This week on Geek Speaks..Fiction!, horror author Samuel Sattin joins us to share what made him geek out while writing his new book, The Silent End, a chilling novel for mature teens and adults alike. His work has been described as being full of fun, terror, tragedy, and delight.
About the author: Samuel Sattin is a novelist and essayist. He is the author of League of Somebodies, described by Pop Matters as “One of the most important novels of 2013.” His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Salon, io9, Kotaku, San Francisco Magazine, Publishing Perspectives, LitReactor, The Weeklings, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College and an MFA in Comics from CCA. He’s the recipient of NYS and SLS Fellowships and lives in Oakland, California.
It’s not overly difficult to describe what I geeked out on while writing The Silent End, mostly because the main character is a grade-A certified nerd, seventeen and on the edge of emotional collapse in many ways.
Eberstark (he goes by his last name) is obsessed with an imagined strategy board game called Sword Star. He was introduced to it by his friend Gus Mustus–a central protagonist in the book–and the two spend what some would call too much time in dank rooms, painting figurines for what’s amounting to be their first shot at tournament play.
Eberstark uses the game in many ways to cope with his mother’s disappearance, and the fact that his father has become somewhat of a lunatic, running around their hometown of Mossglow, hunting monsters in the night.
Though Sword Star isn’t at the center of the equation for the characters–particularly since another central protagonist, Lexi Navarro, doesn’t give a damn about it–it does inform their lives. Gaming is more ubiquitous now than it ever has been, but when I was in high school it was still considered one of those things antisocial and/or smelly, unathletic kids did. Only in the last few years has it achieved a sort of cache.
For The Silent End, I forced myself to journey back in time to a not so distant past when such hobbies classified you as an outsider, or if not an outsider, then a featureless face.
For the actual mechanics of the game, I turned to franchises like Warhammer 40K and Pathfinder. Though I don’t play the former anymore, the one thing I always enjoyed about it was the artfulness of painting your own figurines. I was never any good at the process myself. Impatient and uncoordinated, I would slop layers of paint over pewter surfaces (I owned an army of Chaos Marines) until the coats were muddy and coarse. By contrast, other friends of mine would create legions that were creative as they were exact. I had a tendency to get jealous.
One of the most exciting things about creating an army was that the endeavor constituted equal parts method and improv. Though the figurines were in fact characters, with specific traits and abilities designed for gameplay, their designs were, in many ways, left up to the players.
When I was a teen, my friends and I created an entire terrain for play with paper mache, static grass, gravel, and other various broken bits from around our homes. After much spray painting and gluing and debris scattering, we created a battle terrain of epic proportions, with fortresses, trenches, gullies and hills. It felt like a true accomplishment, something resultant of wit and craftsmanship.
On a fundamental level, what we were engaged in was an art project; one we actively applied our own sense of individuality to. No one player created the same army. Each battalion took on the characteristics of its maker, so that when you played a game, you would be recognized, not just for your strategy, but for the banner you flew.
Another thing I geeked out on when writing the Silent End had very little to do with actual writing. Map making is something I’ve been doing since I was very young; as a child, I became fascinated with what many a child has: the map of Middle Earth found at the beginning of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. From the moment I laid eyes on it, I was hooked. I began buying books for their maps alone.
They are something of a trope in fantasy literature, where the idea of world building takes on cartographic qualities reminiscent of what you might see in maps of the ancient world, where technology was limited, and humans relied on landmarks, monuments, and cruder scientific tools to maintain course.
The Silent End veers a little more into sci-fi/horror than fantasy, but I still felt compelled to map the town of Mossglow into being. Though I only truly realized it in retrospect, this has much to do with the nature of the town itself. Mossglow is a place where the mist comes in thick; and not just any normal mist, but something hefty and narcotic, something that makes you forget yourself.
In a fashion, Mossglow is ever shifting, sleepy and dark, and a map is required to keep you on your path.
I created my own version of the city in 2014. Drawing to the best of my ability, the final product left something to be desired. But when my friend and illustrator colleague, Jacob Magraw got involved, I knew we could do something special. Jacob, like me, understands the odd appeal of fantasy maps, along with a thing or two about their history, and applied what I’d describe as his biomorphic artistic style to the trope, bringing Mossglow quite nearly to life.
Seeing it complete was a big moment for me. It was also nothing less than thrilling to collaborate with someone so visually inclined, who could help Mossglow take on dimensions it never would have been able to do otherwise.
The Silent End has been a labor of love, but it’s also run through with melancholy. It’s as much of a book about dream creatures, monsters, and strategy board games, as it is about loss; namely that of my mother. I was able to return to my childhood in some ways to create The Silent End, but in other ways, it felt like an escape as well from the world as it is. I think it’s important to remember why we tend to hide out in fantasy worlds. It’s not just because of the fact that they’re exciting and/or beautiful, which they can be. They also help us forget about our own lives, and hide away from the world as it is, journeying instead to a world as it might be, where the word ‘reality’ means something else entirely.