The problem I always had with writing horror is that I could never take it seriously. Sure, there are reasons to fear all kinds of things in this world, like baby carriages with spikes on their wheel hubs, and all manner of online political discourse besides.
And there’s always the dread of future terrors around the next corner, but when it comes down to it, the imminent risk of being trampled by shoppers buying ¾ inch wood screws at a weekend hardware blow-out sale just isn’t worth losing too much sleep over. So, to that end, I do my best to mitigate the existential nightmare of a world that, let’s face it, beats fictional horror hands down. Mitigate exactly how, you might ask?
Well now, glad you asked. It’s a fine line between hysteria and despair and for the sake of this off-the-cuff thesis, let’s call that line ‘absurdity.’ It’s got one toe in reality and another in disbelief, and eight other toes dipped into other smellier stuff that maybe we’ll get to, but probably not. The point is, when the choice is to laugh or cry, I’ll choose the laugh every time.
But then, what do I know? There’s some serious topics out there, churning up all kinds of stuff, people taking offense on all sides. It’s a veritable sea of wounded sensibilities in which we all seem to be perpetually drowning. Every now and then, being a writer and all, I come up for the occasional gasp, and there’s no telling what comes out. This is what makes being a writer just one mind-blowing extravaganza of ineluctable wonder and delight after another. Of course, the question that haunts us the most when coming from inquisitive fans and whatnot, is also the question we take the most delight in answering: where do all those ideas come from? Well, fine, at last, here’s the answer:
The Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach. Six are done and dusted. Three more to go. Usually, when I sit down to crank one of these out, I have no idea where it’s going to go, or who it’s going to involve beyond our noble necromancers and their well-adjusted man-servant, Emancipor Reese. Word by word, line by line and page by page the world inhabits itself, the story stumbles into view, and away we go.
But maybe that sounds easier than it is, and it might even be disingenuous. So let me try again. Before I begin writing I wind up this little dancing toy that marches in erratic circles through the pools of fresh chicken blood* on my desk, and from the foot-print patterns come inklings of a future plot, a nefarious unveiling of intent, a scatterling scribble delivered by the hunched and hooded spirits hiding in the gloom of the netherworld (with whom I converse daily).
So much for process. Now we’ll talk about content.
Sociopathy gets such a bad rap. You know, all those jaw-dropping revelations from dead-eyed bankers, the breathtaking audacity of lying politicians with all that blood on their hands, the appalling boldness of hedge investors and life insurance salesmen, chainsaw-wielding tree-pruners and soulless technocrats, guys in pick-ups trying to drive up your tailpipe, and all those people who don’t like Frank Sinatra. In fact, it’s pretty much one long ongoing list of heartless, tasteless bastardity these days (a list to which I add whenever I can, in cursive style).
So it occurred to me (I’m retconning here, bear with me), all these sociopaths (the real ones here in the real world) need some proper heroes in fiction. I mean, apart from all the comic book super-heroes, secret agents, cops and billionaire sociopaths already filling up our Entertainment Universe. That’s right, proper sociopaths, brazenly blasé about their utter indifference to the feelings or fate of anyone else. The kind of heroes who don’t give a fuck about shooting every single one of the ‘bad’ guy’s henchmen on minimum wage, or trashing an entire city, buildings toppling down everywhere crushing people into mangled pulp. Oh, and lots of explosions making bystanders permanently deaf and suffering a lifetime of concussive symptoms from a traumatized brain.
Proper heroes, then, for the proper sociopaths of our world. You know, in the interest of originality, and finding the biggest audience possible which will earn me enough money to properly decorate my evil lair.
Bauchelain is terribly misunderstood, a fate common to sociopaths and, indeed, necromancers and demonologists the world over. After all, if the goal of every man, woman and child, is the singular pursuit of personal happiness at the expense of everyone else, then conjuring into your camp a handful of demons seems reasonable to get a step up on the competition. Or, as with Korbal Broach’s more traditional necromancy, the raising of dead people or at least their bodies which the departed souls don’t need anymore anyway (recycle, reuse, yet more virtues!), seems ultimately sensible.
If there’s any character in the mix with questionable outlook, surely it must be Emancipor Reese, our heroes’ man-servant. Everyone knows that the imbibing of mind-altering concoctions is symptomatic of pathetic escapism (sort’ve like Star Wars, only less damaging in the long term). But, as with any seminal work of fiction, one needs a character of dubious virtue upon which the audience can happily level their contempt. I mean, weakness is a weakness, isn’t it? And all us flawless folk find that distasteful, don’t we? I know I do.
There, content covered. Man, this essay writing stuff is easy.
Fiends of Nightmaria is the latest installment in the Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach. It follows on from the universally popular Crack’d Pot Trail. Among other things, it introduces the Party of Five, the finest adventure party the world of RPG’ing has ever seen. I’m not sure how they stumbled into the story or how they ever got out of your basement, but there it is.
As someone once said somewhere, every great tale of fiction derives from a single, seemingly innocuous idea (‘There’s this big white whale, see? And this one-legged captain, and and and and…’, but I shouldn’t be quoting Melville’s pitch to his publisher here, as when put down on paper it sounds a little breathless and kinda childish).
The modest idea that gave birth to Fiends of Nightmaria is, well, actually, I can’t remember, to be honest. Proving just how innocuous it was. No wait! I remember now. I was thinking about all those gaming sessions when one of the players equips him or herself with a ten-foot pole and fifty feet of rope. Which they carry everywhere. I remember thinking: what if I wrote a story about a ten-foot pole and fifty feet of rope? Why, that’s genius! (I don’t have to be modest in my own head, you know. You’re not. I mean, who is and more to the point, what the hell’s wrong with them?)
Hmm, I think I lost the ten-foot pole in the editing stage, just another tragic casualty on the cutting room floor. But that fifty feet of rope, well, a star in the making! I’m sure we’ll see it again.
I probably shouldn’t have exposed for all to see the track of my genius. Now everybody will be doing the same and I’ll be smothered by all the copycats who, it turns out, can do it better than me anyway. This is why honesty is evil.
And to finish with an aside that might spark your thinky meats, Bauchelain and Korbal Broach are probably the most honest characters I’ve ever written.
Oh shit, the toy’s wound down, the blood’s all coagulated and flies are gathering. Time to cart out this corpse and send it down the Chute of Internet.
* no chickens were harmed in the writing of this essay.