In case you missed my brief review of the Genesis of Oblivion Saga, Maxwell Alexander Drake is the author of the six book fantasy series. A Las Vegas resident, he is now a full time writer with several other projects in the works. I have run into him at several conventions over the years and last year attended his Comic Con workshop on writing Heroes and Villains.
Maxwell Alexander Drake’s Fantasy Literature and Gaming Roots
CG: What fantasy did you read growing up and what have you been reading now?
MAD: I read a lot of fantasy. I always have. I grew up with all the classics, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings were all read by me before I was 10. My third series, the Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock probably had the most impact on my young mind. It was the first fantasy that I read that really let me see that the sky is the limit when it came to this genre. Then I was off to Joel Rosenberg’s Guardians of the Flame saga, Conan novels, which is where I fell in love with Robert Jordan and moved on to the Wheel of Time, Weis and Hickman’s Dragonlance, George R.R. Martin’s Songs of Fire and Ice, and the list goes on and on.
Recently I have been going back and discovering authors that have been out for a while, but I missed. Brandon Sanderson tops my list of favorite new finds. He is wonderful. Last year I read Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series and thoroughly enjoying myself. Unfortunately, my writing profession has begun to get in the way of my reading for pleasure. I have Martin’s A Dance with Dragons, Paolini’s Inheritance, and Sanderson’s The Way of Kings all sitting on my shelf with no real date of when I will crack any of them open.
CG: As a fellow Guardians of the Flame fan, I do see a bit of Pandathaway in Mocley and you have the same sort of long treks that Rosenberg’s characters occasionally make. When I read Alimia, she really reminded me of Tennetty. What are some of your favorite parts of Rosenberg’s stories and your favorite characters of his?
MAD: You know, that series holds a special place in my heart. I absolutely loved that series, and reread it every five years or so. There is so much to like about it. Carl was probably my favorite. I just loved his, “It’s my way or the highway” attitude.
My favorite scene from that is after Carl become Emperor, and he leads a stealth raid on the castle of one of his own Barons who is getting all uppity. That whole scene was wonderfully done.
I never thought about a Pandathaway/Mocley connection―though I see your point. It is hard to describe a massive, Romanesque city and not have it favor Pandathaway though. I will admit to the Tennetty/Alimia connection. One of the things I do in my writing is pay homage to things that really meant something to me throughout my life. Call them Easter Eggs, if you will. There are many sprinkled throughout all my writings. And with Alimia, I doubt I could convince anyone that there was not some of Tennetty in her. But, only a bit. I mean, Tennetty was insane. Her sole motivation was revenge. Alimia just wants to do a good job. It just happens that she is doing a job that is traditionally meant for a man, so it is one she has to work harder at than her male counterpart.
CG: Maxwell Alexander Drake has to be a pen name, right?
MAD: It is a name that seems to be meant for someone born to be a fantasy author, does it not?
CG: What games did you play with Charlie, Shane, and Jonathan, whom you thank in your acknowledgements/dedication?
MAD: Ha! Those were my elementary/junior high friends that introduced me into the realm of RPGs. Like many geeks of my time, I can’t tell you how many weekend-long gaming events we held throughout the years. For the most part, we played Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition. But, we dabbled in most games out during the late 70’s and early 80’s. (Yeah, I am old.) I actually purchased the Monster Manual the day it hit the shelves. I was so excited!
CG: Were you the DM?
MAD: When I started RPGing, no, I did not DM. We actually had a really nice independent gaming shop that had adults who ran the games for us. Most of us were young, like 11 or 12 at the time. Once we got a bit older, and started playing out of one of our houses for the weekend, yes. We would rotate DMing duties.
I moved away for my high school years. I became the main DM for the group I fell into at that point and have pretty much been the DM ever since. It is probably why I love telling stories so much.
CG: What’s your favorite PC class?
MAD: You know, the thing is, I love fantasy. So, I rotated through them all. I have played good and evil, big and small. Each has its special thing that makes it fun. Again, this is probably the reason I love writing stories, because I get to play everybody in the story.
CG: Do any modules or systems stand out in your memory?
MAD: I still own almost every single item TSR made before it was purchased by WotC. I even have every issue of Dragon Magazine sitting in a protective cabinet in my office. So, yea, many stand out. I really loved the classics, the A series “The Slave Pits” was always fun. The G series when you go against the giants was great. I think if I had to pick one from memory, it would be S1 The Tomb of Horrors. It was just a wonderful mind teaser throughout the entire module.
CG: Have there ever been any games set in Mocley or Ro’Arith?
MAD: Yes and no. No, because this story is a story, not a campaign or a quest from a game. But, I DMed for a long time. And during that time, I came up with many ideas. I will admit that a few of the ideas I had in past years did make at least a small appearance in this series.
CG: An example being?
MAD: Well, I hate to admit it, because I did not flesh them out in either books 1 or 2, but the O’Arkins are actually a throw back to something I created elsewhere. Now, that being said, I have already started fleshing them out for book 4, and they have taken a totally different direction than what they were in the RPG I was using them in.
Still, I try and create unique races and stuff for my books, and there has been a few fans accuse me of having Orcs, and just calling them O’Arkins. And, unfortunately, that is just a dig I have to take. Because, it is not that far off.
CG: How much do you think of things in your books in terms of game mechanics?
MAD: None at all. I think if I did that, I would limit where things could go, and how I would describe them.
Take the Essence, as an example. I have a game designer who is a fan of mine. He loves the Essence. But, we got to talking about how this series would become a game and he commented that the hardest part would be the magic. He said that while the way I describe magic in the series is awesome, he has no idea how to put game mechanics to it. I am sure it can be done, but whoever does it would need to take some liberties away from how I describe it.
CG: What is the “Way of the Lion” about?
MAD: While creating the characters for my stories, I write a ton of back-story. This information, while important to me, as it tells me where the characters are going and how they will react once they get there, is not something that needs to be in the novels. It has nothing to do with the main story, so it really has no place. But, some of my fans want to delve deeper into these characters. Learn more about them. So, as I have time, I polish this stuff up and release it as short stories. The Way of the Lion is the back-story to Clytus Rillion. It takes place about 20 years before the first book. Clytus is just 18, and still in Silaway. It is the story about how he met his best friend and leftenant Ragnor De’haln. It also gives just a hint of who Shaith Ku’rin is, and of the connection she has to Ragnor that you learn about in book 3, Dreams & Nightmares.
I have also released another short called “The Path of Rebirth” which is the back-story to the gray skinned assassin Elith from book 2. At Gen Con this year, a third short, “The Path of Death” will be released in the Dragonroots Magazine anthology for that event.
Musicals and Graphic Novels: Kaboom!, Do Zombies Dream of Electric Sheep? and Downfall
CG: What about your other projects like the zombie Western or the cyberpunk one? Is there any artwork, titles or release dates?
MAD:I have a lot of side projects now. Some are moving forward, some are on hold, some may never see the light of day.
On the comic front, the Zombie Western Dead Ned was put on hold for various reasons, but has recently been revived. Hopefully this will be out late this year if things hold true. I do not have a release schedule on this as of yet.
But, the project I am doing with the artist Jason Engle (Magic the Gathering, Legend of the Five Rings, Game of Thrones, Dungeons & Dragons, etc.) called Downfall, is in full gear. This is set in a post-apocalyptic world. The 10-page promo for this is being released at this year’s Comic Con San Diego and the website www.downfallthecomic.com should be up and running in May. Downfall already has a production schedule. We are doing a 30-page comic every quarter, with a 120 graphic novel being released each year at Comic Con. After its release, this will be available at all the usual outlets from comic book shops to Barnes & Noble.
I have three musicals I am currently working on. One, Kaboom! The end of life on Earth… a comedy, I am just an additional writer for. I was brought in to beef up the comedy elements. It is in the funding stages now, but it should be playing in Las Vegas by year’s end.
The second, Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep, I am currently writing. The composer of this project is David Warrack, most famous for Rob Roy. Zombies will not be out until mid to late 2013, and will most likely open in Toronto, Canada.
The third musical I can’t say much about as we are in the contract phase now. I will say it is the biggest project I have ever been involved in. How is that for cryptic?
I have a few side novel projects, but their release dates are still a ways out, so I will not bore you with the details.
GMing the Hero’s Journey and Dramatic Tension
CG: Do you think the hero’s journey is suitable for a tabletop game? How could it be achieved? Should a GM tell his player(s) that there’ll be a call to action and so on?
MAD: I am a firm believer in the hero’s journey. Not because you have to follow all the steps, but because I think most stories follow them naturally. No, a GM should not say, “O.K., here is your call to action.” But, when the players hear that blood curdling scream, and run to investigate and end up fighting a dragon to save some hapless princess (no, I am not trying to be original here) which then leads them off on some epic quest (most probably for either a gem or a sword), that is a classic “call to action.” The reason why the Hero’s Journey works is because it is a natural progression of storytelling.
CG: One of the earlier tense moments in Farmers & Mercenaries involves a wagon getting knocked into a river. It seemed that that wagon may have a stowaway and that we as readers should be on the edges of our seats about his fate. To what extent do you think a GM could have such narrative tension?
MAD: I think this is doable for a GM, and I pulled it off many times when I ran my little adventures. This may not be the most popular thing for the players, but I like to split up my parties from time to time―not often, as this will just irritate the players. Make one group go off into another room, and just deal with a small group, or single player. This allows you to tell them what they “see” without telling them what the other character(s) see. With this, you can really play one group off the other. You just need to make sure the other room has something entertaining. I find a PS3 hooked up to a 70” screen works well.
CG: Is that just an example or have you been running some RPGs recently?
MAD: I was running a game a few years ago, but several of the players moved away about the same time my career took off. So, I am not playing anything currently. But, boy do I miss it. I know this has been said by many an adult RPGer, but when things in my life settle down a bit, I will be back to playing something.
CG: Both of the first two books feature an expedition. Has that been your playing experience? I’ve set out on plenty of adventures and made journeys, but never had a base camp per se.
MAD: Again, when I am writing, I am not thinking on the lines of RPGs, so I think differently. As a gamer, I can’t think of any time when we had a base camp to leave and return to. But it does make sense and it is why they are used in real expeditions. So, it fits well in the novel. But, I am not sure a player would appreciate the extra work of maintaining a base camp. I mean, what player ever really likes to have extra work?
More on Developing the Genesis of Oblivion
CG: While there are Drakons, the Niyoka, O’Arkins, lizardmen, and Sareeza, there is little mention in the first two books of any organized dangers or menaces. Are the homestead guarders and Mocley’s guards only defending against the odd thief or krougar attack? How much thought did you give to the absence of dangerous political entities like rival kingdoms and so on?
MAD: This is a question that I am going to avoid until after the release of book three, Dreams & Nightmares, in a few months. A better question for those who have read the first two books would be to ask, “Hmm, in this world the writer has created, you find all sorts of walled cities, but there really is no major threat from monsters or other armies. You have individual “city states” but not an established “kingdom” that is trying to expand its power over its neighbors. How would a fantasy world evolve into this state of being? Why do things seem relatively peaceful, yet there are defenses like this was one big war-torn world not too awful long ago?” It is a subtle thing, but it is something you may want to ponder as you wait on the release of book 3.
CG: If you had to be Alant or Arderi, which would you be and why?
MAD: I love the juxtaposition of the brothers Cor. One is serious, the other jovial. One is pissed, the other is just trying to get by without working too hard. One feels the weight of the world pressing ever harder down upon his young shoulders, the other is reveling in his abilities.
I know where this story is going, and I have to say, it is not going to be pleasant for either. So, I am not sure I want to be either.
If you did not gather from my answer to your last question, nothing in this story is exactly as it appears. And I hope to keep it that way right up to the bitter end. I will admit now that the first two books are pretty much just a pack of lies. But, most readers start to get that by the end of book 2, Mortals & Deities. In book 3, Dreams & Nightmares, I open the book up by revealing a ton of stuff that I have held close to the vest for a while now. I actually write in the villain’s perspective for the first time. One of my beta readers even accused me of revealing too much. Then she started delving into book 4 and realized that even though a lot was revealed in book 3, it was just the tip of the iceberg for what is coming.
As I said, I plan on keeping this pace through all 6 books. I want my readers to feel comfortable in the fact that they know what is about to happen, then have to reread it because it did not go the way they expected. So far, it has been either little things, or more subtle clues like the fact that you have walled cities everywhere, but nothing they are protecting against. But starting with book 3, I start getting less and less subtle with the fact that Kansas is going bye-bye.
All images included in this interview are copyright Maxwell Alexander Drake and used with permission.