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.
There is a distinct lack of big villains in your story. In fact our protagonist is a great anti-hero because he really seems to be the source of conflict in the story. Why this decision? Who do you see as his biggest foe, aside from himself.
My greatest enemy is me. I think the same can be said by anyone. This concept of two selves was something that really hit me early on in the writing process. The idea of him becoming a wraith really was able to give this idea a tangible presence within the story, and I felt that it needed telling, if for no one else, then for me. His biggest foe, aside from himself, will be explored in upcoming books. No spoilers for you!
Bene is a wraith, a being who feeds off souls. Can you give us some lore behind these beings?
So in Fae lore of Ireland, the wraith is possibly the most feared. It is a being of immense power, but also of immense despair. In order to become a wraith, the being must have endured some form of failed magic, which removes the soul from the body. As a method of dealing with this loss, the wraith seeks to feed off the souls of those it encounters.
In The Dark Archer, Instead of failed magic, it was purposely done to Bene. I used a lot of this lore and then built upon it, changing things here or there to accommodate what I wanted to convey within Bene’s tale.
You have a lot of new and creative names like Gi, Perna, and Affractus. Can you explain some of them, like where they come from and their importance?
Honestly, I had more convoluted names when starting out. I had to change them so they might work a bit easier with the tongue, except for Affractus. His and Venyri’s names were created long before I published the novella, The Suffering. I wanted something unique, but something that wasn’t overly complicated either. In the world of fantasy, sometimes less is more. Perna’s name was given to her upon her ascension and acceptance into the land of the Immortals. It means ‘chosen.’ Gi, or more formally, Giann, was named after his father, who died in a satyr raid along with most of the city many years ago.
One criticism for The Dark Archer is your unique writing style, which is intentionally weighty. Where is the line between this and self indulgent writing? Are writers bound to the wants of the reader or their own artistic choices?
I feel like writers cater too often to the perceived whims of not only readers, but also to the publishers, honestly. I wrote what I would want to read, and I’d venture to guess there are more like me. While I might argue my book is not for the wider audience, I never set out to write for the wider audience. My target audience happens to be those who are lovers of classical literature. My word choices, my sentence structure, and my prose are written in such a way that each aspect offers a unique depth to my voice, and indeed there are worlds within each for the discerning reader. I also take into account setting and character POV when crafting a sentence. Where are we? What kind of description is necessary? How should I convey the beauty or horror of this particular location? How is the character feeling in this moment? Questions like this are what I find myself asking as I write.
As for the line between my style and self-indulgence, I might argue that my writing is in many ways quite self-indulgent, since I wrote this story first for myself. However, my background in poetry has allowed me to find new ways to describe things as well as carrying a lot more weight with a single line. I have found that this idea seems to be lacking. There is a place, after all, for what many call ‘purple prose,’ which is something I feel can be used to great effect, when done right. My only hope is that I have done it right.
What is your biggest advice for any writer who receives criticism?
First, develop a thick skin. You’re going to need it, from yourself to your editor to actually putting it out there. As authors, we are artists, and when we make that leap from aspiring to published, we are then opened up to the criticism of the masses, who can be rather cruel in their assessment of you. Learn how to take the good with the bad, and learn from everything you can in order to increase the quality of your craft. There is much that can be learned, even from the bad. Good is easy to hear. We love gratuitous smiles. But in those reviews that aren’t so kind, remember to separate personal attacks from the aspects that we can learn and grow from.
Are there ideas, characters, or settings that didn’t make it into The Dark Archer?
I actually had lost about three chapters while writing The Dark Archer. This happened when I was sitting at around 16 chapters written. It was painful, to say the least. But, I think the final product really came out well, despite that setback. I changed a few things from what I could remember of those chapters. Aside from that, not really. I do have a few scenes written out from The Suffering that didn’t make it into the story. Maybe one day I’ll share these with those who wish to see them.
You have two big books coming soon, following Bene’s journey in The Dark Archer. Is there anything you can share about those projects and what we can expect?
I do. The first is entitled The Shadow Cult, coming available by summer of 2020. I can’t say a whole lot about what is happening in the story without giving too much away of The Dark Archer, but I can tell you that it is a crazy, non-stop ride. I do continue my tradition of nods and winks toward many of my favorite books and movies, with easter eggs strewn about for those readers who catch them. It’s one of my favorite things to do.
After that, once I finish writing it and all, is The World Soul, which slows things back down. Again, I can’t say a whole lot about it, but to whet your appetite, someone very important cannot be found at the start of the book. The reader knows, but the characters are all frantically searching, and if they’re right, the risk is great...no matter the choice they make...
If you could translate The Dark Archer into another medium- video games, graphic novels, film, etc.- which would you like to see first?
I think it would work well as either a movie or a limited series. For those interested in talking to me about movie rights, the only caveat is that I get to play Bene. After all, he’s me. Also, I’d love to see Jason Momoa as Feorin, Candice Patton as Venyri, and Lupita Nyong’o as Perna. The other really titular role would have to that of Devani (who has a much bigger role in The Shadow Cult), and I haven’t figured that out yet.
Where can people find you and your books?
I can be found in most social media locations. @shadowyembrace for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I also have a blog at shadowyembrace.com
Feel free to follow me for updates and the like at Amazon as well. amazon.com/author/robertcano