Check out his bio!
Andy Gavin is a serial creative, polymath, novelist, entrepreneur, computer programmer, author, foodie, and video game creator. He co-founded video game developer Naughty Dog and co-created Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter. He started numerous companies, has been lead programmer on video games that have sold more than forty million copies, and has written two novels including The Darkening Dream, a dark historical fantasy that puts the bite back in vampires.
Mary Ann: Welcome, Andy! Thanks for joining us today!
Tell us a little about yourself. I see that you are the creator of a well-known video game series, but how long have you been writing novels?
Andy: I’m a lifelong creator and explorer of worlds. As far back as first grade I remember spending most of the school day in one day dream or another. I had a huge notebook stuffed with drawings, story bits, and concepts for an elaborate Sci-Fi/Fantasy world I cobbled together from bits of Star Wars, Narnia, and Battlestar Galactica. By fourth or fifth grade not only was I loosing myself in every fantasy or Sci-Fi novel I could, but I was building Dungeons & Dragons castles and caverns on paper. Then from 1980 on the computer.
Over the following decades I wrote dozens of stories and created and published over a dozen video games all set in alternative universes. And as an avid reader (over 10,000 novels and who knows how many non-fiction volumes) it was no surprise that I eventually decided to write some books of my own.
There are two answers to that, the visceral and the cerebral. The visceral part was this image I had – and some might consider me disturbed – of a dead tree silhouetted against an orange sky, a naked body bound to it, disemboweled, and bleeding out. The sound of a colossal horn or gong blares. The blood glistens black in the sunset light. Bats circle the sky and wolves bay in the distance.
But sacrifice isn’t just about killing. It’s a contract. Someone is bargaining with the gods.
And on the cerebral side, I’ve been obsessed with vampires for decades. Not because they are romantic, but because they are undead – and I really mean undead – and because older ones are creatures that have stretched across the centuries. But it always bugs me in stories full of supernatural where they touch on the historical roots of superstitions but don’t bother to do the research. I always felt that, as they say, “truth is stranger than fiction” – if, like me, you count myth as truth – and so I wanted to write a fast paced supernatural action story where the spooky stuff is all based on real spooky stuff. And truly, the real deal is much more creepy.
I own the publishing company, Mascherato. With both of my novels I used top flight professionals for the entire process. This started with the editor, and continued with cover artist, illustrators, and book designers. Untimed, for example, has a lavish production including a cover by award winning fantasy artist Cliff Nielsen and twenty-one gorgeous interior illustrations by Dave Phillips.
As a serial creator (having made over a dozen major video games) it was interesting how similar the process was to any other complex creative project. Video games and novel writing are both very iterative and detail oriented. They use a lot of the same mental muscles.
What's your take on getting an agent? Do you currently have one?
I have a really terrific agent, Eddie Schneider of Jabberwocky Literary. They represent Charlaine Harris and Brandon Sanderson among others. I can’t say the process of getting one was a whole lot of fun, although it was pretty smooth with Eddie in particular. I sent him a query for Untimed, he asked for the book a couple weeks later, a couple weeks after that he called and offered to represent me. Before that, I had the usual frustration that included at least 100 query letters and a dozen MS submissions. But getting an agent is just one hurdle. After that you still have to get an editor to offer, and an offer I’d want to take at that.
Some of the typical “features” of traditional publishing offers, like low e-book royalties, non-competes, and most painfully, 18-24 month publishing schedules, are pretty hard to stomach.
I wish I knew. I do a bit of everything. Sending your book out exhaustively for review helps. Some promotions help, but not most. Advertising is mostly a bust, and I’ve tried a lot of it. Publicity in high traffic web sites REALLY helps, but is hard to come by. I have a very active website and social presence, about a million views a year and over 40,000 Twitter followers. Still, it’s hard to get conversion from reading a blog to purchases. Only a tiny percentage of the thousand or so visitors a day to my blog actually buy the book (at least then and there). Visibility on Amazon itself is huge, but also hard to come by.
Your book The Darkening Dream is a dark fantasy, vampire novel. Untimed sounds very different since it deals with time travel. As a writer, do you have trouble switching back and forth between genres?
I have fairly broad interest within the wider genre of speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, horror etc) and really consider these all to be close cousins. That being said, different books have different moods, and even more specifically different voices. It’s this last thing that can be a little tricky to switch hit on. The Darkening Dream was written in a number of different third person points of view, and with Untimed I wanted a more immediate, more focused, voice. I went with a very tight first person present. It can be a bit of a brain flip to toggle between past and present tenses in rapid order.
How long does it take you to complete a novel? How many drafts do you have to go through before you feel that it's ready to show a reader or editor?
I tend to do two drafts before sending it to my editor. By the time you get to the end of the first draft there is always a pile of stuff you need to do, and if you know you need to do it, you should do it before showing the work to anyone serious. I’ll get notes back and do a big revision based on the notes, then a minor cleanup pass. With The Darkening Dream I ended up doing a lot of revision, nine major drafts in total. Untimed was only four. The thing with TDD was that I knew in my heart that certain big changes had to be made, but I resisted. I believe in revision. For me it would be impossible to have a first draft with excellent characterization, until you get the plot all the way to the end it’s hard to know what the character is totally going through.
Time travel is a fascinating subject! How do you keep your time lines straight? Does your MIT background assist with that?
First of all, I had to come up with a unique new system that allowed multiple visits to the same time period, but wasn’t too overpowered. If your characters are too powerful, there is no jeopardy. So I had to invent all the restrictions and deal with the issues of paradox (and I think I have a crafty new solution there). Then I had to figure out how to make returning to the SAME action actually interesting for the reader. That was even harder.
What is your favorite time travel movie or story?
Back to the Future is certainly one. It’s not the most realistic, but it is one hell of a fun ride and one hell of a well crafted screenplay. Robert Zemekis and Bob Gale did some serious revision too because I’ve read an old draft of it that was hugely different. No DaLorean!
Who would you say influenced you the most as a writer when you were a kid? Would you still consider them an influence as an adult?
As an early teen, some of my favorite authors were Piers Anthony, Jack Chalker, and Orson Scott Card. I’ve outgrown most of these (possibly not Card) as I no longer prefer pure adventure stories where character is secondary. Now I like characters put in really dramatic circumstances! These days I’m more influenced by the likes of George R. R. Martin and Tim Powers. But I read a lot, at least 10,000 novels, so I have a lot of influences.
What advice would you give for a young writer who is just starting out?
Read, read, write, write, edit, edit, edit. And hire good professional help too. Friends and family can give you a sense of how the book reads, but they can't usually tell you how to fix anything serious. I've read a lot of half-decent Indie books on my Kindle that are at their core good, but just need some serious tightening and polish. Hell, I've read plenty of big-six bestsellers you can say this about.
Monty Python or Seth MacFarlane? Which type of humor floats your boat more?
Monty Python any day. ‘Tis just a flesh wound! Come back here and take what's coming to ya! I'll bite your legs off!
What's next for you?
Right now, I’m writing two more novels and adapting Untimed into a screenplay. The new books are the Untimed sequel and a totally separate short novel that involves old school fairies and iambic pentameter.
Thanks again for joining us today at All Things Writing!
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