Tony Andarian is the author of Sanctum of the Archmage. He published his first novel in 2017 before reworking it and preparing to re-release it, and is developing plans to continue it as an epic fantasy series.

 

Tamara Wilhite: What led you to rework and release your first novel in the Sanctum of the Archmage series? And can you tell me more about the series?

Tony Andarian: Sanctum of the Archmage is a story concept that I’ve been working on in several forms, on and off, for years. It got its start as the setting for a D&D campaign that I ran back in college. I’ve been slowly fleshing out its storyline ever since, with the intent to eventually try to publish it as a series of novels. Developing the saga always took a backseat to my career as a computer scientist, though, so progress on it has been slow and much of it’s still “in my head.” I’ve also published part of the story as a pair of fantasy RPG “adventure game modules” built in the Neverwinter Nights toolset. That’s actually how the series first came to be known, which I can go into a bit later.

The story arc starts with a typical epic fantasy trope: a deposed princess fighting against an invasion of demons. It builds on that by exploring more philosophical themes, from independence vs. conformity and obedience to an elite leadership, to the rise and fall of civilizations and what actually causes them. In addition to obvious questions (like where did these demons come from and what are they after), it tries to address more subtle ones, such as what actually made their existence possible in the first place. A lot of world-building (with opposing cultures and “worldviews”) went into planning how the story will play out, which I hope will make it more interesting.

The reason I decided to rework and re-release my first novel (the new title is Hell Gate) is that I wanted the beginning of the saga to be as strong as possible before moving on to the rest. I’ve got about ten volumes plotted out, and I really wanted to try to give those later books a solid foundation. Also I’ve learned a lot about style over the last few years, and I realized that there was a fair bit of overwriting in the edition I’d published. The edit cleaned that up a lot, and I think improved the writing significantly. I’m also trying to make sure to get the marketing elements right this time: getting a good cover, figuring out where to publish and how to “get the word out” to “my kind of readers,” and so on.

 

Tamara Wilhite: Aren’t you working on the next book in the series?

Tony Andarian: The next book is already written. It’s a “transition novella” titled Aftermath. Aftermath is partly an epilogue to Hell Gate, and continues the story of what happens to the main characters after its events. It also sets up the next novel in the series, Wrath of the Peregrine King, which I’m beginning to write now. The series has an introductory novella as well that sets up Hell Gate, titled Prologue to Chaos. It’s been out for a while, and I’ve recently re-released it as a free download “funnel” for the rest of the series.

Aftermath and Hell Gate are only waiting for new cover art, and for me to plan how and when to release them. That’s something that I’m actively rethinking right now, because I have some significant concerns about the state of indie publishing in 2021. That’s got me re-evaluating whether to explore some more “out of the box” ideas that don’t rely on major e-book publishers like Amazon, such as direct e-commerce sales and serializing the saga on sites like Patreon. There are also some very intriguing options becoming available for monetizing or promoting this kind of epic, world-building content, such as World Anvil, which I’m actively pursuing. It’s a great time to be exploring new ways to launch a series; my main obstacle is finding the time to do it.

 

Tamara Wilhite: What are the biggest influences on your writing?

Tony Andarian: There are several, but the biggest by far is Ayn Rand. Her ideas have been the most significant intellectual influence on my thinking for the last several decades, and some of Sanctum’s philosophical themes were inspired by her work. The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind (who was also influenced by Rand) is another inspiration, as are the Wheel of Time and Babylon 5. And of course there’s Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, which got me started reading fantasy in the first place.

I also count the entire field of fantasy RPGs (table-top and computer-based) as an influence. That came from playing a lot of D&D when I was younger, and a lot of fantasy computer games later on – including classics like Baldur’s Gate II, Dragon Age: Origins, and Witcher 3. I’ve also been active in the Neverwinter Nights “modding” community for many years – which is where I first cut my teeth on learning to write and create stories in the new medium of story-based games.

 

Tamara Wilhite: What else have you written? Is it all fantasy?

Tony Andarian: These are my first forays into releasing the story in novel form. As I mentioned earlier, though, I’ve also published part of the saga in the form of story-based role-playing games. That was done in the Aurora engine that came with a Bioware game called Neverwinter Nights, which provides hobbyist game creators with a “toolset” to create their own adventures. The two “modules” I authored (Sanctum of the Archmage: The Sight and The Quest) tell a later part of the tale, for which the first novel is largely an “origin story.”

What I tried to do with these was make the experience not just like being immersed in a game, but in an adventure story. Games do usually have stories, but they’re often relegated to a secondary status behind a focus on gameplay. I wanted to try to create one where telling the story was the primary goal of the game’s design, while of course still having good gameplay as well. I learned a lot in the process about storytelling through things like branching plots and dialogues, creating drama and mood through visual elements and music, and so on.

The games were highly rated, garnered some critical acclaim (including a few awards), and attracted a small but enthusiastic set of fans. They even earned me an interview for and prominent mention in a PC Gamer article a few years back, when plans for Beamdog’s Enhanced Edition of Neverwinter Nights was announced. I thoroughly enjoyed making them, and I’m glad I did – but it was always a side-hobby in the spare time from my technical career. When I finally admitted to myself a few years ago that what I reallywanted was to pursue a career as a storyteller, exploring indie publishing seemed like the obvious way to go.

 

Tamara Wilhite: What do you think is the basis of the trope of ancient, nearly forgotten evils? This is fairly frequent in fantasy, from Eldritch evils to Sauron lurking for thousands of years …

Tony Andarian: That’s a really good question. And it’s obvious on reflection that that trope, and the kind of deep worldbuilding history that typically goes with it, runs through most of the works that I listed as influences. It’s in the Sword of Truth and the Wheel of Time, and, of course, Tolkien’s Middle Earth. It’s even in games like Dragon Age, and it permeates Sanctum as well.

I’m not sure there’s a single answer, but one thing that comes to mind is that it often goes with a love of discovery. I think that’s something that a lot of people come to stories for. Unpeeling a deeply layered tale is kind of like solving a mystery. And it can be very effective to shroud that mystery in ancient history, rather than try to somehow create it out of a present-day world. Combine that with the fact that good stories need a “problem” to overcome anyway, and an “eldrich evil” starts to seem like a natural approach – especially if you’re looking to create a story with a more “epic” feel.

It’s also probably worth remembering that the discovery of ancient, forgotten evils can go hand in hand with the discovery of ancient, forgotten wonders. The latter is an oft-loved fantasy trope too. That’s much of what my first game story, The Sight, is about, and the upcoming novels will expand on it as well.

 

Tamara Wilhite: I’ve heard that fantasy sells much better than science fiction, because it is more accessible – whether or not it is a clear morality play of good versus evil like Harry Potter. Your books are clearly set up as a fight of good versus evil. What do you think this says about society?

Tony Andarian: I hadn’t heard that about fantasy being more accessible than science fiction, but it doesn’t surprise me. While there are exceptions (Game of Thrones comes to mind), I do think that trying to present a clear moral conflict is probably more common in fantasy – and one of the things that does tend to make it more accessible.

What I think that says about society is that people are hungry (and rightly so) for art that portrays a worldview with a clear-cut sense of right and wrong. Intellectual culture for most of my life has been dominated by a relativist philosophy that treated as an axiom that there was no such thing as “absolute truth,” and that moral ideals were somehow naive or unrealistic. Moral cynicism has been an intellectual fashion for decades, and to an extent still is. And as Ayn Rand observed, this often caused art that embraced the value-orientation inherent in moral action to retreat into “popular” art and literature, and to allegedly “less serious” genres. When culture treats heroes and morality as unrealistic, it’s perhaps not surprising that they should show up in fantasy.

As much as people may hunger for clear moral conflict, though, I also think that many of us are losing patience with the parade of false alternatives that we’re often offered for it. That’s why as much as the Sanctum series may look at the outset like a straight-up “good vs. evil,” story, a major theme of it is also about how who the good guys really are doesn’t necessarily jibe with what we’ve been told. Or, as Kosh from Babylon 5 put it: “Understanding is a three-edged sword: your side, their side, and the truth.”

 

Tamara Wilhite: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Tony Andarian: I’d be very interested in hearing from readers about how open they are to exploring new ways for authors to publish in 2021. Are they committed to Amazon and/or Kindle Unlimited? Would they buy e-books direct, or subscribe to a serial on something like Patreon? Or something else? Anyone interested can email me at [email protected]. And of course they can find links to follow me, and the progress of the saga, at http://sanctum.andarian.com/social.

 

Tamara Wilhite: Thank you for speaking with me.

Tony Andarian: You’re more than welcome, and thank you for asking. I really enjoyed it!