Writer David Edison isn’t alone in being influenced by video games. Or Frank Herbert’s Dune. Or Tori Amos. Or anime. But being influenced by all of them…at the same time… In the following email interview, Edison talks about how these influences coalesced into the sci-fi space opera / epic fantasy mash-up that is his second novel, Sandymancer (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook).
To start, what is Sandymancer about, and when and where is it set?
Sandymancer is my attempt at a simpler story. It’s about a young woman figuring out what’s important in her life, and surprising herself as she puts the pieces together. Where and when would be spoilers, so I’ll hold back on that.
More literally, the book is about a half-feral hayseed of a magician who longs to see the wider world. Her dream comes true at a horrible price, but she refuses to give up and finds herself apprenticed to the re-embodied ghost of the ancient god-king who broke the world centuries prior. Will Caralee help the Son heal the world, or will she risk everything to save Joe? Or will her education change her ambitions entirely?
I should mention the Vine itself, even though it has been dead for 800 years by the time Caralee is born. Before the apocalypse, the land was nourished by a world-spanning Vine, a kind of snaky World Tree, which some thought divine. As the child of the Vine, a god-monarch assumed that divinity and their role as caretaker of the world. Some fared better than others….
There are also really cute spider beetles.
Where did you get the idea for Sandymancer?
I drew a map of Oz on my hand and thought, “Let’s fuck this up.” That isn’t what ended up happening, of course, but fucking with the wonderment of Oz and the existential threat of Dune got me in the right headspace to tell the actual story.
I took inspiration for the world and its dead god-king from a short story I had shelved. Pieces of Dune and the Sega Genesis RPG, Phantasy Star III, started feeding the story as well, and I realized I was writing a far-flung sequel to another short story: “Here Be Gardens” from the anthology Queer Dimensions. After that, everything slid into place. I had a world and a primary character already in place, which made finding the story a much clearer process.
Caralee draws power from the sand. Which seems like a natural thing to happen on a world low on water. But is there a significance to the magic being in her bones as opposed to her skin or her brain or her blood? Or am I reading too much into the press materials saying, “…she has magic in her bones…”?
Alas, that is a flourish of the marketing copy, which I rewrote, so please blame me for any bony disappointments. The magic is reversed: actual atoms respond to the power inside her. However! She could certainly manipulate the minerals in her bones (or yours) to, say, cause or treat osteoporosis.
Also, is there a reason why the former god-king — Amauntilpilsharai, the Lord of a Thousand Names and Most Holy Son of the Vine — has possessed Caralee’s BFF Joe as opposed to her boyfriend or girlfriend, her grandma, her dad, or someone else of importance in her life?
Yes, three reasons: one is purely circumstantial, one is purely practical, and he’s also curious about Caralee. If your readers would like to know a little more, Chapter Two is available to read for free on Tor.com. That’s where the moment in question takes place. The first half of Chapter One is also free to read at on TorForgeBlog.com.
Sandymancer sounds like it’s a mash-up of epic fantasy and sci-fi space opera. How do you describe it, genre-wise?
I write like Tori Amos, if there are any Tori Amos fans out there. Ideas drop in for a visit, and if they keep returning, I start to listen. I know that sounds fey, but hey, I’m fey.
I don’t think about genre while writing. It’s not even an afterthought. If a unicorn visits the story, then it’s a story about a unicorn. If a spaceship shows up, then it’s a story about a unicorn who got crushed by a spaceship. Then maybe there’s some sop of an alien who has to powerwash unicorn guts out of the Bussard collector, and a second, more annoying alien who points out that the Bussard collectors are nowhere near the crushed unicorn, and all of a sudden, it’s a mystery novel about who really killed the unicorn. See what I mean? It’s all just ideas playing together, and ideally they entertain you, too.
Sandymancer is your second novel after The Waking Engine. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Sandymancer but not on Engine or anything else you’ve written? You mentioned Dune earlier…
Dune did have a huge influence on both, but in different ways. For The Waking Engine, Dune influenced the scope and structure of the politics and intrigue; for Sandymancer, Dune, Oz, Miyazaki, dustbowl Americana. and Phantasy Star III all informed the world building. They would be on my mood board, if I used mood boards, in the sense that these inspirations were my vibe, not my guide. As always, I continue to be enraptured by the works of Storm Constantine, author of Wraeththu. It was her writing that taught me not to concern myself with genre, but to follow my obsessions instead. Obsession is a gold mine.
What about non-literary influences; was Sandymancer influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? You mentioned Phantasy Star III a couple times already.
Yes, I am hugely influenced by video games in terms of visual imagination and variety of scope: from the cosmically epic stakes down to the granular slice-of-life moments. There’s a lot of different types of storytelling in games — it’s a source of richness. Ever crossed the street in Amsterdam? That slice-of-life moment was brought to you by Frogger.
Travel is in inspiration, too. Probably more than I realize, because my parents were both travel addicts, and I saw a whole lot of the world at a very young age — just the opposite of Caralee. When I saw Gaudi’s basilica in Barcelona, I ran back to the hotel to rewrite about four chapters of The Waking Engine, because his work instantly leveled-up my imagination.
So much of a writer’s job is observing real life and then daydreaming. Anything can be a lesson. I admire William S. Burroughs’ manifesto: “Words, colors, light, sounds, stone, wood, bronze belong to the living artist. They belong to anyone who can use them. Loot the Louvre! A bas l’ originalité, the sterile and assertive ego that imprisons as it creates. Vive le vol — pure, shameless, total. We are not responsible. Steal anything in sight.” I don’t agree that artists are not responsible, but otherwise, yes, the whole world can be our palette.
And what about your dogs? What influence did they have on Sandymancer?
Sandymancer spanned two dogs, both pittie rescues: the late George Edison, to whom the book is dedicated; and his successor, Pancakes Alan Edison. Each dog spent / spends the day curled up in my lap while I write, so George and Pancakes were indispensable. There’s something about being able to reach out your hand to instantly give and receive love. It keeps me kind, not to mention working.
The dogs absolutely influence the plot, too – they do dispense pure love the entire time I write, after all. They are in disguise, but I promise that you will recognize them instantly.
George Edison, Pancakes Alan Edison
Now, fantasy and sci-fi novels are sometimes stand-alone stories and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is Sandymancer? Is it a stand-alone novel or the first book of a series…?
Well, I’ve learned to hedge my bets a bit, but I have written and am revising the sequel to Sandymancer, and it has even more Cute Dog Energy. Part of my questioning is, “Is this a big story that needs several books, or is it a specific story set within a big world?” Both can engender sequels. For Sandymancer, I knew I was just getting started. Not only does the story require more than one volume to complete its arc, but I want you to see Caralee’s story through someone else’s eyes for the second volume.
So, what can you tell us about this series?
The second book is really fun, I think, so that’s a nice start.
In my head, it’s a four-book series. In my head, the series is called Here Be Gardens. In reality, I have my fingers crossed. With the world in such a sorry state, I don’t want to make promises that aren’t mine to keep. Then there’s the possibility that I’ll be replaced with a machine…
Do you know yet what the other books will be called and when they’ll be out?
The second book is called Quiet Tender, and I think we’re hoping for early 2025? I have names for the last two books, but I won’t share them in case they change.
Upon hearing that Sandymancer is the first book of a four book series, some people might decide to wait until all of the books are out before reading any of them, and some will further decide to then read all four back-to-back. But do you think people should wait for the other books, and if so, should they then plan to binge the whole series?
I’m not about to tell anyone how they should consume stories, or art in general. If readers would rather wait and binge-read, then they should absolutely do that! (Don’t tell my publisher I said that, please.) Times are rough. I’m an entertainer. If you’re so inclined, let me entertain you!
But there’s a practical answer to that question that isn’t pedagogy. Look at Netflix’s re-up model: their most important metric is whether or not a show gets binged in one day, or something insane like that. It’s bizarre that if I want to enjoy a show at my own pace, but not see it cancelled, I have to let play it in one go in another room just to appease the algorithm.
I don’t think anyone should buy what they consider an unfinished product. For some of us that’s a book, for others it’s the full series. But the rough truth is that if you buy the first book at launch, it’s much more likely that there will be more books down the line.
I might suggest that readers split the difference by buying the books as they come out, but waiting to read them. We’re a business, but we’re not Netflix.
Earlier I asked if Sandymancer was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Sandymancer could work as a movie, show, or game?
I think live action would be too expensive for a TV show or a limited series, but I love the idea of an animated show. Like Avatar: The Last Airbender, maybe, or if I’m dreaming, something by Miyazaki. I can dream, right?
You can. And while you’re at it, if Miyazaki decided to make a Sandymancer anime, who would you want them to cast as the voices of Caralee, Joe, and the other main characters, and why them?
Ooh, fun. For Caralee, I’d love to see someone like Marsai Martin, Diane from Black-Ish, or A Wrinkle In Time‘s Storm Reid. For Joe Dunes, a lantern-jawed young someone like Connor Jessup [Locke & Key]. For the Son of the Vine, someone like Avan Jogia [Caprica] or Dev Patel [Slumdog Millionaire]. [Star Trek: Prodigy‘s] John Noble must play Eusebius, and of course we’ll need Andy Serkis [Star Wars: The Force Awakens] for Sazerac. As Steel Elinor, I see someone like Danai Gurira [Black Panther: Wakanda Forever] or Kerry Washington [Scandal]. [Black Panther: Wakanda Forever] Letitia Wright plays Fanny Sweatvasser. Thombthumb the Crittertender has got to be a Marcus Rutherford [The Wheel Of Time] or a Daryl McCormack [Bad Sisters].
And since Sandymancer was so influenced by Phantasy Star III, what kind of game could it be made into and who should make it?
I have to choose? Obsidian Entertainment or bust. I would lay down my IP at [Obsidian’s CEO] Feargus Urquhart’s feet, and it would be a damn good game.
But I couldn’t write it myself. I tried once, and multiple self-excluding plots almost broke my brain.
So, is there anything else people need to know about Sandymancer?
Sandymancer wants to be your friend. Really. It’s spicy but not racy, active but not violent; cozy and full of heart. The real world is hard enough; if I’ve done my job right, this dystopia will make you smile.
Finally, if someone enjoys Sandymancer, what novel, novella, or series of someone else’s that mixes sci-fi and fantasy would you suggest they read while waiting for Quiet Tender to come out?
Go buy Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu right this very minute. She invented the Fun Magical Post-Apocalypse, and she shreds genres like useful but arbitrary cardboard boxes, which is what they are.