What is it like writing a choose-your-own adventure story?
It’s really not as hard as some people think! I’d already written some “normal” books in another series, so I was used to the idea of keeping my notes straight, organizing my thoughts, keeping a big project fun, et cetera. So making all the branching storylines in Heavy Metal Thunder just added another layer of organization on top of the creative process. It was fun to not have one single identity for the main character; instead, I wrote him as a sort of unbalanced ticking time-bomb who was adamant about reaching the end of his journey, but could flip either way in terms of helping people out or walking all over them. That way he could be controlled by the reader, but still have a personality rather than be a total blank slate, which is a recurring problem in most “choose your own adventure” books.
Where did you get the idea for your book?
I had the idea for the series right after I had a botched spinal tap. I was leaking spinal fluid and was so dizzy that I couldn’t get out of bed for days. I could barely even read, so I spent a lot of time in my own head… even more than usual. I saw an image of black-armored soldiers flying on jetpacks in the darkness of space. I saw them fighting with hand-to-hand weapons, flying and colliding, both ancient and futuristic. I saw black ships and the red glint of laser fire reflected off shields. The idea for the entire series grew out of that simple image.
How did you come up with the title?
Apparently I stole it! When I was playing around with the overall tone of the series, I decided that a lot of the soldiers (especially the fanatics) would listen to heavy metal music while fighting. See, the human culture that was destroyed by the Invaders was all about being clever, cute, self-aware, and all-around postmodern… rather than being genuine, strong, having depth, and being free of acute self-awareness. Heavy metal music was all that the soldiers of the Black Lance Legion had that could help bolster their resolve. So the title Heavy Metal Thunder came to me; I thought it sounded “tough” so I kept it. Eventually I did a little paranoid research and found out that the term came from a Steppenwolf song which may be the first song that refers to “heavy metal”… depending on who you ask. Other bands have referenced the phrase “heavy metal thunder”, and even a game released only in Japan also has the same name. I thought about changing the title, then I just decided that 1) the title references the very roots of heavy metal music, a type of music that I believe is the best improvement on pure silence that humanity has ever created, 2) the title has cropped up enough that it’s now a part of a tradition, and 3) it’s pretty much the title that was “given” to me by the Muse, and it would be ungrateful of me to change it.
Who designed the cover?
I did! Back in the day, I used to write books for Lulu dot com and I spent a lot of time on the covers. In retrospect, I think they were all pretty terrible. They were overdone, had too many textures, too many things going on, and they were so cluttered they ended up looking like old Image comic book covers. I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake with Heavy Metal Thunder, so I found a free picture of some space dust, played with the colors a little bit, pulled out a couple of simple “graphic design” tricks that any monkey can do, and that was that. I’m no visual artist, so I decided to go simple. Someday I hope to scrape enough money together that I can pay an actual visual artist to go all-out and create a cover that can do Heavy Metal Thunder justice.
Do you have to travel a lot for your book?
No, only in my own head. I’m still just a servant, a slave who makes money by giving time and energy to companies I don’t care about in exchange for just enough money to survive. I have to write in my spare time. Not many people have heard of Heavy Metal Thunder yet, though I hope that will soon change since so many people remember “choose your own adventure” books fondly. Plus, I’ve been writing for so long and with so little to show for it that in some sense it would be just as absurd to quit writing as it would be to continue.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
Oh man, I’ve been writing since I was tiny. I used to draw pictures of stick figures, then I would put random letters on the page and ask my mom to read what I’d just written. As soon as I could write actual sentences, I started putting together violent stories about vigilante on criminals. My teachers were always disturbed; I could never understand how they missed the wholesome message behind a normal dude who picks up a baseball bat or a gun and just makes a bloodbath out of the kind of creeps that we all live in fear of anyway! I remember once I tried to write a “choose your own adventure” book about Indiana Jones, but I never finished it because it was too disturbing writing so many death scenes for Indy. There’s no telling how old I was because I’ve always had a broken sense of how time actually works.
If your book was a movie, who would you pick to play the main characters?
Wow, what a question! Though he was too old at the time, probably only Alejandro Jodorowsky as he appeared in El Topo could play as Cromulus. Both Cromulus and the protagonist of El Topo go through a spiritual journey through Hell where they both see and commit all these different atrocities. I think a young Kyle MacLachlin would play an excellent John Christian; whoever plays John Christian would have to look shy and sensitive, but also have a hateful psychotic streak just under the surface. Captain Numitor, who is cool as ice and a supreme gentleman, would have to be played by Gary Oldman. The beastly yet warm-hearted Ron Perlman could play Commander Uther, leader of the fanatical unit that Cromulus eventually joins. Cromulus’s rival-turn-friend Marcus would have to be played by rapper Krizz Kaliko; I’d love to see that guy drop twenty Invaders with a machinegun while sassing Cromulus. Sybel, the strange fanatic and dream interpreter who “draws names from the void” would have to be played by Cillian Murphy, since they both have soft ways but piercing eyes. A young Fairuza Balk could play as the spitfire Reika. As for my favorite characters, Cletus and Buford, I think you’d have to go to the Deep South and just look for two badass rednecks who love to scream and brawl and cast them on the spot. And when he finally makes his appearance, I think a bearded Hugo Weaving could play the legendary Admiral Franks, leader of the Black Lance Legion.
Do you plan on writing sequels?
Most definitely! Heavy Metal Thunder is actually the first in a twelve book series. It follows the life of the protagonist, Cromulus, who begins his career as a jetpack infantryman, then goes on to lead his own unit, then becomes an elite special forces bad-butt, then becomes captain of his own ship… and I don’t want to say where he goes after that. I also have two prequel books planned; they’ll be about Cromulus before he became a human fanatic. The prequel books will take place when the Invaders first arrived and, since humanity was living in a completely “postmodern” state of cultural weakness, instead of learning “skills” in order to survive, Cromulus will have a large selection of “weaknesses” that will help him crawl through life without making any scenes. The entire span of the series will take Cromulus from childhood and his young adult life as a spineless weakling all the way to something old and “godlike”.
How long did it take you to complete Heavy Metal Thunder?