Ari Marmell’s cosmic horror / noir mystery Litany Of Dreams (paperback, Kindle) is not the first novel based on a board game. Heck, it’s not even the first based on Fantasy Flight’s H.P. Lovecraft-inspired board game Arkham Horror. But what sets it apart — as Marmell explains in the following email interview — is that unlike most, Litany is actually a prequel that helps set up elements of the Arkham world.
To start, what is Litany Of Dreams about, and when and where is it set?
Litany Of Dreams takes place in Massachusetts, in and near Arkham, in 1923. Elliot Raslo and Daisy Walker — a student and librarian, respectively, at Miskatonic University — find themselves caught up in the search for Elliot’s missing friend and roommate (and more?), who went missing in the course of a major research project. Elliot is also troubled by a strange, foreign phrase he heard from his friend before he disappeared, one that seems to wind deliberately through his thoughts like a parasite.
Meanwhile, an Icelandic Innuit hunter by the name of Billy Shiwak has come to Arkham in search of a relic stolen from his people years before. It is a search, and a relic, that might have far more to do with Elliot’s and Daisy’s own than they know, and might have repercussions that could extend far beyond Arkham itself.
And how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, with the Arkham Horror game?
The novel takes place a few years before the game does. It serves as Daisy’s first taste of the secrets and horrors she’ll discover later, introduces some of the individuals and factions at work in Arkham, and just maybe hints at the events of the game to come.
Little piece of trivia I’ll give you for free: In my initial outline, Daisy actually played an even bigger part in the story than she does in the final version. I had to rework some aspects to bring the novel better in line with the history and continuity of the game, as otherwise it would’ve had her becoming too familiar with the Mythos too early in the timeline.
Are there any connections between your story and the previous Arkham Horror novels: Josh Reynolds’ Wrath Of N’kai, S.A. Sidor’s The Last Ritual, or Rosemary Jones’ Mask Of Silver? [The latter of which you can learn more about by clicking here.]
There really isn’t, in all honesty. That’s in no way to be taken as me having any objections to or issues with the earlier books; they just didn’t happen to have any immediate relevance to the story I wanted to tell.
So, where did you get the idea for Litany Of Dreams?
That’s a more complicated answer than you might think, as it’s sort of the confluence of a bunch of different ideas.
I’ve had the idea for the character who would become Billy Shiwak for a while. For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a story that flips the script on some of Lovecraft’s more…problematic attitudes and ideas. He has a lot of stories in which some brave white explorer takes some ancient artifact from a “savage” tribe. I wanted to write about an indigenous character braving the dangers of American “civilization” to recover a mystical artifact. I thought, in addition to making a statement, it had a lot of really cool story potential.
Beyond that, there are certain elements of body horror that I thought fit well into Lovecraft’s mythos, and I’ve always loved the mixture of mystery with speculative fiction (be it horror, sci-fi, or fantasy). This was a chance to combine all of that into a single tale.
There’s more to it, but going any further would require getting into spoiler territory, so I’m going to leave it at that for now.
Were you a big fan of the Arkham Horror game before you started writing Litany Of Dreams?
I was definitely a fan of Lovecraftian / cosmic horror. But as far as Arkham Horror the game, I was only passingly familiar. I’d played a few times, but that’s it. So I wound up doing a lot of research and reading to start the process. That’s pretty well par for the course for tie-in, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.
How do you think being someone “only passingly familiar” with the game influenced what you wrote in Litany Of Dreams?
In all honesty, I don’t feel like being more of a fan of the game than I was — or less of one — would have made a huge difference. I chose the setting elements (characters, history, locations) based on the requirements of the story and on what / who appealed to me, and I don’t think my decisions would’ve been markedly different under slightly different circumstances.
As with anything Lovecraftian, Litany Of Dreams is a story of cosmic horror. But are there other genres at work in this story as well? Because it sounds like it could have elements of noir mysteries as well.
Yep. I love combining mystery with, well, anything and everything genre-related. Most of my novels have at least an element of mystery to them, if not as a major aspect of the plot, and in fact I have difficulty creating stories that don’t. I have to keep reminding myself during outlining that it’s okay for a story not to have that aspect.
So yes, the inclusion of a mystery aspect was absolutely deliberate.
Litany Of Dreams is not your first published book, and you’ve also written a lot of modules for tabletop games. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Litany Of Dreams but not on anything else you’ve written? Aside from Lovecraft, of course.
Hmm. An influence on Litany but not anything else? Honestly, I don’t think so. Every writer or story I can think that influenced this book has influenced other books of mine, even if not to as great an extent. Maybe a few modern Lovecraftian short stories, but if so, I couldn’t say which ones or which authors. My influences tend to cover more than any one single novel or project.
Heh. I recognize that’s not a very informative or satisfying answer, but it’s what I got.
That’s okay. It’s honest. Anyway, in a similar vein, was Litany Of Dreams influenced by anything non-literary: movies, TV shows, games that aren’t Arkham Horror…
Again, if we were talking influences for this book and others, I could mention a variety of noir mysteries, horror movies and games, fantasy movies and games, etc. But influences on this book that didn’t influence any others? I just don’t know that there are any.
So, do you think Litany Of Dreams could work as the basis for an add-on to Arkham Horror?
I very much do, and in fact I’ve been thinking about that almost since I first outlined the book. I can’t really get into why I think that without going into heavy spoiler territory; let me just say I think it’d make for some really interesting gameplay, with some new mechanics that have never appeared in prior add-ons.
If Fantasy Flight Games decided to make a Litany Of Dreams add-on for Arkham Horror, would you want to write it?
I would want to write it in collaboration with someone else. I don’t have sufficient familiarity with the game’s mechanics — or a mind for that sort of mechanical construction in general — but working alongside someone who does? Absolutely. [makes “call me” thumb-and-finger gesture toward Fantasy Flight’s offices]
And what is someone wanted to make it into a movie or TV show instead; do you think that could work?
You know, I hadn’t really thought about it. Don’t get me wrong, I think about that sort of thing for most of my books — some of which would make great adaptations, and some of which I’ll be the first to admit probably wouldn’t — but I don’t usually consider it where my tie-in work is concerned.
That said, yeah, I think it would. I think the plot is interesting and involved enough, with enough visual punch, to work as a movie or show.
If that was going to happen, what form would work best, and who would you want them to cast as Elliot and the other main characters?
Given that it’s not a long novel, probably a long movie or a mini-series, not anything longer.
Casting… Hrm. I’ve got to admit, I’ve never been good at that. I can tell you straight off that I have no idea who I’d cast as Billy, as I’m not familiar with very many Inuit actors — but I would insist that it was an Inuit actor, and nobody else.
For Daisy Walker? I feel like the art they’ve released of the character looks very much like Mercedes McNab [Angel], but she’s markedly older than the character is supposed to be.
She’s also retired from acting.
Really? Huh. Well, that’s also a good reason not to cast her, I suppose. So, for Daisy, given the range she’s recently shown, I think Elizabeth Olsen [WandaVision].
Elliot’s trickier, just because I don’t have too strong a sense of what he looks like. (I know it’s odd for a writer, but I’m actually quite the aphantasiac. I have very little of a “mind’s eye.” I think in concepts, not images.) Also, by virtue of what I tend to watch, I’m less familiar with actors in that age range than I am a decade or so older. So I think I’m going to leave that one open-ended for now. But maybe ask me again after I’ve seen Timothee Chalamet’s performance in the new Dune movie.
Finally, if someone enjoys Litany Of Dreams, which of your original novels would you suggest they read next and why that one?
Well, none of the others have exactly the same genre mix, but I’d probably say Hot Lead, Cold Iron, which is the first of my Mick Oberon books. It’s urban fantasy set in 1930s gangland Chicago. Fae and mobsters; the Underworld and the Otherworld. Sam Spade if he was actually a refugee from the Seelie Court. It’s absolutely steeped in 1930s culture — slang and whatnot included — and while it’s not a horror, there are a few moments where the fantasy gets a little dark. (Even more so in later books of the series.) People who find anything in Litany to enjoy beyond the Lovecraftian aspects should like that one, I think.