Jean: Hello, this is Jean Marie Ward for “Buzzy Magazine.” With me today is Nicky Drayden, the award-winning author of “The Prey of Gods,” “Temper,” and the soon to be released “Escaping Exodus.” Welcome, Nicky.
Nicky: Thank you for having me.
Jean: It’s our pleasure. How did a systems analyst from Texas find her muse in South Africa?
Nicky: Oh, well, that’s kind of an interesting story. Way before I even had a thought of becoming a writer, I was a peer counselor for a summer program at Texas Southern University for a program called Renewable Energy and Environmental Protection. And they’re a bunch of high schoolers who came to learn about those issues and how to best protect our planet. And their summer trip was to go to South Africa. And I’m like, “Yes. This is the best, like, summer job park ever.” And so, we traveled to South Africa for a couple of weeks, and we were able to tour a lot of the townships and see, like, kind of this abject poverty, and at the same time, see people who were so giving in, like, what little they did have, and see what they were proud of. And I remember, a man who just had a herd of goats, and he was just so proud of his goats, and, like, he wanted us to come and pet them. And it was just, like, such a joyous and enlightening experience. And we saw, you know, people who had a lot of wealth also. And so, that was just kind of seeing, you know, the differences between the different classes and just how the culture was. And it was just a few years after apartheid at that time.
And so, to talk to people at the mall, who might not have been allowed at the mall, just like a few years prior, so it was just something that kind of settled into my heart, and I just really cherished that trip. And when I became a writer, I was looking for, you know, someplace to set my novel. And that just seemed like the best way to kind of honor that experience that I had. And I was able to work in a lot of my experiences that I had there. Like, in the book, there’s, like, this infestation of dik-diks, which is really like, little, small, tiny antelopes that kind of just run all over the place. And, like, from my experience and my memories, like, it seemed like they were everywhere. And I’m sure it was just, like, a few of them that we came across, like, darting through traffic or whatever. But that’s just, like, something I wanted to work in there. So it kind of became, like, a bit of a travelogue in a fictional format, for me, and just to kind of relive a lot of this fun memories, and some of the more painful and eye-opening memories as well.
Jean: I don’t know enough about the folklore and legends. But the way you handle the mythology in “The Prey of Gods,” felt very real. How much of it was based on South African folklore and legends, and how much of it did you just make up?
Nicky: I made up quite a bit of it because I love exploring spirituality and religion, and those sorts of things. But I don’t necessarily like to mess with other people’s religion because, like, you just don’t really wanna go there. And so, I was able to pull, like, some bits and pieces in reference to how, you know, things are, but then as far as, like, the storytelling things, I tried to make them sound plausible and sound realistic. And I like the tradition, like, the Br’er Rabbit kind of traditions in the Trickster hair, those kind of things. And so, I kind of worked in that. I got to make my own, like, trickster story, which was a lot of fun to make up. And so, it’s just, like, one of my favorite things to explore. It’s just, like, what people believe in and why they believe in it, and, you know, their stories. And we all know how important stories are to people. And so, it’s just something I just love exploring and it’s fantastical. So, you could take it anywhere you want to go and have, you know, tree gods, and all kinds of different things or whatever, like, the sky is the limit.
Jean: And dik-diks. In a way, even though it was dealing with some very heavy issues, “The Prey of Gods,” to me, felt like a giant Scooby adventure. You know, a big ensemble cast that you’re building the party, they’re coming together, and then they have to do something really amazing to basically save their world. Your second novel, “Temper,” seemed, to me, to go in an entirely different direction, and almost felt like an allegory, with the two main characters. What prompted this apparent switch and direction, and focus from the large story to the very, very closely focused story in “Temper?”
Nicky: Okay. So, “The Prey of Gods,” the two stories came about completely different ways. For “The Prey of Gods,” both of those were National Novel Writing Month of novels, I don’t know, I just like everyone to be able to participate and I like to tell everyone about it. So, traditionally, when I was first starting out writing, I was always a pant server [SP], which means, like, you write by the seat of your pants, and you don’t outline and prepare very much. And so, National Novel Writing Month is in November, so that’s November 1st. And so, probably around October 30th, I was like, “Well, what am I gonna write about this year?” And so, I keep, like, a file, just like character sketches. Like, you know, little plot ideas. And so I just picked six random characters from my plot file, and I’m like, “Okay. Well, these are the characters, and I set them in South Africa, I thought that’d be interesting.” And like, I just let them do what they wanted to do and see where they went with it. And so, it’s a lot of fun trying to weave these characters who really had nothing in common and most of them didn’t even know each other at the beginning of the story. The fun of it, for me, was the challenge in game of weaving these stories together in some kind of coherent way. And so, that’s kind of what you get, like this, you know, big adventurer of these people who eventually, like, they start to meet each other and form, like, the Scooby gang, and try to team up against the antagonist in this story.
And for “Temper,” I went into it a lot differently. I just kind of had more of an idea of the world first and the world I wanted to write, which was based on, there’s some parts in Nigeria that their rate of twinning is like very high. So, like, 1 in 10 people are a twin. And so, from there, I was like, “Well, why stop at 1 and 10? What if it was like 90% or 99% of people were twins?” And so, that was kind of the original basis for it. And then I wanted to do a good twin, bad twin story, but from the bad twin’s point of view. And so, I did keep a tighter view on just one character in this one, instead of, you know, “Prey of Gods” has six different characters, and it alternates between them. And this one is just very tight on the main character, which was a challenge because the world in “Temper,” I did a lot of world-building because it’s kind of an alternate history, fantastical alternate history, and South Africa wasn’t colonized, and everyone’s a twin. And religion has kind of, you know, come forward and says that, you know, sciences is lecherous, and it’s something that we shouldn’t do. And so, like, science and technology has been repressed. And so, there’s like, all of these big beautiful world-building things that I’ve come up with, except for that I have one viewpoint character who’s 17 years old. And so, his viewpoint is very, very narrow. And so, I have to try to get the reader to understand this giant world through the conduit of this 17-year-old boy, you know, his life is just like his immediate neighborhood. And so, that was just a really big fun challenge in trying to bring the reader in that way.
Jean: And it was a kind of alternate history. Right. Yeah. They went in that very, very different direction, which sort of takes care of my next question, you know, about, how did you come up with the culture, but the magic system, the seven virtues and vices?
Nicky: Right. That was, like, one of the primary things that I wanted to do was to have the twins be physically differentiated in the society. And so, there are seven vices and virtues. And when you’re still kind of young, you can go through this ceremony, where it determines, like, how many of the vices and virtues each twin has. And so, whichever twin has the most vices is considered kind of, like, the lesser twin or the bad twin. And however many vices you have, they’re tattooed down your arm or branded down your arm. And so, everyone can see, you know, how many vices you have, and that determines how well you do in life. And so, our protagonist, Auben, he has six vices, which is pretty uncommon. Usually, it’s a four-three split. And sometimes it’s five, two, but six in one is, like, very, very rare. And so, you know, he’s a smart kid. And he gets into, like, a little bit of trouble here and there, but, like, he’s a pretty good kid. And so, you know, he’s just faced with his life, whereas his brother is probably gonna be able to make, you know, a good life for himself. And so there’s a lot of tension between, you know, siblings in the outset. And interestingly, they’re physically linked together, and so they can only go so far from each other.
So, you’re stuck with this person basically. And it sounds a lot of fun playing with, like, what that world would look like if you need to stay physically near somebody who you might see as, you know, holding you back, or that sort of thing. So, in the book, the physical architecture of the city is reflected in that, and we have what are called confees [SP], which is where kind of lower class people live. And a lot of times, if you have a lot of vices, you’re able to get out. But if you don’t, you’re probably gonna stay there. And so, it’s just like this semi-circular wall that separates kind of the haves from the have nots. And so, you can still be very close to your twin, like, after you’ve grown up and moved on with your life. They’re on the opposite side of the wall, and you’re on this side of the wall. But on the other side, it’s just very affluent. And you can live this life and still be close to your twin while being physically separated. So, I just thought that was really exploring, you know, their religion, and all these kind of things and, like, how architecture and the city develops around…
Nicky:…this concept. Yeah.
Jean: Yeah. What are you working on now?
Nicky: That is a great question. I’m just getting ready for “Escaping Exodus” coming out, which is my third novel. And the advanced reader copies are out right now.
Jean: Oh, congratulations.
Nicky: So, it’s really exciting. And so, that’s gonna be out in October 15th. And that is that we get away from South Africa in that one. Now we’ve set aboard a living spaceship, which people live inside these giant beasts, the size of a small moon that kind of float through space. And so, like, humanity has become somewhat of like a gut…
Nicky: Bacteria living in the gut of this beast, and they use up all the resources of our course of, like, 12 to 15 years. And then they go find another beast because there’s a big herd of them. And just kind of going through that, and that the main characters in this one, one of them is a young woman who is set to be the matriarch of this ship. And she’s really not too very reluctant in taking that position. She kind of bucks convention, and her best friend is a beast worker, who are the working class people. And she’s doing well for herself. She’s gotten a promotion to the heart, which is like the premier Oregon to work in.
Nicky: And so she’s learning how to become a hard worker. And so, it’s just a fun and dark, it’s dark and fun. And a lot of tentacles in it. So, I call it Royals space drama with lots of tentacles.
Jean: That works. Tentacles are like adding of doom to the end of something. It always makes it better. On that note, we’re coming up to the end of the interview. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Nicky: Thank you. If you wanna find me, I am at nickydrayden.com. And I’m often on Twitter, when I shouldn’t be, @nickydrayden.
June, also known affectionately as Buzzy Lady #2, has been with the company since it began. She was born in Manhattan, raised in the Bronx (the first 12 years in the heart of the south Bronx) and spent most of her adult life living in Westchester County N.Y.
Always a Science Fiction fan and dabbler in writing she had thought herself too practical to pursue a career in the field. Before coming to Buzzy she spent over 30 years in the travel industry, then one day decided it was time to spread her wings and plunge into publishing. Everyone she knew thought she had gone slightly daft but as this was not the first time they had expressed that opinion she took the red pill anyway and now spends all of her time putting together projects that make each day a pleasure.