For years, people have written novels based on such table-top role-playing games as Arkham Horror, Twilight Imperium, and others. But in the following email interview with writer Danielle Ackley-McPhail, she explains how her military sci-fi novel Daire’s Devils (paperback, Kindle) came out of writing stories based on a game that isn’t out yet.
To start, what is Daire’s Devils about, and when and where is it set?
Daire’s Devils follows a special operations unit operating in the Tau Ceti star system in the not-to-distant future. Let’s say, about the late 21st to early 22nd century. They are assigned to the Cromwell, an advanced flagship developed by AeroCom. The details of the vessel’s construction are top-secret, but enough information has leaked that several competing entities want either the ship itself or the specifications of how it was built, which then can be sold to the highest bidder or used to extrapolate methods to circumvent the advancements that make the ship so effective.
Where did you get the idea for Daire’s Devils?
Honestly? It started out as a number of short stories written for various themed anthologies. The first one was “Carbon Copy,” written for Space Pirates, edited by David Lee Summers, and published by Flying Pen Press. My original story had a twist of a really bad pun at the end to fit in with the theme, but I’ll leave it there because I don’t want to ruin it.
Anyway, because short stories are, well, short, I set the story in the Alliance Archives universe already developed by my husband, Mike McPhail. The Alliance Archives is a role-playing system he has been working on for some time, and I’ve been one of his beta testers, so it is a setting I am quite comfortable and familiar with. Most of my science fiction short stories are actually written in this universe because he did such a thorough job in his world-building, which meant I could get right to the story…and add to his universe.
I liked the characters so much that whenever another anthology opportunity came up, I would find a way to continue the storyline in the context of that theme. Eventually, I had about four or five stories that became the core of the Daire’s Devils novel.
So then is Daire’s Devils those short stories reconfigured into a novel?
While the original stories served as the foundation for the novel, they were incorporated and expanded upon in such a way that the book reads like a regular novel. Only someone who had read the original stories would recognize those aspects.
Daire’s Devils has synthetic soldiers who are indistinguishable from living beings. Are we talking about fake people like Terminators or Replicants or animals like, uh, Terminator Puppies and Replicats?
I don’t want to go too much into this because it is a key part of the novel, but not everyone is as they seem and the ranks have been infiltrated. Some of the operatives are flesh and blood, and others are not.
Daire’s Devils sounds like it’s a military sci-fi story. Is that how you think of it?
I’ll start with my elevator pitch: Daire’s Devils is an action-packed, character-driven military science fiction with enough humor to take off the edge, and just a hint of romance to keep it real.
So…thoroughly and completely military science fiction without anything to blur the lines there, but humor has long been used in both fiction and real-life combat to keep soldiers grounded and ease the stress of intense situations. Not officially, mind you. It’s not like there are joke books issued with the standard kit, but the soldiers themselves use both dark humor and pranks to blow off steam, and since Daire’s Devils is very much character-driven and quite often intense, I wouldn’t consider it authentic military fiction without some element of humor. The same goes for social dynamics and interaction, which involves everything from sniping at each other to emotional entanglements.
Daire’s Devils is not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Devils but not on anything else you’ve written?
Really, no. As a creative, I look inward at what I’m inspired to do, rather than outward to see what anyone else is doing. I’ve always been about doing my own thing.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Besides your husband’s game, of course.
M*A*S*H. I grew up on that show and still watch it today. The way they balanced comedy and drama with combat situations, I’m sure some of that leaked through in my writing, but not because I modeled what I did on the show.
Along with writing stories, you also edit them in your role as co-founder / editor of eSpec Books, and the editor of such anthologies as Footprints In The Stars, Gaslight & Grimm, and the Bad-Ass Faeries series. How do you think editing other people’s writing impacted what you wrote in Daire’s Devils?
Not really much, in terms of the storyline. I am more aware of certain weaknesses in my rough writing that weren’t as evident before I began working regularly as an editor. That doesn’t mean I don’t make the initial mistakes, but I do catch myself doing it from time to time and immediately correct myself. Or if I don’t, I do catch them when I polish the story.
Speaking of anthologies you’ve done, you recently released one called Devilish & Divine, which you co-edited with John L. French. People can read the Q&A I did with John for more about that book, but real quick, what is Devilish & Divine about, what’s the focus?
Same ol’ story…focusing the spotlight on both good and evil. In this case, angels and devils and demons. It’s a fun concept to play with and we encouraged the authors to delve into more than just the standard Judeo-Christian concepts and explore how angel and devil corollaries are handled in other cultures and religions, or in unique interpretations that go beyond horns and haloes.
Do you think working on Devilish specifically influenced Devils, and vice versa?
These are so very different from one another, there was no danger of one influencing the other. There was some overlap in production timeline, but I am in a very different mindset when I am editing than when I am writing and / or being creative.
And how often did you catch yourself saying, “Dare’s Devilish, I mean Dare & Divine, dang it!”?
Absolutely never. John actually took the lead on Devilish & Divine (which actually was titled Horns & Haloes at the beginning, before we realized exactly how many books already had that title) so he was more immersed in the project than I was.
As for Daire’s Devils, I have been living with this book in the back of my thoughts for so long — the original first story was written twelve years ago — that there was no danger of an accidental mashup. Though that could be a fun project to explore just for the heck of it…
Now, military sci-fi novels are sometimes stand-alone stories and sometimes they’re part of a larger saga. What is Daire’s Devils?
There is infinite potential for stories in this universe, the novel and threads I have intentionally left dangling aside, it is a rich and well-developed universe with a history that goes well beyond my efforts. That leaves a lot of room to play. In truth, my interpretation is only loosely based on the Alliance Archives, which gives me even more freedom. Daire’s Devils plays in the Alliance Archives sandbox, without necessarily adhering strictly to the original timeline. I haven’t lived with the concept as long as Mike has, and I’m not as conversant with the history and details that went into the actual game, so this works. Given the advancements of the technology I extrapolated, Daire’s Devils takes place at a farther point in the timeline than Mike originally explored for the game purposes.
I am already playing with an idea for the second book, which would build on this first one, but focus more on the Legion side of the story. The title, in fact, will be We Are Legion. The original characters would return, but the driving plot would be their adversary’s story.
Several of my beta readers actually expressed an interest in subsequent volumes highlighting the different political players from the first book. So that might be a direction I pursue, if inspiration hits. Not sure I could carry it off for all of them, but I’m game to try. [grins]
We’ve talked a bit about how Daire’s Devils had been influenced by your husband’s game, Alliance Archives. Given how Hollywood loves turning books and games into movies and TV shows, do you think Daire’s Devils would work as a movie or TV show?
I could definitely see it as a movie or show, or a video game, [though] I don’t think any one medium would be best, each one would handle the content in a slightly different way, highlighting different aspects. The book has the action and scale that I think would work well as a movie, but the characterization that dovetails perfectly with an ongoing show.
If someone wanted to turn Daire’s Devils into a movie or TV show, who would you want them to cast as Katrion and the other main characters?
Hmm…that is tricky. I don’t keep up on actors much. I spend too much time at my computer. A younger Angelina Jolie would be good for Kat… Or Morena Baccarin from Firefly. I can’t really say I have anyone in particular for Scotch. For Daire, I think Brad Pitt or a younger Bruce Willis would work well. But Spec would definitely have to play himself or the deal’s off.
One of the elements of the original Archives game are genetically modified cats called Parr Scouts, used for reconnaissance. Enhanced for intelligence, adapted to communicate both verbally and by means of a computer interface, and with hands like a raccoon, instead of paws like a cat. In the novel, I incorporated one of these scouts into the storyline and I used my male cat, Spec, as the character template. His mannerisms, his habits, his general description. He also likes attention, so I can’t very well sign an agreement for a movie and not give him his moment in the spotlight.
Right, right. Though now this interview could be used against you in a court case over royalties. So, is there anything else you think someone interested in Daire’s Devils should know before deciding to buy it or not?
I was very concerned that I do this book right. Yes, I had reference material and guidelines, but I personally don’t have military experience. Technically, I am a Navy brat, but I was so young that I never lived the life. It helped that most of those I played the game with did have military experience, so I heard their stories had the benefit of knowing how they would react in certain situations in game-play, but it’s not the same. To make sure I didn’t fuck anything up too bad I had someone from every branch of the military read the manuscript and give me feedback on what didn’t ring true to them. It was a great help and I am confident that I captured a level of authenticity that will allow anyone, be they civilian, veteran, or active-duty military personnel, enjoy the book.
Finally, if someone enjoys Daire’s Devils, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
Oh, my! This is tricky as not everyone genre-hops, and all of my other novels are fantasy or steampunk. If one were willing to cross that divide, I would recommend Baba Ali And The Clockwork Djinn, which I co-wrote with Day Al-Mohamed [and which you can read more about here]. This is an alternate history / fantasy / steampunk / fairytale retelling. I know, I can’t do anything simple. The foundation of the story is a steampunk retelling of Ali Baba And The Forty Thieves and is a rare instance of middle eastern steampunk. It was fun reshaping the original elements of the tale and giving them a steampunk flare, but also exploring the cultural differences and incorporating elements of actual history to give depth and meaning to the story.