Interview with Tirzah Darnell

Greetings, travelers.  On our latest stop in the Otherworld, we’re taking a trip to a planet shrouded in darkness, where we’ll be able to speak to a creator who is passionate and determined, whose work is epic in scope, and intimate in its details.  Tirzah Darnell is the author behind the veil today, and as we pull it aside, we will have the opportunity to learn more about her, and her spacefaring blockbuster, The Planet of Darkness: Book I: The City of the Dark Tyrant.  Read on to learn more about the project and its maker.


Tellest: Welcome, Tirzah!  Allow me to extend my appreciation to you for taking the time to introduce yourself to those who might not yet know you, and for telling us more about yourself and your story.  You work on a great deal of projects, and I can only imagine time is a fleeting thing for you.  The book that we plan on talking about today is a massive epic, and it’s one that I’m sure people with a soft spot for sci-fi will absolutely love.  It’s a pleasure to be able to talk to you, Tirzah, and I’m eager to know more about you and your work!

Tirzah Darnell: I’m Tirzah Darnell. When I am not writing, I am working as a professor of Government and History at a community college here in south Texas. I’ve also studied radio, television, and film, which has helped me develop a cinematic awareness for the scenes I write—particularly the action scenes. In graduate school, I focused on political science and disaster resilience. After all, that is what science fiction is often about—surviving disasters and going on in almost impossible situations. And studying politics and history also played a key part in my understanding of world building and political intrigue. We get a 3-D view of the planet, its history, its politics, and its people.

Book 1 of the Planet of Darkness Trilogy came out in September 2023. As the title suggests, the planet of this book is a dystopian world oppressed by a tyrant who controls every aspect of life on the planet, from what occupation they must have to whether they are even allowed to survive after birth. He even tries to control their thoughts. Some of the groups of people here are the persuaders, who are trained to obtain information for the Dark Tyrant by whatever means necessary, the Enforcers, who are trained to hunt, capture, and kill enemies of the Dark Tyrant, and the Slump Bumps whose job is to do nothing at all, not even think or dream. The good news is that there is also a Planet of Light, but it is virtually impossible to escape to that planet—people have tried, and all their attempts have been thwarted. Some people think they can buy their way out, others think they can use technology or espionage or schemes—but the way is there. It’s just like the people are too busy focused on themselves to see it. This aspect fits in with what inspired me—that is my own battle with depression. When people are in that situation, they don’t see the way to escape, and they need someone else to come show them the way.



T: When you decided to take up the task of writing this book, did you think that you would be sending a message to other people who were suffering from depression and imbalances with themselves?  Did you set out to tell a story about mental health and self-care?

TD: I started planning this book when I was in high school, and my primary goal was to create a world that resonated with the way I felt—that helped me find a way out of my depression. Later, when I was able to put the book together, I had more of an awareness of how the concept of the book could resonate with others as well, and, hopefully, help them as much as it did me.


T: As difficult as it must be to live with depression—and to be looking for a way out of it—do you find yourself to be the sort of tortured artist who also gains some sort of fuel for your expression because of your feelings?  Have there ever been any incongruities between trying to feel better and feeling the style of your art metamorphosize?

TD:  Being a planner, I am not bound by my emotions. The experience with depression adds depth to my writing, especially with certain characters. But writing itself requires objectivity—at least for me—it requires one to look at the world through several different lenses. So, rather than my depression controlling my art, my art provides a way for me to step outside of that situation and view things from a more realistic perspective.


T: Whenever I am interviewing a storyteller who I’m unfamiliar with, one of the first things I want to learn is what helped to contribute to their love of the craft.  What was it that inspired you to take up the art of talespinning?  Did you have an author that spoke to you, or someone in your community who encouraged you to flex your creative muscles?

TD: Like many writers, I started this “talespinning” very young. When I was reading books as a child of five, I would get upset that they did not go the way I had hoped, so my mom told me that I could write my own books and make them go the way I wanted. That was when I wrote and illustrated The Ant in Tennis Shoes. The story is about an ant that wants to run a race, but he can’t because none of the stores sell shoes his size. Finally, he finds a human who searches far and wide, and they finally find shoes that are the teeny tiny size the ant needs, and he wins the race. When I was a student in college, I was privileged to meet a guest speaker visiting our college, Pepe Serna from the film Scarface. He called me up on stage with him, and together we performed The Ant in Tennis Shoes. I told it in English, and he performed it in Spanish for the audience. It was a hit for the College. Everybody loved it. I would love to meet up with him again and let him know how much that encouraged me to continue with my writing.

Most writers seem to be avid readers, but it took a lot for me to want to read a book. I liked books with mouse characters, I remember. Finally, I discovered some authors I really enjoyed: Jules Verne was the main one. I was interested in how the characters used science and rational thinking to figure their way through challenges. Alexander Dumas was another one I loved: his vivid detail, focus on history and political intrigue. Then there was Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and there you have the ultimate character with depression trope.

Later on, I discovered some classic television series that inspired me. The Prisoner, an avant garde thriller from the 1960s where the main character is given a number and is focusing on escape from the mysterious Village, was a huge inspiration. In fact, Number Six played by Patrick McGoohan was a model for 2-45 in my own trilogy.



T: There is a good deal of things that seem to inspire you, but often, it appears you’re drawn to characters with layers of complexity.  Do you think that deep and dynamic characters are more integral for a story to perform well?  Or are unique and clever settings more important?  Or is there a careful balance that one must strike?

TD: I think they both affect each other, like a multivariable calculus. The complex characters are what makes the story, but the characters are only complex because they are affected by so many different aspects of their environment and backstory. And even if I do not mention the backstory, it is still there—we see glimpses of it in the characters’ actions, their decisions, and the way they think. And in a Sci Fi world, we often get the interplay of worlds outside of worlds, like other planets with different social systems affecting the planet that serves as our main setting.


T: You mentioned being aware of the backstories for your characters even if it isn’t shown on the surface.  How much information do you know about your characters?  Do you find yourself learning more about them as you write, or do you work to establish their upbringings and experiences before you commit them to the page?

TD: I have most of the backstory planned out ahead of time. I know their upbringing, their friends, and connections, what their family situation was like. If a surprise inspiration does strike me, I know enough about the characters already to judge whether that idea would make sense.



T: Though you’ve certainly written stories before, The Planet of Darkness: Book I: The City of the Dark Tyrant marks the first time that you’ve released a feature-length book.  What was it about this story that needed to be told?  And how much of a challenge was it to weave a tale with so much breadth and with such a wide scope?

TD: I am from a military family, and I attended high school in Germany. While I was there, I dealt a lot with depression. That is when I first started to plan The Planet of Darkness. People at that time did not really recognize how depression worked and how harmful it could be, so I used this story as a way for me to explore and understand what I was going through and to learn how to get through it, how to be resilient. Because that concept was so important to me, I knew that it was something that may help others going through similar situations.

The challenge was in the intricate planning this type of book required. I am a planner in the most literal sense. I planned every aspect of the world, creating a believable foundation, system, and culture. Even its history, some elements which we will not see until the last book. And, yes, if you are wondering, I have all three books fully planned. I just need to find the time to finish writing them and then, you know, the whole process of editing and so on.


T: There is a tremendous spectrum of mental challenges that people face, and even depression itself is so varied and dynamic.  When you were writing about the struggles of your characters, did it help to envision them with your experience of depression?  Or did you try to expand beyond what you were familiar with?

TD: There are certain characters that were shaped by my own experience, but there are other characters with a much different outlook. For example, the main character is from a wealthy family with political influence, and he thinks his charm and money can get him whatever he needs, and that is far from my own outlook on life. It helps that I am intuitive, and when I look at other people, I can read them pretty well; I can usually tell the way their mind is working. That has given me a large pool of personality types to pull from. In addition, there are certain things that make me uncomfortable—things I would rather avoid—but instead of shying away from them, I decided to exaggerate them in a sort of Hitchcockian manner. An example of that is a certain villain who is pompous and annoying, so I exaggerate his every movement and expression to a darkly humorous effect.


T: That brings up an interesting point.  Your story has its darkness, but the opposite can be found here and there as well.  How did you treat the lighter brushstrokes to make it more balanced, and to give hope to the characters, as well as levity to the readers?

TD:  The Planet of Light was difficult at first because sheer goodness can seem uninteresting to some people, but adding just as much depth and backstory to the heroic characters as I did to the darker ones helped those characters to come alive. Yes, the comical side. If things get too serious, I have an urge to add humor, so there is quite a bit of that throughout the novel. A shapeshifter that can turn into anything from a mouse to a splash of water and a robot that looks like an ottoman and knows how to convince computers to do what is needed. Even the villainous character 1 can be comical in the exaggeration of his gestures and facial expressions—if people are too pompous or self-important, I have to poke fun a little.


T: While you were using your story to explore and understand your own struggles, did you also find doing so therapeutic?  Do you imagine your story will help other people in that same way?

TD: It forced me to face my situation, to come to grips with it. And readers have informed me that they appreciated the points where I touch on depression. One of my beta readers also suffers from depression, and she said the description of one of the characters being shown the way out of depression physically lifted her energy and refocused her on hope for the future.


T: You’ve got two sequels planned in the Planet of Darkness series.  I’ve always found that authors who write a tremendous amount often find other ways for them to bring their universe to life.  Have you had any side characters or events that have been scratching at your mind to expand beyond what you originally planned?

TD: I have a prequel that is very close to being completed. This prequel focusses on two characters that both my readers and I really like. The Persuader 1-13 and 50-83. This story takes place when 50-83 was an apprentice for 1-13 and includes 1-13’s quest to acquire his skeleton-ghosts. Another element in the story that is going to be explored more in the sequels are the Grubian Ghouls and the Shadow-Shield. I also like two new characters that are going to come into book 2. They are twin sisters who are bounty hunters. They are developing into two gutsy and complex characters, and I am having fun writing about them.



T: When in your writing process did you determine that you wanted to write a sequel?  Was it something that called to you?  Or was it a marketing decision meant to draw more attention to your growing universe?

TD: This takes us back to when I was planning this book in high school. I always had a vision for the book as a trilogy. The events happen in three stages, so it made sense to organize it that way.


T: How much would you say you’ve seen your story evolve over the years?  Have you been able to commit to your vision of it from when you were in high school?  Or has a lot changed?

TD: The groundwork was there, but it became much more complex as I developed it. There’s much more action in the final project than I originally anticipated, which makes me quite happy. I like a good action scene.


T: Beyond your work on the Planet of Darkness, do you have any other stories that you think you might tell?

TD: I have a couple of stories in mind. They might go more in the direction of psychological thrillers. I like exploring characters, and I like to include a lot of action. One book that I have wanted to write for a long time is called Forever on my Mind, which deals with a race for a treasure among characters who also suffer from various mental health challenges. I’d also like to co-write something with fellow author Kathleen R. Cuyler. We’ve been talking about a cyberpunk mystery, and that would be exciting, I think.


T: Do you think it will be a challenge to move from the sort of sci-fi epic that Planet of Darkness is to something a little more terrestrial?

TD: Well, even books that are terrestrial have aspects that are fantastical and thought-provoking. Take Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne or Mysterious Island. Any book that deals with people using their knowledge to overcome overwhelming challenges will be of interest. The main challenge will be limiting myself to the established rules of our own planet. My brain is fully focused on finishing my trilogy right now, but more will come, I am sure.



T: When you envision working with another author on a collaborative project, how do you see that coming together?  Do you powwow with the other storyteller and brainstorm?  Does someone write alternating passages or chapters?  Or is there some other means of bringing a story to life as a team that you have in mind?

TD: It helps that the other author lives in the same town, and we can meet for coffee-writing sessions. She and I often sit down with pen and paper and brainstorm together. We create plot maps and outlines to guide our writing. The primary challenge is that she is a pantser, while I am a planner, so I will need to rein in her imagination now and then and she will need to push me forward to explore new possibilities as we create the work.


T: There goes that search for balance again!  I would imagine that you’ll be able to fine tune the writing to find a comfortable landing for the story, and to allow imaginative sparks to shine through.

TD: That’s very good insight. I appreciate your confidence. We have an outline for one project that I am eager to flesh out. A Cyberpunk mystery. She has asked me to add in more techie elements. I am eager to see where my robots and machines will embellish her sense of the dramatic.


T: What is Resilient Moon Creative, and how does it embody the art, inspiration, and imagination that you want to bring to this world?

TD: When a person goes into writing, they decide am I an author or am I a brand, and I opted to focus on the branding.

There are so many things I want to do, but they all go back to that concept of resilience through change—the moon changes, but life goes on. With my background in Radio, Television, Film, who knows? I may even go into films, perhaps make some movies of my books.


T: With your experience in media, have you thought about narrating your story as an audiobook?  That would be interesting, but I can also imagine it would be a huge undertaking due to the massive size of your tale.

TD: I do plan on getting an audiobook together as soon as possible—I may do some test runs with my own voice, but I want to make sure I choose the voice that is most suited to narrating this type of trilogy.


T: Your fiction prose projects are not the only ones that you’re known for.  You’ve directed films and written musicals, and you’ve written nonfiction as well. How do you balance it all, and what do you find most enjoyable?

TD: Film is a passion of mine. For a while, my main writing was for film scripts, and I did some storyboarding too, which helped me plan out my action scenes.

One of the things that has helped is building a support team; that is one of the key elements of resilience, you know. I have several author/film friends who give me advice, and, beyond that, it’s simply taking one thing at a time.

What I find most enjoyable is focusing on what I am doing at the moment. Right now, my focus is this trilogy, and I am excited about being caught up with these characters and these worlds.


T: When you visualize your characters, are you dreaming them up from the aether, or are they somewhat based on elements of real people you know?

TD: Originally, yes, the characters were drawn from my own needs for telling the story the way I wanted it to go. Eventually, as I fine-tuned the characters, I gave them traits inspired by people that seemed to match their personality types.


T: Do you ever find any of your characters surprising you in the way they act, or in a revelation that comes from them?

TD: There are some background characters that pop out more than I thought they would. There was one of them that was pretty flat to begin with, but the editor wanted to know more about him, so I gave him a full-on hippy demeanor and had fun with his flower power protest characterization. There was one very touching and dramatic moment with a character that I unexpectedly became attached to—but I can’t go into it much without giving away an important part of the plot. Oh, and the character called Thoravin, 1-13’s mentor, he came into the story more than I expected—he sort of pushed himself forward and demanded attention. One thing that may surprise readers is how much thought I put into choosing the characters’ numbers. For example, 93-73—the numbers look like a name I would like to have given him—Pete. And 1-13—I had to put the 13 in there because I felt like he was stuck with a lot of bad luck.



T: You specialize in what is called “Disaster Resilience.”  How would you describe what that entails, and how do you think you effectively bring knowledge of that into your storytelling experiences?

TD: I was fortunate to have a professor who specialized in disaster resilience, and I found it interesting. Disasters are so frightening, and people panic, but if we know how to deal with disasters, it takes a lot of the pressure off. The knowledge came in handy during Hurricane Harvey and the Covid Pandemic, helping my family and those close to me find ways to lessen the impact.

Understanding how disasters impact people’s lives and ways they can overcome them is key in science fiction. My trilogy involves rebellions, a planet on the verge of destruction, and people trying to survive in spaceships that are being torn apart by vicious Gorslanchers. Knowing something about disaster resilience helps me give the characters a realistic perception of their situation. In science fiction, we want a few characters who know what they are doing, who have intelligence and resilience. For example, one of the characters, 1-05, is a pilot, and she is good at getting people to stay calm and finding a plan to survive.


T: Disaster plans are great, but if everyone followed them to the letter, we might not have much of a story to tell.  What are some of your favorite stories about plans that went awry because the characters didn’t read the guidebook?

TD: While there are a few, like 1-05, who go more by the rule book, but even, then, she has not considered all possible outcomes and ends up needing others to help her. One movie I really enjoyed was Dante’s Peak where, even though the main character has experience in dealing with volcanos, he is still faced with challenge after challenge that pushes him to the limits, which is a lot of what happens to 1-05 and many of the other characters in my book. No matter how prepared you are, there will be something that hits you that you did not expect or you could not predict—and that is where resilience comes into it. Are you going to give up or are you going to find a way out, whether it is with someone else’s help or your own ability to overcome?


T: Your first book is out, but you have more to come, and as we’ve discussed, you’ve got plenty of other projects that you’ve worked on.  Your readers and fans are no doubt going to want to know where they can connect with you.  If they wanted to discover more about you or your stories and projects, where could they find you online?

TD: Readers can follow me on Facebook through Resilient Moon Creative. I have a Goodreads account as Tirzah Darnell. Also, I have an author page on, where people can read about me, follow, and purchase the books. The first one is there now as a paperback and e-book, and the rest of the trilogy will soon follow.


T: Tirzah, I wanted to thank you for your time, and for drawing back the curtain so that we could learn more about your book series, and about what you have planned for the future.  I also want to thank you for allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and to talk about things that some people might be reluctant to share.  You’re quite aware of who you are, and you’ve elevated yourself by knowing yourself better than most people do!

I’m excited for readers to discover and learn more about you and the Planet of Darkness, and for them to become longtime fans!

TD: Thank you so much for this opportunity and for inviting me to share with this amazing community of readers. It’s been a genuine pleasure.


T: I’d like to once again thank Tirzah Darnell for sharing her time with us, and allowing us to dive into the worlds she’s building, and the characters she has developed.  There is more to come from this talented storyteller, but for now, do yourself a favor and check out her book The Planet of Darkness: Book I: The City of the Dark Tyrant on Amazon today!

The following two tabs change content below.
Avatar photo

Michael DeAngelo

Michael is the creator of the Tellest brand of fantasy novels and stories. He is actively seeking to expand the world of Tellest to be accessible to everyone.
Avatar photo

Latest posts by Michael DeAngelo (see all)