An Interview with “War & Horses” Author Peter Lampasona

war & horses etching chris covelli peter lampasona oneshi press

Peter Lampasona is the author of Children of Gaia: War and Horses, a weird western illustrated novel illustrated by Chris Covelli and Jayel Draco (Kickstarting now)! He’s also the writer behind “Children of Gaia: Carrying Iron,” a short comic published the eighth Oneshi Press comics anthology, and a co-writer on the Children of Gaia fantasy universe. We sat down with Peter to talk about his character the Triggerman, fight choreography, and why he’s a Hermione.

Tell us about yourself, Peter. How did you come to create things with and for Oneshi Press?

peter lampasona oneshi press war & horses carrying ironChris Covelli is one of the originals at Oneshi, and also my cousin. At a family holiday what, I’m going to say without fact-checking, was eight years ago, Chris told me that he and Jayel [Draco] were putting together all of their notes and stories dating back to when they were kids in order to put together an expansive fantasy story called Children of Gaia, and asked me if I’d have a look at what they’d got.

The first thing I read was clearly and literally written by a teenaged Jayel as a brainstorming session. Personally, I can’t imagine having the bravery to submit something I wrote at that age to anyone now that I’m an adult who knows what he’s doing. But, being a prick, I decided to give it a bit of a deconstruction, anyway. I wrote a screenplay called “The Lion’s Den,” about an operator who comes into one of these idyllic fantasy villages and assassinates all of the Fern Gully mother fuckers.

Somewhat to my surprise, Chris and Jayel both liked “Lion’s Den” enough to incorporate characters and elements of it into Children of Gaia. And that’s how I got started.

What’s your working relationship with Oneshi Press—on what projects and in what capacities?

I tend to act as both a lead and consult writer for stories in the Children of Gaia universe. I have my own project ideas, such as War & Horses, in which I act as the primary author. For other Children of Gaia projects I mostly provide story notes/ideas. I have gone so far as to have written individual scenes and dialogue for other upcoming Children of Gaia projects.

Particularly, there are some characters in the world of Children of Gaia that the core writers agree have my stamp on them, for good or for ill.

I occasionally have some cursory input into non–Children of Gaia projects, but that’s mostly because I’m not terribly shy with my opinions.

What drew you to Children of Gaia as a writer?

Smugness and spite, as mentioned in response to your first question. But, Children of Gaia, given the sheer size of the world and, in turn, the narrative, presents a lot of interesting problems and opportunities for solutions, as a writer.

We’re currently in the era of the saga. Every season of a TV show is a 13+ hour movie. Books are all storyboarded with six-part cycles in mind. All media is binged and every story is enormous.

Even when this is done well, like with the fantastically successful Sword, Sorcery and Sex series that shall remain nameless, I find they lose me pretty quickly—I just get bored. It’s very difficult to keep narrative pacing on point, not lose the audience, keep all character arcs meaningful for an enormous cast without retreading, and still make everything feel fresh.

The world of Children of Gaia primarily sells atmosphere—one commonality with all current and upcoming projects is that they are moody and have a lot of world-building. Perfect! I love moody. But, how do you keep selling a mood over a plot and side stories that could easily span 20 years’ worth of material? A wide variety of environments and cultures in this fictional world allows the freedom to have every part of the story told differently and feel unique. I think the goal is to have an audience experience that imparts something worthwhile to people willing to spend two hours or two hundred hours with the material. It really lets me stretch my legs.

You’re the writer behind the Triggerman, a Children of Gaia character that’s been in the works for some time, but which is new to Oneshi Press readers. What can you tell us about him, without giving too much away?

He’s not what you think, but he’s exactly what he tells you.

What were your inspirations for Trig—other characters, books, films, etc?

I always try to be careful when discussing this, as there is both a real person and multiple fictional characters that go by the name of Chris Kyle, the man whose life was the inspiration for the book, and later movie, American Sniper. I had never met nor spoken to the real Chris Kyle, and I understand he was a real person, now deceased, with a real family that probably doesn’t appreciate how strangers have formulated opinions of the man. Further, I fully recognize that the Chris Kyle depicted in the book was a fictionalized version of the real man, definitively different from both the movie and the real person.

All that being said, the character from the book, Chris Kyle, was both fascinating and monstrous to me. The character really seemed to love the act of shooting people and was deeply grateful for the framework of the military to allow him to do so. After I read that, I started toying with the idea of someone with those same feelings, minus any views on good and evil.

What I came up with was the personality for The Triggerman—a man who does a job of killing because it has to be done and he is just a natural at it. The people he kills are neither good nor bad, but they are in the way. Sprinkle in a little of the smarm and edge from the Timothy Dalton version of James Bond (the BEST Bond. Fucking fight me) and a penchant for soliloquizing, and here we are.

In “Carrying Iron,” the first COG comic featuring the Triggerman, you wrote lyrics for a song. And there are several others to come in other Triggerman-centered pieces of yours. When writing out song lyrics, do you use a specific tune in your head?

carrying iron triggerman peter lampasona interview oneshi press d.l. johnonI have virtually no gift nor training for music. It struck me that, not just the character, but the world of Children of Gaia is very musical. Song would be a part of this world and, I feel, a part of this character. So, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to shore up my understanding of music and lyrics to do the stories justice.

That being said, “Carrying Iron” is not the best example as it is very clearly the store-brand “Big Iron” by Marty Robbins. I tried to make my inspirations on that one as obvious as possible to give a nod to the original.

In War & Horses, you developed a whole vernacular for the time and place that the action is set in. What was your process like for developing the way these characters talk?

Building a regional dialect was easily the most fun and most challenging part of the project. It needs to feel lived in and make sense, like the phrasing naturally evolved. It also can’t be exactly the same across every character and socioeconomic background in the region, or it loses all its verisimilitude and all its character.

Luckily, I’m in the US, which not only is an enormous country but has slightly different versions of English every couple of miles. I looked at areas that are geographically similar to the fictional Meso County, took turns of phrase and certain affectations that characterize those dialects, then I traced the etymology of those back as far as I could. Then, I looked at the fictional history of Meso County, swapped out the real history of those areas, and tried to piece together how those turns of phrase and affectations would sound if they evolved in the same direction, but from a different starting point.

The result left my colleagues unable to understand the majority of the dialogue—classic case of me being too clever for my own good. So, the final version was a bit closer to English that you’d actually hear spoken in the “real world.” But, I did get to keep most of my favorite phrases.

Your fight scenes are meticulously scripted in both comics and prose. Can you tell us how you go about choreographing and then writing them out?

war & horses lowry twins photo plate jayel draco peter lampasona interview oneshi pressWell, back when I worked at a gym that allowed me to get away with this sort of thing, I used to set up the fictional scenarios (i.e. plastic knife on the floor, I’m over here, you two are over there, go get it) and actually spar it out with other people who were training. Then I’d take what happened and make it a little more cinematic (also, make sure the right guy won, [which] doesn’t always happen) while still trying to preserve some of the chaos that comes in any real type of conflict.

Of course, there are always layers of fiction to consider in Children of Gaia. A benchmark I use for myself is that the less reliable the narrator telling the story, the better marksman everyone becomes. War & Horses is written by something of a fabulist, and there are some movie moments that I doubt happened exactly the way he described. More objective Children of Gaia tales might include the twisted ankles while running for cover or missing every shot while firing blind.

Who are your writing heroes and other people who inspire you?

Tough question, and potentially a long one, depending on how you look at it. I’ve known a lot of people that have had notable impact on the work that I’ve done for Children of Gaia.

Doug Cota was a friend and mentor during my short-lived and unfortunately athletic career—probably one of the biggest influences in my life at the time I came up with many of these characters. Similarly, three accomplished SAMBO players, Anthony Sansonetti, “SAMBO” Stephen Koepfer and Jeremy Paiser all donated quite a bit of their time to whooping my ass. Those three shaped a lot of the action you will see in Children of Gaia too much not to mention by name.

A professor by the name of Sandy Feinstein taught me just about all the nuts and bolts I know about the craft of writing. I wouldn’t have the technical ability to write anything worth reading had I never met her.

I also like to take time to give a nod to Andrew Vaillencourt, who wrote The Fixer series. I spent a lot of time in my 20s trying and failing to write things for other people. Stylistically, Andrew and I are very different writers, but, seeing him write something purely because it interested him, make it and find an audience for it, convinced me that this whole show was worth another shot.

What fictional characters do you identify most with, personally? Why?

Is this a thing that people do? Pick a character that they parallel themselves with in their own mind? That sounds somewhere between a mechanism to sterilize your own self-image and not being able to appropriately delineate fantasy from reality. But, I guess that’s why I’m such a Hermione.

What’s important to you in a book (comic book or other), as a reader? How about as a writer?

carrying iron full page peter lampasona d.l. johnson peter lampasona interview oneshi pressIn both cases the answer is that it’s not boring. I think having goals of what exactly you expect to get out of fiction closes you off a little. As long as a project can give me something to think or feel, maybe even both, I’ve gotten something from it. I spent a portion of today describing to a friend a fantastically well-lit hallway shot from the movie The Keep. I remember very little else about the movie. But there was this moody, back lit hallway that a WWII soldier was running through in slow motion, and that stuck with me enough to bring it up nine years later. You just have to have something worth remembering.

Any new projects you’re working on? Are there old projects you have that you would like to promote?

The second book in the same series as War & Horses, titled Mad Dogs, is in the early stages of development. Children of Gaia has a lot of other projects in the hopper, at the moment, so I can’t say how far that one is from fruition. I also will likely be contributing to the Oneshi Press comics anthology, again. Though, I’m not sure if it will be the next one or the one after that.

Outside of Oneshi, I also am currently working with Carmin Vance of Vance Games on a graphic novel called The Best in Town, where a racketeer in the 1920s stumbles across the world of magical organized crime after a collections job goes sideways.

Where can readers find you online?

Tell you what, if I still haven’t finished and relaunched my personal author website by the time this interview gets posted, just post this as a placeholder to shame me for being lazy and incompetent.

[Editor’s note: Peter Lampasona can be found on Facebook and Twitter.]

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