As with many fantasy authors, Mark de Jager freely admits that his, Infernal (paperback Kindle, audiobook), was influenced by Dungeons & Dragons. No surprise there. What is surprising is that, in the following email interview about, de Jager says this tale, the first in a duology called The Chronicles Of Stratus, was actually inspired by a video he saw on YouTube.
I always like to begin with an overview of a book’s plot. So, what is Infernal about, and what kind of world is it set in?
It’s set in a world that’s currently dominated by the ongoing war between the two largest empires that dominate it. It’s been rumbling on for years, but the tide is now turning in favor of the Penullin empire, who have thrown their lot in with a powerful wizard. Our main character, Stratus, is more or less thrown into this tumult knowing even less about it than you do from that description. The story follows his struggle to stay alive find and discover the truth of why he was laying in the fields and left to die
Where did you get the original idea for Infernal?
This may sound a little bizarre, but it all started with a YouTube clip of a frustrated tiger at a zoo and the visitors who were laughing at it. I started thinking how it must feel from its perspective. Was it captured? What was its life like before it got there and what it must have lost. From there it morphed into thinking about how it might engineer an escape and (the fun part) how it would go about getting its revenge.
And how, if at all, did that idea change as you wrote this story?
The first draft of Infernal was very different, and the first half was essentially a prison break. It was fun, and got my agent’s attention, but I wanted to explore the world a bit more and opted to kick things off a bit later in the story. I still have the first draft on a USB drive somewhere, and might actually go back and read it, just for fun.
It sounds like Infernal in a fantasy tale. Is that how you’d describe it?
It’s fantasy and proud for to wear that badge! Fantasy has always been my first love. That said, there are elements of it that some people might consider venturing into horror territory, which I’m fine with. The world of Infernal is an unforgiving one.
Infernal is your first published novel. But I’m guessing it’s not the first thing you’ve written…
And you’d be right too. I’ve written background stuff for D&D games that I’ve run or participated in over the years, but the very first novel I wrote was a fantasy zombie apocalypse story centered around the last paladin left alive. It was the first full length novel I wrote and while it was terrible, it was a massive and invaluable learning curve.
I’m also counting the first draft of Infernal as my second full novel, seeing as I effectively rewrote it for the version that’s now on the shelves.
Cool. So, are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a big influence on Infernal but not on anything else you’ve written?
I think I would probably say Magician by Raymond E. Feist. It was such a different take on things and stayed with me for a long time. Tolkien’s always lurking in the background too, but not so much for Infernal.
How about non-literary influences; was Infernal influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
Dungeons & Dragons. I started playing way back when in high school and haven’t been away from gaming in one form or the other since. The world that Infernal is set in is actually the setting for a D&D campaign that I ran for about 8 years, so the world building part of the process was largely complete before I even started. I still play, and the group is a great sounding board for ideas and experimenting with different approaches.
And this is the last question I have about your influences; so please don’t ask for more. Your wife, Liz de Jager, is also a published author; she wrote The Blackhart Legacy trilogy. How did Liz influence Infernal?
It’s not so much what I wrote but how I wrote it. She’s far more disciplined with her plotting and writing time than I am, and kind of shamed me into actually sitting down and starting rather than just constantly talking about “how cool would it be if he does this or that.”
We did have fun discussing the mythologies of our worlds, though, and there is actually some crossover, at least in the background. It’s also nice having someone right there who understands what you’re going through and doesn’t get mad when you sit there staring out of the window in silence for ages.
Now, Infernal is the first book in a series called The Chronicles Of Stratus. Says so right on the cover. What can you tell us about this series?
The Chronicles Of Stratus will be a duology, with Infernal followed next year by Firesky. I’m still waiting on confirmation of the date for the Firesky release, but we’re hoping for early summer.
I did consider writing it as a trilogy, but it just didn’t work for me. The last thing I wanted to do was end up padding out the story to stretch it to three books for the sake of it. The story suited two, so that’s what we agreed on.
Firesky will conclude Stratus’ story, but I am very keen to return to the world and explore the aftermath of what happens in Firesky, particularly from the point of view of some of the other characters he interacts with.
As you know, there are some people who will hold off reading Infernal until Firesky comes out, and some of them will then read them back-to-back. But do you think people shouldn’t wait to read Infernal?
To be fair, I have the same thought when I go looking for something to read so it’s entirely understandable. We’ve pushed to keep the gap between the books as short as the practicalities of it would allow, so there won’t be a long wait.
What I would say is that Firesky picks up immediately after the end of Infernal, and as they’re written from first person perspective, I think readers will be pleased to find how easy it is to slip back into his world.
Earlier I asked if Infernal had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. I know it’s early, but has there been any interest in adapting Infernal and The Chronicles Of Stratus series into a movie, show, or game?
Not yet, or at least not that anyone has told me about. I’d love for it to be picked up by the likes of Netflix; I could see it working as either as a movie or short series.
If that happened, who would you want them to cast as Stratus and why them and not Andrew Lincoln? Too obvious?
Michael B. Jordan would be a good fit. His physicality in Creed was impressive. I could likewise live with them casting Idris Elba [Star Trek Beyond].
And if someone wanted to make it into a game…?
It would be a tricky game to pull off, but given what they’ve done with the first-person perspectives on the Elder Scrolls games, especially Skyrim, I reckon Bethesda could make it work. Their world building is great too.
Finally, if someone enjoys Infernal, what fantasy novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for Firesky to come out? Oh, and to keep you out of the doghouse, tell your wife I said you’re not allowed to pick her books.
There’s a lot of good stuff out there at the moment though. I’ve recently read The Bone Ships by R.J. Barker, which was great, and have been ploughing through the Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey.