Dark fantasy is a popular genre in today’s YA market, and Canadian author Konn Lavery taps into that enthusiasm with his second edition of Mental Damnation: Reality. The storyline follows a pair of friends—Krista and Darkwing—as they struggle to survive gang violence, a militarized dictatorship, and a fast-spreading disease that is infecting the population. Like many writers who are passionate about their craft, Lavery frequently burns the midnight oil coming up with page-turning plots. By day, he runs his own graphic design and website development business under the title Reveal Design. These skills have been transcribed into the formatting and artwork found within his publications and supporting his fascination for transmedia storytelling.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Why did you decide to go the self-publishing route?
A: I initially wanted to go through traditional publishing when I was in high school. This would have been back in 2007. At the time I didn’t know anyone in the industry and had no idea how to begin. I had it in my head that if you land that one publishing contract you were set. The publisher would get you an editor, print the books, market it and tour you around the world. The industry doesn’t work that way. Self-publishing also did not seem like an option since I didn’t have any network or an editor to complete my manuscripts.
After some failed submissions I decided to hang up the writing and focus on my postsecondary education. It wasn’t until 2011 when I was teaching at a graphics college when a colleague and good friend of mine asked to read some of my writing (which at the time was unpublished). She happened to be the first person beyond my immediate family who read my work. I gave her a digital copy of the first manuscript of Mental Damnation. Her feedback was very encouraging and she believed I should seriously consider pursuing my writing.
I didn’t want to go through the process of finding a publisher again. Being in the graphic design industry, I now had the knowledge of design fundamentals, book layout, formatting and technicalities to work with a print shop. Self-publishing seemed like a much more plausible option than when I was in high school.
From there I began asking colleagues, friends and searching online about the pros and cons of self-publishing. I took down as many notes as I could and began the process of finding an editor and ultimately releasing my first novel in 2012.
Q: Your latest release is a second edition. Can you elaborate on why Mental Damnation: Reality has a new edition?
A: The first novel I released was Mental Damnation: Reality back in 2012. I had published three more novels after that, one being unrelated to the Mental Damnation series. In the fall of 2016 I returned to the series to finish the story. To do this, I had to brush up on the first novel and become absorbed in the fantasy world once again.
After reading the first edition of Reality, I identified clichés, narration and a stylistic approach that could be improved upon. It had been about five years since the initial release and you can learn a lot in-between that time. My writing has evolved and it read as if it were written by another author.
It had been two years since the release of the third book in the series and I realized that it was an opportunity to start from ground zero and improve the overall story. I compiled a list of feedback I had received over the years from readers who commented on ways to improve the book and applied it to the second edition of the novel.
Q: Will the rest of the series have second editions as well?
A: Yes, the other two novels currently in the series will have second editions. A lot has been adjusted in the new Mental Damnation: Reality and these changes will be seen in Dream and Fusion. Some of these include the lore, character and creature descriptions. I will also be adding new chapters into these novels much like with the new Reality to further expand on the storyline.
Q: How many books are planned for the series?
A: Now that I have re-visited the story, I have the endgame in mind. While I have been re-writing book one, two and three, I am including additional chapters that will help tie together the whole story together.
There will be a fourth and final book in the series that provides a conclusion to Krista’s storyline and a number of subplots that have been introduced to the readers.
Q: Where did the idea for the Mental Damnation series come from?
A: The original storyline for Mental Damnation was written in high school; the concept has evolved drastically over time. It has adapted creatures and characters from earlier manuscripts.
The premise came to me in 2007 while in math class. I was supposed to be doing my homework but instead, I was drawing. The sketch was of a reptilian girl – Krista – who was clutching her head and split between two worlds. On one side it was a forest and on the other was a hellish landscape with demons and fleshy monsters.
The sketch inspired me to come up with a name for the piece and a backstory. I had played with a number of titles such as “Mind’s Hell” or “Mental Fire” but settled on “Mental Damnation” for the biblical reference.
From there, I drafted the first manuscript which differs greatly from the novel you see today. A lot of it has been altered during the editing phases in 2011 and late 2016. This has been a crucial part of my growing process as a writer and am quite pleased to have gone through it.
Q: Will you be writing more books related to Mental Damnation?
A: In the future yes. I have always had the idea that every book I write is part of the same universe. Very similar to how Stephen King’s novels relate to the Dark Tower. As for spinoff novels or more dark fantasy pieces, I do plan to write more related to Mental Damnation.
Fantasy is a big interest of mine – I used to play a lot of role-playing games as a kid – and I do have story outlines for future novels related very closely to the timeline and characters of Mental Damnation.
Q: You also illustrate all of the artwork found in the book, what made you want to do this?
A: By trade I am a graphic designer and web developer and I have also been drawing for as long as I have been writing. After sketching the initial drawing of Krista split between two worlds, I felt that the visual portion of Mental Damnation played an important role to help set the tone of the story. It also provides extra content for fans to enjoy.
The visuals have also seen an evolution over the years. The drawings I did in high school were more detailed and more illustrative. Now they pull a lot more graphical influences with icons, glyphs and patterns. The abstract approach towards the illustrations helps keep the details in the imagination of the reader.
Surprising to me, the addition of illustrations has led to some fan art over the years. It has been very inspiring to see that my work has encouraged people to draw.
Q: You wrote another novel last year in the strange fiction genre. Tell us about it.
A: Back in 2014 I had released Dream and Fusion, two novels found in the Mental Damnation series. I had been engrossed in the dark fantasy world for a number of years and wanted to take a break from it. This opened the doors to explore a new writing style and genre. I was able to take everything I was familiar with and do the opposite of that and grow as a writer.
In 2015 I participated in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and wrote the first manuscript for the novel Seed Me. At the time it was called Amensalism but it didn’t fit the mood of the book. Writing Seed Me allowed me to explore a first-person, past-tense narration, something I had never done before.
It was a good experiment and helped broaden my writing ability. I was able to do a lot of research into the history of Alberta, Canada and study what makes a good horror. This research led me to H.P. Lovecraft’s theory of playing off of the unknown which became a major part of the novel.
Q: With Seed Me you introduced a score to accompany the book. Why?
A: I am a huge fan of transmedia storytelling. As seen in the Mental Damnation series, there are a lot of visual bonuses such as a glyph system, illustrations and a map. With Seed Me, I wanted to experiment with new writing and new bonus material.
The score accompanying a book has been done in the past and is a very good idea to create a mood for the readers. While writing Seed Me I listened to a lot of dark ambient, witch house and down tempo music. I also had been writing my own music and knew a number of musicians within these genres.
In the spirit of experimentation that I had for Seed Me, I thought I could take it one step further and include a musical component to the story compiled by various musicians.
Q: What else will you be writing in the near future?
A: I have several story outlines on the go. One being the fourth and final novel in the Mental Damnation series, one being a splatter punk novel and another is a thriller.
In the immediate future, the second edition of Mental Damnation: Dream will be out in the fall of 2017. The second edition of Mental Damnation: Fusion will be out early 2018. The thriller novel I am working on will also be out for 2018.
Q: Any final thoughts you would like to share with our readers?
A: If you are interested in writing or are writing, keep doing it. It is the only way to improve. As mentioned above, I’ve gone forwards and backwards with my writing to really improve on the storytelling and craft.
Don’t be afraid to try new things with your writing and push yourself out of your comfort zone. This is where you’ll really discover what you are capable of.