Inkshares Interview - Evan Graham & TANTALUS DEPTHS

Tantalus Depths

The Diamelen’s survey mission to Tantalus 13 takes an unexpected turn when the entire planet turns out to be an ancient artificial structure. What lies in the heart of Tantalus? And why is the crew’s AI, SCARAB, willing to kill to keep its secret?

Who is Evan Graham and what’s TANTALUS DEPTHS all about?

It’d be great if there was an easy answer to “who is Evan Graham.” That’d be awesome. Alas, I’ve been asking that question for almost three decades now and I can’t say I’ve come anywhere near a satisfactory answer.

I have a Bachelors in Education Studies from Kent State University, along with the triple minor of reading, writing, and theatre. It took me ages to graduate, since I changed my majors and minors no less than four times, and ultimately I’m not even really using the degree I have. I never felt drawn down any specific career path. Mainly, this was because I couldn’t muster up much interest in the comings and goings of the world I live in. I always had my attention on better things.

By that token, call me a dreamer. I’ve always had my head in one fantasy world or another. I refused to grow out of my childhood obsession with fictional worlds and universes. I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid, creating and sharing my own fictional universes with family and friends. Though I’ve dreamed of publishing a story since my youth, I never dared to try until this year, with Tantalus Depths.

Tantalus Depths is the first story I’ve written that I felt was truly ready for prime time. It’s a solid sci-fi thriller with a complex world, multi-layered characters, a dark mystery, and gripping action. It arose out of my love for classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, and carries the same kind of theme of humanity’s desire to explore the stars despite its childlike lack of perspective for its own cosmic importance.

As the Crew of The Diamelen arrives on Tantalus 13, they find themselves immersed in an ancient celestial mystery. Tantalus 13 isn’t a planet after all, but a planet-sized artificial construct of unknown purpose. What does it do? What was it for? What happened to its creators? Why did they go to such lengths to camouflage Tantalus 13 from the rest of the universe?

If it wasn’t enough that the crew of The Diamelen had these answers to seek, they must also contend with the will of SCARAB: their artificially intelligent base of operations. Despite being programmed to serve and defend its human masters at all costs, SCARAB seems to hold its own agenda: an agenda it will kill to pursue.

Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you?

Aspects of Tantalus Depths had been tumbling around in my imagination for quite some time, but they didn’t congeal into one single story until one of my advanced creative writing classes in college. I was given an assignment to write a story from the perspective of a person unlike myself. I’d been thinking of writing a story with a female protagonist for some time, as sort of an homage to Ripley from the Alien franchise, so I elected to put some of those ideas onto paper for the class assignment. Originally, it was only to have been a short story, between 15 and 25 pages long. Once I got into it, though, the pieces really began to fall together. I saw huge potential, and started drawing from even more influences, fleshing out the world-building, developing the characters. It wasn’t long before I realized I had way too much content for just a short story, and what had originally been a 15 page short-story assignment eventually evolved into a 50-60 page final project. I wrote the first three or four chapters in that class, then picked at the story for a while until I finally finished it in a different creative writing class with the same professor.

As much as I love writing, I don’t do it unless I have something really worth writing about. Tantalus Depths is important to me in many ways. I wanted to give the world another solid female protagonist (far, far too uncommon in this genre). I wanted to give the world a new take on the classic “evil AI” antagonist. I wanted to instill readers with an existential dread while also stimulating that wonder of discovery that Sci-Fi does so well. Above all else, though, I just wanted to tell a good story. So I did.

Why Inkshares?

I’ve dipped my toes into the world of publishing several times over the years, but always yanked them back out again immediately afterwards and ran off back into the house to cry in the corner. I looked into self-publishing once or twice, but realized pretty quickly that it was no place for someone as socially anxious as I am to find any kind of success. I looked into traditional publishing, then went onto a literary agent’s website and say the foreboding words “Just so you know, we get about 500 submissions a week, so we probably won’t pay much attention to your five-page excerpt at all. Nothing personal.” Well, it was something like that. Again, I was discouraged, and gave up before I even tried writing a good query letter. This year, I made exactly one New Years resolution for the entire year: I would get Tantalus Depths published somewhere, somehow. A couple months into the year, though, and I still hadn’t made any progress.

Then Inkshares all but literally fell into my lap. I follow several shows on Geek and Sundry, so I visit their site often. Then one day, I popped in and saw an announcement about a hard sci-fi competition, the winner to receive full publication and distribution. I stared blankly at the announcement before reality finally set in: here it is. This is how Tantalus Depths gets published.

I knew pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to win the contest. I didn’t find out about it until it was almost a month in, but as I familiarized myself with Inkshares, I came to realize that it is a place where you can really see results if you try hard enough. With self-publishing, you are on your own with the editing process, and you’ll only sell as many copies as you’re able to personally convince people to buy. With traditional publishing, the odds of any publication house even noticing you are slim, much less picking you up for a contract. Inkshares meets you halfway. It takes a huge amount of work to reach those publishing goals, but when you do, your efforts are rewarded with  a real, honest-to-goodness publication deal. I honestly think services like Inkshares are the future of publication, and I kind of feel like I’m getting in on the ground floor of something big. Assuming I do make it, that is.

What books have captured your attention lately?

One unfortunate side effect of running a campaign like this is the way it just about consumes 100% of your free time. I’m typically a compulsive consumer of all kinds of media: books, comics, video games, movies, new media, etc. But right now, when I get home from work, when I get up in the morning, and from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed, I’m working on getting new readers for my book. This hasn’t left me much time to check out other books. On the other hand, I’ve become aware of many new authors also funding on Inkshares. So far the only actual book I’ve been able to pick up from an Inkshares author has been Abomination by Gary Whitta (which, from the first two chapters, is quite good), but there are several other books I’m looking forward to getting a hold of that are either currently in the production process or still funding. And the Wolf Shall Dwell, by Joni Dee, Capes’ Side Bay by James Rasile, and Rune of the Apprentice by Jamison Stone are my top 3 right now. I eagerly look forward to getting my hands on copies of all three, but I’m also going to need to look into getting a new bookshelf for all the other books I’m going to be getting from Inkshares once they get through the production process. The place is an absolute literary goldmine.

Who are your greatest influences?

In the scientific community, scientists and theoreticians build upon the discoveries and research of each other. It’s a free exchange of knowledge, and no one could be where they are if not for those who came before. With science fiction writing, it’s much the same. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve taken notes from virtually every sci-fi writer that I’ve encountered, on some level.

Tantalus Depths takes most of its influence from three separate inspirations: 2001: a Space Odyssey, The Forbidden Planet, and Alien. I could write an essay on how those stories have influenced this one, but that would be shockingly dull to read. Suffice it to say, those are the big ones, and anyone who’s familiar with them will undoubtedly sense some familiar flavors when they pick up Tantalus Depths.

There are other influencers that are less obvious or direct. Most notably, I’ve made use of Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics, with some modifications of my own. Inspiration has come from everything from the Mass Effect video game series, to Stephen King, to ancient Greek mythology. Though it doubtless sounds like a jumbled grab-bag of influences, I assure you they fit together surprisingly well.

What’s next for you as a writer?

What’s next? Finishing my campaign. Getting Tantalus Depths through the production process. Putting it on shelves and in e-readers. Sharing it with the world. That’s the hook.

Once Tantalus Depths is out, I can properly begin to share my stories with the world. Tantalus Depths will have two sequels, for one. Beyond that, though, I have many other stories to tell. Tantalus Depths and its sequels will exist in a sort of anthology universe, where I will tell other stories set in different times and places with different casts of characters, united with the common theme of dark cosmic mystery. One story I know I will tell at some point is Proteus: a sci-fi adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III set on a multi-generational deep-space colony ship. Outside that anthology universe I have dozens of other stories to tell, ranging from gritty action-heavy space operas to tongue-in-cheek sci-fi comedies, to high fantasy epics. I’m placing no limits on myself. Once Tantalus Depths gets the ball rolling, it’s not going to stop. This is where my writing career launches.

You can read a sample & pre-order TANTALUS DEPTHS on Inkshares.