I’m a firm believer that the things that scare us make a good starting point for fiction. By that token, THE DREAD covers a wide range of fears: war, famine, plague, family discord, demonic possession, the restless undead, gruesome lingering death, ghostly visitations, maleficent necromancers, and rampaging zombies, shapeshifters and vampires. And, oh yeah, the prospect of divine, soul-sucking retribution.
What’s not to love?
My characters have the bad luck to live in interesting times, when their kingdoms are threatened from within by revolution, treason, anarchy and plague, and from without by foreign invaders. Fate has put them smack in the path of key events, but despite prowess in battle and magic, my characters definitely aren’t certain of victory. As with many of the things we fear in real life, putting things back the way they were before isn’t an option. So they’ve got a choice between really, really bad and maybe-we-survive-and-its-not-as-bad-as-it-could-have-been. Sound familiar? I’ve been there, and I’m betting you have, too.
Throw into the mix some very human characters who have their own hopes and fears. A warrior hopes to live long enough to see the birth of his twins. A queen is given a Hobson’s Choice between her duty to her crown and her obligation to her child. A king must sacrifice his honor—and maybe his soul—to save his people.
Because most of us have been in a bad place trying to decide whether we have a way to make it, if not into a better place, at least into a not-as-bad place, I think that readers can identify with the struggle. Lately, we’ve all also watched the world we knew shift and buckle around us, transforming into something very different…and grappled with the idea that the new “normal” may never resemble the old familiar past.
When that kind of shift occurs (and we all know that shift happens), humans display a range of reaction: rage, violence, hyper-religiosity, denial, bargaining, and sometimes, self-destruction. All of those factors play out across the war-scarred canvass of THE DREAD, as it becomes increasingly clear to peasants and kings alike that nothing will ever again be as it had been.
The real question is, when all of life’s moorings have come undone, what will you make of where you find yourself? Will it bring out your inner hero, or your internal traitor? Will you freeze or fight? When the choice is adapt or die, will you survive, and can you do it with some kind of honor left?
Those aren’t easy questions, and no one really knows how he or she will respond until they’re in that situation. My characters find themselves facing those choices, and as their world crumbles around them, it’s up to each of them to see what he or she is really made of.