David Mack: I Come Not To Praise My Series, But To Bury It

And now, a guest post by a friend of the blog, and someone who has crossed the boundaries of spec-fic to write for tie-in projects and his own original work — David Mack.

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When I embarked upon the writing of my Dark Arts series for Tor Books, it was a labor of love.

By 2014, I had already spent several years contemplating the series’ first novel, The Midnight Front, and shaping it in my imagination. When I was finally able to commit its first story to the page, it felt like a dream made manifest. In 2015, after my agent found Dark Arts a home with a three-book deal at Tor Books, I envisioned a bright future for my literary creation.

Unfortunately, I soon learned that not all dreams come true.

Despite receiving generally good reviews from readers, landing on some prominent “Best of…” lists, and its second volume being nominated for a Dragon Award, the Dark Arts series never found its way onto any of the bestseller lists or received nominations for any of the genre’s major awards. Consequently, I knew before I started writing its third book, The Shadow Commission — out now from Tor Books — that it would be my series’ last.

I had conceived of Dark Arts as being open-ended, with each book moving ahead into a different decade, enabling my characters to get into historical hijinks across the entire latter half of the twentieth century. Less than a year after the release of its first book, however, I was tasked with bringing my saga to an end.

It felt odd. Knowing that there would be no further adventures for these characters after book three made me think differently about its story. I became less interested in building up my characters’ fictional world because I knew I would soon be burning it all down. I felt like I had failed my characters, as if their lives and narratives were coming to bloody ends because I didn’t know how to sell their tales in numbers strong enough to stay alive in the modern marketplace.

Only now, in hindsight, do I see that my disappointments affected the course of this book’s story.

For those who plan to read The Shadow Commission — SPOILERS FOLLOW:

One of the recurring themes of the novel is that its main character, Cade Martin, believes he has failed his apprentices. Not because he didn’t do a good job of teaching them magick, but because he doesn’t adequately prepare them for the true scale of the horror that awaits them, and because when that evil arrives he is unable to save many of their lives.

The key motif of The Shadow Commission is betrayal. It’s about how we betray ourselves, how we betray the trust of those who depend upon us when we succumb to fear, and how the things we say and do might drive others to betray us. It’s also about how we atone for those sins.

By the end of The Shadow Commission, several of the series’ major and recurring characters are slain. I don’t think I would have gone on quite so ruthless a killing spree in the book’s final chapters if I’d had any reason to think the series might continue. But when I saw the final curtain falling, the last glimmer of limelight fading away, I thought it reasonable to want to meet my series’ end with a certain Grand Guignol-style flair.

It’s been nearly eighteen months since I finished writing The Shadow Commission. After I turned in its manuscript, I lost over a year of my life and career to a depression that left me unable to put words on pages. I’m still digging my way out of that pit of despair, struggling to give form to new ideas, new labors of love, as well as working on fresh literary ideas for Star Trek.

In that context, trying to gin up excitement to promote the end of my Dark Arts series feels like a bittersweet obligation, if I’m to be honest. I did my best to craft an exciting book, to take my characters to new places, to change their lives and their respective relationships to their milieu, and to make it feel like a satisfying ending to their saga, while leaving open the door for future tales, just in case a miracle should occur and lead to the series’ revival.

But if penning this trilogy about magic born of Faustian bargains has taught me anything, it’s that there are no miracles — and that everything ends.

So it is that I hurl these words like a fistful of cold earth atop the grave of my Dark Arts series and move on to my next dream, whispering to myself all the while: memento mori.

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David Mack is the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty-six novels of science fiction, fantasy, and adventure. Mack’s writing credits span several media, including television (for episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), short fiction, and comic books. He currently works as a consultant for two animated Star Trek television series, Lower Decks and Prodigy. His new novel The Shadow Commission is available now from Tor Books.

The Shadow Commission: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

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