March 27th, 2020
I asked Drew where he would like to conduct the interview:
There are precisely three places in all of space-time where you can get a decent slice of New York-style pizza paired with the perfect vintage barrel-aged Silvercord whiskey. One is Walt Tannhauser’s kitchen, fifteen seconds before the Earth is vaporized in the year 14362. And thanks to the eventual, inevitable ubiquity of time travel coupled with historical records like this, that moment is always very crowded. Another is Snack Dragon’s Den of Pizza and Whiskey, but let me warn you: It. Is. A. Trap.
The last and really only viable destination for the intrepid pizza-whiskey connoisseur is Dargo Mattienne’s Womp House, a dirty spork diner on the dark side of the asteroid Big Oops in the waning days of the 453rd century, exclusively on alternate Tuesdays, the only days that Big Marge is in the kitchen. So pick a Tuesday, set your time machine to “FUN!” and settle in for a slice and a tumbler and possibly an impromptu trip to the astral plane. Silvercord whiskey is funny that way.
Laura Mae: What are you currently working on?
Drew Melbourne: Okay, big news up front! A week or two or three ago (time is an elusive concept in the Melbourne household!) I announced the title of my next book. Well, here it is with the official title treatment:
Yes, I’ve found a way to give a book a longer title than Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days! For those who don’t know, Conspiracy was my first novel. Set in a distant-but-sometimes-painfully-recognizable future of starships and sorcery, existential horrors and even existentialer absurdities, Conspiracy tells the story of a young accountant and would-be hero whose oldest secret is fated to either save the universe or damn us all. Or both.
The book’s been out for a year! You get what you deserve. (And, of course, if that spoiler really spoiled anything, would I have actually spoiled it?) Anyway! Where was I? Yes! The new book! Inevitability of Fire presents a series of short stories about our hero Percival Gynt, all of them set or mostly set in the years before Conspiracy. They’re little self-contained adventures that fit together to tell a larger story of how Percival Gynt became who he is when we meet him in Conspiracy. In Wizard of Oz terms, how he found his heart and his brain and his nerve.
And I hope to have it out early next year! I’m working on the final story now. Not the final story in the collection, just the one that’s taken me the longest. The eponymous Inevitability of Fire, which is intended to be the centerpiece for the collection (no pressure!), a sort of postmodern take on the Choose Your Own Adventure books of my childhood. But not exactly that, because, you know, copyrights and such. I’ll have more exciting news about Inevitability, including a cover reveal and such, as we get closer to the release date.
L: Have you self-published or traditionally published? What was your experience?
D: I published Conspiracy through my indie imprint, Ruesday Books, which is just a long, pretentious way of saying I self-published. Years ago, I did a graphic novel with Dark Horse Comics called ArchEnemies, which is about a superhero and a supervillain who don’t realize they’re roommates in their secret identities. As hero and villain they hate each other, but as roommates they, well… they also hate each other. Anyway, I wrote the book and brought together the creative team and Dark Horse agreed to publish it. By comic industry standards, that’s traditionally published, but I had all kinds of freedom and control that I would never have publishing a regular prose novel through a major publisher.
I wrote marketing copy. I worked directly with the artist to design the covers. Don’t get me wrong! We had a great team with us at Dark Horse, including a very kind and patient editor who helped to keep the ship sailing smoothly through occasionally choppy waters. But the carte-mostly-blanche I had with ArchEnemies really motivated me to pursue self-publishing for Conspiracy and now Inevitability. Love them or hate them, my books are a real reflection of who I am, my sensibilities, and I guess my foibles too!
L: What inspired you to enter the world of writing?
D: Oh gosh! Can I remember back that far? I come from a family of frustrated writers. Years and years ago, back when I was still a baby, my mom wrote this sci-fi novel called The Unicorn Ring and then stuffed it in a drawer when she was done with it. I gather that my father wrote a sci-fi novel too, but all trace of it was apparently erased from the space-time continuum sometime before I was born. My brother John was always running D&D games for me when I was a kid and encouraging me to write and tell stories. It just sort of permeated the atmosphere I was breathing in back then. The idea of being a writer was bound up in my self-identity, even when I was little-little. I was always reading, always writing and dreaming up stories. And I’ve never really waivered from that mindset growing up. Oh, I’ve had my lazy periods and my productive periods, for sure. Periods where life dictated I do other things with my time. But it always comes back to the writing.
L: What has been the most challenging for you so far?
D: Definitely the marketing, the self-promotion. Figuring out the best way to present my work to the world. Self-publishing is always an uphill battle. Some of it, particularly on the creative end, plays to my strengths. But the pure mechanics of getting books in front of eyeballs are not what I’m best at and not anything I was properly prepared for going in. But I’m learning! Probably!
L: What is your favorite writing trope? Least favorite?
D: I’m a firm believer that there’s nothing right or wrong except execution. The hoariest cliché has some truth to it that, properly exploited, can bring a person to tears. The coolest, cutting-edgiest idea is all blather if it’s not presented in the context of engrossing characters and prose. That said, I’m always happy to write a character a few IQ points dumber for the sake of a good joke. But only a GOOD joke! And I suppose I’m not a fan of the trope of teenagers’ true love being their one true, happily-ever-after love. Particularly if that true love is, like, 200 year old and drinks blood! I’m sure it happens (not the vampire part!), but most of us have important-but-finite romances in our teens and early 20s and then move on with our lives. Not super relevant to the stuff I’m writing now, but very much a thing I’m thinking about for a YA series I’ll be diving into next year.
L: What’s a word or phrase that people say that always irritates you?
D: I’m mostly the opposite of this. I’m the guy who gets irritated if somebody tries to argue that “enormity” can only mean “great evil” or that “gotten” isn’t a proper English word. I’m a firm believer that usage drives meaning. Certainly I object to bigoted and misogynistic language. But, like, if someone wants to argue if it’s “I could care less” or “I couldn’t care less”? I could care less!
L: What genre do you read?
D: I read a ton of comics. A lot of genre fiction (mostly sci-fi and fantasy). I used to read more broadly, more literary fiction, with some mysteries and historical fiction and, um, historical mysteries mixed in. The occasional non-fiction book even! But the busier I get, the more that other stuff tends to fall away.
L: What are you currently reading?
D: I picked up Jennifer Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun after she won the Hugo for best new writer. I’ve also still got NK Jemison’s Fifth Season, Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire, and Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology part way started. And a stack of indies I’m behind on including Duckett & Dyer by GM Nair and KL Hagaman’s The Awakening on deck after that. And my wife wants me to read the non-fiction So You Want to Talk About Race, so we can, you know, talk about it. So that will presumably happen soon.
L: Are there any books or authors who inspire your work?
D: People like to compare me to Douglas Adams a lot, AS IF I DIDN’T ALREADY KNOW! But he’s just one influence. There’s a lot of Pratchett and Gaiman in my work. The comic writer Keith Giffen who did some really seminal work on Justice League and Legion of Super-Heroes in the late 80s that were pretty foundational for me. William Goldman. Joss Whedon. Sorkin. The original Broadway production of Into the Woods, of all things, is seared into my consciousness.
L: What would you say is your favorite book or series of all time? Why?
D: Ack! Why are all of these questions so hard! Favorite? I don’t know. When I was a kid, I really loved the Lloyd Alexander Prydain books and the Susan Cooper Dark is Rising books. I love Hitchhiker’s Guide and Good Omens and The Princess Bride. I love almost everything that Neil Gaiman has written and almost everything I’ve read by Neal Stephenson. And add to that a list of comic books long enough to crash your web servers. Mostly I love joy and wonder and silliness and mystery and adventure and just the right of mundane shuffling of feet and/or paperwork.
L: What does a typical day of writing look like for you? Any rituals or ‘must-haves’?
D: I have a three-year-old. I’m just scraping together whatever time I can find. Mostly late at night or during naps. (My son’s, not mine!) Of course, even pre-kid, I was always a slow writer. I tend to let ideas percolate in my head for days or weeks at a time. I’ll scribble notes to myself or write myself emails with story ideas or lines of prose or dialogue. And I edit as I go. Really, I’m all bad habits, but eventually I finish things, so it’s fine. A happy writer is a writer who’s made peace with their process.
L: Any songs or type of music you need to listen to when you write?
D: I mostly avoid music when writing. If it’s really good music, I’m gonna wanna stop and listen to it. And if it’s not, what’s the point? I’ve only ever really found it helpful for drowning out background noise, for if I’m writing at a coffee shop or in a busy house or whatever, and even then it has to be instrumental music. For that purpose, I tend to favor soundtracks. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Trek (2009), Coraline, a lot of Murray Gold Doctor Who.
L: Where would you say you get most of your inspiration?
D: Gosh. Things just occur to me. Like, for months, every time I was using the toilet in my apartment, I’d look to one spot on the wall for a clock that I knew wasn’t there. And I thought “there’s a story in that somewhere.”
L: For aspiring writers out there, what would be the best advice you want them to know?
D: Mostly, it comes down to this: First, start writing. Next, continue writing. And then, most important, KEEP continuing until you are all-the-way done. Then? Write something else! The more you write, the better you’ll get. If you never write anything, you are effectively zero good, so you can only go up from there!
L: Are there any regrets you have or anything you wish you knew sooner?
D: Yes? No? I don’t know. I try not to live in regret. Everything good and everything bad in your life has led you to where you are. Which means that anything good in your life now is as much as result of your failures as your successes. Like, if I’d gone to college somewhere else, twenty years later I wouldn’t have my son. I wouldn’t have met my wife. So, you know, whatevs!
L: Besides writing, what is it you like to do?
D: I have all kinds of classic nerd hobbies, but what I’m really excited about right now is playing Legos with my son, because we’ve recently figured out that some of the weirder, seemingly unique pieces are actually interchangeable. So we can swap out the cannon on Batman’s batplane for the excavator’s digging arm or a ladder or the back of a dump truck! It’s led to some really weird and beautiful articulated creations.
Drew Melbourne is the author of the novel Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days and the graphic novel ArchEnemies: Sinners & Saints. He lives in the Philadelphia suburbs with his wife Laura, son Sam, cats Leia and Ninja, and fast-talking robot sidekick Go-Tor 1000. At least one of these people/cats/robots is fictional. Presumably not Drew.
Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days – The year is 20018. The famed magician Illuminari is dead, and his greatest illusion has died with him. Dark forces now seek the Engine of Armageddon, the ancient, sentient doomsday weapon that Illuminari hid amongst the stars.
Enter Percival Gynt, accountant and part-time hero, whose quest to find the Engine before it falls into the wrong hands may be our universe’s last best hope for survival. It is a quest that will take him from the highest reaches of power to the lowest pits of despair and through every manner of horror and absurdity between. But beware. This accountant has a secret. A secret that may damn us all.
Percival Gynt and the Conspiracy of Days is a sci-fi/fantasy adventure novel full of swashbuckling, math, dark secrets, space-faeries, obtrusive product placement, Nazis, beating up those Nazis, unlimited baked beans, zombie cyborg assassins, fate with a capital “F,” love, betrayal, wizards, jokes, paradoxes, a sentient doomsday weapon, eleven-dimensional space, clones, monsters, space-nuns, and at least one rat-chef.
Buy it here!