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Set sail for the sea of imagination

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There are all numbers of things fantastic in my third Cross novel, The Apocalypse Ark. There are angels and a crazed Noah, sorcerous pirates and sunken cities, a vampire and a white whale, to name just a few. In one sense, the book is a stand-in for the ark of the title, which in Cross’s universe is not the ship that saved humanity but is instead the storage place for all of God’s misfit creations. There are many such misfits in the book. In another, more personal sense, The Apocalypse Ark is a return to some of the things that inspired me to begin writing when I was a child.

The cast of curious creatures is nothing new for the series. The first two Cross books, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice and The Dead Hamlets, also have their share of the mythological and wondrous. With those books, though, the fantastic was much more grounded in the real. I’ve always loved fantasy, but I really wanted to create a fantasy series that was about our world rather than some made-up realm — I wanted readers to feel a real-life connection to the characters and places in the books, even if the characters were immortals, faerie and the like.

In The Mona Lisa Sacrifice, the fantasy elements are very clearly tied to our world — the Gaudi church in Barcelona inspired much of the book (as I’ve written about before), the gorgon is linked to a statue in the Louvre and a glass skull in the British Museum, Cross’s love Penelope is enmeshed in the spiritualist movement, an abandoned factory in Detroit is the setting for a key scene and so forth. There’s even a real-life painting or two that play a role.

I continued to find the fantasy in the real with The Dead Hamlets, where the Tower of London plays a key role, as does the castle that likely inspired Hamlet. There are a few other things, such as a certain cemetery, a legendary historical text, Westminster Abbey, the church where Shakespeare is buried, a real-life haunted theatre and rumoured ghost, and so on. I let my imagination run a little more wild in The Dead Hamlets, creating settings and characters that are definitely out of this world, but for the most part I was working within pre-existing myths, legends and texts.

With The Apocalypse Ark, I set sail for the seas of the imagination instead of the real world, though. The novel originated in a mad fantasy rather than the real world, after all — the idea that Noah was God’s jailer rather than humanity’s saviour and had gone mad and sought to end the world. As with the other books, I wanted a wild assortment of mythic characters and magical settings, but rather than find their origins in real life I wanted to anchor them in books, movies, and other works of art that had meant something to me. (Some of you may say there is no difference between real life and art, but bear with me….)

In many ways, The Apocalypse Ark is a tribute to the works that inspired me as a youth and lit the fires of my imagination. Chief among them is the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, based on the Jules Verne novel. I remember seeing the movie in a school gymnasium right before the holidays when I was in elementary school. I sat on the floor in the dark with hundreds of other students and watched, mesmerized, as the secret submarine Nautilus emerged from the depths and its crew did battle with a giant squid. It was a dark, stylish film with more than a little moral ambiguity and complex ideas for a young child such as myself. It was a far cry from the usual Disney fare I was used to, and I was hooked immediately.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was one of those things that changed the way I thought about books and movies — Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Amber were a couple of other notable atomic texts for me. It wasn’t long after I saw the movie that I found myself reading HP Lovecraft’s books and devouring the Conan tales, which are every bit as dark and disturbing as Lovecraft. If I were to go back through my life, I could probably follow the wake of the Nautilus through all my younger, formative years, right into university, where I discovered Melville’s tale of Ahab and the white whale. Another work of art that changed everything for me.

There’s so much of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in The Apocalypse Ark — the Nautilus and Nemo are both present in more than a passing manner. There’s a bit of steampunk to it, which was deliberate as I see 20,000 Leagues as one of the early steampunk works — not only for its stylish vision but also for its critique of capitalism and industry. The whole Cross series follows an antihero, of which we have a couple examples in 20,000 Leagues. Jules Verne even makes an appearance in The Apocalypse Ark! And, of course, The Apocalypse Ark does have a memorable giant squid attack. I hope it’s memorable, anyway….

I also wrote in the other books that influenced me, the ones that Verne’s Nautilus led me toward. The Sunken City may remind you of a certain Lovecraft aquatic abode, and I tried to channel the madness of Moby Dick with my own version of Ahab and the white whale.

It’s not all echoes and homages, though — I like to think I managed to create my own dark and wondrous world populated by deranged angels, cunning vampires and crazed kraken and the like. I would love it if readers set sail into the sea of my imagination and find it as much a shock and inspiration as that moment I found myself huddled in the dark on a gymnasium floor, watching a strange new world come to life before me.

I hope The Apocalypse Ark carries you away, dear reader, much as 20,000 Leagues carried me away to a world I never could have imagined but can now never forget.

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The Apocalypse is here!

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The author copies of The Apocalypse Ark arrived today! They are strangely wet and smell of Kraken rum, but they are here!

Hey neighbour, can I borrow a cup of kickass fantasy?

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I’ve long been a fan of Sebastien de Castell and his Greatcoats series, which started with Traitor’s Blade, so I got a kick out of sharing some Amazon bestseller space with him. He’ll never let me live it down that he beat The Apocalypse Ark, though….

If you want to learn more about Sebastien and his kickass fantasy series, check out the interview and podcast I did with him at The Province, where he talks about moving from the barista lifestyle to the rich and glamorous life of a plumber after signing an eight-book publishing deal (it’s all explained in the interview).

The girl is in the ice cream truck! The iiiiccccceeee ccccrrrrreeeaaaaammmm trrrrruuuucccckkkk!

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Late in The Apocalypse Ark, there’s this real twist where….

Yeah, this is probably the point I should talk about spoilers.

I have a spoilers story I always like to tell people.

A couple of years back, I was watching a season of The Walking Dead on Netflix. I have two children, a full-time career in the media, and I try to write when I can, so I don’t tend to watch things when they first come out. I usually get around to it a year or three later. So I was catching up on the episodes of The Walking Dead that everyone else in the newsroom had already watched.

You can see where this is going.

I mentioned to the photo editor that I had just started Season 2, which focuses in large part on the survivor group’s attempts to find a girl who was separated from the others by walkers early in the season.

“Oh, that moment where she drives the ice cream truck into the house had me crying!” she said.

OK, that’s not really what she said. I’m not going to tell you what she said, because spoilers. Some of you may not have seen it yet, like I hadn’t when she told me what really happened with the missing girl.

A great deal of the season’s drama arises out of the characters’ search for the missing girl. Where is she? Will she ever be found? Did the walkers get her? Etc. The whole season, as I watched the drama build, I could only think: “She’s in the ice cream truck. Just listen for that unholy jingle and track her down.” Well, that’s not exactly what I was thinking, but you know what I mean. All the anticipation and excitement and anxiety and everything else of the season was lost for me because of that one slip by a colleague.

Of course, when I mentioned that to my other colleagues, they thought the situation was quite funny and now they openly discuss plot twists and turns around me whenever they can. It’s enough to make me watch House of Cards instead. There are no surprises there, right?

Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying I have a new book out and please don’t give away the secrets. No spoilers! Unless the person you’re talking to wasn’t going to buy the book anyway. Then they deserve to have their day ruined.

“A vastly entertaining, fantastical, breakneck hodgepodge quest novel”

The same day The Apocalypse Ark received that wonderful Vancouver Sun review, it also got a fun review at Publishers Weekly. Hard to beat comments like this:

The Cross series is a spiritual relative to Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim and Lavie Tidhar’s Bookman series, meaning that anyone (and anything) in the literary universe is fair game. Mythological beasts, Lovecraftian allusions, pirates, and characters from Moby Dick and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea all fuse together to form a vastly entertaining, fantastical, breakneck hodgepodge quest novel that has the good sense never to take itself too seriously

“One of the strongest, and strangest, literary creations this country has ever seen”

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I will just say that I am deeply pleased to read this review of my latest Cross novel, The Apocalypse Ark. It’s nice to have a reader that gets what you’re trying to do.

Roman (a pseudonym for Vancouver Province journalist Peter Darbyshire) writes with the unfettered delight of a gluttonous reader trapped in a library in his own mind, drawing promiscuously from myth, folk tale, religious texts and apocrypha, literature, music and philosophy — seemingly anything that catches his attention. A Cross novel, at a quick glance or description, seems like an absurdist piece of outsider art, shiny objects thrown together in a fit of barely checked mania.

Anyone who has read a Cross novel, however, knows the truth: despite their crazed, iconoclastic appearance, Roman’s novels are skilfully wrought, thematically deep, with a philosophical depth and a keen sense for both story and its implications. They’re smarter than they would need to be, were they mere action novels, with a sense of literary intersectionality and deep, canonical knowledge most closely akin to writers like Neil Gaiman, Bill Willingham and Mike Carey, graphic novelists all, and three of the finest storytellers at work.

Special thanks to the Storm Crow Alehouse in Vancouver for the photo shoot! I will be back for the Dungeon Burger!

21 leagues under the sea

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The Apocalypse Ark has only been out a few days in Canada — I still don’t have copies of it myself! — but it managed to hit No. 21 on Amazon’s Historical Fantasy Kindle charts today. It also hit No. 8 on the Occult charts but I’m a little nervous about posting images of that for fear of breaking the seventh seal, etc.

Thanks to everyone who bought a copy of the book! I hope you like it!

This is how the world ends – not with a bang but with vomit

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Today was a rough day spent cuddling a very sick little boy. As the doctor said, “Oh yeah, you smell like vomit.” It was all made better, however, thanks to Robert J. Wiersema’s wonderful discussion of my Cross series of books on the CBC’s All Points West show. My favourite line: “If you like your literature with a nitro feeling, you’ll love these.” What a great welcome to the world for my new book, The Apocalypse Ark. Now to do something about this vomit smell….

(Reposted from my Facebook feed because it’s hard to get anything done when you’re cuddling a little boy in one arm.)

The Apocalypse Ark has launched!

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The Apocalypse Ark, the third book in the Cross series, has set sail! Well, it just published in Canada, anyway. It’s coming soon to other parts of the world. If we don’t all drown in a rain of fire and blood first, that is. We have it coming, after all. Don’t ask why — you know what you did.

Here’s what some of the early reviews have had to say:

  • “A vastly entertaining, fantastical, breakneck hodgepodge quest novel” – Publishers Weekly
  • “A spiritual relative to Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim and Lavie Tidhar’s Bookman series” – Publishers Weekly
  • “One of the strongest, and strangest, literary creations this country has ever seen” – Vancouver Sun
  • “If you like your literature with a nitro fueling, you’ll love these” – CBC’s All Points West
  • “One of the most entertaining series in recent years” – Examiner.com
  • “Roman (a pseudonym for Vancouver Province journalist Peter Darbyshire) writes with the unfettered delight of a gluttonous reader trapped in a library in his own mind, drawing promiscuously from myth, folk tale, religious texts and apocrypha, literature, music and philosophy — seemingly anything that catches his attention” – The Vancouver Sun

If you’re new to the Cross series, here’s the basic premise: Our poor narrator, Cross, woke thousands of years ago to find himself in the body of Christ after Christ shuffled off this mortal coil. He has all the powers of Christ but none of his sensibilities — Cross is a drunk, thief, mercenary and all-around rogue. He’s about as fallen as you can get, the type of person who usually winds up dead in a back alley somewhere. Cross does end up dead a lot, but every time he dies his body resurrects him. There’s a catch, though: he needs the heavenly grace of angels to fuel his powers, and the only way to get that is to kill them. Needless to say, he’s not very popular among the angels left behind on Earth.

The first book, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice, follows Cross’s attempts to track down his old nemesis Judas, a trickster god dedicated to destroying humanity — and who is responsible for the deaths of Cross’s one true love throughout the ages, Penelope, and their unborn daughter, Amelia. It spans the centuries and the globe and leads Cross into the middle of a war between the angels. It was an Amazon.ca No. 1 fantasy bestseller and did all right in other parts of the world, too.

The second book, The Dead Hamlets, sees Cross caught in the middle of a murder mystery, as a mysterious ghost with ties to Shakespeare is killing off members of the faerie court, who live in secrecy among the humans. The next victim may just be Amelia, Cross’s dead daughter that the faerie queen stole from the grave and birthed to torment Cross (they have a history). Cross must discover the ghost’s secret to stop the murders, but what he finds may mean even his end.

In the third book, The Apocalypse Ark, Cross faces his most dangerous enemy yet: Noah. For ages Noah has sailed the seas, seeking out all of God’s mistakes and imprisoning them on his ark. Noah is not humanity’s saviour but is instead God’s jailer. But he has grown increasingly mad over the centuries, and now he is determined to end the world by raising the mysterious Sunken City. Only one person can stop him: Cross.

I’ll be posting more about The Apocalypse Ark and its origins in the days to come. In the meantime, I’ll just leave these links here in case you’re interested….

Buy The Apocalypse Ark (paperback)

Buy The Apocalypse Ark (ebook)

(Yes, I know the photo shows a giant squid attacking the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, not an ark. Trust me — there’s a connection between 20,000 Leagues and The Apocalypse Ark.)

It’s Moby Dick weekend!

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Moby Dick by Herman Melville is one of those books I’ve had a love-hate relationship with since I read it the first time, back in an American Lit university course. To be honest, I was baffled by the book after that initial encounter. If you’ve read it, I’m sure you’ll understand. If you haven’t read it, let’s just say it’s a work of eccentric genius.

Moby Dick has some of the most memorable scenes in literature for me, and I can see its influence everywhere — Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian leaps to mind first. Moby Dick is a thing of sublime beauty that tells a simple yet incredibly compelling story. It’s also a completely batshit crazy book that breaks all the rules of writing and publishing and veers into textual madness at times. It marked a trend for Melville’s later books, which faced an uneven reception to their literary experimentation — see the headline “Herman Melville Crazy,” for example.

I’ve read Moby Dick a number of times since that first encounter, and I’m not sure I understand it any better now. That’s kind of the point of the book, though — or one of its points, anyway. Ahab is consumed by his quest to master the whale, which remains throughout an incomprehensible force to him and the others. You have as much luck truly understanding the book as Ahab does of besting the white whale.

I do appreciate the beauty of the book, though, and its incredible imagery and masterful scene construction were much in my mind when writing my latest Cross book, The Apocalypse Ark (ah, here’s where we getting to things). I wanted to capture Moby Dick’s sense of something vast and mysterious lurking just under the surface of our world — I guess it will be up to readers to decide if I succeeded or not.

I was also inspired by Melville’s bravery and risk-taking in publishing what you could call an unusual text. Often, writers are influenced more by market trends and sales numbers — “Hey, maybe I should put a steampunk vampire romance in this book….” Sometimes you have to remind yourself of the chances other writers have taken, of the commitment they’ve had to their vision, before you can truly commit to your own crazy vision. And I do think the vision I had for The Apocalypse Ark was crazy — it’s batshit crazy in the same spirit as Moby Dick, although I would never make claims about being equal to that book in any other capacity. “Peter Roman: Crazy as Melville!”

Anyway, this is all a long-winded post about the fact that it’s Moby Dick weekend — where people gather to read and watch others read aloud the entirety of Moby Dick, in a marathon event that’s as mad as Ahab. Check out the livestream, read along in your own copy, or just retweet your favourite lines.

That should be enough to hold you until The Apocalypse Ark comes out and you can see what I’ve done with Moby Dick and Herman Melville in my own peculiar telling of the tale.

Image is from Paul Vermeersch’s postcard art collection, but I supplied the caption.