Confessions of my Past, Present and Future
Exploring other worlds through the written word is a pastime I've been engaging in since my earliest memories. Besides my other passion – underground extreme metal – books that opened up portals to other lives easily kept me going through my middle and high school years. So much so that I got sent to the principal's office on more than one occasion for reading through particularly uninteresting classes.
Many of my favorite series had to be read during school hours or on the sly at home, as unfortunately we had a strict rule in my family against anything that would offend baby Jesus' delicate sensibilities (essentially meaning most fantasy, sci-fi, or horror). Rather than turning me off to the genres, the prohibition frankly that just increased their appeal, since they were all apparently so awesome they had to be banned.
Although there are plenty of horror novels that I managed to sneak a read through of at the library or by toting books to school away from prying eyes (The Hellbound Heart and Weaveworld immediately come to mind), fantasy definitely had a bigger impact on my formative years than horror when it comes to literature.
Redwall managed to make it past the “no fantasy” rule, and devouring those many stories of brave mice battling overwhelming odds is probably why I can't get enough of graphic novels and RPGs like Mouse Guard today. While I of course ate up series like Sword Of Truth and all the Forgotten Realms novels, there is one title that always stands out in my mind as particularly memorable, and it comes from a very unlikely source.
Game to novel adaptations have a huge range in quality, with many of them being forgettable or even outright bad, and that's particularly true the larger a series gets, as more and more authors are brought in over time. While I wouldn't consider myself a fanatic of the book series as large, there is one novel in the Magic The Gathering adaptations that I'll never forget: The Gathering Dark by Jeff Grubb.
Set in the Ice Age of the Magic universe, Grubb really struck a chord with me as a kid with his tale of a young magician's apprentice. He managed to weave the mechanics of the card game system into the book in a very fluid and intuitive way while having an intensely interesting cast of characters and vivid imagery I can still clearly see in my mind's eyes. From humorous elements with necromancers resurrecting cooked chickens, to terrifying scenes with overpowering wizards gone mad, there was some absolutely superb storytelling going on there.
He also managed to throw in some mildly sacrilegious content at the time that just blew my young mind, with an antagonist who hunted down spellcasters at the behest of her church – while having no idea that her powers also sprung from the well of magic rather than from any deity. While I've read many of Grubb's works since then, I have no doubt if I ever got to meet the man in person, this is the title I'd be blathering on about while he nervously looked for an exit.
In the present, my love of fiction hasn't diminished any, and my overflowing library room is a testament to the staying power of literature to impact lives. Of course my tastes have changed with age, and now with nothing having to be hidden under the mattress I can freely work through any genre I care to. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that my modern reading habits revolve significantly around horror, as that's where my own writing tends to go.
Lately, I've been gravitating much more heavily towards graphic novels, discovering a treasure trove of interesting stories and unique ways to express them through a visual medium. From the Hellraiser series that focuses on the Harrowers trying to shut down all of hell's entrances to the very non-traditional style of new horror sensation Wytches, there's an abundance of material in the comic medium worth exploring.
Although less focused on the horror, two series that have really hooked me lately have been Birthright and Shutter. The former grabbed me with its fascinating dual style, focusing half on a shattered family that doesn't believe their missing son has actually returned somehow 30 years older, and then shifting the other half to a stereotypical and over-the-top high fantasy universe.
Shutter meanwhile is just an absolute trip, constantly changing art styles and meshing drastically different universes together but all without losing the plot. There aren't many series where you seek out an adorable platypus in an alley for an assassination gig, a salamander who was just served divorce papers by his wife reluctantly agrees to murder an innocent girl, and samurai fox rides around on a triceratops while killing everyone she come across.
Both of those drastically different series resonated with me as I've been trying to mesh opposing styles together in my own writing lately, particularly in my upcoming novel Light Dawning. After almost a year of writing, the first draft was finally just finished last week, and while there's inevitably months of edits and re-writes ahead before it goes to print, it's a serious load off to finally have it “finished.”
While my previous novella Empty went the sci-fi route, this time around I'm finally digging into the love of my youth and exploring my own original fantasy world that's been brewing for years. Don't expect elves and dwarves or chosen one farm boys destined to save the world though – I'm not one for cheery universes or happy endings. This is a decidedly darker fantasy, and if you thought the engineer Hansen had it bad in Empty, you will find things much worse for the main characters this time around.
Starting with the seed of a story and expanding the universe around it, I've absolutely loved building this world where I get to turn the standard fantasy tropes on their heads. This tale revolves around three very broken and flawed people all trying to survive life under the thumb of an invading army, with no one arriving to save them or route the occupying force.
While I've always been fascinated by tales of magic and supernatural forces in fantasy stories, it has always felt overly relied on to me, working more as a means to get characters out of overwhelming trouble rather than something actually of central importance to the story. With that in mind, magic is a decidedly bad thing in my world, bringing more problems than solutions. Adding in my own brand of cosmic horror to the background of the world, anyone who finds themselves with the ability to wield supernatural powers in this tale has clearly drawn the attention of horrible, unknowable forces that don't have humanity's best interests in mind.
Hopefully you'll all be able to read my take on the fantasy style for yourselves by the end of the year, and I can't wait to hear what you think. If the fates are kind, maybe my writing can impact the life of some kid out there in need of a different universe to inhabit for a few hours, just as many fantasy novels did for me.
You can read my review of Empty, here.
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Montana native Ty Arthur fell in love with fantasy and horror at an early age, but frequently had to engage in his passions secretly during his youth. Turning to the
written word as a cathartic outlet, Arthur writes to exorcise his demons. He lives in the cold, dark north with this amazing wife Megan.