Sam Adam and How He Came To Be

A while ago, Justin Gross was kind enough to approach me to write a guest post for Escapist Book Company, detailing the origins and inspirations for the Sam Adams series. Since their website seems to no longer be operational, I decided to repost it here on my website, for anyone who still might want to read it. Enjoy!

On November 15 of last year, I published my debut novel, CREDIBLE THREATS, book one of the
Sam Adams series. In it, a sixteen-year-old wizard named Sam Adams finds himself forced (quite
unwillingly) into heroism, when a new drug called Hex hits the streets of his city of Williamsport, a drug
that gives ordinary humans magical powers, causing them to unleash chaos and destruction before
dropping dead. Lurking behind it all is a wizard known only as King Death, and his plans are far darker
than Sam can imagine. It’s probably not a spoiler to say things only get more complicated and more
dangerous from there.

Urban fantasy is one of many fantasy subgenres I want to write in; how can you not? There’s a
reason it’s proved so enduringly popular, and that’s because magic and monsters lurking just beneath
the surface of our world, for us to encounter when we least expect it, will never cease to be just plain
cool. If you like high concept stories, as I do, then urban fantasy is right up your proverbial alley; the
whole genre is high concept by definition. (And if you like writing and reading fight scenes, as I also do,
urban fantasy opens up countless tantalizing possibilities for action sequences: werewolves brawling in a
shopping mall, vampires in a car chase, wizards blasting away at each other on the rooftop of a
skyscraper… you get the idea.)

I suppose the genesis of Sam Adams came about when it popped into my head one day that
someone should write a story about a wizard in high school. I’d had thoughts along similar lines before;
I’ve always enjoyed high school as a setting for a story, and as an aspiring fantasy writer, I’d came up
with a few ideas for a high-school themed fantasy series, but this was the first time I ever started taking
it seriously. I remember thinking that no one had done a story quite like that before, or if they had, I
wasn’t aware of it. And the idea stuck with me.

Even before I’d decided to take the plunge and actually write the book, I knew I wanted my
teenage wizard to do all the cool stuff that other, adult urban fantasy heroes, ala Harry Dresden (more
on him in a minute) got to do. Being that Sam was a teenager, it seemed young adults would be my
primary audience, but that didn’t mean I wanted to tone things down or overly simplify things; that
would only have aggravated me at that age and I was certain they would feel the same. So, I let my
wicked little imagination run wild, and didn’t bother censoring any of the violence and profanity that
popped into my head, to say nothing of my off-kilter sense of humor. As a result, I found myself with a
book in a bizarre netherworld of being simultaneously an adult and young adult novel. (This strange
status has made it hard to pigeonhole, and one reason why I think self-publishing was a smart decision.)
Personally, I’ve long ago stopped trying to categorize it, and consider it simply something with crossover

When I first started out, I was pretty insecure about my teenage wizard story. I feared it wasn’t
an original or interesting enough premise, that it wouldn’t stand out from the pack or people might
dismiss it as a knockoff of The Dresden Files. Of course, that quintessential urban fantasy series about a
wisecracking wizard prowling the mean streets was the primary influence on the Sam Adams series. And
hey, why shouldn’t it be? I love The Dresden Files, and they’re one of my favorite series. It’s one of those
stories that felt as though it was written just for me, and something I wish I’d read long before I actually
did. I waffled a while on whether or not the book that became Credible Threats was worth pursuing.

What clinched it was Catrick Swayze. Catrick Swayze is Sam’s Familiar, a seven-hundred-year-old talking
cat. I realized I simply had to get that obnoxious little furball down on the page, a fact he would find
delightful. (If Catrick Swayze sounds a bit like Salem from Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, that’s semi-
intentional. Upon hearing that Salem wouldn’t talk in Netflix’s Sabrina series, I vowed to have a cat who

I wanted to find ways to stand out. Since Harry Dresden makes such prolific use of throwing
fireballs, I decided early on that Sam wouldn’t lean too hard on fire. (That’s not to say he never throws
fireballs; that would be completely out of the question.) Instead, I made Sam’s specialty levitation, that
is, magically moving objects, and was thrilled at the results. There are all kinds of way a wizard (and an
author) can use levitation to accomplish destruction and mayhem and before the series is over, I plan to
discover them all. I also wanted a few original creatures and species, rather than just relying on the
usual suspects of urban fantasy, your faeries, your werewolves, and the like. You’ll see some purely flesh
and blood human villains in the series as well. I particularly enjoy the fanatically anti-magic cult you’ll
meet in book three, who were one of my earliest ideas for villains.

Dresden wasn’t my only influence. I wanted to strike a tone akin to Lethal Weapon or Die Hard,
something slam-bang and brutal one minute, and funny the next, while being able to take you by
surprise with the more heartfelt moments. Something fast-paced and action-packed, with outnumbered
and outgunned, perpetually battered and bloody heroes fighting their way through impossible odds. The
character of Martin Riggs, in particular, was influential on Sam, with both of them prone to mouthing off
and pulling all kinds of wild stunts, both of them doing it to mask their inner turmoil (and, one suspects,
just because they like it.) The visceral action sequences of the John Wick franchise were heavily on my
mind too, particularly for the book’s climactic battle between Sam and King Death. I was going for a
“John Wick with wizards” vibe for those scenes, and I hope it knocks the readers out of their seats.

Another, more off the beaten path influence was the TV series Banshee; more specifically, it’s
hero, Lucas Hood. Like Williamsport, the titular town of Banshee is a dangerous place that plays by its
own rules, and like Hood, Sam is a loose cannon who finds himself diving into battle whenever danger
appears, heedless of the consequences, ready to throw the rulebook out the window to save the day,
and coming through it thanks to sheer bloody-minded determination and a little help from his friends.

There’s also a noirish undercurrent, if a little less than I first imagined. Williamsport is a properly
corrupt and sordid place, just the right kind of setting for criminal magical conspiracies. There’s a
pervasive and sometimes violent gap between rich and poor, with the police department owned by the
town’s wealthy elite. The South Side, the home of the have-nots, including Sam, is a place often beset
with drugs, gangs, and poverty. And both rich and poor have all sorts of lurid secrets that are going to
come to light. The noir inspiration extended to some of the characters: there’s Alexandra Tyler, a local
heiress who enlists Sam’s help when the threat hits close to home, one with information that makes
things a whole lot more complicated. There’s also Elise, a vampire assassin Sam is forced to ally with,
one who’s such an unstoppable death machine that “femme fatale” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Last
but not least, there’s Sam himself. Okay, he’s not technically a PI from a detective story, but he often
seems to be living the life of one: there are over 97,000 words in Credible Threats, and Sam Adams is
sarcastic, beaten-up, and in over his head in every one of them.

The city of Williamsport, itself very much a character in the story, was influenced by Salem,
Massachusetts and Sleepy Hollow, New York, as well as Port Charles, the setting of the ABC soap opera General Hospital, itself modeled after Rochester, New York.

King Death, the dark wizard who causes so much mayhem, took his name from a phrase I saw in a book on pirates, in context referring to the grim reaper. I loved the title so much I knew I had to use it somewhere. I first imagined him as a serial killer, but then I came up with the idea of magic drugs and ran with it.

And of course, Buffy Summers deserves special mention as well, for being one of the original world-saving high schoolers. What she would have made of Sam and his antics, I can’t even begin to imagine.

If you’ve read the book, I hope you enjoyed reading a bit about how it all came together, and if
you haven’t, I hope you like the sound of it. And if you pick up a copy, I hope you have as much fun
reading it as I did writing it. (To be clear, I mean lots of fun.)

I’m currently working on the sequel, RISING SHADOWS, and I can’t wait for you to see how out
of control things get in Williamsport next time around. Thanks to Justin Gross for setting this up, and
thanks to you, for taking the time to read my ramblings.