NICK VOSSEN ON TOUR: The Inspirations and Process Behind The Swansong Conspiracy
I wasn’t quite sure what I’d write when asked if I’d like to do a guest blog about my brand spanking new book The Swansong Conspiracy. However, it occurred to me that everyone loves a good origin story (Superheroes are still a thing, right?), and I always wanted to delve into my writing process. It was quite the journey for myself as well to re-discover how this book actually came to be. So here goes!
I am a playful individual. That may sound weird, and is a really weird way to start off a blog, I know! But hear me out. I studied media- and culture studies at what you would consider college in the Netherlands. It was there that I learned that ‘playful’ could mean a lot of things. In media, one of the ways ‘playfulness’ could be defined was the process of a creative individual (say a film director, game designer, or even dance coordinator) altering defining traits of a genre or style and adding in different or unconventional elements. This could be anything really, but one of the defining characteristics was that being ‘playful’ meant shaking things up, not being afraid to innovate or challenge the status quo.
Have fun with it.
Man, that one lecture stuck with me for a long while. It totally changed the way I watched movies, played games, or read books. It also made me appreciate so-called artistic choices more. You could say the seeds for what would eventually become The Swansong Conspiracy, and the Eldritch Twins series, in general, was planted right then and there.
A story of Love(craft)
I’m pretty sure that during my time at university, I had the weirdest taste in well...all things pop culture probably. I was like one of five people total in the Netherlands that had not only heard of Mystery Science Theater 3000 but also loved the hell out of it. I was also crazy about 90s mystery and supernatural TV shows. The X-Files, Twin Peaks, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Those were my jam. I recognized how those shows also ‘played’ with their audience by sometimes making totally absurd or anti-genre episodes. I loved it.
Concerning books, I read crazy amounts of British comedy novels, the most well-known being the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams and the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. The super-dry humor in those books coupled very well with the jokes on MST3k, so it was effortless to get into.
Last but not least, I had my period of super-serious cosmic horror fanaticism during those days as well. I read copious amounts of Lovecraft and considered it to be the pivotal works in all things horror. It was at that moment that I also started to seriously write stories. I had written fiction for fun before, but never with a goal of perhaps someday being published, but suddenly I did. And oh my days, those stories were absolutely terrible! They all followed the basic Lovecraftian trope of the haunted narrator telling a story about how he became the madman he was, and there was pretty much no incentive for me to turn it into something that was more me.
It all comes together now
Fast forward a couple of years—I actually got published a couple of times, wow! They were short stories that had a horror edge, but they weren’t rip-offs. They were actually clever little tales by me, and I was really proud. These stories actually gave me enough confidence to think of a full-fledged novel.
And that was the moment it all came together.
I thought about how I absolutely didn’t want to do a Lovecraft ‘rip off’ novel, but I still loved the concept of cosmic horror. All of a sudden, the idea hit me; I’m going to play with what a ‘Lovecraftian’ tale really is. I’m going to change it up, have fun, make it funny and horrific.
The first idea I had was that a relative of H.P. Lovecraft from England had been told live with his Uncle H.P. in the US for a while, with all of the hilarity ensuing after he arrived. Yes, my first idea was basically The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air but with tentacle monsters. I quickly dismissed it. Instead, I went for a pair of twins who were relatives of H.P. Lovecraft but had to guard an age-old secret he entrusted them with about the faith of a monster-ridden world. Lilly and Quincy Lovecraft were born. Yeah, no kidding. I was still not confident enough to entirely come up with an original concept.
The first draft of act I of the book (which was pretty much one-third) was really, really silly. I channeled Pratchett, Adams, and every episode of Blackadder and Fawlty Towers. The result was pretty funny, but I noticed something was wrong.
It turned out that for all the love I had for those British masterpieces, I didn’t want my book to be that silly. I had written Lilly and Quincy to be super one-dimensional characters, but half-way through the second act, something strange happened. I fell in love with my characters, and they started to become real personalities, with flaws and drama. It turned out that many of the events I had written had become too silly for the characters that were living them. So I had to do a 180 and edit the entirety of act I to better fit the mood I was going for. Significant parts of act II were changed up as well. It used to have huge bits about aliens and even a spaceport in Roswell. That X-Files was shining through!
And there is still a lot of influence lingering, what with the secret agency Haven for example.
The end result was a staggering difference from what I started. But it was all mine. I even finally changed the twins’ last name to Swansong and altered their backstory to make it unique instead of derogatory. Eventually, even the name turned from The Eldritch Twins to The Swansong Conspiracy to give the book more of a unique flair.
Weirdness is in their blood, and in mine
Now I’m not going to go down and tell you that The Swansong Conspiracy is the most original book ever written. In fact, there are so many nods, ‘Easter eggs’ and blatant cameos in the book that I’m not even sure I know them all. The thing is that the end result became a labor of love that exemplifies who I am as a person and how my brain works. I wanted to write something that could be funny one moment, and horrific or sad the next. I wanted to parody or lampoon certain aspects of our real world while writing about a world overrun by supernatural threats. I wanted to have fun. I wanted the reader to have fun and realize that playing with conventions does not necessarily mean an incoherent or nonsensical story. The Swansong Conspiracy and the world of the Eldritch Twins is an amalgamation of everything I love and everything that makes me, well, me. I can’t wait for readers to dive into the silly, weird, lovable and sometimes terrifying world I created and share their thoughts.