Friday, October 19, 2012

"Avenir Eclectia" Blog Tour--Travis Perry Interview

Recently we saw the release of Avenir Eclectia Volume 1, an anthology from Splashdown Books collecting the first batch of stories released to the Avenir Eclectia website. As you may or may not know, Avenir is the brainchild of Splashdown publisher Grace Bridges, and was conceived to be a shared universe for speculative fiction writers of all stripes--science fiction, fantasy, and horror authors should all feel right at home. But with so many authors writing so many different stories--some of them having little to no contact with each other--the task of assembling these stories into a collective whole was not an easy one.

Enter: Travis Perry.

Travis is a frequent contributor to the world of Avenir and, for Volume 1, took over the lion's share of arranging these stories to fit seamlessly together. Seeing as how I'm a continuity nut, I jumped at the chance to have Travis visit the blog for the AE blog tour and explain the sometimes difficult process of smoothing out the wrinkles to make Avenir Eclectia Volume 1 a very fun and rewarding read.

Greg Mitchell: You actually have a couple different storylines going on in Avenir, but the first is about a smuggler named Ernsto who is tasked by a mysterious wizard benefactor to lay hands on some rather “mystical” cargo. How did this story come about? What, perhaps, were some of your inspirations?

Travis Perry: Greg, as you know, Grace Bridges created a story world in which the oceans are filled with mysterious aliens that people of that world call “angels.” I came over to the Avenir Eclectia site because Grace had already published my book The Crystal Portal and sent out an email to her authors announcing the existence of her new online project and asking us to contribute stories—so I initially looked into writing for AE really as a favor to her. When I first examined the world of Avenir Eclectia as conceived by Grace, I had no real inspiration for a story. But mulling over the setting, my mind zoomed in on the idea that just as sailors were reported to fall in love with manatees, thinking them mermaids, it would be interesting to read a story about a human who fell in love with one of these angels. And since the angels are supposed to be good creatures, I felt it would be an awesome contrast if the man who fell in love was a hardened criminal…so I created Ernsto and a situation in which he would be linked with his angel for the basest of reasons, yet her kindness would eventually soften his heart.

GM: While Ernsto’s story has an ending, there’s a clear indication that we could be seeing more from him in the future. Do you have any more Ernsto stories in the works?

TP: Yeah, the arc with the angel comes to a definite end and I originally considered dropping Ernsto as a character after that. But I grew attached to him, I guess, and yes, there are other stories in the works that involve him living on the surface of Eclectia as a hunter of the giant bugs that roam there…I actually have a whole series of ideas of what happens to him in upcoming events, so there should be a lot more of Ernsto in the future of AE.

GM: Not only were you a major contributor to Avenir, you also shouldered a lot of the heavy lifting in organizing this first anthology. I don’t know if people realize the kind of gargantuan task that was, to take a bunch of stories written by a bunch of different authors and form some sort of cohesive whole. And, rather than collecting each author’s installments into separate section, you spread out everyone’s installments, weaving them together into a sort of single narrative. How in the world did you manage that? Was it harder than you, at first, anticipated? Walk us through the process a little bit.

TP: I believe it was Fred Warren who commented in one of our group discussions about some concerns I had with AE contradicting itself that the biggest problem he saw was that story arcs got lost by having too many other stories between them. That lodged in the back of my mind, so when we discussed doing an anthology, I believe everyone naturally thought of two methods: 1) Put them in the antho in the order they were published to the site. 2) Collect them by author, so each author’s works would be in a given section.

Option 1 suffered from the problem that Fred noted, that is, if a given story in an author’s arc isn’t picked up again until maybe twelve stories later, the reader has lost a lot of what the author put in the last story—which happened sometimes in the order of stories as originally published. Option 2 suffered from the problem that some characters were written about by multiple authors, such as Avenir’s orphans. Separating the stories by author would miss the unified story ambiance that some authors deliberately went for. Plus, I wrote my story bits with an expectation that some other stories would lie between them—putting them directly one after the other would ruin the feel of the story arc.

So I suggested Option 3, reordering the stories. Most of the AE authors agreed that sounded like a good idea, but actually doing it was another matter…(kind of like Aesop’s Fable about the mice wanting bell the cat). I felt responsible for the idea, so I took charge of actually doing it.

As for method, I’m an Army Reserve officer who was deployed to Djibouti, Africa at the time. In our Civil Affairs company headquarters I printed out all the stories on this yellow paper that’s by policy supposed to be reserved for secret documents—we don’t really have many secret docs in Civil Affairs, so we had far too much of this yellow paper. So I printed all the stories after hours and made a handwritten master list of each tale by author and title. I created some rules for myself that each story in a given arc would be separated by no more than three or four other stories, that no author would have two stories immediately in a row, that story arcs that build to a climax should be reserved for the end of the work. Also I had the rule that any given story arc should come to some sort of resolution to be included, though I excepted single stand-alone stories from this requirement.

So on all these hundreds of pieces of paper I lined out stories that didn’t belong and reordered the papers according to the rules I created. I also edited for content some, trying to create more unity in how each author’s story fit in with everyone else’s. After getting it all on paper, I went page by page through the stack and made corrections to the electronic file of stories. It took a couple weeks of basically all my free time to get through that initial process. Which of course wasn’t done yet, since I sent it out to the collective authors for suggestions and needed changes and altered the digital file accordingly. Final stories to some arcs had yet to be written as well, so I brought those on board after asking for them. It took until the fifth version before the project was ready to be published.

As far as it being hard, I had a fairly good idea that it would take time. It took more time than I imagined, but I wasn’t too surprised about that. What did surprise me was how much I liked the final result. Overall, the stories really built into one another and supported one another and I thoroughly enjoyed the ending…in which I violated a couple of my self-imposed rules, but for good reason I think.

By the way, I’d really like to thank you personally for your contributions to the collection, Greg. Your story arc formed the backbone of the stories that built to a common climax in an absolutely essential way. Your stories are a big part of why Avenir Eclectia Volume 1 came out as good as it did. :)

GM: Wow, thanks! So, what do you think is the draw for something like Avenir—a shared universe rather than a single author’s vision?

TP: Multiple authors clearly enrich the overall story universe. Each of us think of things that others would not think of and pursue story ideas different maybe others would not touch. At times though, dealing with the diversity is a little like herding cats. I’ve been concerned about certain things I see as story contradictions. I’ve worked to smooth out some rough edges between views by differing authors on things as simple as money and as complex as the true nature of Avenir “wizards.” I think my efforts may have helped some—I’d like to think they have, anyway. But building consistency really is a continual requirement and I honestly don’t like being the “bad guy” trying to make changes in other people’s work.

So as far as Avenir Eclectia’s future is concerned, a time may come where I step away and hand off to other authors the charge of continuing to build the Avenir Eclectia story universe. I don’t know when (or if)  that will happen, but I do know that I’ve really enjoyed the overall experience of working with everyone thus far and have been thrilled the results as expressed in Avenir Eclectia Volume 1. Thanks for letting me talk about it!

GM: Thanks, Travis, for dropping in with this insightful interview. Avenir Eclectia Volume 1 is available in both print and digital formats. Buy it today! And visit Travis at his website!

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