Ladies and gentlemen, there is a good chance that this is our last stop in Otherworld for the next week or two. But fear not, we’re leaving you with a hulking story that will keep you busy for a while!
We were able to chat with Sam Ashcraft over the last few weeks. He’s the writer of Random Abnormality, the first in his Twisted Fates series that marries real life with fantasy in some interesting ways. Check out what Sam had to say in our interview:
Tellest: Random Abnormality is huge. How’d you keep up your motivation to finish writing that 500 page behemoth?
Sam Ashcraft: It’s a cute little book, isn’t it? No, seriously, I didn’t know it’d be over 500 pages as a book, I was looking at the page count in LibreOffice Writer and thinking I could’ve stretched it somewhere. I don’t know how I kept the motivation for that book, honestly. It just wound up being my entertainment, way back when I started it, and I had to keep going just to see what happened.
T: When you think about how much heft this book has, did you ever get to the point where you thought, “Hey, I could definitely cut this into two or more books,” and thought better of it? Kind of like how The Lord of the Rings was cut into multiple books?
SA: When I originally had it all done and typed out, then found out how big it actually was, I thought about splitting it up, but I didn’t like the way it could have gone. I don’t even put in chapter titles until I’m done with the whole thing, because I work from beginning to end in one giant block, breaking only for scenes. Dividing Random Abnormality into a two-part book would have made both halves suffer, I think. Maybe I could’ve split it at about the halfway point, leaving one of the larger events as the “end” but then the second book would have seemed weird. I also like reading long books, because I read fast and it takes either quite a few pages or a slower writing style to keep me reading it for more than a couple days. Lord of the Rings, as a whole, took me a week and a half, including The Hobbit. I think it was mostly because of Tolkein’s writing style, and all of the non-English stuff I kept trying to figure out how to pronounce.
T: In your blog, you mention working on multiple projects at one time. When can we expect to see another of your longer form stories to release?
SA: The Twisted Fates series is currently stalled by procrastination, because I’m not fond of dealing with the copyright forms. I’m also working on another series that’s not actually set in the same universe, because originally I wanted a challenge.
T: In Random Abnormality, your lead, James is invested heavily in music. Did you find that a lot of James’ backstory was inspired by your own experiences?
SA: James, and Andy, worked originally at a guitar shop. There aren’t that many things to do in his town, because I based it loosely on another town in the middle of nowhere, so music was something I know you can spend a decade or two improving at. James’ back-story is, and was originally, very plain. The band bits are based on my own experiences, but some of the other stuff is such an exaggeration of anything I could’ve based it on from my past it may as well be original. I play 9 instruments, James plays more like 14 or so. I record better, James is a better guitarist. He’s only had to put together a band a couple of times, I was in 7 or 8 one year, most of which didn’t last long.
T: You’ve got a good deal of fantasy tropes in your novel, but they’re all set in a more urban setting. Was there a reason to begin in that familiarity? Are we heading into territory that’s unfamiliar?
SA: All of the Twisted Fates stuff is set in the near future. It’s only not urban fantasy because they’re in the sticks. That changes, don’t worry. The reason I set it in the time I did was because of a few things. First, honestly, James would be very dead at several points, and Scott would have been useless, without changing his magic style. I like having a technological aspect, and most of my characters wouldn’t fit in a medieval setting without lots of problems. Julie would either never go armored or everybody’d probably be trying to kill her. Oh, right. That’s kind of how it is anyway. Never mind Nancy, who’s afraid of being burned at the stake as a witch, because…well, she is.
T: Random Abnormality is subtitled Twisted Fates. This seems to imply that we might see a sequel at some point. Do you have any news about that for us?
SA: Yes, and yes. Because they all broke the rules. The second book is NonLinear, and it’s currently awaiting copyright. I write fast, but I edit and do the copyright thing really slow. Kindle conversion is the same story. Originally, Random Abnormality was going to be titled Twisted Fates, because it fit. I’m trying to keep each book as self-contained as possible, but the loose ends aren’t just throw-away lines, though sometimes characters forget stuff.
T: What inspired the world and people of Random Abnormality? It feels like a lot of pop culture has its claws in here in various places.
SA: I’ve read a lot of random bits of mythology, and I watch a lot of cartoons. Originally, I was going to set the characters in the Marvel Universe, but then my concept expanded and even that universe wouldn’t have fit right. There’s a lot of pop culture mixed in, and some (okay, lots) of bits I’ve borrowed from various musical and Internet subcultures. The world I wound up with is a facade over a network of lies mixed with a lot of misinformation. I took as many concepts that I liked from other places and messed every single bit of it up. The characters are actually inspired from various character traits of people I’ve known mixed with archetypes and refit to make it work for the setting. The rest of the people are just what I think they’d be like, living in a world like that.
T: There is an abundance of flyaway imagination in Random Abnormality, and I mean that in the best sense. From the beginning of the novel, you’re just rocketed away into this place where everything seems familiar, but is just topped with all this fantastic flavor. If this was a mild-mannered, classic fantasy romp, you’d have your vampires and your werewolves, and maybe your gargoyles and beyond. But you’ve added twists everywhere along the way. You’ve got gargoyles that turn to stone, and mutants that can control heat. How do you go about maintaining that while still sticking to the conventions that make these characters and their backgrounds work?
SA: How? I have cheat sheets, or I used to. The truth is, I wrote with these characters and in this world a lot. Most of it didn’t make it into this book, and fell victim to deletion once I was done with the arc or whatever. All of the conventions are logical and simple, and I tried to keep each underlying system as simple as possible. Also, Julie changes to steel. It’s a more useful material.
T: Do you think we’ll ever see some of your discarded material show up again in some way? We’ve talked about how massive this world is, and it feels like it can only grow.
SA: Yes. Well, discarded concept material, not writing or scenes. I tweaked some of them to fit the scenes I’ve already set them to this time around, and I have a lot more concept material to throw around. The scope and insight into the rest of this world is limited in Random Abnormality, given their location and isolation from the rest. It’s a long way to a decent-sized city where Random Abnormality takes place, they just never go there. I’ve got plenty of interconnected material to throw in, showing readers even more about this world. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of room for expansion.
T: Certain magic in your world can only be established through concentration. If that concentration is lost, what does that failure bring? Will a spell just fizzle out, or will it complete with unexpected side effects?
SA: Ah, those magic systems. Would it do nothing, or fizzle? Probably not. Most of the more common spells with that style, and the couple that I’ve made similar involve arranging things in a certain way, kind of like setting a mouse trap. If the user were to forget to set the little latch, it would snap and likely get them in the process. The magic works the same way, though it’s more complex. It could misfire, it could backfire, or it could simply explode, as a few examples. I can’t remember any with residual effects off-hand though. James’ ability works very similarly, but if he loses concentration it’s either going to be weak, do nothing, or miss.
T: Do you ever get to that point where you want to turn the magic system on its head? Are there places in your writing where you say to yourself, “yes, I know I’ve established that this is how it works, but I still have some surprises up my sleeves”?
SA: I haven’t tried to break the rules of my magic system, actually, because there’s enough room to just use things differently. The use of magic in Random Abnormality was really limited, I think, and I’ve got a lot more stuff I’ve already put together for it to shine. None of the characters that actually use magic in Random Abnormality care to explain any of it, though, so all of the surprises work pretty well. There’ll be plenty of surprises coming, if there weren’t enough already.
I’d like to thank Sam again for his time. If you get a chance, pop over to the Amazon page for Random Abnormality. Just prepare yourself for a hefty read!
If you’re the creator of fantasy worlds and you would like to be interviewed for your work, contact us via the link in the menu bar.