Originally published at Random Musings. You can comment here or there.
I’ve been running a series of interviews with authors that are releasing new books. I hope you’ll take the time to check out their work. Today, please welcome back author, Guido Henkel.
I interviewed you a few months ago for Dr. Prometheus, Volume 5 of the Jason Dark series. Tell me about this new work in the series.
The Jason Dark series is now up to Volume 8, titled “The Blood Witch,” which was released in October. It is a story that is heavily rooted in actual history as the titular character, the so-called Blood Witch, is in fact loosely based on Erzsébet Báthory, who has gone down in history as one of the most notorious serial killers with 600 victims attributed to her – depending on who you ask. Bathory used to bath in the blood of her victims to retain her youth.
That historic fact created an image in my mind which became pivotal in the development of the story, and I began thinking in terms of alternate history and asked myself, “What if?” From there I began to spin a completely new tale with these historic legends as the backdrop.
Which of your characters in this book was the most difficult to write about? Why?
The young actress who calls on Jason Dark’s help in the beginning of the story was the most difficult for me. To find the proper naïvety in the character while making sure she always comes across as very intelligent and worldly was what threw me off a few times and I ended up rewriting parts of her dialogue on a number of occasions, just to try and pinpoint the proper way she would communicate with the people around her.
The Jason Dark series is just that – dark. What are some of the darker elements in Blood Witch?
The Blood Witch herself is a remarkably dark character – both in history and in my fictional story here. I wanted to write her as a character who has lost touch with reality, who exists solely to support herself, yet at the same time is very vulnerable and has to depend on others for sustenance and help. It was an interesting walk to show the stone-cold side of her where she has not a hint of mercy or remorse for those she chose as victims, yet at the same time almost falls to pieces when things affect her directly.
I never wanted to make her come across as completely despicable but with a truly human side that everyone can relate to. In my mind that helped make her ruthlessness and blood thirstiness so much more meaningful and dark. To balance that, particularly within the confines of a dime novel, was pretty tricky. I loved that challenge, however, and loved every moment I got to spend writing her parts in the book.
Do you ever get the feeling that dime novels are too short for their own good?
Yes, and no. On the one hand the compact format gives me the chance to hone in on what’s important to the story, what propels it forward, without having to deal with a lot of extraneous fluff. I do like to get to the point – in all things I do. Beating around the bush is not for me and I am honestly not sure how I would conjure up all the filler material that is needed for a full-length novel. I just started reading a book and the first quarter of the book was nothing but peripheral information – no real plot development or highlights. It was just a description of the environment, how this creek leads to that stream which then turns into another stream a couple of hundred miles south… that kind of stuff. I often have to ask myself in those moments, “Who cares?”
On the other hand, given the format of a dime novel, it is hard for me sometimes to isolate the really important things because there are certain vignettes, you might call them, that come to my mind that would help to illustrate personality traits better at times or that would simply help the reader understand a character’s deeper motivations better. Occasionally, it is a mood thing that I’d simply like to linger a bit longer than necessary, or that I’d like to insert an element that has nothing to do with the immediate story but is rather part of the overarching world of Jason Dark.
I have to balance these things very carefully and occasionally I have to cut them out simply because there is no space for it, or because the structure of the story wouldn’t allow it without destroying the dramatic arc and suspense that I’ve been building.
So in that respect, dime novels are very different beasts than novels. Readers often tell me that they wished the story would have been longer or that it would have been fluffed out some more, lengthened with more events etc. I understand where these readers come from, but I honestly believe there can be too much of a good thing. If you read one of my stories and you get to the last page feeling like you could have read on for another 100 pages, I think I’ve done my job, because I have created an immediate bridge to the next story, giving readers the chance to continue reading by simply picking up the next adventure in the series.
So, is it important for readers to read the series in sequence?
Not at all. The series is laid out in such a fashion that you can jump in and out anywhere . You can begin with any volume, read them out of order, whichever you want. There is a certain beauty in reading them sequentially, however, I will admit, as it allows the reader to see how the world around Jason Dark changes over time and how people change, how their actions affect their world and how these effects sometimes carry over into subsequent stories. It is a little literary sleight of hand, so to say, that I love to engage in, to add a level of information to these stories that only those familiar with the series are able to pick up on. Nothing essential, but a nice little tidbit of recognition as you read that might make you smile.
You are the founder of G3 Studios (a video game developer and publisher) as well as an author. Tell me about your experiences in the RPG world.
I sort of stumbled into the role-playing world through text adventures. These are best described as interactive books on the computer where the player directly interacts with the story and changes the course of it. I wrote a number of those games but found them too limiting because they were really all text, without any graphics.
The next logical step up were RPGs, because the key to a good role-playing game is a good story(teller). The better the storyteller, the more thought out the story itself, the better the experience. When we developed games like the “Realms of Arkania” series we tried to create some of the most intricately detailed game worlds and game mechanics that were available at the time. We wanted to make sure that every action the player took had some kind of effect on the game itself. The result were incredibly complex games that took a long time to develop but immediately found audiences who were looking for exactly that.
When we created “Planescape: Torment” we wanted to take it one step farther, but on a different direction. In Planescape the key to the development of the story was how the player interacted with the other computer-controlled characters in the game. We took a very mature, adult approach to the story and made sure that players will literally lose themselves in the experience. It seemed to have worked because Planescape is to this day – over 10 years after its release – still regularly showing up in polls and magazine lists as one of the best games ever made.
Do you find the RPG/gaming world intertwining more with the fiction world these days? How has your work in the gaming world helped you in the writing world?
The key difference is that in games you write non-linear fiction. The player can change everything. The plot constantly evolves, depending on what the player does. Therefore you can never build a dramatic arch, or a suspenseful storyline the way you do in a book where you firmly control what the reader gets to see, and when. In games it is a usual occurrence for the player to stumble across information prematurely or out of sequence. You never have the same kind of build-up as in linear fiction and you always have to have 10 different answers – and plot lines – for everything the player might do. It is extremely challenging work. You have to keep track of everything, detangle everything properly at the right time, create segues to move the plot forward smoothly even if the storyline has not been fully uncovered, and so forth. It really takes it out of you.
In linear fiction, things are much easier in that respect. You have a beginning and an end and you simply fill in everything in-between, always being in the driver’s seat. While this is generally easier, I noticed that in linear fiction my focus shifted and I now pay much more attention to how I write certain passages. I write for maximum effect and not so much for versatility or even ambiguity. I use entirely different vocabulary in my books and watch more for my style. I track things like suspense and the proper mix between characters and plot points, etc. It is equally interesting and demanding, but on a very different level.
This blog is called Random Musings, so give me a random quote from the book – something you’re particularly fond of.
Here is a passage that might be a little odd, but I like it a lot for the human quality it has. Jason Dark and Siu Lin are in the middle of fighting off the Blood Witch and her henchman. Siu Lin gets the upper hand with her kung fu and beats the henchman to the ground. This is the line that follows.
“Please stay down, she silently prayed of Radu. I don’t want to hurt you any more than I have to.”
To me this line is pinpointing precisely who Siu Lin is. She is this incredible kung fu master who is a match for anyone – man or beast – but despite this warrior that she is, deep within her she is a gentle and loving soul, using her skills only if she has to, in the true spirit of kung fu.
What can we expect from you next?
The next Jason Dark adventure is currently being prepared for release, diving into very dark waters, as a creature called a Terrorlord is being summoned in an attempt to open the Seven Gates of Hell. I’m sure fans of the series will enjoy this one, too, as it has a very gothic Lovecraftian feel to it in my opinion.
Where can we find you on the internet?
People can find the Jason Dark series at http://www.jasondarkseries.com or join the Jason Dark Facebook Page.
Additionally, you can find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.
Any final comments or thoughts?
If you haven’t checked out the Jason Dark series yet, you better hop to it. These dime novels are a fun, fast-paced read that are just waiting to pull you along for the ride. What could be more fun than mystery thrillers set in Victorian England, featuring some supernatural nasties and a bunch of truly resourceful sleuths to hunt them down? Give it a try! I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Thanks so much for coming back, Guido. This series is totally worth checking out. I’ve been reading Blood Witch and I love it!
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