Bryan Asher is an indie author and creator of the Intercontinents, a realm of floating continents, each with it's own set of magic or technology. His most recent entry, The Fear of Moncroix, about a human infiltrator trapped within a vampiric court.
Below I've transcribed, and sometimes heavily paraphrased, the first portion of our discussion. This is only a small slice of the interview which I encourage everyone to watch in full here or just scroll down.
Alright, thank you for joining us today Bryan. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and for anyone who doesn’t know you, introduce yourself?Yeah, I’m Bryan Asher. I write all of my books in the fictional universe known as the Intercontinents, which are a bunch of floating nations and each one has their own culture, magic, or technology.
Alright, and your most recent book, The Fear of Moncroix, which just recently came out. I had the pleasure of reading it. What made you go for a more vampiric horror themed continent on Moncroix?Well, I originally had three intercontinents I planned to touch on, my first book was fantasy, I planned to do sci-fi right after that, and then I knew I wanted to do horror and I knew that this area, Moncroix, was going to be the region that would have that type of setting. So, there’s one character in my first book who was from there and I knew that was going to happen. I wasn’t sure exactly what the plot would be, I just knew that it would be a horror book. That was back in 2020. But, as the years progressed, I started to think about what kind of story I wanted to tell and a couple of things happened. I was driving by this big horse farm near some family friends of mine. It’s really beautiful and I can’t remember why I was driving by, but I did, and I remember thinking to myself like, what if vampires ran that farm? And what if they ran it because they had humans that they farmed? That would be interesting. And I started thinking more about the stories I wanted to tell and I really love the comic by Ed Brubaker, Sleeper. It’s really cool. I love sleeper agent thrillers. I’ve mentioned before I like The Departed, I like these cat and mouse game, Deathnote in a weird way is kind of a sleeper agent thriller. Those types of stories are really intriguing to me, they really capture your imagination and attention. And so I wanted to put my own spin on it. So I kind of thought, what if I combine the two together. What if I have these vampires and they run this huge area, but then there’s this sleeper agent inside them and he’s trying to escape. Eventually it morphed into the plot I have now. Which is slightly different than that, not so much the escape aspect but the escape kind of comes to him, in a way. That was there those two pieces came together for this story.
So when you were working on Davion, which is the main character, you have a brief prologue, which, is part of a failed attempt to overthrow or at least subvert the vampiric court. You had him set in this role for ten years. So, he’s been living as a vampire, but not just in the blood-drinking sense, but also in terms of their magical abilities and behaviors. Was there ever a version of the story where you had more of a direct story of that period, or did you always start the story out with kind of like a ten year jump and then just have all the history in the background?I always planned to have that. Just because when I wrote the story, so I wrote the prologue, I write sequentially, which I know some people write out of sequence which I don’t know how people do that. But, I wrote the prologue and the chapter one pretty close together like there wasn’t a big break between when I wrote those. I think the first four or five chapters, including the prologue, I wrote pretty quickly before I took a break from it to get the plot all together. And I always planned that because, once I decided that Davion was going to be stuck and come out of it I knew that I needed enough period of time where people could understand that’s he’s really accepted his fate. So, that was why I did that because otherwise I’d have to write a longer book. If I have to write his entire journey getting to that point, then that would just make the book longer. And since I tend to wreck things in like, the two hundred fifty, two hundred seventy-ish page range, I had to make sure to kind of find ways to cut down and that’s one way I could do it. But one thing that did change was originally I was thinking he was going to be almost cowardly, like he was stuck because he decided not to act and then somebody comes along who brings him and there’d be this journey taking him from coward to hero, but that story didn’t really connect with me. I couldn’t really find a way where that made sense at the time. So I ended up sticking with what I have where he just happened to be the last one based on some reasons I won’t spoil now, we may dive in later in the interview, but I do have a flashback sequence that does show why he was the last one, but that scene actually wasn’t originally in my outline. I got to a point where he and another character are sitting around this fire, there’s not too much spoilers there with that, and then I was thinking to myself this story really needs this. It needs this moment otherwise you don’t have any other emotional touchstones for Davion. And it makes sense at this point in the story. I’d actually planned on saving that flashback for another book, and then as I wrote the story, I realized this moment needs to be in here for people to really connect with him as a character and understand why he is the way he is. Otherwise it would be too dry.
One thing that I liked about The Fear of Moncroix is that your characters seem to be focused on the most interesting part of their lives and with Yaspen’s background, that was a good example of the vampiric court and it was a good way to bundle up this lore. I feel like you had a lot of lore despite moving very quickly through the story. Is that something that you’ve had to work on with these books and did you ever get to the point of being extremely methodical and go back and say, oh God, I gotta get rid of this, this is not working?That’s a good question. It’s definitely taken me time to get to the point where I can be able to have all of the lore be succinct. I was fortunate enough that I ran into the book, The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson. That was actually the first book of his I read. Which is a huge book, he usually recommends people start other places, but I’m glad I did because when I read or watch things, my brain is always looking for story-telling devices or tools that people use that are a positive. So one thing that he did in that book that was really smart was that all of the lore, world-building, in the initial book, there’s barely any exposition about it. Every little piece is layered in. You learn about where their armor comes from, their slang, the cuss words, the society. Everything is learned through actions and dialogue, it’s so well layered. I noticed that and I was like, okay, that’s a really smart tool. The way that he layers it in. So as Yaspen, the de-fanged vampire, as he was doing things in the story, it was very easy for me to layer those things in without exposition because he’s interacting with everybody. With all different kinds of people. So he was one touchstone. I try to think about that story-telling device and I utilize that story-telling device as like, how could I have them sharing something in dialogue? Or, how can a character’s action or movement or anything that I could do to share things of the world that feels more like an experience or an immersion is the way I want to do it rather than exposition. And that’s definitely taken me time to get better at. If you read my first book versus this one, I think you’ll notice this one is much better at it. And the world-building and lore is much richer and deeper. Also, because I’ve gotten better at building. You know, I’ve built two different worlds and this is the third world I’ve built so I’ve learned a lot. And doing the short story prompt for you really helped. I ended up doing that short story prompt because I was trying to figure out the really deep layer lore; the gods and that type of lore that works its way up into these people. So, when I developed the ideas for how I wanted the gods and everything to work, that really helped me get ready for this book because there’s a lot more direct ties to spirits and gods and things like that. So, those two really correlated well. One other thing is, I don’t try and define too much of my universe, I really want to make sure there’s room for things to grow and expand. Like what Michael Moorcock did with Elric. And now you see the little trade books or the big volumes now and I remember reading at the end of the second or third one, it wasn’t like he was making it up as he went along, but as if he left himself room to keep it growing in kind of a punk rock way or like jazz music. So that’s how I like to think about it. Like, okay, you’re not only in this box you’ve drawn a map for, map’s in the book at page one. You can’t go outside these boundaries. I don’t like that, I want to be able to build this over time and then get to a point, five, six, seven years down the line where I’m like, okay, I’ve defined what my box is. But I don’t want to put the bracket on it yet.