Greg Wilson, an author, professor, and friend of mine, has a kickstarter going for his Grayshade novels and RPG—a worthy endeavor. Today, he tells me about the eponymous Grayshade character of the series and why he would write about such a person.
The thing about Grayshade is: he’s a killer.
This is a pretty clear conclusion from the get-go, when you’re dealing with an assassin. And Grayshade is no ordinary assassin; he’s an elite Acolyte in the Order of Argoth, tasked with eliminating targets assigned to him by his superiors, and uplifted and stabilized by his faith in Argoth, the Just God. But he’s also a man with a conscience, who for years has shielded himself from the full consequences of his actions with routine and ritual. Grayshade sees himself as a surgeon with a scalpel, not a butcher with a cleaver; he only kills his assigned targets, and only when (and as much as) his faith, the tenets of which are taught and conveyed by the Order, demands it.
Yet as I try to show in the book and have discussed elsewhere, this is ultimately a fool’s game. You cannot have a conscience and be protected from monstrous actions. You cannot face trauma after trauma and not pay a price for facing them. For all of the rituals and mantras and meditations, in the end Grayshade is a killer, plain and simple, no matter what the motivations behind his actions are. It’s not until those motivations are stripped away, until he’s shown what’s actually at the core of his faith, that he’s forced to confront who he actually is, knowledge which almost destroys him.
Why write about someone like this? Surely we get enough stories/movies about killers, and beyond the constant drumbeat of stories of real life murderers, the inner life of someone willing to (repeatedly) kill others is actually terrifically boring—on a basic level, a murder is the ultimate act of petty selfishness, the elimination of the most fundamental right to fulfill a individual desire driven by hatred, or vengeance, or “justice” (which in Grayshade may amount to the same thing). I was conscious of all of this when writing the novel, and in the beginning, I wasn’t particularly interested in Grayshade as killer, but Grayshade as thinker and planner, one elite operative up against an organization with far superior resources and motivation to get their people into line. Yet as I continued to write and revise, I became more interested in what drove someone like Grayshade to become what he was…and more important, what could drive him away from it again, and keep him on that path back to better action.
Grayshade himself knows that on one level there’s no redeeming what he’s done in the past. No matter what he thought were the reasons for what he does, no matter how much a potentially good person might have been manipulated into becoming a tool for the evil acts of others, the acts are what they are. But in a way, the journey forward, away from the evil, is more important than whatever the destination is. Like The Equalizer’s Robert McCall or Jason Bourne or Nikita, Grayshade’s decision to seek a new path is, to me, a fundamentally human act of hope, driven by a desire to be better tomorrow than he was today…and it was both fascinating, and even moving, to document that journey. As to where the journey ultimately concludes?
Well, like Grayshade, that’s something you’ll only know when you get there. Until then, I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I have.
Gregory A. Wilson is Professor of English at St. John's University in New York, where he teaches creative writing and speculative fiction. Outside academia he is the author of the epic fantasy The Third Sign, the award-winning graphic novel Icarus, the dark fantasy Grayshade (with a just launched IP Kickstarter), and the D&D adventure/sourcebook Tales and Tomes from the Forbidden Library, plus a number of published short stories. He co-hosts the actual play podcast Speculate! (speculatesf.com) and is co-coordinator of the Origins Authors Alcove. Under the moniker Arvan Eleron, he runs a Twitch channel focused on narrative, with many sponsored TTRPG campaigns featuring authors, editors, actors, and artists. He lives with his family in Connecticut; his virtual home is https://www.gregoryawilson.com/.