Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Author Spotlight: Fred Van Lente

The worldbuilding is incredibly strong in “Willful Weapon.” There are a lot of races, terms, and places mentioned throughout the story, but it never feels overwhelming. What was your plan for developing the world, and how did you manage to create this in-depth world while maintaining clarity?

Thanks! Worldbuilding is something I’ve always emphasized in my work, particularly in comics. The trick is to come up with a very basic concept—here, the idea that, through a mechanism that is (purposefully, so as to avoid future spoilers) left vague, all the magic on Earth and the accompanying races returned about when the electric-powered age began—then take that concept to its logical conclusion in a number of variations: So once you get elven immigrants, you get the Ellis Island scene; in high concentrations of immigrants, one tends to find representatives of that group’s organized crime, etc.

But so the whole thing doesn’t get out of your control, it’s smart to keep that initial idea of the world very simple.

All of the descriptions and scenes of action are quite vivid, especially when Cellach is in Dalbor’s arena or when Cellach attacks Gundobad. Do you think writing comics has helped you become a better visual writer? Do you have a specific approach for writing action sequences?

It’s a matter of emphasis of focus, whether it’s prose or comics. As long as you have a strong POV character, either the threatened or one of the attackers, the reader is going to feel drawn in and part of the action. You run into trouble, particularly in prose, when you try to show many angles of a single conflict. Pick a POV and stick with it, and you’re going to do well.

The fantasy elements of the story are all heavily mixed in with contemporary reality, like Dalbor wearing a three-piece suit or the references to the Pinkertons. Do you think the blending of these two elements helps to ground readers in the world? Did you ever have to reel back on some of the fantasy to keep it consistent with the world as we know it?

Any story based in something fantastical, whether it’s superheroes or sword-and-sorcery, needs a human element the reader can latch on to emotionally. I am a huge history buff and read on that subject widely, and I especially love New York City history, where I’ve lived for two decades, so you manage to just pick up details that you can then deploy in a natural way in fiction that seems organic. The ideal is to give the reader the sense that the world extends beyond the confines of the story without loading her up with too much extraneous information.

Would you ever return to this world that you’ve created? It seems intricately detailed and fleshed out, so are there any plans for more stories set in this world?

This is actually the second story set in the Awakening I wrote, though it might be the first published. The other is called “Neversleeps” and will appear in the all-new anthology Dead Man’s Hand from Titan later in the year. There is at least one character common to both stories, so I hope people who enjoyed “Willful Weapon” check that one out.

To answer your question, yes, I plan on returning to this world, and soon, to pick up with a third set of characters from The Book (referenced in “Willful Weapon”) and these three intertwined tales form the basis for a whole novel set during The Awakening. Publishers, call me!

What’s up next for you?

I’ll be taking over the reins of the Conan monthly from Dark Horse Comics in April, rebooted as Conan the Avenger #1. Folks who enjoyed my worldbuilding in “Willful Weapon” should enjoy exploring Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age with me.

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Bradley Englert

BradleyEnglertBradley Englert is currently an undergrad at Western Kentucky University where he studies English, creative writing, and film. He enjoys writing fiction and directing short films. One day he hopes to have something written in italics in this section.