I recently spoke with kickass horror writer Rose Blackthorn about her latest release “Worthy Vessel,” a novelette published by Skull Island eXpeditions/Privateer Press and set in their Iron Kingdoms universe. This was Rose’s first whack at writing media tie-in, so I asked her about the process of writing “Worthy Vessel” and how it differed from the other fiction she’s written.
Full disclosure: This was one of the last projects I spearheaded during my tenure at Privateer Press, and I specifically targeted Rose to write it. She’s one of the best horror authors I know, and I figured the Nightmare Empire of Cryx, with its oodles of undead, soul-sucking sorcery, and general nastiness would be right up her alley.
Here’s what Rose had to say about “Worthy Vessel.”
1) Give us the details on your new novelette “Worthy Vessel.” What’s it about? Why is it awesome?
Set in the Iron Kingdoms, a world of steam-powered sorcery, “Worthy Vessel” is about Darragh Wrathe, who starts out as a pirate and sorcerer before becoming a commander and necromancer serving under Lich Lord Terminus in Cryx. This novelette explores his decision to leave pirating behind and make the journey–physically and mentally–from his old life to the possibility of a new one. This isn’t an easy trip, on any level, and he has to prove himself worthy of becoming more than just a man.
I think it’s awesome because it provides a glimpse into the inner workings of a character who might be perceived as rather two dimensional. Darragh isn’t just a weapon used by the Lich Lords; he is a person who has his own fears and doubts, and follows a progression to overcome them and reach his goal. In many ways, although he is kind of a ‘bad guy’ like most of those in Cryx, he has his own honor and is willing to devote himself to the things he believes in.
2) What was your experience with media tie-in fiction before writing “Worthy Vessel?” Had you read any WARMACHINE fiction?
I have read quite a bit, including books set in the Star Wars, Alien, and Darkover universes. I have read some WARMACHINE fiction including Into the Storm by Larry Correia, “On a Black Tide” by Aeryn Rudel, and a handful of short stories. From what I have seen, there is a huge range of fantasy available in the Iron Kingdoms: swashbuckling adventures, mercenary warriors, magic, both dark and light, many races of beings from humans to dragons, and anything in between. I think any fan of fantasy literature could find at least one section of this world they would love to visit. Being (mostly) a horror writer, I was drawn to Cryx.
3) I know this is your first foray into writing media tie-in, so what did you expect from the process? What were the surprises?
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. Considering that for the most part I’m a “pantser”, meaning I usually fly by the seat of my pants and rarely plan out the plot. Even just writing up an outline to submit with my pitch was a brand new thing for me!
Part of the challenge was I wasn’t very knowledgeable about the Iron Kingdoms. The timeline alone is staggering (and somewhat terrifying, depending on what you’re trying to encompass). I was very happy to be given the opportunity to write in Cryx, though. It’s interesting, and somewhat gratifying to take a character generally viewed as a villain and explore his internal processes. I don’t think anyone ever thinks they’re the bad guy, and it was actually quite enlightening to crawl into Darragh’s psyche.
4) The Iron Kingdoms, a world that encompasses the award-winning games of WARMACHINE and HORDES, is massive, with tons of existing characters, a history spanning millennia, and so on. How did you tackle all of that in your story? How much did you feel was necessary to learn?
It was a bit daunting. Seriously, the timeline and noted history in Caen is many times our own in the real world. When it became clear I would be writing about Darragh before he became the necromancer and commander he is now, I was able to zero in on a specific time and place in this world. I tried to bring in enough of what would be “current history” to make it feel grounded. I spent a lot of time just reading about Cryx and its history before I started writing. Toruk the Dragonfather is so ancient and so much larger than life, he seems like a dark cloud hanging over this island kingdom. But the history of his coming, and the way he changed and elevated the Lich Lords is fascinating. I’d like to read stories and books about all of them, and how they came to where they are in the present timeline. I personally have interest in ancient history in our world, and reading about the history of the Iron Kingdoms holds the same power over me. That being said, I probably did more research than was strictly necessary for what I wrote. Not wasted time, however. I hope that everything I assimilated just adds to the complexity and background of the story.
5) You’re an accomplished horror writer, and “Worthy Vessel” definitely deals with horrific subject matter, so how did you infuse your style into the Iron Kingdoms?
I guess I can only write as me. I am generally character driven, and so I got to know Darragh as well as I could. But there were other characters who I liked and enjoyed writing as much as the main character. Kutzov, the insane necrotech, just kind of skittered out of my mind whole, already fully realized and with his own history. I was completely taken with the Satyxis haruspex, Elsevin Hemeshka. She could have absconded with the whole story if I had let her!
The most difficult part of this process, in my opinion, is not having the freedom to just run with a plot line. Most of these characters, with the exception of Kutzov, were already described, named, and given a backstory. So I had to make sure to stay within the lines of what would be allowed for the larger world in which they are confined.
6) What advice would you give to writers who might want to try their hand at writing media tie-in?
If there is a world or universe that you love to read about, make an effort to see if you can add to it. If you have the opportunity to write in a world that maybe you’re not so knowledgeable about, don’t let that hold you back. This was a great experience for me. It was a way for me to stretch as a writer, to get to know and really come to love some characters I might never have met otherwise, and to explore a vast and many-faceted world like nothing else I’ve written.
“Worthy Vessel” can be purchased as an e-book from the following retailers:
Rose Blackthorn lives in the high mountain desert with her boyfriend and two dogs, Boo and Shadow. She spends her free time writing, reading, being crafty, and photographing the surrounding wilderness. She is a member of the HWA and her short fiction and poetry has appeared online and in print with a varied list of anthologies and magazines. Her first poetry collection Thorns, Hearts and Thistles was published in February 2015. Follow rose on Facebook, Twitter, her blog, or her author pages at Amazon and Goodreads.