by Andrew Gates
It’s been a while since I did a self-pub Saturday! Today, I’m bringing you an interview with one of my favorite self pub authors, Andrew Gates. You might remember him from such books as ‘Iris’ and ‘Hive’ – his incredibly epic Color of Water and Sky series. As that series ended, new ones begin: this young author has big plans for new books, and his latest Scifi novel, Battle Planet, is intended to release on the 23rd.
Berlin in 1988. Rock music, revolution, gladiators in space.
Janice Milani was an ordinary American abroad in Berlin during the final days of the Cold War… until she was taken in the night by an alien captor. Now Janice, along with four other captives, suddenly find themselves on an alien world where sentient creatures from across the universe are made to fight in the Battle Arena for sport. Desperate to escape the arena and get back to Earth, the only way Janice can get home is to be crowned as champion of the games. And to do that, she will have to fight like she has never fought before.
An Interview with Andrew Gates
Let’s start at the very beginning. How on earth did you come up with the concept for Battle Planet?
Ha! That’s probably the best question. The biggest influence I had is a Marvel comics event series called Secret Wars, which came out back in the 80s. The premise is that superheroes and villains are kidnapped from earth and forced to fight each other by a being named the Beyonder. I think that premise in itself is just so cool. And with the recent success of the movie Thor: Ragnarok, I figured the timing for a story like this was good because there is clearly an interest in an outer space gladiator story. In fact, the villain in Battle Planet, Queen Jakani, was inspired by the villain from Thor: Ragnarok, Hela.
What prompted you to make it start in the 80’s, in Berlin? How is Janice’s character different from a woman from 30 years in her future – 2018?
It’s kind of a strange thing of mine, but I have never been a fan of stories set in the present day. The reason for this is that I find if you were to read a story any other time after the book comes out, it gets dated pretty quickly. And it’s not just books. To be honest it even bugs me when I watch a movie and it says “present day” in the movie because I know that if I watch this movie 10 years from now, it’s immediately dating itself. So instead I like to set things in period because you can read period stories at any time and it’s supposed to be dated. Doing this also allows the writer to take full advantage of everything that time period has to offer – that could be anything from grand geopolitical elements to something as trivial as music or fashion. This wasn’t so much of an issue for me when I was writing The Color of Water and Sky because that story is set in the future, but if you read my short story collection, Kangblabla!, I have five stories in that collection. Three of them are in the future, one of them is in the 90s and one of them is in the 70s. Nothing is set in the present day.
Tell us a bit about the Battle Arena. What kind of creatures find themselves there? And who watches the games, as a spectator? Take us there briefly?
Every type of creature finds themselves in the Battle Arena. Part of the fun in writing this is coming up with crazy ideas for creatures that might be in the arena. This was where I was really able to push the full limits of my creativity. There are creatures who can split apart and put themselves back together, creatures who can turn invisible, who have two heads or multiple limbs, creatures that are more tree-like than they are animal-like, creatures that are huge or tiny. And obviously, some creatures are more familiar to things we know on Earth than others.
The humans who are taken to the Battle Arena were taken there at complete random, which was something I thought was important because I wanted to get a unique cross section of humankind on this planet. The idea is that five random people are picked with no preference towards any single trait whatsoever. So obviously if that were to happen, you would get a totally random mix of genders, ages, races, nationalities, physical abilities, education and so forth. For example, of the five people taken in Battle Planet, two are Asian, one is European, one is North American and one is South American. There are three females, two males. The ages range from young kids to elderly.
That is also where the Cold War aspect of the story comes into play, because in this time-period, you have all these people from super polarizing political climates forced into a situation with one another where they need to work together and get along. These national identities and national experiences are what drives a lot of the characters and their trust or distrust for one another.
As for the spectators, they’re just there to have a good time and watch the games. They aren’t sickos or sadists necessarily who love to watch pain and torture in the gladiator games. For the spectators, watching people fight to the death is totally normal in the same way that ancient Romans would watch gladiator matches thousands of years ago. The competitors in the arena don’t view the spectators so nonchalantly though.
Was Janice you favorite character to write in this new book, or are there other characters waiting to steal the crown? Do you have favorites when it comes to the writing process?
I think more interesting than any individual character of Janice was the story as a whole. The shared experience that all five of these folks go through is really the most interesting part for me. And honestly, the character of Janice would be nothing if she weren’t working off of the other characters around her. The interaction between the different characters is really the payoff rather than one individual character standing out.
Though I will say, Janice has an excellent taste in music, which is basically just my taste in music expressed through her.
This is your first novel outside of your epic Color of Water and Sky series. How was the writing experience for you, writing in an entirely new world? When you started, were you still working on HIVE, the conclusion to your series, or had you already finished it?
I was still working on Hive at the same time, yes. Interestingly the idea of doing something new and the excitement around starting a different project led me to write Battle Planet extremely fast. This is easily the fastest story of this length I have ever written and I think it was because I was just so excited to get working on something new and different.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in crafting your books?
I’ve learned that writing a novel isn’t all that hard so long as you are confident in what you are doing. I think that is another part of the reason this story came together so quickly. When I first wrote Iris, that took me a LONG time. Granted, it was a longer book, but the pace at which I wrote was much slower and I would constantly go back and re-edit everything tons of times. I think, for most writers, this is true for their first couple of books. But now that I am more confident, I am writing much faster and not micro-editing everything all the time.
Will Battle Planet be the beginning of a new series, or stand entirely alone?
I am still trying to determine the answer to that question myself, but if I do end up writing a second one, it will likely be a prequel instead of a sequel. I think it would be really cool to do a story set in ancient times. There are definitely a lot of things about the Battle Planet that I intentionally left unanswered so there is certainly potential there if I wanted to do a prequel.
You have so many incredible books coming out this year. I’m really excited to get to read them all. Can you tell us a little more about what’s coming our way? What are you most excited about sharing with us?
April is an awesome month for me and I am doing that intentionally. I have had some projects that were basically ready to go that I have held off on until now because I want April to be a huge month.
One week after Battle Planet’s release, I’ll be releasing part one of a three-part series. The book is called Seas of the Red Star and the series is called Pirates of Vexa Prime. The book originally started as a co-authorship between me and MD Cooper, but a few things changed and now the story is 100% mine. The premise is really interesting. It’s about two starship pilots who are stranded on an ocean world, where 18th Century sailors live. The pilots have to get off world and back to their home without any tech and their only help comes from a society that still hasn’t even figured out combustion engines yet. It’s already up for pre-order here.
One week after that, the sequel to Seas of the Red Star will come out, called The Daltus Conspiracy. It is also up for pre-order here.
I also have a new short story coming out as part of an anthology put together by Keystroke Medium. The story is about a virus that has destroyed most of the human population and only those people in remote places are still alive. That will come out sometime in April or May, but I don’t know the exact date yet.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Mostly my readers are frustrated that the alien character names are so hard to pronounce.
Outside of writing, what does Andrew Gates get up to?
I’ve been super into Halo lately. I love watching movies too. Everything that Marvel is putting out recently has been top notch. I also like running (I’m doing a full marathon the day after this interview gets posted actually). I also write for a local running magazine called Run Washington Magazine. You can find all that stuff here.
Battle Planet: The Champion of Earth is slated to release on April 23rd, though you can preorder your copy now!