As if being a cop wasn’t hard enough, imagine doing it when you can visit alternate dimensions but also have to deal with zombies. Such is the life of Dana Rohan, the hero of S. Andrew Swann’s new noir-infused, paranormal urban fantasy novel Marked (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Swann discusses where he got the idea for this story, what inspired it, and which actress he’d like to typecast by having her star in the TV series…if she and some TV executives are so inclined, of course.
To start, what is Marked about?
It’s about a woman, Dana Rohan, who has a tattoo-like mark on her back that allows her to go to various alternate pasts and futures. She doesn’t know the source of the mark, or its powers, and she’s kept it hidden from those around her. She’s built a life as a police detective, where she’s secretly used the mark’s powers to help her in her job. Her life is upended when an apparently crazy man accosts her, speaking a language she doesn’t know, and is abruptly killed by an armored swordsman coming out of nowhere. The dead man bears a mark like her own. Soon after, she’s chased by zombie-like creatures bearing their own perverse marks, and is racing through myriad alternate worlds in a quest to find out about the mark and her own past.
Where did you get the idea for Marked and how did the story evolve as you wrote it?
The core idea for Marked has been with me since high school. The original inspiration was probably from Roger Zelazny’s Amber series. There are still a number of parallels in the story, from the walking through worlds, to the central nature of a pattern — i.e, the mark — for the people who walk through them.
The leaping off point of the story, as I envisioned it, had always been the strangely-tattooed old man dying in front of the protagonist. It wasn’t until later that I decided on exactly what connection the stranger had with Dana, or even who Dana was. That was the thing that evolved most in the writing, Dana’s character. I gave her this mark, and this history, and I spent a lot of time on how these things impacted her character.
Also, the airship scenes were a late addition, and we can probably blame them on [the comic book series] Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio.
Marked has been described as a fantasy novel and a work of paranormal fiction. Though given that it’s about a detective, I can’t help but wonder if it’s also not an urban fantasy story with some noir elements. How do you see it?
Most of the time, I don’t really think about genre when I’m writing. I freely borrow elements from whatever takes my interest and seems to fit the story. Marked opens like a noir police procedural with some more outre elements, detours into zombie territory before going into full-blown portal fantasy. Fantasy is the broadest applicable label. It can also be considered urban fantasy, although in the same sense the Harry Dresden books are urban fantasy, even when most of the action takes place in an otherworldly setting outside Chicago.
Are there any authors or specific stories that had a big influence on Marked but not on any of your previous books?
As I said earlier, Zelazny’s Amber series probably had an outsized impact on this title, [and] the fact that there are airships involved can be traced to Girl Genius. Also, there’s a bit of steampunk influence here that you won’t find in my other work.
How about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big impact on Marked?
You’ve written some stand-alone novels, but most of your books have been parts of series, such as The Moreau Quartet, the Apotheosis Trilogy, and the Dragon* series. So, what is Marked? Is it a stand-alone story or the first book in a new series?
It was written as a stand-alone that could be open to continuation. Most of my series output starts like that, including Dragon*Princess, which was written as a fully stand-alone, even though it works very well with the following two books as a trilogy. Series like Apotheosis which were always conceived as a series of X books are actually more the exception for me than the rule.
If this turns out to be a series, it will probably be open-ended and go to at least three books. It all depends on how well it’s received. The more people buy Marked, the more likely there will be a follow up. There isn’t an over-arching series title yet, that will come when we decide what’s to follow Marked.
Earlier I asked if Marked had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting Marked into a movie, show, or game itself?
No one has optioned Markedyet, but I suspect that it would be very amenable to a TV series adaptation. Like Sliders, the nature of multiple parallel worlds lends itself to an episodic treatment.
If Marked was to be made into a TV show, who would you like to see cast as Dana and the other main characters?
It might be typecasting, but I might cast Jaimie Alexander from Blindspot as Dana. She’s not blonde, but has done an action series where she’s seriously inked up and she doesn’t quite know what’s going on. My wife suggested Tom Ellis from Lucifer as her partner Jacob Hightower and Jason Momoa [Aquaman] with suitably bleached hair for Ivan Roskov.
Finally, if someone enjoys Marked, which of your other fantasy novels would you suggest they check out next, and which of your non-fantasy novels would you suggest they check out if they’re interested?
If you like Marked because of the urban fantasy angle you might also like Dragons Of The Cuyahoga and The Dwarves Of Whiskey Island — which are currently available in an omnibus called Dragons And Dwarves — where I again pull paranormal elements into Cleveland, but in those cases they’re more traditional fantasy elements. If you like it for the action / adventure elements you might like the books collected in the Moreau Quartet volumes 1 and 2, which are fast-paced near-future SF. If you like the historical and borderline horror elements, you might like Wolfbreed and Wolf’s Cross, which have werewolves vs. the Teutonic Knights in medieval Europe.