EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Mel Odom on “The Fathomless Abyss”

Mel Odom lives in Moore, Oklahoma.  He’s written 170 plus books in several genres under his name and pseudonyms.  In addition to original work that includes Alex award winner The Rover, he’s written novels about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and others, as well as novelizations of movies that include Blade and Tomb Raider.  He’s also written comic books, video game scripts, short stories, and is a top 1000 reviewer at Amazon.Com.  He teaches in Professional Writing at the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.  He blogs at www.melodom.blogspot.com and reviews at bookhound.wordpress.com.  He can be reached at Mel at melodom.net.

SF Signal had the opportunity to talk with him about shared worlds and The Fathomless Abyss, a shared world anthology featuring stories from Jay, Mike Resnick, Cat Rambo, J.M. McDermott, Mel Odom, Brad Torgersen and Philip Athans. In The Fathomless Abyss, a bottomless pit opens who-knows-when onto who-knows-where, just long enough for new people from a thousand different worlds and a million different times to fall in and join the fight for survival in a place where the slightest misstep means an everlasting fall into eternity. In this world, the laws of physics work against you, there’s no way out, and time means nothing…


CHARLES TAN: Hi Mel! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you get involved with The Fathomless Abyss series?

MEL ODOM: Phil Athans is my friend and editor.  We’ve both been watching the ebook market with interest.  When Phil first started out in the business, he was an editor of his own magazine.  We were in contact and started to talk about some of the old books we read that are practically inaccessible these days, like new books in Robert E. Howard’s Conan series.  I told him I thought the market might be ready for another barbarian hero.  He agreed and we started kicking that around some more.  We ended up with Arron of the Black Forest.  At the same time, Phil and I both remembered that huge Rolodex that he assembled while working at Wizards of the Coast.  Then we gave serious consideration to an anthology project that would spin out into individual short novels.  Phil had the idea for Fathomless Abyss tucked away.  He simply dusted off and tossed it out there for the rest of us to adopt.  Everybody collaborated with the invention of the world you see in the stories.

CT: To say that you’ve written a lot of books is an understatement; what makes writing for The Fathomless Abyss series different from the other shared worlds books you’ve written for in the past?

MO: For one, I had a chance to help develop the world.  So to speak, I was in on the ground floor.  That’s a joke because the Fathomless Abyss has no ground floor – it’s Fathomless, see?  For another, the details of the world and how the stories are to be written are mercurial.  There are no real guidelines.  We’re still making stuff up as we go.  Not just the world, but also how we relay the stories.  They aren’t cookie cutter pieces.  They don’t neatly fit.  But somehow they make a whole that is greater than the parts.  Nobody is putting up walls to what anyone else wants to do.  This is the most organic property I’ve ever worked with.

CT: What are the challenges and rewards when it comes to writing in this shared-world setting?

MO: The biggest challenge is that the Fathomless Abyss is totally new. There are no canon, no past books, no ironclad rules.  A writer without rules can get himself or herself into a lot of trouble.  Freedom is, after all, its own curse.  The reward is that we get to do what we want to do.  When Phil edited my short story for the anthology, he told me I had done a great little sword and planet story.  It’s hard to sell those things these days, but I grew up on Edgar Rice Burroughs and Otis Adelbert Kline and Leigh Brackett.  I wanted to write that kind of story, but didn’t think I would ever have the chance.  But I did.

CT: Could you share with us your collaboration experience with the group, especially since Philip Athans acknowledges you as his editor in Devils of the Endless Deep?

MO: We all look at each others stories pre-publication.  It’s intriguing because you get to see more closely how another writer thinks and works.  It’s amazing how much we think alike, then at the same time how wildly different we can be.  If you read all the stories in the anthology, you’ll quickly see how true that is.  It was funny editing Phil’s book.  He’s edited several of mine.  I like to think that he was more nervous about the process than I was.  But he told me I’m a pretty good editor.  That made me feel good.  One of the best things about the group is learning how much we rely on each other and trust each other.  I think more writers will probably follow the same concept as time goes on.

CT: What’s the appeal of the short story and novella format for you? What can you share with us about your upcoming novella?

MO: I LOVE being able to tell a shorter story (if you call 10 to 20,000 words a short story!) because writing 80,000 to 120,000 word stories takes a lot of time and emotional commitment.  You work on those for long periods but can’t really see the progress that’s taking place.  However, a shorter project can be done in a matter of days. It’s refreshing to stay on task with a shorter work.  I understand now why Stephen King used to take off between novels and knock out short stories and novellas.  They kind of cleanse the palate.  The upcoming novella (I’m calling it The Big Dark at the moment) is a Leigh Brackett kind of story, if you mixed her character Eric John Stark with Raymond Chandler.  My character has to leave his village on the Abyssal Wall and try to find the woman that was kidnapped in the short story, and to do that, he journeys down into the Abyss’s crime syndicates and has to make deals.

Charles Tan is the editor of Lauriat: A Filipino-Chinese Speculative Fiction Anthology.