Exclusive Interview: “Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire” Author Dan Hanks
We’ve all walked out of movies and imagined what our hero might do next. But Dan Hanks didn’t just do that after seeing Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull. He turned his idea into a reality — sort of — by reconfiguring it into a novel, and with a different hero, he calls Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Hanks discusses what else inspired and influenced this epic adventure story, as well as who he’d like to see play the good captain if this novel ever gets turned into a movie.
To start, who is Captain Moxley, what does she does do, and what is her first book about?
Captain Samantha “Sam” Moxley is…tired. That was my starting point, really. All the best action heroes are just a bit tired of everything, you know? In this case, she was a Spitfire pilot in the Second World War, who was then recruited by a shadowy U.S. Government agency involved in mysterious shenanigans. We pick up the story in New York in 1952. She’s left the agency on bad terms, but they want her for one last job. And so she’s drawn into an adventure where she’ll have to protect her archaeologist sister from their clutches, retrieve an ancient key, and beat them to the fabled Hall Of Records.
Where did you get the idea for Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire, and how did that idea evolve as you wrote it?
Not many people know this, but Captain Moxley started as a feature film script I wrote years ago for Indiana Jones 5. I’d just walked out of Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull and was a little taken aback by how I little I felt about it, though there are many moments in it I now love. At the time I was thinking of trying my hand at screenwriting, so I started writing a sequel to it as a means of mixing up my writing projects. Plus it was probably a bit of therapy. Being a huge fan of the Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis adventure game as a kid, I wanted to explore what it might look like if we took the series in that direction — but with far more Hall Of Records involved, because that idea is so exciting to me (who doesn’t love big mystical repositories of knowledge?). So every day I’d write a page or two on my train journey to work, and then I’d type it up at night on Screenwriter. And I knew the beats of those types of movies by heart, so it actually turned out okay.
Obviously, that script wasn’t going to go anywhere in that form. But over time I got the idea for an interesting new hero, and so rewrote it with Captain Moxley in mind, evolving the story as I went. And when I adapted it into this book, it grew even further in many new wonderful directions, especially the sisterly bond at the heart of it and — thanks to my amazing editor Eleanor Teasdale — the post-colonial discussion of the nature of archaeology, which we teased out a lot more in the revisions. So you get fantastical adventure and action, Nazis and monsters, but also hopefully a few ideas that might provoke readers to think slightly differently about archaeological quests and taking things that don’t belong to you.
So did your novel end up being an adventure story in the vein of the Indiana Jones movies?
The story definitely started out in the vein of those Saturday morning serials that Indiana Jones was itself trying to emulate. However, I think it’s evolved into something more fantastical over time, arguably with a touch of horror. The Mummy movies with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz always had that added layer of mystery, magic, and horror on top of the adventure — and I adore them for that. I have to hold my hand up and say that I’ve also become a sucker for portal fantasies, so there may be elements of that genre creeping in here, too…
It also sounds like Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire might have a sense of humor about itself.
I hope it does. I love finding interesting and flawed characters in difficult situations and seeing how they cope and interact with each other — letting the sparks fly. I particularly enjoy quips and snark and the odd whinge (it’s the British in me), so that’s all in here. As with everything I write, I take that approach simply because it’s something I’d want to read.
So who do you see as the big influences on the humor in Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire?
Again, I’m going back to movie comparisons, but this story was born from that part of my life so it makes sense. Indy does that situational / character conflict humor perfectly. The Mummy was a little more campy, but also all the more fun and funny for it.
In terms of other influences, are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire but not on anything else you’ve written?
I was conscious of wanting to create a fast-paced thrill ride of a book, so I definitely tried to think about everything I loved in Matthew Reilly’s books. The only way I can describe it is that they were the first time I stopped “reading” a story and started “watching” it in my head as it unfolded on the page. Pure blockbuster entertainment.
I also read S.A. Sidor’s magnificent Fury From The Tomb while I was adapting the screenplay into the book, and that really gave me a kick up the arse to improve the tone of the setting and the voice of the characters for that post-war period. It’s a similarly fast-paced action adventure, but the voice is something else entirely — rich and beautiful and funny. I don’t consider myself talented enough to match what he pulled off, but because of that book I certainly worked harder to improve what I already had on the page.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games? Did any of them have a big influence on Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire? Besides the Indiana Jones and Mummy movies, of course.
The Tales Of The Gold Monkey TV show in the ’80s and Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis game from the ’90s undoubtedly influenced lots of things in the book. But there will be far more I can’t remember right now. There are a lot of Easter Eggs in here, and I’ve discovered not all of them are intentional.
And this is my last question about influences: Along with being a writer, you are also, according to your bio, a “vastly overqualified archaeologist.” How, it at all, did your vast knowledge of archaeology influence Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire?
Ha, well “vastly overqualified” refers to the fact that I had two degrees in it, but continually struggled to get work in the field because my time would have been better spent in an actual field learning on the job rather than studying in the library. That said, I loved diving into the subject and the theory and history behind it, and that knowledge certainly helped form the basis of some of the more serious discussions in the book.
Otherwise, no, this is not really a handbook for serious archaeologists or anything. Stuff gets destroyed. I will probably get kicked out of the union.
In writing Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire, were there any times when you had to choose between being archeologically correct and being counterfactual in a way that would benefit the story?
I don’t think so. I’ve written a story that is a bit flexible with reality, but I’ve attempted to make the archaeological aspect of it seem as plausible as possible. Though now you’ve got me wondering what I would have done had I come up against that issue…
Adventure stories like Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire are usually not one and done kind of things, they’re usually part of larger sagas. What is Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire?
I love the arc of trilogies, so it was always meant to be the first part of a trilogy. Hopefully I get to write the next two, because cool stuff happens. [But] we’re in a strange new world at the moment, and I’m launching into a very busy month after the various lockdowns, so it’s all up in the air really. It all depends on whether this book finds an audience. If it does, great, I’m here to write more.
Earlier I asked if Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire had been inspired by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in turning Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire into a movie, show, or game?
Well, it started out as a script, and yes, I’ve been working with a local producer in the north of England on maybe finding it a home on the big screen one day. Right now, everything is still to play for, but I would love to see it as a film. Or let me write a prequel TV series. That would be fun, too.
If either of those things were going to happen, who would you want them to cast as the good Captain and the other main characters?
Originally, I saw Emily Blunt [Edge Of Tomorrow] in the lead role. My wife originally suggested her, and she was the perfect fit. However, [Clash Of The Titans‘] Gemma Arterton would also be brilliant. Both are great actresses, funny, strong, but also able to capture that “in-over-the head” vulnerability that I always loved about the way Harrison Ford plays Indy. I’m still undecided on Jess, but Justin H. Min, The Umbrella Academy‘s Ben, would be a fantastic Will. Also Christoph Waltz [Spectre] for Teddy please.
Finally, if someone enjoys Captain Moxley And The Embers Of The Empire, what similarly adventurous novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
This happened today! I received a lovely review and then someone else chimed in on Twitter and suggested they also check out what I too would have suggested: Fury From The Tomb by S.A. Sidor. It’s wonderful. Go read it!