Nathan‘s Interview with Adam Holcombe
I got to ask Adam Holcombe some questions about his new necromancy cozy fantasy, A Necromancer Called Gam Gam. Usually there are no correct answers to these questions, but he absolutely got the last question correct! This interview is spoiler-free, and you can also check out my review of A Necromancer Called Gam Gam here.
Can you give readers a quick elevator pitch for your book? What kinds of readers would be interested in Gam Gam?
Gam Gam is an elderly necromancer who loves baking delicious things, knitting beautiful garments for her undead pals, and occasionally saving newly orphaned children from the clutches of vile sergeants.
Gam Gam is a story aimed towards those who think a grandmotherly necromancer who loves to knit for her undead is a fun character idea. That’s so far been the number one thing to hook people into it! But beyond that, there are themes of grief throughout that touch on dealing with loss. And, of course, there’s some humor (you can’t not have humor with a grandma necromancer and undead in freshly knit socks and scarves!).
What first inspired you to write A Necromancer Called Gam Gam? Who are your biggest writing influences?
Gam Gam started as a D&D character idea. I’m my group’s Forever DM™, so I don’t play characters much if at all. So I’ve developed a massive backlog of characters, and Gam Gam was one of my favorites. In a discussion about truly unlikely heroes (like elderly folk or young children, not just the usual farm boy) I brought up my character idea, then immediately got bullied so ruthlessly into writing this story, that I ended up writing it. I blame Krystle Matar and C.M. Caplan (both excellent authors, go read their stuff too!) but honestly, several others jumped on too. It was a bloodbath. I hope this novella has appeased them… I’m scared of ever sharing my ideas again!
As for my influences, I have several people I can immediately think of. Brandon Sanderson was the storm that pulled me harder into SFF, I hope to someday be on par with the humor of Douglas Adams, Tamsyn Muir consumed my life with The Locked Tomb (there’s a Gideon the Ninth reference in Gam Gam for those with a keen eye), and M.L. Wang writes emotion so incredibly well that I am in awe. But as I thought of it more, I probably style my stories a bit closer to Eiichiro Oda, of One Piece fame. I love the way he can have you laughing uncontrollably one moment, and then the next you’re crying over a talking reindeer. His ability to blend deep emotional moments into a generally absurd comedy has always fascinated me. One Piece gets pretty out of hand at times, so Gam Gam is definitely more settled down, but I’m proud of the way I was able to blend in some comedy to lighten up an emotional story.
You’ve mentioned elsewhere that Gam Gam is a short story turned novella. How did you make the decision to expand the word count? What are the advantages (or disadvantages) of a short story vs. novella vs. novel?
I had just written a short story right before I was bullied into writing Gam Gam so I probably had short story on my mind to start with. I wanted something small to help me practice my writing, and possibly practice showing it off, as that’s a terrifying step. I was dissatisfied with the previous short story, but I had a great idea form with this one. When I plotted it out, I knew it wasn’t going to be too long, so I figured it would work as a short story. I should add that I also have no experience judging how many words are needed for anything in particular. I’m always short, but maybe that will come with experience, who knows. So I tried to write a short story, and it bulged at just over 10k words (short stories are typically considered as under 10k, but there are exceptions). It didn’t grow until I had C.M. Caplan do a developmental edit on it, and most of the feedback was “Give this more room to grow.” So I added to the story, let the moments flow more naturally, and it fell into the shape it should have been, rather than what I was trying to force it to be.
Advantages of the shorter form writing are that they’re shorter, and I’m a slow reader so I can actually read through my writing in a reasonable amount of time. This novel I’m working on is going to be killer! Disadvantages are that there’s a lot more you have to do with less. It’s definitely a challenge to convey what you want as I learned when I tried to do Gam Gam as a novella. In the end, I aim to let the story grow to what it needs to be in order to work. If it’s fine fitting into a short story, it can stay there. If it needs room to grow, I’m happy to do that as well.
Gam Gam has been talked about as a cozy fantasy, but it also very much grapples with darker themes than many other cozy books. Were there ever times where you thought “this is too dark” or “this is too cozy”?
I never had an issue with it being too cozy, I actively tried to make things cozier and cozier as I went through each pass. That was where I was getting most of the comfort and appeal from, so I wanted to make sure I hit that home. I also never ended up with anything too dark actually written down, but I did look to my wife once and ask her if I added [redacted] would it be too dark, and she gave me a look that said “What is wrong with you?” So I didn’t add that…
This story is one of my new favorites about grief, mourning, and dealing with loss. Did you do anything in the writing process (research, beta readers, etc.) that helped you ensure that you got this element of the story “right”?
Thank you so much for saying that, I’m glad to hear it hit the notes I was aiming for. A lot of the grief within the story was drawn on from my own experiences of loss. My grandfather passed away a little over 3.5 years ago, and it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with. Mina dealing with her own loss is a reflection of what I went through at that time. I’m happy to see it came across well in that way and I’m seeing others relate to it.
What is one book about necromancy that you would recommend? What is one cozy fantasy that you would recommend?
The Locked Tomb series is one of my all time favorites, and I love the depiction of necromancy Tamsyn Muir uses (as mentioned, I even have a reference to Gideon the Ninth in the book). For cozy, I’m currently reading and loving *deep breath* Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson. It’s an adorable mixture of historical fiction and fantasy and I want Fitz.
While writing was there anything that you had to cut or edit out that you wish you could have kept in? If you can speak about it, what was it?
Since A Necromancer Called Gam Gam started small and grew, I didn’t really have to do much cutting with it. The most I can think of is the Gideon the Ninth reference (have I mentioned it yet) was a bit more obvious to start, but then was pointed out as being out of place, so I had to make it much more subtle. I’ve been told it’s still findable for those in the know, though.
What is the future for The Chronicles of Gam Gam? Are they going to be relatively standalone books, or are we going to continue the plot from this book?
Sequels and side short stories will follow at least some of the characters from the first book (pending their survival anyway), but I was planning on having their stories be relatively self contained. Something easy to pick up as I release them rather than needing to know many specific details from earlier books. For example, The Knight Revenant, a short story releasing at the same time as A Necromancer Called Gam Gam, features Gam Gam and Nugget inspecting a troublesome ghost a little before the events of the novella.
There is obviously a much bigger world to be explored, from both a magical and also just sociopolitical standpoint. Are you interested in building out the world in future books?
Since I plan to keep these stories in the novella (or short story) format, there likely won’t be much in the form of epic worldbuilding. Rather, I’m going to use each story as a stepping stone to learning more about the world that directly affects Gam Gam and company. For example, the sequel may introduce one or two more branches of magic, and then expand on one or two as well, rather than explain them all and overwhelm the reader. This was part of the reason I wanted to keep things a little more classic fantasy, so that it was familiar to the reader, and easier to learn the parts that make it unique.
As you are finishing up releasing your book into the world, has it changed your perspective on writing at all? Has your writing process or relationship to writing changed?
Gam Gam is my first experience with almost anything past a second draft. I have a WIP part way through its second draft, and another one that I abandoned after a few chapters into the second draft, so this one really put me through the ringer in terms of everything. Not just my writing process (which I’ve learned so much from my beta readers and editors on things to spot and improve) but also all the technical things beyond that related to publishing. I’m excited to return to my new work with the added knowhow and hope that my writing process is a bit smoother. Theoretically anyway. We’ll see if it works out in practice.
Be honest, on a scale from 1-10 what are the chances we get a standalone story or book about Nugget?
1. Wait, which one is the good end? 10? Okay, I mean 10. Nugget POV short story coming soon(ish, I have no idea when for sure…)
Thank you so much to Adam for answering my questions! You can find Adam on Twitter and on his website. You can pick up your own copy of A Necromancer Called Gam Gam on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Silverstone Books.