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Tuesday, July 21, 2020

SPFBO Semifinalist Interview with Alexander Darwin (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)



Official Author Website
Order The Combat Codes over HERE

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To begin with, could you tell us a little about yourself, your background & your interests?

AD: Thanks for reaching out to me! To start, I’m a lifelong fantasy/sci-fi fan. Most of my childhood memories involve playing D&D in my parent’s basement or finding some forgotten corner to read about dark elves until my eyes blurred. I practiced martial arts throughout my childhood as well, but I did not start in earnest until university, where I began training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

This is when I realized magic truly existed: a person half my size could mystifyingly control my body as if I were a small child. The art captivated me. I’ve been practicing and teaching Jiu Jitsu for nearly two decades now. It is a central part of my lifestyle, a practice that balances me, an art that I can teach my kids, and a place where fantasy and reality merge for me. The journey of learning martial arts is like the process of gaining experience points in an RPG!

Q] What inspired you to be a writer in the first place, what experience you went through in finishing your book, and why you chose to go the self-publishing route?

AD: I think I always knew I would be a writer, as I’ve been fascinated with the storytelling process since my childhood. But I wasn’t really a writer until I unearthed the worth ethic taught to me by martial arts. I found that writing is best viewed as a skill that needs constant improvement. It needs to be drilled, trained, and improved on like martial techniques. Prior to that realization, good writers simply existed to me in some void; like they’d always been good at their craft. The work and practice they needed to put into their creations never crossed my mind.

Now, that mountain of work is always top of mind when I read my favorites. As far as self-publishing… I didn’t have the patience to go through the entire agenting and publication process. I really just wanted to get my work out to readers as fast as possible! I know it sounds a bit rash looking back, but I had a strong urge to just move forward at the time.

Q] Many writers have a muse, who directs their writing, and others do not seem to be affected the same way. Which group do you fall into? What is your main motivation and source of inspiration?

AD: I don’t think I have a muse. And I think the concept of a muse doesn’t work great for me… it exerts a sort of artificial pressure to please that negatively affects my writing. I see the output of my creative process as the sum of my lived (and read) experience, combined with the training I’ve put in so far as a writer. Though I’m a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I only see myself as a novice as a writer, with many skills yet to be developed.


Q] Please elaborate how the genesis of The Combat Codes occurred. How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?

AD: The idea for The Combat Codes has been floating around my mind for quite a while. Basically, it answers the question: what would a world look like where war did not exist and instead disputes were resolved with one-on-one, martial combat? I wrote the first book in 2015, but didn’t finish the sequel until 2019 (primarily because during the hiatus I needed to focus on becoming a new father).

Q] The Combat Codes is the first volume in the Combat Codes saga. Could you give us a progress report on the third book, offer any blurb details about it and outline your plans for the series as a whole?

AD: I’ve outlined the entire series which could end up being either three or four books, depending on how book three comes out. I’m currently drafting book three, but I’m also working on a standalone book which has been very useful to help me practice some new skills as a writer.

Q] Why did you decide to enter SPFBO?

AD: As a reader I’ve very much enjoyed the finalists and winners of SPFBO over the past few years. I think the contest has really pushed the bounds of recognition for self-published SFF authors, and displayed the great diversity and quality of work out there. For some strange reason, I never thought of entering The Combat Codes into SPFBO until I actually published book two of Combat Codes.

Q] It is a tad difficult to classify your book. If I had to come up with an elevator pitch for it, I would try “Ender’s Game meets Fight Club” knowing that it doesn’t capture the essence precisely. What’s your elevator pitch? Is there a specific sub-genre you would classify it as?

AD: I’ve attempted to come up with some sub-genres for Combat Codes, although looking back most of them fall short and come off a bit market-y. For example, “Fight-Punk.” There’s also been some comparison to Ender’s Game (which I feel both elated and underserving of), so I’ve tried to run with that a bit. Another pitch I’ve heard and used is: “Harry goes to Hogwarts, but learns Mixed Martial Arts instead of wizardy


Q] Let’s talk about your book’s genre. Technically it’s SF as there’s almost no magic. Your world settings also seem more like secondary fantasy (with elements of Japanese terms such as Daimyo). Can you tell us more about the world, the history of the Daimyo wars, its nations and the peculiarities about it?

AD: I’m a big fan of the Final Fantasy and other jRPG series (another obsessive childhood past time). I really enjoyed how Final Fantasy mixed technology with magic in a fun and seamless way, so I think the world of the Combat Codes is very influenced by that game series. The Combat Codes has no spells, but I do treat the martial progression in the story like a magic system; I try to introduce the nomenclature for techniques early on and then sprinkle them throughout the story.

I also have a fondness for Kurosawa films and anything Samurai, as you can see from the feudal-based system. The premise is: the world had a sort of arm’s race which eventually resulted in near total annihilation The nations made a pact to end the arm’s race (and war all together) by instead training champions to represent each nation in the “Circles.” These champions, called the Grievar, fight so that the rest do not have to, and abide by a strict set of scriptures called the Combat Codes.

Q] One of the things I noticed in your debut was the martial arts sequences were pretty amazing and realistic. They are also an integral part of the plot and nearly all the characters focus on honing theirs. Could you tell us about the research which you undertook before attempting to write these scenes? What were the things which you focused upon and any fascinating things that you found amidst your research?

AD: This was the fun part for me! I’ve trained an assortment of martial arts over the years, primarily BJJ (submission grappling) and Muay Thai (kickboxing), and, outside of this pandemic I used to teach combat sports regularly. The tough part of the process was trying to balance the technical realism of fighting with readability for those who are unfamiliar with mixed martial arts. I did not want to bog readers down with techniques and gratuitous fighting scenes. I tried to use the fights as ways to create stakes as well as progress the characters / narrative.

Q] The world within the Combat Codes saga seems to have different races such as the Grievars, the Daimyos & the Bit-Minders. Can you tell us more who they are & what are the key differences between them?

AD: I’ve had a long interest in anthropology, in particular the evolution of modern humans. It’s simply amazing to me that there once existed a world where Homo Sapiens lived alongside close relatives like Neanderthals, Denisovans and Floresiensis (hobbits!). It seems the reality of our humanoid past is getting closer to Tolkien-esque fantasy worlds.

I always am interested in how fantasy authors account for the evolution of the various races. At what point did dwarves and elves and humans “split,” for example?

So in my stories I always try to create a strong evolutionary backbone to the various races. Grievar and Daimyo and Bit-Minder may seem quite different in modern day, but perhaps in the past they split from a common ancestor.

Q] Will we find out more about Cego’s siblings? Barring the climatic ending and what we learn about Cego’s origins, will the sequels reveal more about Silas and Sam?

AD: Yes! I don’t want to give anything away, but even in Book Two: Grievar’s Blood, much more is revealed about Cego’s past and family. His origin is a central theme that carries throughout the saga.

Q] Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Your cover is cool and on point. Can you tell our readers about the idea behind its inception & how you worked with your designer for the finished product?

AD: I wanted something simple and symbolic. The Combat Codes cover depicts an arm bar (the BJJ technique). And the cover of book two depicts a rear naked choke. I plan on each cover showing a different technique used in the Circles (and in mixed martial arts).

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to?

AD: There are so many! Early on I was an avid reader of D&D based worlds; I devoured R.A. Salvatore, Weiss and Hickman, and all the other authors of Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. I’m a currently a big fan of Brandon Sanderson, Emily St. John Mandel, Tamsyn Muir, Sebastien de Castell, and Mark Lawrence.

Q] Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

AD: I really appreciate being included in this year’s SPFBO, and value the time each reviewer is investing in new and upcoming authors. And thank you to the readers of Combat Codes so far, I’ve always had the view that even a single reader that enjoys my books means I’ve had success as a writer.

NOTE: All artwork courtesy of the author. Dystopian double leg artwork courtesy of Ryan Best.

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