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.
Thanks to everyone for coming out to my reading at the Storm Crow the other night — especially the German film crew that randomly showed up. That’s Vancouver for you.
That was my last reading for a while but I’ll still be making a few appearances at conferences and such. Please check my Appearances page for updates.
In a celebration of spring, the ebook versions of my Cross books, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice and The Dead Hamlets, have returned. The books disappeared a few days back as my publisher, ChiZine, switched distribution providers. But now the Kindle and Kobo versions are back, and the other formats will be online again shortly.
And the flowers did bloom and the clouds did part, and the angels did sing their glorious song. And then Cross murdered them for their grace.
Updated to reflect the new rankings. OK, I really have to go and do some work now!
One of the interesting things about watching The Dead Hamlets go out into the world — don’t forget to call, Hamlets! — is the way the book has renewed interest in the first Cross novel, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice. I knew some people would come to The Dead Hamlets first and then pick up The Mona Lisa Sacrifice, but I’d just assumed it would give the ol’ Mona Lisa a minor boost in sales.
Instead, the two novels have been running neck and neck, and The Mona Lisa Sacrifice has had intriguing spikes in sales where it shoots ahead of The Dead Hamlets. (Yes, I compulsively check my Amazon ratings, just like any other author. I need to do something when I’m not writing but the baby is napping on me!) So it’s nice to see the second book renew interest in the first one — or generate new interest, whatever is the case.
I was blown away and excited to see The Mona Lisa Sacrifice hit No. 5 in Amazon.ca’s Contemporary Fantasy bestseller list, while The Dead Hamlets hit No. 9. Mona Lisa also hit No. 7 in Amazon’s Historical Fantasy bestsellers, while Dead Hamlets hit No. 9. I don’t think any of my books have charted that high before. As a bonus, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice hit No. 25 in the CanLit bestseller list. I never expected to be a CanLit bestseller at all with these books!
Anyway, thanks for reading my Cross books. Knowing there are people out there who like them makes it that much easier to finish the third book in the series.
My publisher ChiZine is selling all their ebooks at 50% off until Sunday, March 15th, to make up for the technical difficulties as they switch ebook distributors for Kindle, etc.
That’s right, you can get each book for less than the price of a Starbucks drink. And they’re better for you than that Starbucks junk. Well, better for your body. The books are probably kind of harmful for your mind….
I was happy to see a nice review of The Dead Hamlets in the Vancouver Sun, one of my hometown papers. Actually, it’s a nice review of the Cross series, so that’s even better. My favourite line: “Come for the chase scenes and the grave-digging, stay for the literary references, strewn like candy thrown from a parade.” He’s right — I am having a great time writing these books!
The dice have spoken and there’s a winner of the Black Quill giveaway contest I held to publicize my new novel, The Dead Hamlets. I will be dispatching the dreaded Quill and a free copy of the new book by undead courier, post-haste. I won’t speak the winner’s name here for fear of summoning various unnatural things, but rest assured that he was most instrumental in getting word of the new book out. So blame him for all the ails the book causes in the world.
I had a great deal of fun with the contest, and I’d like to thank everyone who took part. Thanks for helping promote the new novel — it certainly needs all the help it can get in these uncertain times for the publishing industry.
I’ve had a number of people ask me the best way to buy my new book, The Dead Hamlets. Normally my response is to say buy it at your local bookstore or favourite online site. Unfortunately, while Chapters sells the book through its website, it isn’t carrying many copies of The Dead Hamlets in stores. (U.S. readers: Chapters is the national bookstore chain in Canada — sort of like a Barnes and Noble only with more pillows and picture frames. The book is available at Barnes and Noble stores.)
I’m not entirely certain why this has happened. Part of the problem is likely Chapters’ ongoing shift to a cultural lifestyle store, which means they’re carrying fewer books for a shorter amount of time. Small publishers like ChiZine are obviously going to get hurt by this. At the same time, ChiZine’s main distributor, HarperCollins, decided to get out of the distribution business in Canada right around the same time the book launched. I can’t help but think that The Dead Hamlets got lost in the shuffle. So the book got hit by a double whammy at the worst possible time. It’s almost like there’s a witch’s curse or something….
I’m not really blaming Chapters here. People are ordering more books online or simply giving up on print altogether and ordering ebooks. Unless you’re a bestseller or have bestseller potential, it’s becoming harder to get shelf space in bookstores. As for the distribution changeover, well, that’s the way the industry goes sometimes.
I am kind of crushed by this development, however — every author wants their new book in bookstores, after all. This is kind of the author’s life, though. Business happens.
So that gets to the question of how you should buy my book. A number of people have asked if I’m selling them directly at events. I am, and you’re welcome to buy a book from me in person. Seriously, if you see me walking down the street, just come at me with money in your fist. I will almost certainly stop to talk to you.
But I would prefer you didn’t buy the book directly from me. Instead, I would appreciate it if you buy The Dead Hamlets — or any of my other books — from a bookseller. Why? Well, it’s good for the cultural ecosystem and all that. So there’s my public service announcement of the day. But more importantly, it’s good for the author. If people order the book at Chapters bookstores or even order it online from the Chapters website, where it is available for sale, then maybe Chapters might think twice and stock more copies of it in stores.
Similarly, if people order it from Amazon or Kindle or whatever, that also helps me. Every sale on Amazon boosts my sales ranking, for instance, which helps more people to see the book. Plus, whenever someone buys a book through Amazon, the algorithms send that out through the system and populate other people’s recommendation lists with the book. So if you buy say, A Game of Thrones book and The Dead Hamlets, then The Dead Hamlets will show up for other people who go looking to buy A Game of Thrones book. Or something like that — the Amazon system can be a bit of a mystery sometime.
You can always buy it from your local indie bookstore, too. They’re often the ones with the best selection, and they need support in these times more than ever.
The point is buying a book from a retailer helps me way more than buying a book from me in person does. This will be especially important when it comes time to publish the third book in the Cross series.
Wherever and however you find The Dead Hamlets, I hope you enjoy it. If you do like it, please consider giving it a shoutout on social media or a review on Goodreads, etc. That sort of thing really does help book sales.
Thanks for reading!
I had the distinct pleasure of kicking off The Hook, a new guest post feature on Alex Shvartsman’s site. Alex is the author of Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma, which is perhaps the best title for a book ever. And it’s only $5 and change on Kindle! Why are you still reading this and not buying the book?
Anyway, Alex just launched The Hook, which lets writers explain why they opened their books the way they did. So click the link to find out why I began The Dead Hamlets on a dark and stormy night!
There’s a long tradition of dark and stormy nights in the theatre — lots of blackouts and thunder sound effects. The first stage directions of Macbeth, for instance, are “Thunder and lightning.” So I was hinting at the subject matter of my book in its opening lines. Shortly after that initial scene, I have Cross stumble into a theatre full of the dead — at which point things really get dark and stormy!