Inside the World of Dybbuk’s Asylum, A Knowledge Reclamators Adventure, an Interview with Jack Salva

I first met Jack when I posted a sample chapter from Dybbuk’s Asylum on Steampunk Journal. Head on over and get a taste of the book! (The link will open new window, so you can still read the interview)

Welcome Jack Salva! Before we dive into the nitty gritty, what is Dybbuk’s Asylum about?

Knowledge is Survival.

More than a motto, it is the principle that compels the Knowledge Reclamators to venture forth into the dangerous wilds of the post-Luddite Tyranny world, braving mutated Altered and cunning death traps, in search of precious information crèches.

Beguiled by the promise of a singular reward and treasures for the taking, Caern Bloodson and his team embark on a perilous mission to retrieve a unique artifact with a sordid history. Thrust into an uneasy alliance with the Clockwork Grenadiers, they travel to a blighted island where all previous expeditions have resulted in madness or death. It will take more than rayguns, clockwork contraptions, and Caern’s unique puzzle-solving intellect to survive this task before time runs out.

However, perhaps some buried secrets are best left unearthed.

What are the main differences between the “regular world” and the world of your story? Did you choose a moment in time or certain technology to punk to get there?

Like most constructed worlds, the world of the Knowledge Reclamators has numerous diversions from our “regular” world. Some are obvious while others are subtler. Here are some examples of the more pervasive changes:

  1. Global geography – There have been planetary disasters throughout this world’s history that have dramatically altered the landscape. For example: Madagascar is gone, China is divided by a Grand Canyon like fissure, and Iceland’s volcanoes are dormant. 
  2. Cities – Humanity dwells primarily within the safety of Enclaves, massive walled cities. The composition of the Enclaves varies wildly from monolithic arcologies, to modern cities surrounded by a barrier, to eclectic mixtures of old and new juxtaposed together.
  3. Equality – While there is still a chivalrous seam within societal beliefs, gender equality is more widespread. Racial bias is not generally present. People are judged more on the content of their character and their abilities than appearances.
  4. Technology – Here is an abundance of wonders. Steam power drives the machinery of mankind. Electricity is an emerging science seeing more pervasive use. Auto-cogitators are finding their way into more and more aspects of life. However, it is the outlandish mechanical contraptions that take center stage. Things like the Burrowing Steam Sleigh, Cyclonic Fletchette Calverin, and targeting reticule mono-goggles with Kirlian filters.
  5. Worldwide standards – Forces in history have pushed humanity toward a more global community. Currency has been standardized. Individual countries print bills with unique designs meaningful to their culture, but they are part of the same monetary system. English is the lingua franca for business and international dealings.
  6. Persistent threats – The world suffers from threats in the untamed spaces outside Enclaves. Mutated Altereds, airship pirates, deadly bio-engineered flora and fauna, and zombie-like Shamblers are just some of the menaces people face.

Most of these concepts came about from a starting point of a world set in the years leading up to 1900. A world where steam power was predominate. I wanted a world populated by wondrous clockwork driven gadgets, filled with things created with an eye more toward craftsmanship and art versus profit, and science fiction elements sprinkled in to spice things up.

What is the main way people travel in your world?

Within Enclaves, people get about by walking, bicycles, steam cars, and public transportation like elevated trams or subways. Depending on the locality, there are also animal powered carriages. Steam railways are beginning to spread. Long distances are usually traveled via airship. Riverboats provide waterway travel along with traditional wooden ships. Newer steam powered watercraft are gaining popularity.

Did you invent any new technology or energy sources to power your story?

Mostly, I tried to work with existent technology. Certainly, it is modified for the world and often renamed, but for the most part it works on sound scientific principles. Admittedly, some of that science gets pushed pretty close to the fiction border.

Steam power is more efficient and abundant. Mechanical power sources, such as springs, are more powerful and efficient than in the regular world. Clockwork contraptions are far more elaborate and capable than regular work devices.

New technologies include rayguns and their associated power matrices. The integration of human and mechanical is also far more advanced than anything enjoyed in the regular world.

Does language play any role in your world? Does everyone speak the same language, or is there a variety? Did you invent any new slang or terminology during your world-building process?

English is the lingua franca of the world. However, other languages continue to exist and thrive. A number of things are renamed like computers being referred to as auto-cogitators. Names for devices tend to be more colorful and descriptive. There are a few slang words or unique expressions. Also, a lot of use of older terminology for things. When people speak, it has a different cadence than modern language. There is more formality used.

What kinds of climates do your characters experience? Do they see a lot of change or is it always the same? Has your world always had this kind of climate, or has it changed over time? 

The global climate mirrors that of the regular world with different habitats, temperature zones, and regions of viability. Depending on where the characters are and when it is, the climate and weather will match closely to the regular world. 

Is there any kind of faith system in your world? Myths and legends that inform the setting or characters? Did you draw inspiration from any real cultures, living or dead?

The major religions of the regular world exist in this one, but they are far less prominent. Other belief systems are also present. No specific new religious construct or belief system has been created – yet. (One never knows what will happen.)

What do people in your invented world do for fun? Are there sports, games, music, or other activities they do in their free time?

Leisure activities include music, dancing, theatre, and games. There are sports, but it is not as prominent or prolific as the regular world. Education is a driving pastime. There are taverns, brothels, and drug houses.

Are there any interesting creatures in your world? 

This world has an abundance of creatures. The most widely seen are the Altered and Shamblers. Altered are humans mutated to express animal characteristics such as feathers, a beak, or gills. Shamblers are bodies possessed by energy-based aliens.

Aside from these, there are a number of unique flora and fauna. Josephine, the companion of one of the main characters, is a flying ferret. Lash vines, stinging pollywogs, and rhino-bears are further examples of unique lifeforms to be found on this world.

However, for the most part, the world is filled with ordinary plants and creatures.

Jack’s Process

When you build a world, what is your process like? Do you do a lot of research upfront, wing it completely, or something in between?

I think it is generous referring to how I create worlds as a process.

How I approach the task is to imagine the setting I want in as much detail as I need to flesh out the idea for the story I have in mind. I then write down key aspects of the world. A lot of times, I create a general timeline of events. This helps me develop how things came to be as they are. What events shaped the world? Were there things that caused those things? I go back as far as I need.

I then start a running list of key concepts or ideas I feel should be incorporated. Some are mere one line items. Others grow into paragraphs of notes. During this time I may investigate something – terminology, ideas, concepts, whatever.

With all of this done, I start on the story. As the story develops on the page, I find details about the world emerge or change. More notes get drafted, existing notes get edited or scrapped, the timeline gets fleshed out.

How central is the setting of your story to the story itself? Is it more of an interesting backdrop, or is it integral to the events of the story?

For me, the setting is part of the story. Depending on what is going on, it can be central to the action, or an interesting backdrop for what is going on. However, the world’s background – and the individual character’s histories – fashion their responses to things. What the characters do is bounded by where they are and what is possible within that framework. This viewpoint has seen me create random details for some things in my worlds, details that can take hours to develop just so I can comment on something as mundane what currency the character is using. Not very efficient, but heaps of fun.

When helping the reader get to know the world you built, what techniques do you use? Do you tend to be front load with context, or keep the reader in the dark and feed them only bits at a time? 

I find I use a combination of approaches to showing the reader the world my characters live in. Mostly I have the characters go about their tasks. As they do, aspects of the world are revealed. Sometimes, when a concept or idea is presented, I provide a quick data dump to help the reader integrate the notion into the world they are reading about.  Other times, I feel that the context provides enough explanation. Sometimes I just say something and leave it to the reader to fill in any blanks.

How much of a role does realism play in your world-building? 

Internally consistent realism is vital to any world I construct. With any made-up world, there is a certain amount of suspension of disbelief that the author needs from the reader. However, once I have established something, it needs to logically interact with things around it.

For instance, in my world rayguns operate with certain properties and limitations. This is essential to make them more relatable. Things have limits and work in certain ways. Building that in helps the reader connect to the ideas presented. In my raygun example, they are very effective against living things, not so much against other things. This is because the energy interacts with carbon bonds and the bio-electric field of living things. Here I have given the reader a reason why things are the way they are and with it, an expectation that characters won’t be using the raygun to blow holes in walls. If that is required, they need to do it another way. And when they do, the reader will be “of course, rayguns can’t shoot through walls.”

Do you have any specialized training or background from your “real life” that has informed your world-building? 

I love science. I hold three bachelor of science degrees (Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics). I adore learning how things work. This has led me to research all types of diverse topics from how do jellyfish swim, to why are carbon fibers sometimes stronger than metals, to what are chakras.

I worked as an analyst for the government for over fifteen years. Part of the job was taking an eclectic assortment of information and fashioning it into a coherent – and correct – product. I am also a big gamer – RPGs, MMORPGs, board, card, miniature, etc. Playing these I learned about storytelling and world creation – good and bad.

All of this added to a love of reading, comics, and movies pretty much colors how I approach worldbuilding. I have seen plenty of bad examples. Also, some superb ones. I strive to make my worlds the superb kind.

How do you keep all of the details of your world and characters straight? Do you have a system for deciding on different factors and keeping it all organized, or does it live more in your head?

As I have mentioned, I write notes. Lots of notes. And spreadsheets. I am something of a spreadsheet addict. I find getting the details down on paper (or into bits on the computer) helps lodge the idea in my head. Plus, if it is physically present somewhere, I can add to it or modify it. Still, even with all of this, the worlds live in my mind. I can walk through them and see how things work. I am constantly discovering new things about my worlds, which is pretty much how things happen in the regular world.

Did you experience any difficulties while building your world? Any facts that refused to cooperate or inconsistencies you needed to address while editing?

My initial idea for the Knowledge Reclamators’ world was “steampunk zombies”. That led me to ask why are there zombies? What kind of zombies? How do the zombies work? Pretty quickly, the zombies crawled back into the grave. However, the other aspects of the steampunk world I had developed grew stronger.

I wanted rayguns, but also flintlocks. So, why would you have both? That answer led to why were there rayguns? That answer led to the Enclaves, which allowed me to control world population and progress. Things just flowed.

Some things I wanted, like automatons, didn’t fit with everything else I had. Now I needed to come up with a reason why. This led to more questions and so on.

When writing this book, there were times I needed to have something happen. My initial answers always got shot down by me because they broke the rules of the universe I had setup. Proper worldbuilding gave me a more internally consistent, and overall better, story. 

Where can people find you on the web?

I am fairly new to social media and self-promotion but am working on it. I have a website and social media accounts where you can follow my public ramblings. I am working on being better with my blog and website updates. Really.

You can find my book – Dybbuk’s Asylum – at the following:

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