Interview by Savy Hulen.
Early in my tumble into the Vortex I became intrigued by the StoryVerses. StoryVerses are an easy extension of things I already love, TV shows that span seasons and years, movies with quality sequels, worlds that span multiple media such as comic books that become TV shows, movies, and the inspiration for endless fan-fiction in all the corners of the deep web. As a child, some of my favorite books all happened in the same story world with an overlapping cast of characters. I knew the world and could easily dig into the story each time I opened the book. I realize that I’ve had over a year to wrap my brain around the marvel of StoryVerses. I want to introduce you to the same love. And encourage you to read everything in Ash Falls. It’s good stuff. Really good stuff. So good, in fact, that I had to interview their StoryVerse Head, Jeremy Schofield, for all of you wonderful readers and hopeful authors. Go ahead, grab a cup of Joe, a bottle of wine, or your favorite home-brewed beer and spy on our conversation. We don’t mind. Promise.
Savy Hulen: Do you want to tell readers a little about your StoryVerse?
Jeremy Schofield: Ash Falls is probably best described as “urban paranormal.” The setting is what a reader would recognize as a mid-sized contemporary city. However, due to the influence of mystical forces, it has become a magnet of sorts: attracting various denizens of the underworld such as vampires, werewolves, and long-forgotten deities.
SH: One of the things I’ve noticed about Ash Falls is the tendency for people to get stuck there. What is that all about?
JS: The residents of Ash Falls are trapped there due to an enchantment over the city. Currently, none of the characters in our stories know a whole lot about this enchantment – though the authors do, of course! This enchantment is bilateral – it makes those who reside in Ash Falls uncomfortable leaving, and it makes outsiders uncomfortable with staying as they pass through. The workings of the enchantment (known as the Terlarang) will be revealed more fully throughout the stories of Season One.
SH: It’s a good way to make sense of the crazy that is Ash Falls without it spilling into the rest of the world.
SH: Ash Falls is located in Oregon?
JS: Ash Falls is located in Oregon. It is entirely fictional, out of my own head. In the Oregon of Ash Falls, the Umpqua River is not split into Northern and Southern branches, but is one mighty tributary reaching into the center of the state. Ash Falls is located roughly where real-life Roseburg is on a “real” map.
SH: What made you choose that location?
JS: Sigh…the workings of a writer’s mind, I suppose. The very first story I ever wrote about Ash Falls (almost 20 years ago) had a character heading down to the docks on a river. I live in New Mexico – there is not a river dock to be found within a thousand miles of where I live. I have always loved the idea of Oregon (though I have never been there) and decided I would just sort of invent a river valley somewhere along I-5. With that, Ash Falls was born.
SH: Is there anything you want writers who are thinking of submitting a story to the Ash Falls StoryVerse to know?
JS: Character is king. The protagonist must fit within the dark outlook of our StoryVerse.
It is kind of a hopeless environment, really. My main character, Brian Drake, is quite jaded and despondent from a lifetime of living under the Terlarang. Even being in the know about the working of the “Second World” (as denizens of the supernatural call it) gives him no real peace of mind. Quite the opposite, actually.
Our other authors deal with this concept in various ways. Steve Cotterill is actually telling a coming-of-age story of sorts, about a young man of a minority ethnicity who has grown up in this environment. K. Edwin Fritz and Charel Kunz are tackling the problem from the outlook of outsiders being introduced into this foreign world of Ash Falls. But, in all three of their cases, we are beginning with a strong character that the reader really empathizes with first, then tying in the supernatural elements from there.
SH: Is there anything that you would look at in a submission and immediately say “no, thanks.”?
JS: Sparkly vampires. I have loved vampires since reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula at a very young age, and the “softening” of horror elements, especially in YA books, has really made me sad. I want these immortal creatures to be beyond what we would consider normal human outlooks.
Other things…though I love zombie movies, zombies don’t really fit into our world very well. Beyond that, just about any horror or supernatural element you can come up with can probably find a home here.
SH: What has the StoryVerse building process been like for you and your team?
JS: Controlled chaos. I delivered a couple of pages of background story to my authors at the beginning of the process and we took it from there. We now have a ton of shared resources, including a spreadsheet tracking all major characters, a master document talking about plot elements, and even a map of the city so that we can place geographic locations. Much of the credit for development of this material goes to one of my authors, K. Edwin Fritz, who decided my info wasn’t robust enough, and created the spreadsheet all on his own. I am given to understand that it is going to be used as a pilot for other developing story-verses. It has been a tremendously collaborative effort. We now actually talk weekly and coordinate potential crossovers and other opportunities for development of the setting.
SH: If you had the chance to sit down and chat with a writer trying to sell us on their StoryVerse idea, what advice would you give?
JS: So, to those developing a new StoryVerse…
First, understanding that this will no longer be YOUR story would be the most important thing to remember.
The collaborative effort will take your ideas in unexpected directions. Be prepared to not veto ideas because they don’t match your original vision. Be open to expanding your vision to include ideas that come from your authors.
SH: How was that realization for you? Was it something you were expecting?
JS: I was not expecting it at all. Which was silly, in hindsight. We become fiction writers because we want to create, not because we want to follow directions. It was very humbling for me to realize that I was surrounded by writers who were not only at least as talented as I am, but had much better ideas in many cases.
Secondly, make sure that your StoryVerse is not centered on any particular story. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow and “Inheritance” was never finished, Ash Falls could keep right on going on the basis of The Perpetuals and Fallen and Reborn. 90% your StoryVerse must rest outside of any one story.
I think the best training I had for creating a shared universe was the decades I spent playing role-playing games (as a DM.) There was so much world-creation that the players never got to see, but was still important in order to make it all feel real.
SH: Thank you for your time and words of wisdom. Is there anything else you would like to share?
JS: Write as much as you can. When you aren’t writing, read. Look at how other authors create their worlds, and ask yourself “could I do that?” And don’t be afraid of rejection…
After all, Ash Falls came to be after the Fiction Vortex team rejected a short story I wrote set in Ash Falls. They didn’t like the story, but loved the setting.
Thank you Jeremy for your time and wisdom. I certainly learned new things from our conversation and I hope that our readers did as well. For those who are anxiously wondering how they can get their hands on Ash Falls, just click on the button labeled “The StoryVerse” and it will be there waiting for you. Jeremy’s story, Inheritance is the first on the list and I can’t sell it any better than the description he wrote:
When your legacy is a curse.
Ash Falls is the city your mother warned you about. Supernatural creatures run the underworld. Spirits stalk the streets. Dark magic kills more people than firearms. And Brian Drake, P.I., must find out which of the members of the shadowy ruling council had a reclusive millionaire killed in an attempt to seize power – while keeping himself alive, and his own skeletons locked in the closet. What he discovers will change the balance of power in Ash Falls forever.
(I’ve read it. It’s good. Really good. Lovely characters… wrong word. Dark characters. Real characters. People I might actually meet if Ash Falls were a real place. See. His description is much better than mine. Enjoy your reading!)
For those hopeful authors out there, you can submit your story idea to Ash Falls. Just click on the submissions button, read through our guidelines, and submit something.
We want you to #jointhestory.