R. Queen humbly describes himself as an artist, author, and poet. Though this is accurate, it does little to describe his success. As the creator of Darkchylde, Queen was responsible for one of the few comic books that outsold Marvel and DC in the 1990s. Queen has now shifted to the medium of the novel and has adapted the story Ariel Chylde to this format. After four years of effort, Darkchylde’s new adventure is finally being released. Wanting to catch up with Queen and learn about his process of evolving into a novelist, I was able to interview him for ScifiPulse.
Published by Curiosity Quills Press, Darkchylde: The Ariel Chylde Saga can be purchased here. And to follow Queen on social media, you can check him out on Tumblr and he is on Instagram at @rqueenauthor.
Nicholas Yanes: It has been a while since I formally interviewed you. Anything interesting happen to you? Did anyone find out that you are secretly a warlock?
R. Queen: Someone found out in September, but I turned them into a cicada, so it hasn’t been an issue. Hey, thanks for blowing my cover.
Yanes: I know that you were deeply excited about Darkchylde possibly being developed into a film. Could you give an update on this? Additionally, what did you learn about film production and the industry from this experience?
Queen: There’s no news on the film at this time, but things might kick into overdrive. We’ll see.
The most important thing I learned is that it’s more important to spend time with those you love than chasing after Hollywood. One should pursue one’s goals in this short life, particularly if they are real possibilities, but sometimes the goal can’t possibly make you any more fulfilled than the people you love. If you have people you love around you, that’s a grace. You’re on top of the mountain.
As for the rest of what I learned, I could write a book, and I’m excited about this one! It is based off my series of comics, but it feels fresh because I made it all new again, and the haunted tale of Ariel Chylde has never felt more vital and alive. There’s a line in the book, ‘Our dreams sometimes try to tell our head something our heart already knows.’ And that’s about Ariel’s nightmares trying to communicate with her. Something is coming to the surface, and has been for years. She has forgotten what is dead isn’t always buried, and that some ghosts can devour us. When Ariel sheds her skin and the nightmares emerge, they act on her darkest thoughts and impulses. They are imprinted with the anger she might have felt for someone, even if only for a second because she is human – but her nightmares are not, and they respond to that negative energy like candy. So if you’ve done Ariel wrong, look to the shadows and be very afraid because her nightmares are coming.
Yanes: Darkchylde started off as a comic book series and is now being relaunched as a Young Adult novel series. Why did you decide to write a novel instead of another comic book series?
Queen: Foolishly, I thought it would be easier than making comics, particularly if you are writing, penciling, and inking them yourself. In theory, it’s easier to write, ‘Joey enjoyed his ice-cream, blissfully unaware of the forty savage monkeys sneaking at his back.’ But if you have to draw forty savage monkeys and get Joey’s blissful expression just right, you’re spending all day and half the night. Then another day to ink something that took ten seconds to write.
So I thought I could tell a sprawling tale more efficiently in prose, but I had no idea how hard it would be. You can get a 100k word count on anything, but it doesn’t mean much if the words aren’t well considered. Four years of consideration later I finally got it done. My hope is to keep the inertia going and the next one is faster. There are more comics planned as well.
Yanes: On this note, how did writing a novel differ from writing a comic book for you? Did you find the experience to be freeing or limiting?
Queen: It is incredibly difficult to create images with words the eye glides over, and that sparks the mind instead of just illustrating it. But I think prose offers the opportunity to go deeper. I could have written four novels in the last four years, but I think they would have been four mediocre novels. My hope was to write one fantastic one, and really nail it, so we will see if anyone agrees. Things need time to percolate, as new layers reveal themselves. One little flourish can elevate a scene you wrote a year ago to an entirely new emotional level, and you can’t rush that process. That happened a lot. I think if you’re lucky you might have one inspired moment per story, and I had maybe nine or ten on this one. A lady told me something once, she said, ‘The time is going to pass anyway. Might as well have something to show for it.’
Yanes: Your stories always had echoes of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. Which novelists do you think influenced you the most while writing?
Queen: I likely would not have finished without finding Bradbury. It was a real eureka moment. “Aha! Someone who writes with fire! Someone who writes beautifully!” The man wrote like he was conducting a symphony, and you just don’t find that very much. I’m not saying I got there, but I aspire to. King’s work has that fire, but it also has a primal quality. Carrie. The Shining. Salem’s Lot. They have a more savage, punch to the gut sensibility than Bradbury does, but you can’t be poetic all the time, it has to be like that symphony, learn where to spend the notes. Where to be poetic. Where to be primal. If you’re going to raise your game, learn from the best. Fitzgerald was also helpful. He wrote such lush sentences that still go down easy. That’s very difficult to do.
Yanes: Getting a literary agent and a publisher is not an easy task. How did you go about finding an agent and then a publisher to work with you? What specific challenges did you encounter?
Queen: Breaking in was as hard as breaking into comics. There is maybe one other comic book artist who became a novelist that I know of. It’s a short list. They usually just hand them off for someone else to write. I heard, ‘This is paranormal romance, and paranormal romance is no longer a trend.’ Well, why chase trends? What courage does that require? And if they’d actually read it, they would have realized it isn’t paranormal romance, it is a Dark Fairy Tale that isn’t vampires, zombies, werewolves or angels. And everything cycles back anyway. But in the end it came down to the words. I had to go through the slush pile like everyone else. Established agents may take on one or two new clients a year. So it was not easy, and I actually had to escape the slush pile twice to find a second agency to take it on when the first one did not work out. So it was a lot to get this done so it feels fresh, and get it set up. I’ve been an artist, art director and designer for twenty years, so my eye is well trained in composition, and creating a cover, so it was also important for me to provide my own images for the cover and title page, and this is also uncommon. I was fortunate to land with a terrific agent who gets it, and a publisher who gets it. Now I just hope the fans get it.
Yanes: It has been twenty-years since Ariel Chylde was first created. Why do you think Darkchylde is still relevant today as she was two decades ago?
Queen: ‘Girl becomes the different creatures from her nightmares’ is just a cool story, else I would have not have invested twenty years in it. It’s ‘Carrie’ meets ‘Lovecraft’ by way of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street.’ In the first novel we see Ariel’s fear of death personified. We see her rage personified, and we see her hate personified. The different characters she can become, and there’s a reason why they surface when they do because of her emotional state. And psychologically, how much do the Nightmares retain of her, and how much does she retain of them once they’ve borrowed each other’s brains, blood and bones? Things I didn’t explore in the comics because they hadn’t occurred to me yet.
I’m still having moments of revelation two decades later. And one of the biggest revelations is the proper introduction of Miss Happy, though she did first appear in the Darkchylde/Darkness: Kingdom Pain comic. She’s this little girl trapped in nightmare, she can’t wake up, so she’s gone a little mad, and wears a patchwork disguise made from the nightmare creatures she’s slain so she can blend in. She’s wicked smart and fun in ways I can’t spoil, but the bond she and Ariel form to help each other survive is the real love story here. There was a danger she was becoming more compelling than Ariel, but it’s never a good idea to downshift an interesting character. They tell you who they are. And the novel is far more spiritual than any of the comics I’ve done.
Yanes: When Ariel does turn 21, what do you think her favorite drink will be?
Queen: Because Ariel has observed the damage alcohol has done to her father, she shies away. But if she were to drink, I suppose it would have to be a Bloody Mary, right?
Yanes: Considering how many indie comics came out in the 1990s, how does it make you feel that Darkchylde still has such a strong fanbase? Additionally, how does it feel to see your quotes from Darkchylde frequently being shared on social media?
Queen: I write for people, so it’s wonderful to get a good response. With the quotes I didn’t say what they were from, and in the writing blogosphere, no one knew me as R.Queen. My strategy was, it doesn’t matter what the book is called, if they fall in love with the words they will be more inclined to read it once the title or plot is revealed. This was cultivated over three years, and it was a good focus group to see what got a response, and one of the quotes shared over half a million times wasn’t in the book at all until the eleventh hour. And the quote, “Light is easy to love. Show me your darkness” only made the cover because it took off on Tumblr first. It’s one of the big themes of the story. It’s easy to love when everything is sunny, but what about when the thunder breaks? Do you dig in and at least try, or do you abandon what you purportedly cared so much about? ‘Light is easy to love. Show me your darkness,’ and I’ll still try to find the light, you know? That’s love. Ariel and Perry are confronted with so many horrible things it would be easier for them to split, but they don’t. So to have the quotes find legs before your debut novel is even released feels terrific, I’m very grateful. If the book is to be a success, it will be because of word of mouth and fan support.
Yanes: When people finish reading this novel, what do you hope they take away from it?
Queen: I hope people looking to be entertained are entertained, and I hope people looking for something a little deeper find it, but my greatest hope is that someone struggling with their own personal darkness in life might find some hope in Ariel’s story.
Yanes: Finally, what are your long term goals for yourself and Darkchylde?
Queen: To be more prolific with getting my work out. We all have a clock on us to get things done before our faculties start to go. I’ve spent years rebuilding this engine, so I hope to get a little further down the road, and I hope people will come along for the ride.