Interview with AC Cobble
This is going to be a slightly different newsletter. This month I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing a writer friend of mine, AC Cobble, author of the bestselling Benjamin Ashwood series and a new series, The Cartographer. I’m pretty excited about this.
First, a little housecleaning about what I’m writing. I’m about 40% of the way done with A Testament of Steel. In short, it’s about a young man with amnesia and uncommon fighting skills. Basically, a Badass’ Journey.
On to the interview with AC Cobble!
1. AC, what inspired you to become a writer?
Hi Davis, thanks for having me! This sounds terrible, and we’re off to a bad start, but I read some books that were so awful I thought, “Even I could do better than this.” Around the time our first kid was born, I was looking for a hobby that I could do around the house that would be a little quiet. On a lark, I started writing, and I found I enjoyed it. I kept at it off and on for three years before I finished that first book. Even after I published it, it was a long, long time before I considered myself a “writer”. I’ve been full-time for a few years now, and I still sometimes cannot wrap my head around the idea. And because everyone asks, for the life of me, I cannot remember which books were so bad they inspired me. I wonder whether I really did better…
2. As long as none of those terrible books were written by me, we’re good. BTW, like a lot of writers, you’ve got a diverse background. What did you do before you became a writer?
Corporate stooge is the technical term. For several years I worked for a railroad supervising train conductors and engineers. Looking back, parts of it were pretty fun, who doesn’t like trains? It was brutal hours, though, and I spent a lot of nights, weekends, and holidays at work. Eventually, my wife talked me into leaving and staying in the Houston area. I did what you do in Houston, and went looking for a job in oil & gas. I landed in the trading department of a large oil company, overseeing a team handling operations support. From there, I got on a project to review our global department for offshoring. I had a partner and we’d decide what could be done remotely or needed to be done locally at each of our offices around the globe. We’d hire a new team in an offshore office, then stay with it until they were trained up on the tasks we were moving. It sounds darker than it was because the company was large enough that we never forced anyone to leave. It was about reassigning resources effectively instead of trimming headcount. It also allowed me to travel on the company dime all over the world. I traveled 25% of the time, worked from home the rest, and that explains how I was able to write. It was a great job, but it was still a job. When I could strike out on my own, I did.
3. You’re lucky. I still work a day job, but then again, I like my day job . . . most of the time. Anyway, you’re known for the bestselling epic fantasy saga, the Benjamin Ashwood series. Personally, I’ve always been a sucker for those kind of books. What was the inspiration for writing Benjamin Ashwood (which I thoroughly enjoyed btw)?
Thanks! I was inspired by the fantasy I grew up reading. I think of it as 90’s style farm boy with a sword stuff. Robert Jordan, Raymond E Feist, Terry Brooks, David Eddings, those guys. I still love those books, but I thought the concept needed a refresh. The idea of going out into the big world is so relatable, but very few of us have a wizard grandfather or a secret parent who was the king. In the real world, no one has magic powers, but there are real life heroes. They start out the way everyone else does, but along the way, something happens to them. How does a Regular Joe become a hero? I wanted to explore that question in an entertaining setting, which has some influences from the our world. If it works, Benjamin Ashwood should feel like a familiar, comfortable, light-read fantasy. But by the end of it, I hope it gives readers something to think about.
4. Jordan, Feist, Brooks, and Eddings–you have good taste. And after doing so well with epic fantasy, you made the brave decision to try something different. There’s also a more careful kind of world-building I sense with it. You couldn’t rely on a mythic medieval world but had to craft something more Victorian England along with some Lovecraftian elements. What kind of research went into Quill?
There was definitely a lot more effort that went into building the world of Quill: The Cartographer Book 1. Perhaps too much… As I mentioned, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel extensively, and somewhere between England and her former colonies (USA, Singapore, India), I became really fascinated by the 1750’s colonial period and these modern nations that grew from it. I visited some cultural sites during my travels, and I read a lot about that period. Particularly the history of the East India Company, its peers, and how they expanded Western influence, for better and worse. I built a lot of the political dynamics in this new series from that model. For the magic system, I delved into ceremonial magic like that of Aleister Crowley, and also went a layer down into the Egyptian mythology that inspired him. He’s a fascinating character, and worth Googling if you’ve never heard of him. I read some biographies and attempted to read some of his writing, though I found it to be incomprehensible. I read some great research on Egyptian mythology, and even a translation of The Book of the Dead. In The Cartographer, “The Company” is a fairly direct analogy to “The East India Company”, but on the rest of it I took a lot of liberties. There is a kernel of truth at the core of the world which I hope anchors it for readers, but it’s definitely fantasy.
5. Jeez! That’s a lot of reading. Not sure I can get to it since I’ve got several Indian vedas to read first. The blurb for The Cartographer is fascinating. It sounds like Carnival Row, and yet your book came first. What can you tell us about the series itself?
There are A LOT of similarities to Carnival Row, which is pure coincidence. Quill came out months before the show, and I started writing it long before I’d ever heard of Carnival Row. It is funny, though, how some of the small details are nearly the same. For example, half a year before Carnival Row arrived, I’d commissioned a line drawing of an inspector character that’s dressed identical to Orlando Bloom. I chalk it up to the same sources of inspiration. That being said, while details are eerily similar, the stories themselves are quite different. In Quill, like CR, there’s a grisly murder that appears to have been an occult ritual, then it diverges. In my story, Duke Oliver Wellesley, an adventurous son of the king, is assigned to investigate. He’s assisted by a strange priestess who’s been trained to fight sorcery. They’re put on the case because sorcery is supposed to be dead, but of course, as they follow the leads they find out that isn’t the case. It’s a world-spanning mystery & adventure, and as the series unfolds, we find the conspiracy gets both larger and more personal.
6. I look forward to dismissing the first fool who says you ripped off Carnival Row! The moment airships and a plucky crew are added my immediate thought goes to Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding or Firefly. In your case, though, why did you include steampunk elements?
I like thinking about how magic & technology interact. To me, magic is simply science we do not yet understand, and technology is how we harness the science. Because my world is modeled on the 1750’s colonial period, just 10 years before the industrial revolution, adding some steampunk elements was a natural way to consider the relationship. For people alive then, I imagine it really did feel like man was harnessing magic. Of course, I dialed it up a notch 😉 Airships made sense to include when I was brainstorming how my world used technology to control magical elements. Also, to be honest, the airships are a convenient way to address some things with the plot. How can our heroes go on this world-spanning adventure without spending several boring months at sea? Enter, airships…
7. I knew it had some underlying lazy reason. Just kidding. In many ways, Duke Oliver Wellesley, the main character of Quill reminds me of James Bond with a large dash of Indiana Jones. Were those characters an inspiration for Oliver? Similar question about Samantha. She’s not simply along for the ride.
Indiana Jones was in my mind as I dreamed up Oliver. Oliver is a bit of a rascal and an adventurer. He could stay at home living a comfortable life, but he’s got a taste for exploring the unknown. He wants to sate his curiosity, find the next thing, and get his blood pumping. He’s been doing it for years, so he has skills he’s learned from his adventures and knowledge of the world that surpasses his peers. Of course, instead of an archeologist, he’s a cartographer. I wrote this down as I was doing my research: “maps draw the line between where knowledge ends and imagination begins”. It was a great thought for writing this character and writing fantasy in general. Samantha is a counterpoint to Oliver. In the book, I deal a lot with the idea of opposites and balance. Balance between technology and magic, magic and sorcery, men and women, nature and industry, life and death. Samantha is Oliver’s opposite in many ways, but like him in others. They are two sides of a coin that has different faces but the same core. Oliver represents men, of course, along with technology, industry, government, and life. Samantha represents magic, religion, and death. He is a son of the king, a duke, but she’s an orphan. Of course, this is a mystery, so all may not be as it seems!
8. An orphan and Indiana Jones. Hmm. That could be interesting. As for book 2, when does it come out? And what about the audiobook?
Quill: The Cartographer Book 1 is on sale right now until November 28th in the US & the UK. Steel: The Cartographer Book 2 arrives in eBook and print on December 1st. The audiobooks are narrated by the legendary Simon Vance and Book 2 should be arriving in early December. It’s difficult to give a date because much of that process is out of my hands. If you like audio, I encourage you to give the sample a try on Quill! Simon’s performance definitely elevates my story!
9. Anything else you want to tell us about your books?
Benjamin Ashwood has that classic farm boy with a sword feel. There are some deeper themes and I updated the premise, but my primary goal was writing a book that would be enjoyable for people who grew up reading the same stuff I did. The Cartographer series is more complex and layered, it’s darker and a lot sexier. If you want a mystery that’s different than the typical medieval fantasy setting, and you don’t mind some adult themes, then this one is for you!
Thanks for answering my questions, AC! Now, everyone should hustle on out to get book one of The Cartographer pronto.
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