Interview with D. Emery Bunn

Iā€™m all about supporting indie authors (I should be; I am one). So when D. Emery Bunn (who can be found on Twitter @DEmeryBunn or at his blog) told me he had a book coming out, I was eager for the chance to learn more and talk to him about his book, his writing process, and some other questions that plagued my mind. I had the chance to read an advance copy of the book, and to learn a bit more about what went into it.

-Your first novel, Darkness Concealed, takes place in a medieval fantasy world that experiences a period of darkness, death, and destruction that returns without explanation every century. This idea of a world periodically shrouded in darkness reminds me of a fantasy version of the movie Pitch Black. Though your novel takes this idea a bit further by going beyond the question of “How do we survive the darkness?” to the question of “What causes it, and how can we stop it?” Where did you get the idea for your setting, and for the quest to put a stop to this recurring darkness?

The initial idea came from a world-building challenge: come up with a brand new world/setting for this worldbuilding-based play-by-post campaign, and use it to apply.

I took up the challenge. I was in the shower, thinking over how I wanted to start the world, and two thoughts occurred: “A peaceful, idyllic pastureland”…”afflicted by a regular apocalypse.” Building those two contrary thoughts out, Telthan was born. Thanks, frogman55 (the campaign’s DM)!

I picked the 149 year separation between Darkenings for several reasons. First, I wanted it to be far apart enough that no one could possibly live through one and see the next. Second, I wanted it to be long enough that someone could conceivably live their entire life, and see neither Darkening. Third, I’m sick and tired of seeing perfectly round numbers for important time periods, so I didn’t do that. 149 is actually a prime number, but I picked it originally because it wasn’t 150.

With a world like this, telling the story of the Darkening itself would be very boring. People would get prepared for the worst, the worst would actually happen, and the next day things would be back to peaceful normal. Maybe that’s short story material, but it’s not a novel, and certainly not a trilogy.

The only story that made sense to tell in such a world is figuring out the what and why, and ultimately, stopping it completely. A long, epic journey in the vein of Robert Jordan and J. R. R. Tolkien. Thus, it’s the only story I ever sought to write within the setting.

-One of the most interesting things about this book is the diverse cast of characters. Four people from completely different backgrounds: A thief, a soldier, a farm boy, and a scholar. How did you develop each of their backgrounds and personalities, and how did that affect their interaction with each other?

I’m covering this in more detail on my own blog with a series called Shards of Personality, with Caleb (the farm boy) being first up.

I started with archetypes. The characters were originally named the Dreamer, the Scholar, the Veteran, and the Exile. Those were their roles, their starting points for entering the story. Each of them was to have a different outlook on the optimism/pessimism line (they’re ordered from most to least optimistic), and different reasons that drove them into the story.

– The Dreamer (Caleb) was obvious. He saw the Darkening all the time when he slept. His interest in the event is one born of desperation and a desire for a point to seeing it.
– The Scholar (Ivan) loves learning, loves finding out the answers to questions. The Darkening is a mystery that cannot be avoided, and one that consumes his interest. When he gets a chance to learn more beyond what the library he frequents can tell him, he jumps at the chance.
– The Veteran (Alexandra) has seen the monsters of the Darkening, seen what they do to her friends and to innocents. She quits chasing after those monsters when the last of her friends dies at their hands. But she has to atone for still being alive, for surviving. She’s drawn back to the Darkening by the need to punish those creatures who ended her happiness.
– The Exile (Liz) doesn’t really care about any of that stuff. She’s been an outcast her entire life, and it suits her just fine. But they say they’re going someplace forbidden and untouched since the last Darkening. Treasure, danger, challenge? That’s her calling card.

With such a diverse set of reasons for embarking on the journey, there was no need for them to have the same philosophy toward it. They were going to clash, and only the naive assumption that they all needed each other for some reason kept them from splitting apart at the beginning.

Going meta, I also made them so diverse and disagreeable at the start because I wanted to explore the concept of “how the adventuring party is made.” Countless stories start us off with the merry band of adventurers already having gelled together as a team. So rather than repeating that, I explored precisely how to go from strangers to comrades and friends.

-A lot of the danger and adventure in this story didn’t come from the usual fantasy-genre sources of evil wizards and rampaging hordes of monsters. Instead, there is a large section of the book devoted to exploration of ancient ruins, evading magical traps that have been lying dormant for years, and trying to solve a mystery. What was it like developing those traps and dangers, and where did you get your ideas from?

The traps in Andranine (the forbidden city) were a lot of fun to devise. I kept on going back to the core idea of the city: it was built to defend against the Darkening. How would one defend against horrible monsters? How would one make sure that everyone who fought would give it their all, to their very dying breath? Each and every trap was aimed at answering those questions.

The Library was a different beast. I wanted a place dangerous by existence, and known to be that way, but I wanted it to start somewhat innocuous. It gave me room to make the place creepier, and less safe as their time in there added up. I also wanted them questioning whether it was a good idea to be there in the first place, and to do it continually.

Speaking meta, I developed all the traps and tricks because I wanted to flip the expectations of a dungeon crawler upside down. I deliberately invert the usual traps, the typical pitfalls. I hide things in plain sight. And I aimed to make things dangerous and worrisome by existence and foreboding, rather than a cliche hallway full of swinging axes and pit traps with spikes at the bottom.

-This book also involves a lot of mystery about the very fabric of reality in the world and the nature of its existence. You’ve created a world that in many ways doesn’t follow the same “rules” as the real world. What was it like creating such a unique and different environment? Did you have any trouble developing the complexities that make this world what it is?

I’m smiling as I write this. Telthan as a setting has been on my mind since December 2008. I’ve had time to build up the rationale, the internal logic of the world. Everything has its place, and even the most bizarre thing shown in the book has a reason behind it. For every question, an answer exists, whether or not I stated it in the book.

The answers go further and further back into the past, ultimately disappearing beyond the reach of what little history Telthan retains after having its world broken regularly for countless millennia. It’s a fun concept having the answers literally beyond history. But it makes sense for a world where civilization is crushed under a tide of monsters every 149 years.

Going meta once again, I wanted to twist what is expected of an apocalypse, of the time after such an event, of the time before it. A step beyond, I wanted to ask the “why” of such an event. How could it recur? Why doesn’t it recur constantly? How does this or that even exist?

A fun little challenge for the brainteaser lovers out there: try to figure Telthan out. Theorycraft it, and see if with only the hints and clues provided in Darkness Concealed you can unravel its secrets. Feel free to email me what you think the truth really is.

-This book is part of a series. Is there anything you can tell us about what to expect from the sequels?

The sequel is entitled Darkness Revealed, and is a lovely case of “exactly what it says on the tin.” The vast majority of the questions raised in Darkness Concealed will be answered, with the pattern of darker and darker discoveries continuing until it reaches absolute blackest evil rock bottom.

It’ll be a darker book, and the first draft will be written this upcoming November’s NaNoWriMo. I plan for the second draft to be written between January and February 2015, and a tentative release date of May/June 2015.

There is a third book, but I won’t say the title yet.

-Will there be any kissing?

I’m going to let the slashfic people worry about doing that. I’m too busy horrifying my characters for them to get romantic during the course of the story.

-One last question: What does the “D.” stand for?

A secret for the ages
To remain untold
Forgotten by time
The ripples of history
Washing it away

Cheers,
D. Emery

Darkness Concealed is now available on Amazon Kindle. And keep an eye on D. “A secret for the ages” Emery’s blog for more information.

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