Normally at CCN, we chat with comic book creators. But every once in a while, we like to expand our horizons a little bit, and chat with people involved in other mediums. Today we’re speaking with author Casey Caracciolo, the author of the new Scargen series, the first of which is titled The Shadow of the Gauntlet.
Casey tours with his book on the comic book convention circuit, as his book features a lot of elements comic readers are familiar with; in fact, his booth even features a sign that describes his book thusly: “Dragons, robots, wizards…and vampires?”
Long time readers of my chats with creators know I have a fondness for clever genre mash-ups, and The Shadow of the Gauntlet is no exception. But instead of me describing it, let’s let hear it directly from the author himself!
Matt: Thanks for chatting with me today, Casey! First, why don’t you tell our readers a little bit about your book.
Casey: It’s about a teenager, Thomas Scargen who’s kind of a slacker. He’s smart, but doesn’t really fit in his high school. His father runs a highly successful robotics company, Scargen Robotics, and he’s away on business a lot, so he created LINC to protect Thomas while he’s gone. LINC is an artif, which is our word for robot or android. On the eve of Thomas’s high school graduation, he has a nightmare about his father disappearing. Something about the dream seems all too real, but before he can wrap his head around it, he is whisked away into this world of magic by Yareli Chula, a Native American Spirit Summoner and member of the Council of Mages. Her and her Spirit Ghost Warrior, Wiyaloo, who is half fox half human, are charged with bringing him back to the Council. In the process of trying to extract him they are attacked by the Grimm Legions, and if not for Thomas’s impromptu magical expenditure and his robot’s newly found weapons systems, they would all be dead. So they have to get him back to the Council because although Thomas has this crazy potential, he lacks control and focus, like most teenagers.
During the book he rides atop a teleport dragon, named Bartleby Draige who is this cockney transport for hire with a cybernetic wing. They fight the Aringi Riders, who are the air forces of the Grimm Legion. They are riders attached to the underbellies of bat, dragon genetic hybrids. He befriends a surly vampire and his twin brother, who happens to be a whiskey swilling, Shakespeare quoting werewolf. He battles a High Demon of the Depths, gets trapped in a vampire Hive, to name a few things he goes through, and it all culminates in an epic battle of good vs evil.
But mostly it’s about Thomas trying to find his father while dealing with these manifesting powers, and in the process he finds himself and a destiny that will give him the opportunity to be the next Bearer of the legendary Gauntlet.
I wanted to combine aspects of magic and tech, but give the action almost an anime feel to it. At conventions, we say sum it up to people walking by as: think the magic of Harry Potter with the tech and robots of Star Wars, but they battle more like Dragonball Z. And I wanted it to incorporate more world myth, especially when it came to magic.
Matt: So what inspired you to write your book?
Casey: My love of pop culture I suppose. I have watched, read, and listened to so much stuff. But the real inspiration was that there was a huge hole left when the Potter books stopped and I felt someone should fill it, and why not me? And when I say that, I also mean getting kids and adults alike excited about books and reading. I think beyond building an amazing story, J.K. Rowling made reading cool, and I would love to help build on that and continue that.
Matt: You do a lot to incorporate major world religions, legends, etc. into a larger narrative. Tell us a little bit about the research that went into this.
Casey: I research like crazy. The internet is my friend, and I read a lot, and myth & mythology has always been something I liked. The idea was to create a mythos that incorporated as many world mythologies as possible and make them make sense together, but explain a lot of it with science. So right away I had to start researching a lot of these things. The truth is a lot of times crazier than anything I could just pull out of thin air, but you temper that with your own creations and hopefully the two blend well.
Matt: Was there anything you researched that you ended up not using in the book?
Casey: There are many a night I will spend an hour or two researching something and it just doesn’t quite make sense for the book. Everything from locals to weird myths. I remember doing research on japan ghost myths and a lot of that got into the book at the end with Itsuki’s mom. They tend to not have feet they just float according to the stories and there are all these wisps that accompany spirits sometimes and both of those made it in, but the spirits are also supposed to have disfigured arms that aren’t functional and this character isn’t supposed to be creepy necessarily. So I axed that, but used the other two.
Matt: There are a lot of interesting technological ideas in the book–how did you conceive them?
Casey: I have watched my fair share of scifi over the years and I’ve always been fascinated with tech and where its going next. I find it intriguing that most tech starts in scifi, like the iPad or a cell phone being used in Star Trek for example. It’s like fiction becomes reality over time, especially a lot of scifi gadgets. These are my extrapolations of current tech pushed into the future.
Matt: On your website you name check Tolkien, George R.R. Martin and Rowling, but let’s get to some deep cuts here: what books or authors have influenced you the most in your life? What literary inspirations are you drawing from for this project?
Casey: I’m a big Tolkien fan. I used to listen to this guy called the Tolkien Professor and his podcasts where he would dissect the books chapter-by-chapter and I loved it. I’m a huge Harry Potter nerd. I will admit it, but just as big as of say, like the Stargate TV series, and I mean all of them. I think J.K. Rowling gets characters. All them are dynamic and real even in this unreal fantastic backdrop. I really like Jonathan Stroud. He wrote the Bartimaeus Trilogy and its brilliant. It goes into an alternate universe of England if magic users were the elite of society and non magic users were the lower ranks of society, sort of like if Magneto had his way with mutants, and they were the dominant order. I’m also an ex-comic book collector. “Ex,” only because it is so consuming and I don’t have it in me anymore. I still grab compilations when they’re done and try to keep up with some of the story lines, but spending hundreds of dollars on new comics every month isn’t a reality anymore. Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchet—love their wit and senses of humor. Neil Gaiman, I was a huge Lloyd Alexander fan growing up, The Chronicles of Prydain was one of my first fantasy reads. Two of my middle school classmates and I wrote a sequel and sent it to him and he wrote us back. I will always remember that. I think I draw from all of them. I wanted a book with the magic of Harry Potter, the meta humans of comics, the humor of Adams, and the tech of classic scifi with a new twist on all of it.
Matt: Are you reading any good books right now that you’d like to mention?
Casey: I am not currently reading a book, but my own second rough draft. I tend to not read when I am doing the rough draft. I feel like if I have time to read I should be writing. Doing this thing the way we do means I have to write whenever I can get the time. That being said, I will have some time soon when I am on vacation and I think I’m going to read something in my queue.
Matt: You have a strong graphic design hook on your website, including character designs, etc. Tell us how that all came together.
Casey: I have a background in animation and I always loved simple design. I do all of the art work that you see on the site and the book cover, with more on the way. I also love the idea of branding the series. It’s not enough just to write a good book, you need a hook to sell anything and I wanted to make sure we had that.
Matt: What would you say was the hardest part of writing your book?
Casey: Time. I work full-time as a bartender as well, and it can be tough trying to juggle that with the book and being married. My wife, Christine, is a saint for dealing with me and then turning around and being the first reader and an editor of the actual material.
Matt: I’m glad you mentioned your animation background, because one of the most interesting things about the animation process is the length that it takes to complete a project. That’s why animated films are so often conceptually strong, because they have the time to really concentrate on what makes the characters tick. How did you use this to make your characters work?
Casey: Well, I start sketching characters early on to play with them a little bit. Characters are the heart of a good story, and character design has always been my strong suit. I love getting inside the characters and seeing what it is that drives them. I learned a lot of this through animation. I still use PIXAR’s list for storytelling. Those guys don’t know how to make a bad film.
Matt: Were there drastic changes made to anyone as your writing progressed?
Casey: I think at one point there weren’t any of the animals in Sirati. There were like two of them and the rest humans, but it was one of those moments of clarity and I was like, this city should be crawling with anthropomorphic animals. Actual character changes happened frequently as well. Thomas was kind of too jerky in some of the early takes on him, and Marcus might have been more straight bad before. I moved him into the gray area purposely, so as a reader it’s confusing to almost cheer for him when you are reading his chapters.
Matt: Tell us a bit about your writing routine–how does it work for you?
Casey: I write whenever I can get the time. The first book was a lot harder because I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning, but again the internet is my friend and I taught myself how to write a novel. I usually start with an outline and start taking a lot of notes, but within the outline. Sometimes these turn into dialogue sections or narrative, but I can pick and choose where to jump in and where I am most excited to write. I then work on the other parts to get them where I am excited to write them as well. With the second book I have been a bit too linear, but there’s a complex series of events that need to unfold the way they do — so I’ve been following more of an order, but that’s not to say that I won’t stray sometimes.
Matt: What advice would you give any aspiring writers?
Casey: Practice. Write and then rewrite, and then rewrite some more. You will never have a good story if you don’t edit it down.
Matt: Any tricks, tips or resources?
Casey: I went to see Chuck Jones do a talk when I was in school for animation, and he said there are two types of artists in this world, the horse, who is just naturally talented and is very fast, but can be lazy — and there’s the running pig. The pig can’t stop for anything and has to constantly be running, but if he does, he can catch the lazy horse any day. He said he was the running pig. Not naturally talented, but he kept at it, practicing and practicing, until he could run as fast as the horse. He also said that you have a million bad drawings in you, but when you draw the one after that it’s a life changer, but you have to draw the million first. He was a smart man. I also recommend Stephen King’s book, On Writing. It’s half memoir half instructional. It made me understand editing in one page.
Matt: You’ve attended some comic conventions to support your book. Have you considered getting into comic book writing? Or adapting your book as a comic?
Casey: I would love to do that. Write comics and adapt this into a graphic novel or a comic series. The world I created is huge and there could be a lot more stories told within it. I would love to take a stab at Batman or the X-Men as well. I love those franchises.
Matt: Where can people buy your book?
Casey: You can get it at pretty much any site that sells books or at scargen.com. We also have Kindle, Nook, and iBooks. Or you could come see us at the shows we are doing this summer. We do OmegaCon in the beginning of August then ComicConn in Connecticut, Boston Comic Con, Baltimore Comic-Con, and then Rhode Island in November. We are listed as Roundstone Publishing at the shows, but you can’t miss us when you come by our booth or table.
Matt: What’s next for the Shadow of the Gauntlet universe?
Casey: Well, I am writing The Dragon Within, the 2nd book in the Scargen pentalogy. So five books total. I am more than halfway done, and we hope to have it out early next year. We will be doing another Kickstarter project in September or October to help fund its release. This book has Thomas looking for another stone and he discovers the truth about his father’s archeological hobbies, as well as meet some new characters in some crazy new locales. I also go into the world a little more. It should be a fun read.
In addition to interviewing creators and reviewing comics, Matt likes to write comics of his own, including prose short stories and novels. He is based in New York, where he lives with his beautiful wife and son.
Article/interview is © 2014 Matt Kelly. All rights reserved.
The Shadow of the Gauntlet is ©2013 Roundstone Publishing. All rights reserved. The Dragon Within is ©2014 Roundstone Publishing.