#amreading: Meet Indie Author Jason Cantrell and the Trigger for the Apocalypse

Jason, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. I’ve been wanting to learn a bit more about Gabby and her friends and family so am excited to delve into Manifestation.

“Gabby mani_promoPalladino believes in magic . Her parents always tell her that magic is nothing more than foolish superstition. But she grew upreading ancient fairy tales known as the Fables of Arcana, which filled her mind with wonderand mystery. When those myths and legends start to come true, Gabby learns that real magic is far more dangerous than the bedtime stories she always believed in. 

When people begin manifesting the powers of arcana, Gabby finds herself surrounded by dangers on all sides. She encounters people who can melt steel with their minds, create earthquakes, and summon flames from their bare hands. She must struggle to survive in a city gripped by chaos and destruction, while trying to discover why people are manifesting abilities that have been lost since ancient times. What she learns will make her question everything she believes in, about the world, her family, and even her own self.”

What was the genesis of the idea for Manifestation? Was this an idea you had for a long time before writing it or was it that middle of night flash of genius?

The main idea for Manifestation started after I spent a couple of years writing on collaborative writing and roleplaying websites. A common theme on such sites, and one also seen across fantasy and urban fantasy literature, is the idea of the post-apocalyptic world. I wrote on several settings where some kind of cataclysm had struck, and afterwards, humans had started developing magical, psychic, or mutant powers. These settings made for an interesting “alternate reality” version of the modern world, allowing the writers to play with fantasy tropes in a modern urban setting.

The common trait all of these settings had was how they all started in the post-apocalypse, anywhere from a few months to decades after the cataclysmic event that changed the world. This is true in both the collaborative writing websites I wrote on and in most fantasy literature I’ve read. The setting comes “pre-packaged” in a world that is struggling to rebuild. While there are a lot of fun themes to play with in such a setting, I was always left wondering, why skip the apocalypse? It seems to me that the end of the world would be a pretty interesting thing to write about.

Because of this idea, Manifestation starts off in a world that has no magic. The title itself, Manifestation, refers to the rebirth or revival of magic and the first time magical powers come into existence since ages past. The rebirth of these powers soon leads to chaos and conflict, and the sequels will take the reader on a journey that will eventually lead to a world very different from the one they start off in.

How do you approach writing from a young female’s viewpoint? Are there people in your life you draw from on how to make Gabby act?

I don’t draw on any specific individuals to develop Gabby’s personality. A lot of her comes from inside me. I have a strong, often unexpressed feminine side. I have no shame in admitting that I write poetry, I played with Barbies as a kid, and I cried like a baby when Angel died in the movie Rent. These things don’t fit a heteronormative view of a “masculine” identity, but they’re part of who I am. I drew on this more sensitive side when developing Gabby’s character. She’s gentle at heart, and she’s an introvert, much like me. She’s a poet, and I have a collection of in-character poetry written from her point of view, based on her experiences in the books. And like me, she believes in the best in people and always giving people the benefit of the doubt, but when someone pushes her hard enough, she’ll lash out with all the suppressed power inside of her.

When you are writing a long series like this one, how do you keep track of continuity between events and the timelines of when things happen?

I write in Scrivener, and I use its note-taking function to keep track of the dates of the events in each book. I also keep a general timeline of events printed out for easy reference, allowing me to track what happened when, where, and to whom. Scrivener’s note-taking function can also be used for chapter summaries, allowing me to write up a short synopsis of each chapter that remains attached to the chapter in the file, but stays hidden when I transfer the file to another program like Word. Also, when I have trouble remembering the details of a certain event (after writing six books in a series, it’s hard to remember everything), I can usually find the scene I’m looking for by running a CTRL-F search of a key phrase or line that stands out in my memory. That helps me find the right scene out of the full length of the book, and I can review it from there.

What is the most challenging part of writing Manifestation? Hardest character to get into or understand?

The most challenging part was probably figuring out what had to be cut during revisions. The first draft of the book started off meandering for a long time before I got the characters where I wanted to be, and in the end, I cut about 40,000 words. Some of that was hard to cut since it was really good writing that told a really good story. The problem was, it wasn’t part of the main story. I had to learn to focus on what the central plot of this book was and figure out what was backstory that wasn’t part of that. Once I made those decisions, along with a little help from my editor and some recommendations from my critique partners, I was able to figure out what had to go and what had to stay.

I didn’t have any trouble with any of the main characters in Manifestation, though I sometimes struggled with the development of the supporting characters. Gabby’s parents, her brothers, and her sister, for example, play a key role in several events in the book. Since they’re not there for other sections, however, there wasn’t as much time to give them full development. That meant I had to make the most out of the scenes they appear in. Gabby’s oldest brother Anthony is the best example. He has the fewest scenes of any member of the family, but I put a lot of characterization into those scenes to really make the most out of them.

Parts that you just want to get through?

Any time bad things happen to the characters, I have a hard time writing it. Certain tragedies were planned out in advance, and they really have a strong impact on the characters’ emotions and development. But even when I know these events are coming, I end up struggling with actually writing them. Sometimes after writing a particularly tragic scene, I need to step back and take a break. When you’ve invested so much time and energy into making the characters come to life, it’s hard not to feel bad when bad things happen to them.

What has been your favorite part of the books so far? Best line or scene you’ve written?

I like the kissing scenes. Since this is an urban fantasy action/adventure series, I don’t get to fit as many of them in as I’d like, but they’re there. I think one of the best lines I’ve written was actually during the first kissing scene of Manifestation, though you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is. Not because I don’t want to share it, but because it has a direct tie-in to everything that happens afterwards, and revealing it before you read it would spoil the magic.

Is there a character that has taken a completely different turn than you originally planned for it? Characters that you maybe discarded and wrote out? 

None of the major characters were ever discarded, though a minor character always has the chance of dropping off my radar. A lot of the supporting characters in the series tend to come up when I need someone to serve a specific task. For example, a character who appears later in the series, Vijay Pavari, was written in because I specifically needed a character with computer and electrical engineering skills. Gabby obviously has no such skills, so I had to add someone to fill that role. Vijay ends up becoming a major character in the long run, but not all supporting characters get developed into someone important like that. Sometimes, they have their moment in the spotlight, then they disappear, never to be seen again.

As for main characters taking a completely different turn, that happens all the time. I tend to give them carte blanche when it comes to where the story is going, and oftentimes they take things in directions I never planned for. I usually take that as a sign that my original plans weren’t fitting that character quite right, so I let it happen and see where it takes me.

I saw in another interview that you stated killing off a character is what you find the hardest about writing. Have you ever tried to change the story to keep them alive?

Never. One of the things I hate most in some stories is when the author won’t kill characters off because they’re too attached to them. For example, in his Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordon introduces about 12 major characters in the first book. By the last page of the series, 11 of them are still alive (even though at least 3 of them had “fake” deaths where the reader was led to believe they’d died, only to have them return later). When a writer refuses to kill off characters in this way, it leads to readers thinking they have “plot armor” (i.e. they’re invincible because main characters can’t die).

Because this bothers me so much, I started this series with a simple rule: Anyone can die. If I ever find myself hesitating, I remind myself about that rule. I don’t want to rob all the drama and tension from the biggest, most dangerous scenes because the reader knows I won’t kill off a main character. My only hope is that each character gets a lot of development before their time comes, so their eventual loss sticks with the reader long after the book is finished.

NaNoWriMo – You’ve mentioned that other authors “motivated” you to do it the first time. What keeps you coming back to writing an entire novel in a month?

Mostly the fact that I have so many books in my head, waiting to be written. I’m in the middle of revising the second book, Contamination, with a planned release for mid-2015. I’ve also finished first drafts of a 3rd, 4th, and 5th, and when this NaNoWriMo is finished, I’ll be done the 6th. I’m planning to take a break from writing first drafts after this to work on revisions for a while (since I need to get these books published, after all), but I’ve still got ideas stored for the next volume. I’ve got extensive notes for the next series of books, which will be at least a trilogy (books seven, eight, and nine). This next series will explore some new concepts and ideas that the first books haven’t gotten the chance to delve into yet. A lot of this is because there’s so much potential to the Arcana Revived world, and it’ll take many years and many books to explore all of the possibilities.

What do you see for your characters from Manifestation in the future?

There’s the sequels, obviously. They take the characters on some epic journeys that turn them into people that are quite different from who they started off as. I’ve also got a series of short stories I’m writing, some of which will explore origin stories of the characters. The short story collection will also be a great chance to explore some of the characters who don’t get the spotlight as often. For example, the character I mentioned above, Vijay, is a fascinating person with a lot of unexplored potential. But naturally, he has to take a backseat to Gabby in the main series. I plan to write some short stories about his individual adventures and aspirations in order to see more of his character beyond the way he supports Gabby’s story. In addition, I’ll be exploring other aspects of the characters through things like Gabby’s poetry collection, which will allow me to show a side of her that isn’t always seen in the books. The poems are very personal and emotional, and all written in first person point of view. This allows me to explore Gabby’s voice in a way I can’t do in the main narrative.

Who are your major influences?

The aforementioned collaborative writing sites I wrote on were pretty big influences. I also learned a lot about writing a magic system by reading Robert Jordon’s Wheel of Time series, and he heavily influenced my work. I take a very different view on how magic works and what it can do, but a lot of the fundamentals are similar, such as how magic-users can sense the energy held within another magic-user’s body. Supernatural stories in a modern setting, like the shows Heroes and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were also a big influence. There’s a little bit of Buffy in Gabby; both are strong female protagonists who still struggle to focus on their families and friends while trying to save the world. One of the other big influences was definitely Final Fantasy VI, a game that directly inspired a lot of my ideas about magic returning to a world that had forgotten how it works.

Future projects?

I have a musical I’m working on. No, seriously. It’s a novella about a girl who visits a musical theatre, only to find herself drawn into the play taking place on stage. It shifts back and forth between the modern-day theatre and the play’s setting, an 1850’s steam-powered riverboat being besieged by bandits. Though it’s never quite clear whether the main character is actually traveling to another time period, or if she’s crazy and it’s all just happening in her head.

The musical novella, Giapelli, uses a mixture of narrative prose, poetry, the main character’s diary entries, and the lyrics of the songs being sung on stage. Which, as you might guess, makes it a very complicated piece to work on. It’s currently a complete first draft, but it’ll probably be a few years before it gets published.

Final thoughts?

I hope that you find the book interesting, and if you do, please feel free to contact me and let me know. I’m easy to reach through Twitter, I always welcome comments on my blog, and of course, reviews of the book are always appreciated.

This was so enlightening! Thanks so much! 


 About the Author:

Jason Cantrell was born and raised in New Jersey, give or take a few years sowing wild oats andracking up credit card debt on the west coast. He’s a graduate of Rowan University, Class of2013, with a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Writing Arts and minoring in Communication Studies. He is also a member of the Rowan’s graduate program, Master of Arts in Writing, Class of 2015. Jason has been writing fiction since the fifth grade, and he most definitely believes in magic.

Manifestation is Jason’s debut novel, and the first in the Arcana Revived series. You can find more of his work at writingpossibilities.com or connect with him on Twitter @CantrellJason. Manifestation is available on Amazon and Nook

Excerpt from Manifestation

It was another quiet drive home. Gabby sat in the car and stared out the window at nothing. Mom tried to get her to say something by asking how the session had gone, but she quickly gave up when it became clear Gabby wasn’t going to talk.

As soon as they pulled into the driveway at home Mom said, “Straight up to your room.” Gabby huffed, not bothering to acknowledge her mother. She knew she was still grounded and didn’t need Mom telling her every day. She got out of the car and slammed the door, then stalked up to the house.

The house was quiet. Gabby let out a sigh of relief. The relief was short lived, though, since the little monster started bawling as soon as she came inside. She growled and rubbed at her temples as the pressure in her skull built up again. She wasn’t in the mood for Dante’s noise.

Gabby stalked into the living room. Adrianna was there, leaning over the bassinet to check on Dante. “Can’t you make him stop crying?” Gabby snapped at her sister.

Adrianna shot her a dirty look and picked Dante up. She rocked him in her arms and whispered soothing noises. Mom stepped past Gabby into the living room and went over to check on him. Adrianna shook her head and in a confused tone said, “He’s been fine all day . . .”

“And what about you?” Mom asked her. Adrianna had a look of pain on her face again, hinting at another migraine starting up.

Gabby turned and went back down the hall towards the stairs. As she stalked up the stairs to her room, she heard her sister say, “It’s nothing. It’s already going away.”

Cut off from TV, her phone, and her computer, Gabby sat in her room most of the night, feeling sorry for herself and listing in her mind all the things wrong with her life. Her sister and nephew were high on the list. She couldn’t even relax while she was grounded, since when Adrianna brought Dante upstairs for his nap, he started crying again and wouldn’t go to sleep or shut up for the next hour. She tried to tune him out, then tried to spend some time putting her thoughts down in her diary, but she couldn’t concentrate with the constant wailing coming from down the hall.

When she couldn’t take any more, she stepped out into the hall and shouted into Adrianna’s room, “God, just shut him up! Can’t you make him shut up?”

Her sister glared at her and snapped, “You know, you yelling all the time isn’t helping.” She got up and stalked over to Gabby, but she swayed in her steps. She paused to lean against her dresser. She looked dizzy, her eyes glazed and unfocused. She pressed the heels of her palms to the sides of her head. Tears welled in her eyes from the pain of the migraine setting in. Gabby frowned and stepped closer, her anger fading into worry at how sick her sister looked. As she stepped closer, Adrianna whimpered in pain, and looked about ready to collapse.

She looked up at Gabby, her eyes distant, and muttered in a confused tone, “Why are you leaving?”

Gabby frowned at the odd words, then screamed, Mom! as Adrianna collapsed to the floor.

* * *

An ambulance took Adrianna to the hospital and Gabby, Mom, and Dante followed in the car. They called Dad on the way, and he met them at the hospital shortly after Adrianna was taken into the ER. They sat in the waiting room and Mom tried to comfort Dante, but he was crying so much that they asked if a doctor could look at him too. The baby was taken to the pediatric ward for tests, and the rest of the family was left waiting.

Gabby was silent while they sat and waited to hear back on the results. She felt guilty for yelling at her sister, even though she knew that couldn’t have had anything to do with her collapse. Still, if something bad happened, she didn’t want an argument to be the last words she shared with Adrianna.

After hours of waiting, the doctor came out to talk to them. “They’re both doing fine,” he said. “The pain faded almost as soon as you brought her in and she hasn’t had any more symptoms during the tests. We didn’t find anything physically wrong with her. It’s possible the episode was brought on by stress.”

Gabby shrank back as her mother shot her a look. A tightness welled up in her gut and the pressure in her head swelled up. She looked away, staring at the wall. Mom turned to the doctor and asked, “Can we see her?”

He nodded and said, “We’d like to keep both her and her son overnight for observation. But you can go in for a few minutes.”

Gabby waited out in the hall while Mom went in to talk to Adrianna. She felt like this was somehow her fault. She knew she’d been lashing out lately. The pressure in her head got worse whenever Dante was crying and sometimes she felt like she was holding back a dam that was about to burst. She felt horrible for snapping, but she didn’t know what else to do. She thought about asking if one of the doctors could look at her head while they were there, but that would mean dragging up the suicide attempt again. She couldn’t deal with that.

She was sitting on the ground, knees hugged against her chest, when her mother returned from Adrianna’s room. Mom stood over Gabby, looked down at her, and said, “I want you to go in there and apologize to your sister.”

Gabby looked off to the side and brushed a tear from her eye. All she could see of Mom out of the corner of her eye were her legs and her hands at her waist, fists clenched tightly around her purse. She glanced up, peering through the thin veil of her brown hair hanging in front of her face. Mom’s eyes were red and strained. She looked sick. Down the hall, Gabby saw Dad exiting Adrianna’s room. He took a few slow, aching steps, then leaned against the wall. He rubbed his hand across his face and let out a long, slow breath. He stood there with his shoulders slumped, staring at nothing.

She wondered if they’d looked like that when she was in the hospital a month before, unconscious, having her stomach pumped. If they’d cared that much. It hadn’t been sympathy she’d awoken to. It had been her mother asking, What is wrong with you?

She slowly rose and under her mother’s stern gaze she marched down the hall to her sister’s room. Dad tried to force a smile as she walked by, though he did a poor job of it. When she walked into the room, she saw Adrianna lying there in pain with tears welling in her eyes. Her hair looked stringy from sweat, and she had wires and sensors stuck to her head and chest.

She was giving Gabby a strange look as she entered. She looked confused. Distant. Staring more through her than at her. After a moment she closed her eyes and shook her head, then she leaned back in the hospital bed. Her movements were slow and weak. She looked exhausted and the pain was clearly etched on her face.

Gabby felt her mother’s eyes on her back and she quickly whispered, “I’m sorry.”

Adrianna slowly forced her eyes open and gave her a weak smile. “So am I,” she said. She gave Gabby another strange look, as if she didn’t recognize her. Gabby stepped back and shifted her feet. Adrianna kept staring at her like she was studying her, while Gabby stood there fidgeting under her sister’s gaze.

She was about to turn to leave, uncertain what else to say, when Adrianna said, “Hey . . .” Gabby turned back to her sister but kept her head lowered, unable to meet her eyes. “None of it’s your fault, you know.” Gabby looked up at Adrianna for a moment and stared, then lowered her eyes in shame. “You didn’t start this,” Adrianna whispered.

Gabby glanced back up at her sister. Adrianna’s eyes were glazed over. Gabby’s chest felt tight. Her head pounded. Adrianna winced and covered her face with a hand, whimpering in pain. Gabby turned and hurried from the room, unable to see her sister in such pain.