Artie Cabrera is a writer, graphic designer, and musician from New York City. His first publication was 2013’s post-apocalyptic drama I’m Not Dead. His latest creative project is co-writing the Gravity City series with CJ Valin as his co-writer, and the first volume being Thieves of Destiny. Wanting to learn about his career and this novel, I was able to interview him for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved?
Artie Cabrera: Growing up an ‘80s kid, I loved Star Wars, GI Joe, Masters of the Universe, Transformers, arcade games, you name it. I feel like I was born at the best time ever, but I guess any kid will say that about the era they were born in, right? As far as stories are concerned, I’m influenced by all sorts of things. I’m seriously all over the map because of my upbringing. I used to sit in our living room playing with my action figures and WWF toys while watching Scarface and Godfather on VHS with the family, and those movies left a huge impression on me because of how profound they were. I was seven, eight years old watching people do really heinous, violent stuff to each other, and I didn’t understand why, but it was like, kind of cool at the same time.
‘80s slasher films and raunchy teen comedies were also at their peak then, so I had a healthy dose of genres to absorb and process in my formative years. Maybe that explains why I have a hard time sticking to one genre in the stories I write. I tend to color outside the lines a lot, and it’s hard not to do that because I’m subconsciously pulling from all directions, and I think good writers and stories do that naturally. A good story, when done right, should make you feel a gamut of emotions.
E.T. was the first movie to make me feel nervous, cry, cheer, and laugh all within a span of five-ten minutes. I’ll never forget the emotional ride E.T. took me and my siblings on. Same goes for The Empire Strikes Back because it has a little bit of everything.
Yanes: On this note, are there stories that you enjoy revisiting?
Cabrera: Not stories I’ve written or created. I know that if I go back and read something I’ve written, I’ll find dozens of mistakes, and I’ll obsess over them. I love them in spirit, though.
I have a list of five to seven movies that are instant feel-good, comfort films for me.
With books, I love Rock n Roll auto/biographies. Particularly, the really messed-up ones about people I admired growing up. I also love Pulp stories because they’re innocent and have some of the best dialog you’ll find anywhere. It’s snappy and raw. If anything, I’ll read Mickey Spillane, Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, some Doc Savage stuff as a palate cleanser, not much sci-fi, though, unless it’s something like Journey to the Center of the Earth. That’s fun.
Yanes: When did you decide to pursue a creative career? Was there a moment in which these goals crystallized?
Cabrera: It was the moment I saw Tommy Lee playing drums upside down in the Motley Crue video for Wild Side. I dove right into playing drums and bass guitar soon after because I needed to emulate what I saw on the screen ASAP. Then I joined a band, where I learned how to write and produce music.
Then I went on this crazy journey of playing nightclubs with my band and as a DJ for many years because I wanted to be in the music industry. But writing a book or a story or a movie was always on my list of things I wanted to accomplish because the concept of “story” was my first true creative love. I love the process of taking someone from Point A to B through any medium, and putting them through the ringer as you go. There’s a form of sorcery to it, I think.
Yanes: While it is easier than ever to publish a book, it is harder than ever to get attention for it because books are now part of a more competitive market place. What are some bottlenecks encountered when promoting Thieves of Destiny?
Cabrera: From what I’m learning now, or as I perceive it to be like, an author has to follow strict guidelines when it comes to genre. Copy, paste, repeat. Same book cover, same tropes, same archetypes, until someone reinvents the rules, and then we all start over again like hamsters on a wheel. Most people don’t want deviations when it comes to properties they love. I understand that. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Whether you’re writing military sci-fi, cyberpunk, grimdark, urban fantasy, etc., you have to adhere to what readers expect of you and that genre. Going off-road or taking liberties with the rules may cost you. You might piss someone off or they may simply just choose to pass on your book because it’s not what they want. That’s fine.
There are thousands of books out there that’ll satisfy their taste, and sometimes a reader may not want to take that chance on you. Especially if you’re the new kid on the block and aren’t a commodity yet. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the reader’s right, just as it is mine to write the stories that I love and make me happy. There’s something for everyone out there, so it’s strange for me to try and appease a niche group of readers because why would I want to be like another writer who came before me? They’ve already done it, and probably did it or do it better. Why not try something new? It’s confining and disheartening if you’re not cut out for the grind.
Yanes: What was the inspiration of Thieves of Destiny?
Cabrera: Gravity City started out as a short story I’d written for an anthology called The Cyborg Chronicles created by Samuel Peralta for his The Future Chronicles series back in 2016. I’d spent the summer reading Mike Hammer books and watching Dirty Harry movies, and wondered what it would be like if you took all those gritty, Pulpy elements and skinned them with The Jetsons or Star Wars. But then when I started writing (what is now book two of the Gravity City trilogy, Sleepwalkers), I decided to really open up the story instead of sticking to my initial idea.
Instead, I drew inspiration from political and cop dramas of the ‘70s, like Three Days of the Condor, Serpico, Taxi Driver, Death Wish, Godfather, and anything you’d imagine seeing in movies and books from that period. I love the language and how raw artists were back then before corporations started sticking their fingers in everything and micromanaging media to death.
Yanes: From idea to end product, what are some aspects of Thieves of Destiny that took on a life of its own?
Cabrera: When Chris and I teamed up, I already had the majority of Sleepwalkers written, and Chris had a large portion of what is now Thieves of Destiny written. By going back and expanding on what we already had, Gravity City now has the space fleet, military drama, and planet-hopping aspect to it. It made the world a lot bigger and expanded the lore in ways I hadn’t anticipated. It took Gravity City from the streets to the stars and beyond. It was cool collaborating and drawing from each other’s ideas.
Yanes: Who are your favorite characters in Thieves of Destiny?
Cabrera: Frank Branza, Johnny Rangers dad. He’s one of my favorite characters because he comes with a lot of baggage and history, and he’s all out of f*cks to give because he’s seen it all. He could be the most sentimental guy you know but also the most dangerous because of all the tools he has in is arsenal. He’s worked with the best of the best in the military and police force, but he also knows every trick and loophole of the criminal underworld because he’s played their game for so long. You’re not going to get over on him because he’s well-versed in both worlds. He just happens to use more of his good side than bad.
Yanes: Thieves of Destiny is the first in series of books. Which subplots are you two most excited to continue?
Cabrera: While books two and three are a continuation of Thieves, they’re a slight departure from where we started because the story leaps forward a decade and leans a little more into the AI/Cyberpunk/evil corporation side of the story. This is where the overall plot really starts to take form. Johnny Rangers is war-hardened, grumpy, short-tempered, but still loves his city, like his father, despite how awful it is. Technology is rearing its ugly head and is more prevalent than ever in Gravity City after the war. The city’s gone through growing pains at this point. There’s a robot society that’s clashing with biological civilians because automatons living among them is a new concept that isn’t going over well with anyone.
Above all that and the corporations being corporations, there’s one man, the king of the criminal underworld, who’s pulling all the strings and screwing around with everyone’s lives, even the bad guys. He’s a real menace. Writing his reveal in book three (Cursed Dynasty) was fun.
Yanes: When people finish reading Thieves of Destiny, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
Cabrera: With Thieves, I want readers to have the “Oh, sh*t” moment at the end of the book when they realize that the story’s bigger than we lead them to believe, and that it’s just the tip of a larger plot that is exciting and unpredictable. I want them to see the potential. And I want them to take that ride with us because the payoff is spectacular. And no, we didn’t do the cliffhangers as cash-grabs. It just really is a big story with many characters and arcs, and you need time to flesh out those stories, respectfully. It’s a large cast of characters, but not as indulgent as the Game of Thrones books.
I hope readers don’t dismiss the series because it’s not a genre that is crazy-popular these days. It’s not your standard “spaceship battle, boots on the ground, military sci-fi fair,” which isn’t bad, but that’s not what we set out to write. There’s obviously a rabid readership for that genre, but Gravity City is just a good ol’ space story that borrows bits and pieces from all the sci-fi stories we grew up loving. It’s like a party mix of sci-fi goodness.
At the heart of it, there’s a lot for readers to sink their teeth into and to contemplate here because we really do explore what it means to be human and alive, and what happens when we all leave this existence and move on to the next one, if there even is a next one. That’s one of the biggest questions we ask because it’s still a mystery. And as you are aware, there are anxieties about that because no one really knows what’s waiting for us on the other side when the lights go out. Obviously, religions give us their impression of what that might be, but nothing’s guaranteed in life or death. Maybe that’s controversial to say. This is why the corporations and moguls in our trilogy have created their own religion known as artificial intelligence. God is in the motherboard. They’re constantly tinkering around with ways to achieve immortality because death is scary, and it’s random, and no one wants it, but it’s absolutely mandatory in the grand scheme of things.
So, the question is, how do we delay the inevitable and preserve life or manufacture the afterlife, and before it’s too late? Do we download our consciousness onto a chip or into a robot, or is there somewhere where we could go where we are free of flesh, pain, bills, and all the bullsh*t of everyday life without having to experience the act of dying? Maybe a simulation where everything’s virtual and we could live forever? I know that’s a popular theme with Meta right now, and will be heading into the future with augmented reality. And on the flipside of that is, what is a conscious, and do robots have one, and how do you measure all that data? Humans are just robots made out of flesh and bone. We all run on magic electricity, and our brains are organic computers computing all this chemistry and information 24/7. We don’t consciously do that; our bodies do all the work. We’re just going along for the ride until the body decides it doesn’t want to do it anymore. What happens to the rest of us when the body expires? You know, that’s probably going to bore readers the most, but it’s not hard science because I’m not that smart. I just had a lot of fun pinning spirituality against the machines in our story.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you two working on that people can look forward to?
Cabrera: Hopefully, for me, more Gravity City stories, whether it’s through books or other mediums. And if not, then maybe I’ll go back to writing Horror again. Also, you could search for Christopher Valin’s superhero series, Raptors, on Amazon, which is co-written by our publisher, Steve Beaulieu, the owner of Aethon Books.