusion over profits. They always offer the same basic deal and are not generally open to new structures.
For example, I’d do a co-marketing partnership where we each commit a certain large sum to the marketing and there is no advance. This would be almost no risk for them, a pure win win given my platform. But they hardly even have a mechanism to entertain the notion. (If a savvy editor is reading this, contact me via my blog and I’ll explain how it would be near certain profitability for both of us).
Plus, publishers love to buy into broad generalizations about genre like “vampires are over” which is all I heard in 2011 (as a time saver to skip reading the book). But everything is in the execution. Readers do not buy books because the topic is in. They buy them because their friends say it’s a good book. Looking for trends – particularly when it takes you two years to publish – is pointless. The best you can do is pick well written and appealing stories.
Now indie-publishing isn’t necessarily easy or anything. For me, the production part was fairly straightforward after having done so many previous projects. I hired great contractors and the result looks fantastic. The book was line edited by two world class pros. Proofread extensively. Typeset by New York talent. The cover by award-winning fantasy artist Cliff Nielsen is gorgeous and looks every bit as good as the best New York books. The whole package appeals. When I ran a free day on Amazon it surged rapidly to number 4 on the whole Amazon store, number 2 in fiction, and sat there for nearly 24 hours. Reviews have been stellar too. But marketing in this new world of online publishing is a black art and very time consuming. For each thing I try that works, there are five that don’t.
What is your preferred writing environment?
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 :).
Could you tell us a little about your writing process?
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.
How can we find you around the web?