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Shadows and PTSD: An overview of The Dark Archer & Interview with Author Robert Cano

It’s been sometime since I read a fantasy novel. I was lucky to meet the author at UTSA where we both exchanged books. I gave him my novella, The Hound of Endtown, while he offered up The Dark Archer. I don’t usually read fantasy because so many are too focused on world building and are terribly unimaginative. Most try to mimic lord of the rings or game of thrones, but The Dark Archer and the tale of Bene the wraith is something unique. Instead part of this reminded me of a little more obscure fantasy titles, like The Legacy of Kain and Soul Reaver series. Cano does what I wish more indie fantasy writers would do, and that’s put the characters up front. Sure there’s world building and there’s the typical expository drops, but they don’t last long and Cano doesn’t spend line upon line giving you backstory. His characters are the focus and I found myself loving each of the four big party members. While Bene is our lead, I definitely became a big fan of Feorin the satyr.

The criticism you’ll see about the prose is true. You’ll either love it or hate it. It reminded me of The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams and can be cumbersome at times. But Cano is creating his own high speech in this world so it adds that immersion. People are oddly kind and respectful in his world. I’d have liked to see more antagonism from the antagonists. There are no real villains, and that is a compliment. Everyone has their agenda with plausible motivations. There are no big sorcerers giving big expository drops and monologues about their cunning plots and ancient schemes. There are antogonists, but none compare to the obstacles afflicting the inner self of our central characters. This is a story about PTSD, and Cano uses his characters and setting to give a unique perspective about the aftermath of war in a genre that generally glorifies violence.

Cano did what most fantasy hasn’t been able to do for me and that’s care about its characters. You want to see them reach their points and help Bene, and you know he’ll need it soon because there is this palpable tension in the air. Like something bigger is coming. It’s the peace before the calm, when bigger powers are barely starting to stir. I’m looking forward to the next two books to see where these characters go, and yes maybe get a little more world building...but thankfully not too much.

Bene’s story could take place in any genre setting. Why dark fantasy? What about the sword and sorcery part contributes to Bene’s journey?

You’re right, it could take place in any setting.  However, I thought it would be fun to tell a tale about a character inherently seen as evil.  What I typically do is I’ll take an idea and I’ll turn it on its head. In creating Bene and making him a wraith I was able to explore a story through a setting that was fantastical at its core.  Fae lore and fantasy have long been fascinating to me, and so working with elements such as those was simply fun. As for the sword and sorcery, I felt like it contributed in many ways. In all writing there is the protagonist and antagonist.  But with a sword in hand and magic at your call, these fundamentals are able to be explored in other ways. Magic adds elements that we might call metaphysical in our world, but are no less felt. And as for swords specifically, who doesn’t love swords?

Are there tropes, themes, or archetypes in today’s fantasy that you don’t like?

You know, I grew up on writers like Tolkien and Le Guin, when it comes to fantasy.  I loved the stark contrast between good and evil in Tolkien’s work. I was also fascinated by his intense worldbuilding abilities. However, his use of characters was very monochromatic.  Le Guin did something different in her work, using a variety of character-types. In her world, we saw people of various skin tones. We saw a ‘world’ of a vast archipelago of islands. And the writing itself didn’t feel as two-dimensional.  When looking at today’s fantasy, however, I see authors trying to add length to a story without any need for it. I won’t name names. Length for the sake of length renders the plot irrelevant, in my humble opinion. Length that makes sense and actually matters?  I can get behind that. As for tropes and archetypes, I’m tired of overt D&D characters moving from the game to the page. I don’t mind pulling a story you DM’d and putting it to the page, but I do mind if the characters are your typical bard or paladin or cleric.  -10 originality. Also, the plotlines aren’t varied nearly enough. I’ve read books, even fantastic books, where not much happens. I’ve also read books where too much happens. But the overall storylines vary so little that the bulk of fantasy is incredibly predictable.

You have very eclectic dialogue. Each character has a distinct personality when they’re talking. What is your tip for writing believable dialogue?

My tip is simple… pay attention to people.  There are people like me who speak very formally in certain situations, but can change it to speak much more colloquially in another situation.  I think you’d agree we all do this. Watching people talk is a masterclass for those who know what to look for.

Separately, there are scenes in my book where a character goes from one manner of speech and almost without thinking goes into another manner, sometimes without words.  I think if we can capture this idea, we can form dialogue that isn’t always dependent on actual talking, as body language is often 90% of our daily speech. If we are able to focus on that, we can then create spoken dialogue that matches.  For those who might watch me when writing, I will actually move and get up and go through dialogue in my head, complete with body language, movements and gestures and how the eyes might move. It all builds on itself.

What is a weakness for you when writing? Are you distracted or plagued by writer’s block often? What bad writing habits do you have or think you possess?

I take too long sometimes.  My biggest weakness is my perfectionism.  What you see written on the printed page varies very little from the moment I stop typing on that first draft.  That means I spend extra time to make sure my story works from the moment I’m clicking away at the computer. I can be distracted, as a byproduct of my ADD, but with music I can limit the potential for distraction.  As for bad habits, I wish I could write daily. I have my moments where I can just write everyday, but a lot of times, whether it’s because of a lack of time or my brain just not knowing how to shut down, I find myself unable to write.  It’s not a block though, it’s just knowing that if I don’t find a way to unwind, I can end up in a dark hole.