K.D. Edwards’ debut novel, The Last Sun, is now out from Pyr Books. The author very kindly answered my questions about the world and characters of The Last Sun.
PW: So, Why Atlantis?
KD: I have a fascination with lost continents. I actually lived in mortal fear for years that some big-name writer would come up with a sweeping Atlantis storyline before I got good enough to become published, so I had back-up research on other long-lost continents: Lemuria, Avalon, Ys….
In particular, I wanted to take one of these lost lands and turn it into a blank canvas that I could populate with many different pantheons and monster stories. Even better? I wanted to stick it in the modern era alongside smart phones and airplanes. My favorite type of SFF is one that crosses multiple subgenres. Peter Cline, for instance, is a master of that — you should read his post-apocalypse superhero & zombie novels.
PW: Rune Saint John and Brand are a strong pair of central characters. Where did they enter the process in imagining and writing the novel?
KD: Rune came first. The idea of a fallen prince living paycheck-to-paycheck was the kernel of an idea. (Actually, if I was being honest, his face came first. Many, many, many years ago I was walking past Filene’s Basement in Boston’s Downtown Crossing, and I saw a Calvin Klein underwear ad in a window. It featured a black-haired young man staring sadly at the ground. It was just him against a dark, featureless background. And Rune was born in that moment.) Brand started as one of my archetype characters — the smart-ass sidekick with a bad temper and cussing one-liners. But along the way, something else happened. The way they came together — Rune with damaging memories from his past; Brand with his deep-down-loyalty; the fact that they’d known each other since birth, bonded in the crib….. It just… I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. Sometimes you create the characters, and sometimes the characters live in your brain and work through you.
PW: While Rune and Brand are your strong central pair, there are a number of intriguing characters who flow in and out of the narrative? Who of these characters do you want to tell more story about?
KD: I LOVE THIS QUESTION. You are one of the first people to ask it. Not everyone knows that I have 9 books planned in this series. And I mean planned. Obsessively outlined, right down to the last chapter, which I’ve drafted. I know each story arc; each villain; the main character development arcs. So when I say “I want to write more of these characters”, what I really mean is “This is who becomes important.”
Without giving too much away, I will say that Quinn becomes a very strong part of the team. He and Max form a hapless friendship, and I have a lot of fun with their bumbling antics as they try to pretend that Quinn-and-Max are as good investigators as Brand-and-Rune. Out of all the secondary characters, these two are critical to the series’ future.
I also intend to flow some new characters into the story. More than one Reader has pointed out that while the story shows all sorts of male love & loyalty & friendship, there are almost no female characters. So I very much look forward to introducing Anna and Corinne Dawncreek in THE HANGED MAN, one of whom becomes a core Scooby member.
PW: The Houses of Atlantis are loosely based on the Tarot. What interests you in using that as a template for the characters and their social constructs?
KD: Probably the same thing that interested me in picking a lost civilization for the setting. You can take a real-world structure, inbued with campfire-ghost-story shivers, and then turn it into a blank canvas and populate it with your own details & descriptions.
Tarot cards, in particular, are archetypes. And I love the concept of archetypes — I have ever since I was a kid reading Piers Anthony’s INCARNATIONS OF IMMORTALITY. And each of the Tarot novels I have planned strongly center around a small group of major arcana. Since each Arcana is steeped in their own archetype & culture & powers, each court will inherently provide fresh settings in New Atlantis.
The differences are even more pronounced in The Hanged Man, where I set huge chapter arcs within the courts of Lord Hanged Man and Lady Death.
PW: In my imagining of New Atlantis, sitting in open sight and yet somewhat disconnected from the world, with both High magic and technology, I kept thinking of Black Panther’s Wakanda, with a side of Jeff Vandermeer’s Area X. What were your inspirations in designing the conquered and remolded Nantucket Island setting?
KD: I grew up in Massachusetts, and spent a lot of time in Cape Cod. I’ve taken the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket many, many times. Nantucket in particular is much further out. The first time I visited it, I fell in love. The idea of this huge island so far off the coast, isolated yet connected to the States, was fuel for many, many story ideas. So I suppose I chose it as the setting because (1) it was juuuust far enough from America, and (2) it had enough landmass to rework it into a modern-day version of Atlantis.
The island, in my novel, is split into two sections. Half is a nihilistic wilderness called the Westlands — my tribute to surreal and visceral wildlands. And the east end of the island is New Atlantis, which was built by teleporting human ruins from across the world, including sanitariums, skyscrapers, castles, bridges…. There are so many real examples of abandoned human properties. Researching them is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. And the Reader compliments that mean the most to me are when Readers say they like the quick snippets of historical information on those teleported properties. It’s a challenge to include them in such a way that they ratchet up the tension & plotting, and don’t come across as plain info dumps.
PW: The magic of the setting is intriguing. How did you come up with the sigil system we see in use?
KD: The word sigil is a bit of a nod to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. The brothers and sisters of the Endless used sigils to call on each other. But in the context of Tarot Sequence, sigils are magical items that permit displays of massive power and might — yet also have baked-in limitations that keep the Atlanteans from being too godlike.
So, in the end, we have a device that lets you store a spell, and the spell can be as strong & last as long as the magic-user is innately powerful. But once that spell is used, they need to refill the sigil in a sanctum. And the amount of time they meditate over a sigil in a sanctum to fill the spell directly establishes the strength of the magic.
This creates many levels of limitations for Rune. If a sanctum isn’t nearby, it’s almost impossible to fill sigils. And if he doesn’t have enough time, the spell won’t be as strong. So a spell that Saves The Day in the first novel won’t necessarily always be able to Save the Day in every novel, by virtue of these limitations.
As a diehard Gamer, this sort of RPG logic is important to me. I tend to think in RPG adventure terms.
PW: Aside from the existence of Atlantis…and a world war against them, the lines of the world we distantly see from the perspective of the island appear mostly the same. But what else is different?
KD: I love this question too. Believe it or not, there is a deleted, two-page prologue that explains the timeline of when and why Atlantis was revealed to the world; what happened afterwards; and how it eventually led to the rebuilt, refugee civilization on Nantucket.
PW: What’s next for you? Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
The Hanged Man in January 2019!!!! I am barreling toward the manuscript finish line. My editor has the first 60,000 words, and seems excited about it. I honestly think it’s the best work I’ve done. Now that the world is more or less established in Tarot #1, I can really cut loose with the characters and their relationships.
After that, I’m hoping Pyr decides to keep me around for more Tarot novels. I have 9 novels planned — 3 distinct arcs for Rune, more or less — all built around a single massive story arc. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to have the chance to tell them all.
Thanks for asking these questions! It’s been my privilege.