Please welcome Dan Hanks to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire was published on September 8, 2020 by Angry Robot.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
Dan: The very first I can remember, at about age 9, was a straight rip off of the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom mine cart chase, followed by some gruesome attack by the Hoth wampa from The Empire Strikes Back. I was deservedly called out for my copying and didn’t write another story (that I can remember) for years afterwards. However, I’m pretty proud I at least knew I should copy from the best.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Dan: I’ve tried everything, but I’ve found my groove right in the middle. I like to plot out my structure so I know where the story rises and falls and where the beats roughly need to be. Yet in between these plot points I really prefer to fly by the seat of my pants and give the characters licence to roam. That way the writing process is still exciting, because I have no idea how they will get from A to B, but I know that at the end of the first draft it’s going to be structurally pretty sound. (Usually.)
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Dan: Twitter. And I’m only half joking, because there are so many distractions and feeds to doomscroll that it’s incredibly difficult to start writing. Once I get those first few words down, it’s okay. But the first step continues to be the trickiest part of the process.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing? How does being a "vastly overqualified archaeologist" influence your writing?
Dan: I always use the “vastly overqualified archaeologist” title as a bit of a joke, because even with two degrees in the subject I still wasn’t able to earn a long-term career in the field. Mainly because I should have spent my time in an actual field doing the work instead of reading about it.
However, I adored my time studying archaeology and the knowledge I soaked up gave me the confidence to tackle some of the aspects of the subject that lie at the heart of this book. Admittedly, I also spent far too much time studying the more fringe elements of archaeology – flood myths, catastrophes, lost centres of information – which directly influenced the story itself.
In terms of general influences, I’m still in a place where 80s movies are playing a big role. The sense of storytelling fun from that era is something I miss and am trying to channel into my writing.
TQ: Describe Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire using only 5 words.
TQ: Tell us something about Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire that is not found in the book description.
Dan: Great question! Wow, okay.
The book was originally called ‘Captain Moxley and the Ashes of the Gods’. The team at Angry Robot came up with the current and much better title, but both related to the idea that the end goal of this book – the Hall of Records - is connected to a much wider universe. It’s all about the remnants of empire. And this works on a couple of levels in the book, it’s not just about physical material culture left behind, but ideologies too.
TQ: What inspired you to write Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire?
Dan: I love Indiana Jones. Grew up with the first three movies and couldn’t wait to see the fourth. I’ve since made my peace with it, but my initial viewing didn’t sit well and prompted me to rather egotistically think I could write my own – so I sat down and wrote a script of Indy 5.
This obviously wasn’t going to go anywhere. So I decided to revise it with new characters and a more twisted and fantastical story, before eventually adapting it into a book and having it evolve even more. And my inspiration behind this rewrite was to create a hero who was far more exhausted and cynical than any I’d seen before in this type of adventure. Someone who also saw the age-old archaeological treasure hunt in a different light. And that someone was Captain Samantha Moxley.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire?
Dan: This is a fantastical alternate history adventure… so my research was fairly light! I knew I could draw on the archaeological thinking already in my head for that core plotline, so my main concern was trying to convey the 1950s setting in an authentic light (while not distracting from the story). And that was a lot of fun, because it’s a really fascinating era.
I wanted Sam to be a former Spitfire pilot because my grandfather was one and I grew up wanting to be one myself. And although she isn’t drawn from any particular person, there are a wealth of stories of incredible women from the Second World War that I used to give her that stubborn spirit and refusal to bow down in the face of oppression. The brilliant author Tara Moss recently wrote a piece on seven of these women which you should totally take a few minutes to read: https://msmagazine.com/2020/09/02/seven-indomitable-women-of-world-war-ii/
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire.
Dan: The cover is a dream. Literally, this has been my dream for as long as I’ve been writing. I love those old school film poster style illustrations and the artist here, Dan Strange, is an absolute master of them. I saw his work initially on a book by S.A. Sidor called Fury From the Tomb and fell in love with that so much (the book is also AMAZING). So when Angry Robot suggested Dan should be my cover artist I was so incredibly happy. And this cover is perfect. I couldn’t have wished for anything better.
Does it depict anything from the novel? Yes! In that old school style you’ve got the main cast, you’ve got a couple of hints about set pieces, you’ve got a hint of a badder baddie than the bad guy you can see, and there is an artefact too. Also some weird, undead hands at the sides, which I guess you might see too…
TQ: In Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Dan: Sam was the most fun. Writing someone who reacts badly to corrupt and shady governments and is tired of everyone’s crap – as most of us are in 2020 – was a joy. Especially because she gets to fight back. Wish fulfilment? Maybe.
The hardest… I’m not sure. I had to take more time with one of the ‘bad guys’, a military man called Colonel Arif, because I wanted to give him a level of righteousness which we can understand. Yes, he’s bad. But also… he’s right. He’s justified in his hatred of western interference in Egypt and his distrust of the American Agents (and Sam). He also has an arguably noble intention of restoring his country’s position as a shining light on the international stage. So that took a few versions and some brilliant guidance from my editor Eleanor Teasdale to get right.
TQ: Does Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire touch on any social issues?
Dan: Absolutely. Storytelling versions of archaeology have always made it seem romantic. Travelling the world, picking up mystical artefacts, and taking them back to your country to show ‘the world’. Yet this idea is rooted in colonialism. Those aren’t our artefacts to take away from their cultural context or display in our countries for a select group of outsiders to ogle.
I was taught old school archaeology. I appreciate the importance of studying our past and I LOVE museums as places of learning and safeguarding material culture. But thanks to some powerful voices out there, I now understand how the execution of these concepts has been – and can still be – problematic. So this issue is explored in the book as a clash of thinking between our cynical hero and her archaeologist sister.
TQ: Which question about Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
“This story reminded me of that old click and point adventure game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Was that intentional?”
“Why yes, thank you so much for noticing! I loved that game when I was a teenager and it played a huge part in influencing some of the story and the general feel of lots of this book.”
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire.
“Our gaze into history should always be humble and respectful and undertaken with a light touch.”
I love this quote from Sam’s older professor friend Teddy, not only because it’s pretty much how I feel, but also because it comes shortly before the destruction of a whole site of ancient artefacts and tons of fighting. Best laid plans and all that.
TQ: What's next?
Dan: I’m heading towards the end of a middle-aged-parent-ghostbusters-at-Christmas story right now, as well as working on something else which is a huge, exciting project. So I’m busy writing other books and finally in a position where I can give them my full focus, after many years of writing around day jobs and freelance gigs.
As for future Captain Moxley adventures… I’d love to write more. Let’s see what happens. :)
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Dan: Thanks so much for having me and for so many wonderful questions!
Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire
Angry Robot, September 8, 2020
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 394 pages
An ex-Spitfire pilot is dragged into a race against a shadowy government agency to unlock the secrets of the lost empire of Atlantis…
In the post-war peace of 1952, ex-Spitfire pilot Captain Samantha Moxley should be done fighting bad guys. Instead, she finds herself dragged into a clash with a mysterious US government agency known as The Nine, when they take an interest in the work of Jess, her archaeologist sister.
Pursued by The Nine, former Nazis, and a host of otherworldly monsters, Sam must fight to protect her sister and uncover two hidden keys which promise to unlock the greatest archaeological find in history: the fabled Hall of Records.
From the skies over New York, to the catacombs of Paris, and finally to the ruins of Ancient Egypt, her quest takes her into the ashes of the past in search of the dying embers of an empire….and a discovery that could transform the world, or bring it to a terrible end.
File Under: Fantasy [ Top Women | Riff-RAF | Pyramid Scheme | Bash the Fash ]
Dan is a writer, editor, and vastly overqualified archaeologist who has lived everywhere from London to Hertfordshire to Manchester to Sydney, which explains the panic in his eyes anytime someone asks “where are you from?”. Thankfully he is now settled in the rolling green hills of the Peak District with his human family and fluffy sidekicks Indy and Maverick, where he writes books, screenplays and comics.