An Interview with John Dahlgren: On the Tides of Avarice

Dec 5, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

1) John, I have just finished reading The Tides of Avarice. Let me first ask you, where did you get the idea of using lemmings?

I was wondering what creature would suit this story best and be the protagonist or hero. Lemmings have been a bit under used and I wanted to play about the general opinion that they are sort of a mindless living herd of rodents, jumping into a river or ocean and just keep on going without really thinking first and see where they are going or what the consequences will be. This is not necessary true in real life about lemmings but I’ve used it as a base for this story. I also went quite a lot to the natural history museum and compared stuffed animals like foxes and lemmings, badgers, mice, ocelots etc. To see their correct size. But as it is a fantasy story, I’ve not been one hundred percent accurate to the sizing of everything.

2) Now, where did you get the idea for this story?

Well, I’ve always loved anthropomorphic stories e.g. Wind in the Willows. Another book that was my favorite as a child was Treasure Island. The story just popped into my head for some reason. Of course inspiration usually comes from what we read and watch. I would say most fantasy books e.g. Tolkien, Narnia, The Never-ending Story, Alice in Wonderland and The Wind in the Willows among many others may have influenced this particular story. The main villain of the The Tides of Avarice was actually inspired by The Sea Wolf by Jack London and Long John Silver from Treasure Island. He’s a very complex character and as a psychologist, I simply couldn’t resist to probe into his mind. (You might call it an occupational hazard).

3) John, I have been to Gamla Stan and Stockholm and that area so I know about that part of the world. How did that area of the world impact you and does it currently impact your writing?

That’s great to hear that you’ve visited that part of Stockholm. Yes, I grew up close to the coast but also in the part of Sweden where you can find old forests. I was influenced by an early age from the Nordic sagas and fairytales (gnomes, trolls, magic and so on). Although, I love to write satire, I always have a place for the untamed landscapes, mystifying forests (if one can ignore the sound of chainsaws cutting down trees) and the stormy oceans and I would love to continue to write fantasy in an up-to-date style but with a little of the Victorian writing style as a base.

4) Let’s talk good and evil – Is Sylvester your typical hero?

Sylvester is probably the most anti-hero protagonist one can find (at least in the beginning) but he’s a decent fellow. However, he’s a little slow-witted at times as well as succumbed and gullible. But he’s (at least for me) someone that’s easy (in some ways) to relate to. I was trying to show not only his adventurous journey but also his inner journey i.e. to begin to question things that occurs around him in his safe hamlet. He also begins to ponder about politics, religion and how he discovers that he’s capable of more than he ever could dream of.

5) Now let’s talk absent father- did you intentionally set out to have Sylvester find his father?

Yes, it was intentional. Since the “exodus” which is one way to get rid of “troublemakers” by making them throw themselves off a cliff, it was important that one these unfortunates was somebody close to him. That would lead Sylvester to be in two minds when his own name appears on the list for the next exodus. Whether to doubt the rules of his village leader and refuse or if there’s some truth to it after all, that he might be able to find his dad. I lost my own dad at a fairly young age so maybe (subconsciously) that may have crept into the story. I’ve better see my colleague shrink about that.

6) Pot of gold at the end of the rainbow—in this case it was a wish—why this concept?

I was thinking of what the greatest treasure of all would be. And of course a wish of any kind ( a mountain of gold, to be the ruler of the world, to destroy the world, to have a loved one come back, eternal life etc.) is a treasure that’s hard to compete with. At the end, the villain is destroyed, Sylvester finds his father by himself, he gets his love of his life, saves his town and he realizes that he already has everything he could wish for. He decides to give the wish or treasure away. The epilogue with the little fox cub that enters the orphanage (with the same background as the villain Rustbane who grew up in an orphanage where he was treated very badly and later turned him into the revengeful character as we know) receives love instead and I thought it best to let it up to the reader to decide whether it’s Rustbane who gets a second chance or if it’s just the little cub who dreams of finding a loving home.

7) Obviously, Johnny Depp and the Pirates of the Carribean have had an impact on modern culture- were you impacted by the PIRATES of the Carribean franchise?

I started on The Tides of Avarice a year or so before I saw the first movie. I didn’t see anything that would make me change anything in the book. However, I didn’t see the second one. I had just researched about a mythical sea monster that I wanted to include and found that there were not many to choose from. Poseidon and the Kraken. So I choose the latter. The idea was to have Rustbane shooting at it with cannons, flintlocks and displaying extraordinary bravery and cunning to overcome it. However, a friend of mine (who knew that I was writing a pirate/fantasy book) called me and told me about the second film. I omitted the whole sea monster scene and made it into a storm instead. It’s not easy to watch out for everything. So there were quite a lot of re-writes. The only impact the movie had on me was the music score which I found very suitable for a pirate film. And of course I’ve been a fan of Geoffrey Rush but mostly for his acting skills of characters in other movies.

8) John did you have a particular audience in mind when you wrote this book?

I think the fantasy genre as a whole is mostly suitable for YA and adults (who actually like reading fantasy and fiction), so I guess this book was intended for that group of audience.

9) I have to say that you employ a vast, robust, rich vernacular in the book. Was this intentional or were you just writing furiously?

As I’m in favor of three-dimensional character while reading a book, I felt that it was quite essential to have various forms of vocabulary in order to distinguish who is speaking what in a particular scene. I tried to us the language to distinguish a class or profession or an educated person talking to a character that has no control of correct grammar i.e. a swashbuckling pirate crew member. I must confess that it was harder to learn how to write wrong on purpose than I expected. The use of slang, grammatical contractions, mispronounced words etc. was quite of a balance act as one should not overdo it either as it can be irritating for the reader to decipher what a person is saying. Captain Rustbane for example, uses one form of vocabulary while addressing his crew and another when he’s speaking to Sylvester who is a scholar. That I’ve included some clichés is intended: Ahoy, Blimey, Savvy, Shiver me timbers, Me hearties, splice the main brace and so on…

10) Now, tell us about Sagaria. Do you think it will be as relevant as the world of Eclipse?

I have read the first half of the Twilight series (the first book) and I felt that it was maybe not for me but it certainly is for many people. It’s difficult to compare the world of Sagaria and the Eclipse story. Sagaria takes place both here on what the Sagarians call the Earthworld and the readers will also learn a bit more about what Sagaria really is. It’s also about friendships between various kinds of creatures and humans and how they learn how to get along despite their appearances and different backgrounds. I’ve tried to focus mainly on the characters and getting into their minds, so to speak. Of course there’s a plot, a lot of adventure, magic, romance and, I hope, all you can expect from a fantasy book. It’s actually a trilogy but put into one large book (I hope the readers will not be scared by the size). I also hope the readers will find it funny at times. I’ve tried to keep the pace as exciting or fast as possible. But as I said it’s very much focused on the characters and their relationship with each other as they aim for the final goal. They also learn a lot about themselves during their adventures together.

For a boy to enter into a magical realm or world is by no means extraordinary for a fantasy book (usually for writers who cannot think further than their noses) but as mentioned, it’s the focus on the characters that I’ve tried emphasizing on. If I don’t care about each individual, I doubt that a reader will. Sagaria will be out in January so I just have to wait and see if people will like it or use it as a paperweight.

11) I understand that you are at work on a new book- Can you brief us on the literary vehicle that you are using in the next book?

Well, Sagaria is the next fantasy book and it takes place in the present time (The tides of Avarice takes place about three hundred years ago). Since I’m waiting for a response from my publisher if a sequel is suitable, I’m at the moment writing a romantic comedy that takes place in the US and Thailand. Along that book, I’m scribbling on a satire story that brings up some of the issues we experience in today’s society.

12) What have I neglected to ask ?

I think you’ve pointed out the most relevant questions. But I can only add that since I’m more of a landlubber, there was quite a lot of research regarding marine topics (for The Tides of Avarice). So I went to Stockholm (Gamla Stan too as you did. By the way, I hope you went there in the summer. The winter is, well, less enjoyable) to study a very well preserved ship from the 17th century (Wasa ship). I wrote down what I saw and annoyed the guide with too many questions. So there was a fair amount of research. Of course, you can scoop many things out from the internet, which I also did,but some things you have to see and touch for yourself.

Thank you very much for taking the time interviewing me.

All my very best,


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