—note: Shiny Book Review would like to welcome guest author Tom Doyle. Tom is here to talk about his new book, American Craftsman, which came out last week. Please give him a warm welcome.
What’s the Idea with American Craftsmen?
by Tom Doyle
Looking at the cover of my debut novel from Tor, American Craftsmen, you might get the impression that my main idea from the outset was to write a modern-day fantasy of military intrigue. The craftsmen of my title are magician soldiers and psychic spies. Two rival craft soldiers, Captain Dale Morton and Major Michael Endicott, must fight together against a treasonous cabal in the Pentagon’s highest covert ranks.
It’s an active area: though a relatively new subgenre, modern-day military fantasy has (along with military SF) grown increasingly prominent. But what I think sets my story apart from related SF/F works are the other ideas I had before I focused on the military-intrigue storyline, ideas that gave my novel more of a sense of history, both literary and real world.
To my own surprise, one of my initial inspirations for this book was L. Frank Baum. When he began telling children’s stories, he had the notion of discarding the existing European folk tales and building a fantasy that was modern and distinctly American. That’s how we got The Wizard of Oz.
I wasn’t going to write a children’s story, but the thought of confining myself to a U.S. mythos for an adult fantasy was oddly exciting. I looked at American folklore, but I ended up spending more time with the great early American writers of the fantastic such as Poe and Hawthorne.
As Classical myths reveal the deep hopes and fears of the ancient Greeks, our nineteenth-century authors may be part of the country’s subconscious. If this is true, the overall creepiness of early American fiction should be worrisome. The founders of our independent fictional canon aren’t known for stage comedies filled with wordplay or for novels centered on the marriage plot. Nor did they master the simple pragmatic optimism that on the surface seemed to be the national zeitgeist. Rather, in tales filled with occult obsessions and morbid fascinations, they explored the shadowy underside of the New World’s psyche.
I fed the classic stories into my conceptual pot, and I didn’t just throw in the tasty bits from the usual dark suspects. For example, the parlor of the House of Morton has sickly yellow wallpaper in a nod to the early feminist story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
As I read or reread American fantastic literature and it stewed away in my mind, I saw the lineages of influence: for example, Poe to Chambers to Lovecraft. This reminded me of a concept I had played with in one of my earliest published stories: American families of magical practitioners stretching back hundreds of years. At first, my book was going to cover a whole secret world of American magic, with old families and new practitioners from a variety of backgrounds. But the reader of my earliest draft section, author Stephanie Dray, saw the military intrigue element and said, “This is great. Do this.” I really owe her a lot for getting me to focus on that plotline, as I wasn’t inclined to write a doorstopper-sized epic.
Once I made that choice, the military elements dovetailed nicely with my family lineages, as readers of Lucian Truscott IV would already know. The magic system emerged organically from the classic stories and from military necessities. My world almost seemed to build itself, and I was ready to populate it with my post-traumatically stressed magician veterans and my dangerously confused psychic spies. I hope you enjoy meeting them.
For more about American Craftsmen and my other stories, please visit www.tomdoylewriter.com or connect with me on the social media platform of your choice.