Sex and vamps: Andy Gavin talks The Darkening Dream

So The Darkening Dream is on sale this week (June 25-29) for 99 cents, and to help with the promotion I interviewed author Andy Gavin. If you read my review a few months back then you already know how I feel about the book, but I wanted to give Andy a chance to speak for himself.

Misprinted Pages: Hi, Andy! Thanks for chatting with me. Before we talk about The Darkening Dream, which is on sale for 99 cent this week, I wanted to say that I’m a HUGE fan of your video game work. The first game my parents ever let me pick out myself was Crash Bandicoot 2 (love, love, LOVE jet pack Crash!). So thank you for being awesome!

Okay, down to business! This interview for my blog might surprise some readers, as I wasn’t too crazy about your book. But when I was contacted about the opportunity, I knew I wanted to give you a chance to defend yourself. As someone who loves games but is also interested in book writing, myself, I know what hugely different mediums they are. What made you want to write a book, and what was it like transitioning from one major industry to another?

Andy Gavin: As a serial creator (having made over a dozen major video games), it was interesting how similar the process was to any other complex creative project. Video games and novel writing are both very iterative and detail-oriented. They use a lot of the same mental muscles.

I’ve always been a huge vampire fan, and I’ve read and watched a large percentage of the oeuvre. But also as a history buff, I wanted to write a supernatural story that was more grounded in real history and legend. I’m always thinking, “That could have been so much better if they didn’t make up the historical backstory,” so I started with the villains. What kind of ancient evil creatures might still be around? What do they want? And what legitimate human reason would they have to destroy the world (Buffy-style)? I don’t exactly answer the question in TDD, because the motives of 5,000 year old baddies should be mysterious. But trust me, they have a plan, and the sheer audacity of it will literally shake the foundations of the heavens.

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Book giveaway! Win The Darkening Dream and more

Hey, guys! I’m running a special interview this Wednesday with author Andy Gavin, and you have a chance to win some awesome swag. Just follow the link to Gavin’s website to enter.

You could win a $100 Amazon gift card, signed copy of The Darkening Dream (book) and Crash Bandicoot (video game — and damn worth it, trust me!), a poster, collectible bookmarks, and lots more.

Those of you who have read my review of The Darkening Dream back in April might be wondering what I’m up to. You’ll find out in a couple days — promise! :D

Good luck!

I’m going to be SUPER jealous of whoever wins those signed game copies.

Vampires, demons, and too much skin: a review of The Darkening Dream

She released Charles’ grip and the bloody tree vanished, in its place only the shadows of two young people who’d just shaken hands.

As far as I can tell, there’s been a decent amount of positive press for The Darkening Dream. Author Andy Gavin co-created the video game company Naughty Dog, and considering the minimal narrative template of games like Crash Bandicoot (and even the more story-driven Jak & Daxter), the transition between mediums must have taken work. Unfortunately, Gavin moves into troubled territory.

Pinning down exactly why I didn’t like The Darkening Dream wasn’t easy, but I knew something was off from the first few chapters. For a book set in the early 20th century, it doesn’t always show its age. Maybe it’s because the year 1913 wasn’t too long ago, but I had a hard time picturing old-fashioned young women running around an amusement park with men and then, scenes later, concealing their ankles and elbows with layers of clothing. And after that, frolicking in cosplay outfits.

This initial confusion as to the time period Gavin is portraying did wear off, but other problems ensued. I liked the author’s use of imagery (especially the bloody sycamore) and his demons, like the central vampire character. How often do vampires turn into bats anymore? Now that’s cool.

But every time I find myself liking the characters—and I do, honestly, like them—they’re reduced through awkward sexuality worthy of a good eye roll or two. Gavin clearly wants to write “modern” women here, but he’s not entirely sure what that is. To be frank, the trouble rests with the setting of the book—these are women still bound by old society’s rules, but they’re entering a world that’s more accepting of them. So at the same time Gavin is following outdated social standards in order to establish the times, he’s also trying to break free of them. For example, today’s age allows women to be more sexually free and active, but the events of the book still push the old idea: Women who openly engage in sexual acts are wicked (or, in some cases, in need of a good exorcism), while those who resist temptation are good. I don’t think Gavin is communicating that intentionally, but that’s what the prose is pushing.

Okay, here’s where things might get a little TMI, so read or skip this paragraph at your leisure—Gavin gets points for addressing menstrual cycles. Yes, you read that correctly. I completely believe his descriptions, too (down to the spot on the mattress, if you know what I mean), except for one crucial detail he leaves out every single time: When a woman stains her undergarments because of her period, she’s not just going to strip and be done with it—especially not women in the early 20th century, when Wal-Mart doesn’t exist in little old Salem. She’s going to wash her sheets and panties with soap and cold water. It was baffling to me that Gavin went to such lengths to realistically portray a monthly “accident” but never bothered to think the situation through to the end. Duh, you wash the thing! Ironically enough, these scenes always lead the character to the bathroom, where she wishes for hot water to clean herself off—but, of course, not cold water for a good soaking. /TMI

Another big issue for me was the overwhelming amount of sexual friskiness involved. Yes, I get that most of these characters are in their teens, and sex is on their minds even in the midst of demon-hunting and vampire-slaying, but Gavin can’t help but insert some perversion into nearly every scene. Not to mention he uses embarrassingly archaic phrases, like the “dark triangle” between a woman’s legs. I’m giggling right now, and not because it’s dirty—because it’s older than dust.

The pacing could use a little work toward the end of the book. Gavin rushes the story post-killing victory (you’ll know which one), and not much attention is paid to the remaining villains—especially not the Big Guy. Did I miss something? Is there supposed to be a sequel? Because it certainly feels like it should be, but apparently not. As a result, the ending resembles one big Hollywood “boo!” ending—you know the kind, where oh, they killed the zombies, but now there’s one more! Surprise! [Update: Yes, Gavin has confirmed a sequel. See the comments.]

Perhaps I sound a little bitter, but I was looking forward to The Darkening Dream with great enthusiasm. I love Gavin’s work in video games. In writing, he could use some guidance. But it’s not a bad first novel, all things considered. Just not one with enough foresight.

Okay! After I tackle another book for Kirkus Indie (sorry, can’t share the details), I’ll be back with a review of a nice, thick book that should appeal to Joss Whedon fans. Thanks for reading!

The Darkening Dream and other books I’ve added recently

These are the books that have made it onto my wishlist recently—and the bloggers/websites that recommended them.

What I’ve added:

The Darkening Dream by Andy Gavin [via Novel Publicity]

This is a big deal. I’m talking the kind of magical book that turns a bad day (computer problems, ugh) into a fabulous one. Why is it so incredible? Because it was written by one of my favorite video game professionals, Andy Gavin. If you don’t know, I’m a huge video game fan (I even write about them occasionally). Andy founded Naughty Dog (my all-time favorite developer) and created the Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter series under that company—and yes, they’re two of my all-time most beloved games. So yeah, Gavin writing a book is an unmissable event for me.

I actually bought this right away, so expect a review in the near future.

Just an FYI, the Kindle edition is $3 right now. Although the hardcover is gorgeous, as you can see.

on Amazon

The Man in the Empty Boat by Mark Salzman [via eBookNewser]

Memoirs are definitely a genre I want to read more of, and I love anything psychological—probably because the mind is crazy fascinating.

on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Self-Help by Lorrie Moore [via Books and Bowel Movements]

I want to read this one because of Cassie’s glowing review: “I don’t even know really how to describe Lorrie Moore’s writing because it’s just fascinating to look at.  She uses metaphors like everything can be related to everything. ” Plus, exposure to a new author never hurts.

on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon [via The Literary Mom]

It comes highly recommended by Amy Marie, who offers great writing tips over at her blog, so I’m on board.

on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Unwind by Neal Schusterman [via The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say “Shhh”]

If a librarian gives it an A, you know it’s good. I’m interested in expanding my YA horizons. Love the genre.

on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

What I’m reading now:

Just finished reviewing a book for Kirkus Indie (sorry, can’t disclose any info per my agreement), and now I’m getting ready to start a review copy sent over from Titan Books and also The Night Circus, which I picked up from the library last Thursday. So look out for a review of both of those latter two.

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What books are on your radar?