RETROGRADE: THE DARKNESS is the first half of a science-fiction/fantasy/horror duology by author A.O. (Alicia) Godmasch. Set on the planet of Damara, the book pits soldiers about an interdimensional threat, the Retrograde, that comes once a decade and either kills citizens outright or drives them to homicidal madness.
Originally from New Jersey and now based in Atlanta, Godmasch has worked as a producer, scriptwriter and casting director in the entertainment industry. She has her own production company, Maswell Films. RETROGRADE: THE DARKNESS is her first novel.
Speaking by phone, Godmasch talks about her book, her inspiration for it, and her peripatetic background.
ASSIGNMENT X: How would you describe the plot of RETROGRADE: THE DARKNESS?
A.O. GODMASCH: RETROGRADE: THE DARKNESS is about a young woman named Isis who decides to join an elite military unit, against her mother’s wishes, to fight the Retrograde, because it’s something that comes around every ten years. Isis is hoping to help save her nation and her planet of Damara by stepping out there in harm’s way. And in the process, she comes to have some amazing and very deep relationships.
AX: What can you say about those relationships?
GODMASCH: Isis’s relationship with Khalfani is definitely a beautiful love story. Khalfani is a fellow soldier, and at first, Isis doesn’t think anything of him too much, but as the Retrograde draws closer to them, their relationship becomes stronger, and she realizes that it’s more than just a friendship or a curiosity. Something is literally pulling them together. I think that that’s based on real love. When you really love somebody, it’s one of those things where you can literally feel their pain when they’re hurting. That’s the kind of deep love that she’s able to cultivate with Khafani, despite all the madness and craziness that’s going on, and it’s a beautiful way that they’re brought together.
AX: You’ve said that RETROGRADE: THE DARKNESS was partially based on a dream you had …
GODMASCH: It’s such a funny story. Do you remember when Mercury was in retrograde?
AX: It seems to do that frequently …
GODMASCH: We’re living in a retrograde, yeah. But previously, when Mercury was in retrograde around November of last year, I was working on a film project, HIS KILLER FAN. It hasn’t been released yet, but it was from Crazy Legs Productions. It’s going to be a really good movie. I remember, we were at a theater, and I was talking about Mercury in retrograde with a colleague of mine who’s like a spiritual guru. Because I had had this story swimming around in my head for a year or two, and I couldn’t quite fit all the pieces together. He said, “Alicia, you know what, I love Spielberg.” So, I’m like, “Okay, let me just do some research.” Because Spielberg is what gives him life, so I’m like, “I have to figure out what Steven Spielberg’s all about, to get to know this guy better,” because we’re working together.
So, I was looking on YouTube, and I researched Steven Spielberg, and Steven Spielberg was talking about something called “the whisper.” He said, basically, a lot of people have good ideas. But, they asked him, how did you know about E.T.? How did you feel? How did you know this was something you should write down? He says, the great ideas come to you in the form of a whisper. They don’t jump up and down, they don’t yell at you, “Hey, I’m here, I’m a great idea!” So you have to tune out all of the psychic noise that we have going on now. We turn on the news – it’s a lot of psychic noise. It’s stuck in your head. These voices make it difficult for you to tune into your inner self, that creative genius that everybody has. But if you tune out that psychic noise, you can hear the whisper.
And I thought it was just a matter of one of those things that’s a saying that you throw out there, but I freaking literally heard this whisper when I was speaking to my colleague, talking about Mercury in retrograde. And it was such an amazing moment for me, because I knew then – the whisper was basically like I was being told, “This is it. This is your story.” And I went home, and I started writing RETROGRADE: THE DARKNESS that night, because I had this experience. And I knew it was something that was special. And after that night, I started dreaming how things would play out. I would literally dream up a scene, and the next day, I would go to my laptop, and I would write out what I saw in my dream. So, the whole book actually played out to me in a series of dreams that I wrote down. It was a fascinating thing.
I feel very grateful that I’ve had this experience, because it was something that I hope that I’ll have again, but it was just so incredibly overwhelming to me. I feel like it’s a gift that I’ve been given from the universe, so I have to treat it with respect, and nurture it, and get it out there. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m just getting it out there into the world as best I can.
AX: You’re based in Atlanta now, but you’ve lived and worked in various parts of the world …
GODMASCH: I’m originally from New Jersey, and I spent a lot of time there. I spent a lot of time traveling throughout Europe, because at first, I was a Corporate America type of person. I was an international financial consultant, so I spent about a decade living in different parts of Europe. And then, what happened was is that I ended up meeting my husband, who is from Germany, and then I lived in Germany until 2013, and then made my way to Atlanta. My father was from Macon, Georgia. I figured I’d come back here, to my roots. So, that’s how I ended up here. I’ve been here for about seven years.
AX: What got you into the film and television business after being part of Corporate America?
GODMASCH: Well, I come from a long line of people that have been in film and television. I have a late uncle, Wilmer Ames, he was the editor-in-chief and creator of Emerge Magazine, which was the first Black-owned entrepreneurial magazine that was out there. It was a predecessor of Essence Magazine. And my other uncle, Herb K. Ames, he was the first African-American male model for Sears. You remember when those Sears catalogues came out – those Sears models were the hottest thing. It was one of those things where they were literally trailblazing. After modeling, he became the founder of First Choice Bank, the CEO and founder of First Choice Bank, which is a national franchise that he eventually sold just a couple of years ago to another company, so he could retire. But he still stayed in contact with a lot of people that he met from the entertainment industry, and then I have a brother who has produced a Netflix film, actually, and my sister-in-law, that’s from Italy, she’s actually a fashion designer, so she has a lot of friends like Naomie Harris, one of the latest Black women to be on the Bond franchise.
So, it’s always been around me, and I guess it was one of those things where it was the sensible choice, because I kept going back to that. Even in college, and in high school, too, I would do things involving film. I would be an extra in this show or that show, or a movie, I would hop on and get involved. I was always attracted to the energy of film and entertainment, simply because there’s no other energy like it. It’s a very infectious energy, and it’s one of those things where it gets my creative vibes flowing, and it makes me feel alive. So, for me, it’s like a drug. I knew, after corporate, I would just gravitate to that. I couldn’t keep away from it.
AX: Because RETROGRADE: THE DARKNESS takes place on another planet, which is interacting with another dimension, you had to do a fair amount of world-building. Do you think that your experiences of having traveled around Europe and lived in all of these different cultures helped you with that?
GODMASCH: Absolutely. I think so much of my life was inspired by some of the things that I see. I love different cultures, I love languages, I speak different languages, and I love people, and watching people interact. So, I think that these interactions, and these experiences that I’ve been blessed to have, have definitely played a role in creating this world, creating the culture and the languages of the world. When I lived in Malta, Malta has a very Arabic language base, and Maltese has a lot of Arabic in it. So, one of the greetings in this language of Damara is “kif sejjer,” which means, “How are you doing?” in Maltese, but also in Arabic. And some of the names, too, are Arabic.
The author of THE HUNGER GAMES, Suzanne Collins, was talking about how she was greatly influenced by what she saw in France, and that’s how she got the idea for the districts and stuff like that. And I just felt like, after I finished, “Wow, you know what? This is very similar, taking these experiences and kind of funneling them into this idea, this new world, this new culture, these new people. So yes. The short answer is, absolutely.
AX: How did you come up with the specific characters?
GODMASCH: Some of the characters are based on actual relationships that I have in my life. For example, Aurora’s interaction with her adopted daughter is loosely based on my relationship with my stepdaughter. I am an African-American woman, and my stepdaughter is white, natural blonde, blue eyes. My in-laws all have blue eyes, blue eyes all the way down the chain. And so, it was very different, coming into this relationship. I never wanted to marry anybody that had children, and as far as Aurora is concerned, in the beginning, she’s not looking for a child, she’s not looking to be tied down in that way, because she’s a very free-spirited woman, she’s a very independent woman, she’s a strong woman, and she’s in this elite army. And so, she wants to focus on that career that she has.
When I met my husband, I was focused on my career. I wasn’t focused on getting married, or coming to have, suddenly, this teenager [as a stepdaughter]. It’s not where my mind was. And yet, when I got married to my husband, and even before then, I realized that this child who was now mine was going to be one of the best things of my marriage. She still is. So, it’s kind of like what happens to Aurora. She is by herself, and has this child. And this child becomes her baby, it becomes her love, her everything. And I just wanted to express that, because I think that there are so many people that try to divide people. But love is so pure, and the message there is that, if you’re willing to open your heart to people, forget about how they look. It doesn’t matter. You can have such an amazing experience. You can find such a love that you never knew you could have for someone. And that’s kind of what I’ve experienced. And I hope other people look at it the same way.
AX: Is there racism on Damara, or does everybody just look different, and they take that as, “You have this kind of skin, I have that kind of skin, you have this kind of hair, I have that kind of hair, and super”?
GODMASCH: Well, that’s the great thing about Damara that I wanted to make a little bit different. There is no racism there. They are able to look at the person, and if they love the person, they love the person. Now, there’s a hell of a lot of violence, there’s a lot of discrimination based on economic status, there’s prejudice as far as, “How much money do you have?” It’s not race-based. And that’s actually what I experienced in real life, when I was over in Germany. In Germany, they were not concerned at all about skin color. At the time, Obama was president. What they were concerned about was what country I was from. And because it was Obama, I was great.
AX: Did you have fun coming up with all the different dialects in the book?
GODMASCH: I really did. The book came to me in the form of a movie in my dreams. But the thing of it is, is that, for me, I picture people having different accents and different styles of dress. That’s really important to me. And I can’t wait for the readers to pick that up, too, the different ways that they say things. 99.9 percent of the words are actual words in different languages – I hope that people pick up on that. For me, sometimes when I read a book, I’m like, “Oh, that’s an interesting word,” and I’ll look it up. So, I hope people become more aware of the coolness of other people’s languages. Because it is so interesting how there are so many similarities in languages.
AX: At what point did you decide this would be two books instead of one book?
GODMASCH: Well, you know, I think the thing of it is that I imagined it at first to be a trilogy, because I like the number three. Because I had so much information that I had outlined, I’m like, “There’s no way [this will fit into one volume].” But then I thought, “Well, Alicia, what do you like to do? What kind of books to you pick up when you go to Barnes & Noble, or when you’re shopping on Amazon??” And I like a good duology. I think duologies are fun, because it leaves you hanging, but then you know with that next book, you’re going to get your conclusion, you’re going to get your fix. And that’s what I wanted to do with this, just make it a duology, not push everything into one book, but allow some space for the readers to get to know the characters, and to really develop a connection with them.
AX: Is RETROGRADE: THE DARKNESS independently published?
GODMASCH: It is independently published, and I did that intentionally. I didn’t want to query or anything for it, because I know that typically to go through a publishing house is going to take two years. In November of last year, we didn’t know anything about COVID-19. I’m so glad that I took the independent route, because I think it’s timely for now. So, I didn’t want to wait however many years for this to come out. I’m very, very happy about that.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about RETROGRADE: THE DARKNESS?
GODMASCH: I would most like them to know that this is a fun, exciting, thrilling book, in which they’re going to be able to find somebody that they really identify with. And it’s going to be one of those things where you’re going to keep wanting more when you read this book. And I made this book for sci-fi fans. This is my gift to them. And I hope that they want it, and they find as much wonder in this new world of Damara as I have in creating it.
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Article: Exclusive Interview with A.O. Godmasch on her new novel RETROGRADE: THE DARKNESS