Today I’m thrilled to have fellow Harper Voyager Impulse author Dan Koboldt here on the blog. Dan is the author of the Gateways to Alissia fantasy series. Book 2, The Island Deception is out today. It’s about a Vegas stage magician, who stumbles into a world in which magic is real…and deadly! Dan is also a geneticist, and hosts a fascinating blog, Science in Science Fiction and Fact in Fantasy, interviewing real life experts in subjects that authors often get wildly wrong. Without further ado, here’s Dan!
How did you get started writing?
Like many authors, I was a reader first. I fancied the idea of becoming a writer, but didn’t really try until my late 20’s. I took an “Introduction to Fiction Writing” night class, which required students to write and workshop two short stories. I’d done a fair amount of nonfiction writing as part of my job as a scientist, so I thought it would come easily.
It did not. Writing my first story proved quite difficult. My classmates found it stiff and inaccessible. Even so, that class taught me the fundamentals of offering and taking feedback. I took the next class, as did many of my fellow students. We continued to critique for one another after the class ended. One bit of feedback I consistently received was that my work felt like part of a larger story.
That was around when I heard about National Novel Writing Month, a crazy community effort in which participants try to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. That was 2008, I think, and I’ve been doing it ever since. The NaNoWriMo project that I began in 2012 went on to become my debut novel, The Rogue Retrieval.
What’s the idea behind Gateways to Alissia?
Well, I’d always grown up reading epic fantasy. I loved immersing myself in fantastic secondary worlds, so of course I wanted to create my own. But I have a second love, which is science. For a long time, I thought it would be impossible to write something that let me play in both worlds.
Then I had the idea that maybe there’s a portal between a magical world and ours. Rather than some children or a snarky teen stumbling upon it, maybe the gateway falls into the hands of a large and powerful corporation. Of course, they keep the other world’s existence a secret, and have been quietly studying it for fifteen years.
Then a member of the research team goes missing through the gateway, and the company must assemble a retrieval team to go get him. Because the other world is inhabited, but at a medieval state of technology, they recruit a Vegas stage magician to come along and pose as a wizard on the other side. He’s the main character in the Gateways to Alissia series.
Can you tell us a little about the main characters?
I’d love to! The main character is Quinn Bradley, an up-and-coming stage magician out of Las Vegas. At the start of the series, his only dream is to headline for one of the major casinos on the Strip. Then he gets a puzzling offer: half a million dollars for six months on a private assignment. Ordinarily he’d have refused, but they don’t really give him a choice. Luckily, he’s adaptable, and quickly learns that the company’s secret world has a lot to offer. Real magic, if it exists, could give Quinn a huge advantage in his chosen career. And he’s the kind of guy who’s always looking for an angle. He also has a knack for getting into trouble and a slight problem with authority, which keeps things interesting in the other world.
Lieutenant Kiara is the company’s top military official for in-world operations. She also has operational command of the retrieval mission, which is unusual. She’s a veteran with a long history of service to the company, extremely loyal, and sees the world in black and white. Basically, she’s going to get the job done whatever it takes. She comes to the Alissian world with some baggage, since her predecessor – who was lost sea in the early days of the project – was also her older sister.
Ex-Navy S.E.A.L. Paul Logan is Lieutenant Commander’s right hand, and tasked with security on both sides of the gateway. He also trains the mercenary teams who undertake missions in the Alissian world. That means he’s also responsible for Quinn, which he isn’t very happy about. Since the beginning, he’s opposed the idea of bringing a civilian along on what he sees as a purely military operation. He’d never admit this, but part of his reluctance is that he likes Quinn and doesn’t want to see him get hurt.
At the time of his disappearance through the gateway, Richard Holt had headed the company’s Alissian research team for fifteen years. Much of that, he spent in the world itself, studying the people and their culture from the inside out. His intelligence network would impress the American CIA. His defection is not only a loss for the research team, but also makes him the most dire threat they have faced. Because Holt knows Alissia better than anyone.
Veena Chaudri is an anthropologist by training, and she’s just taking over leadership of the research team when the story begins. Richard Holt trained her well, but also left big shoes to fill. Veena has studied the Alissian world for longer than the rest of the research team, but she let Holt handle most of the fieldwork. She must not only prove herself to the retrieval team, but wants to impress her former mentor as well. She’s a more valuable asset than everyone realizes: in all those years that Richard Holt was studying Alissia, Veena was studying him.
What other books/authors does The Island Deception remind you of?
My publisher pitches it as appealing to fans of Terry Pratchett and Terry Brooks. I think that’s far too high of praise, but I understand the thinking: Brooks is a founding father of second world epic fantasy, and Pratchett was the king of dry humor. I certainly aimed to have a good mix of both in my books.
Because I’m a scientist, I like to include some of the super-cool near future technology in my books — whether it’s drones or super-LEDs or novel synthetic materials. There’s also a large corporation with somewhat-nefarious intentions. If you put these elements together, I think my books might be reminiscent of Michael Crichton, one of my favorite authors.
If you want a more recent comp title, I think that the Time Salvager series by Wesley Chu has very similar themes to mine, especially time travel and a hint of military science fiction. Rumor is that his series is being developed into a movie directed by Michael Bay, so I’m clearly not the only one who finds all of this entertaining.
Is writing your full-time job?
HAHAHAHAHA *dies laughing*
No, writing is my hobby and I don’t expect that to change any time in the near future. That’s primarily for two reasons. First, it’s very difficult to make a living as a full-time writer these days, particularly if you only have a couple of books out. Most writers have day jobs or other sources of income (like a partner who works). Those who do go full-time often do a lot of freelance work to make ends meet.
The other reason I don’t write full-time is that I enjoy my day job. I’m a genetics researcher for a major children’s hospital. Our institute uses next-generation DNA sequencing to study rare pediatric conditions, with the goal of improving the lives of our patients and their families. If that’s not rewarding work, I don’t know what is.
Read any good books lately?
I have! One perk of joining the ranks of published authors is that I hear about a lot of great books, even if they don’t generate a lot of buzz in the mainstream media (very few books do). My favorite book from last year was Uprooted by Naomi Novik, which is a Polish-inspired epic fantasy and just lovely. This year, I’ve been reading awards-nominated work including Arabella of Mars (David Levine) and All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. My favorite book so far is the one I’m currently reading – The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – which won the Hugo Award in 2016.
My favorite nonfiction book in recent memory was The Breakout Novelist: Craft and Strategies for Career Fiction Writers by Donald Maass. It offers a wealth of advice for aspiring and established novelists. The author heads my literary agency (DMLA), so take from that what you will.
What will you write next?
Right now, I’m writing the third and final installment of Gateways To Alissia, tentatively entitled THE ISLAND DECEPTION. That’ll go to my editor this summer, and is slated for publication in February 2018. I have a short story (not related to this series) that will appear in Rhonda Parrish’s EQUUS anthology this summer, and a couple of others due out this year in Galaxy’s Edge magazine and Stupefying Stories magazine.
I also plan to maintain “Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy” which is my ongoing blog series. Each week, we discuss one of the scientific/technical/medical aspects of science fiction or a cultural/historical topic in fantasy, with the help from an expert in the field. It’s a wonderful resource for aspiring SF/F authors and I think it’s informative for fans of the genre, too