Interview: Adam Connell, author of Total Secession

Adam Connell is the author of Lay Saints, Counterfeit Kings, and his newest novel, Total Secession, a futuristic thriller, just came out (all to rave reviews!). Adam took some time out to answer a few of my questions, so please welcome him to the blog!

Adam, your newest book, Total Secession, came out in September, to critical raves. Will you tell us a bit about it?
I’d be happy to. Total Secession follows two rough ex-cons released early from a federal prison because a fiery political movement is dissolving America as a country. All the states will soon become sovereign nations.

The ex-cons have a short window to get from Florida to their homes in the Northeast. If they don’t make it by Secession Day, they may become citizens in a new country they don’t like, stuck there, and may never see their families again. The protagonist, Grant, hasn’t seen or heard from his wife for the ten years he was incarcerated. He is consumed with guilt because he promised her he wouldn’t get caught, and he desperately needs to see her and beg her forgiveness.

What inspired you to write Total Secession?
I had always wanted to write a book about a man coming home to his family after an extraordinarily long absence. I didn’t want to do an SF retelling of The Odyssey, that never appealed to me because it has been done by other SF authors, and most of these novels are very predictable. Predictable because they often hew so closely to The Odyssey. Some are clever but most are predictable.

But still I wanted to write this tale of a homecoming, but have it an extremely unpredictable one, where you know the husband just needs to get home, he has to, but you are completely unsure, as the reader, if he will make it. And as a reader, you’re quite in the dark about whether his wife, his family, actually want him back or not.

That appealed to me greatly, this uneasiness, this darkness about his reception. It’s what drove me from the very first sentence, it drives the book completely.

There’s a section on your website where you talk about how the “definition” of SF (a story where, if the science or technology is removed, the story cannot stand on its own) has expired and needs to be rethought. Will you elaborate on that a bit?
People all the time tell me “Star Wars isn’t SF.” I really hate that, not because I’m a huge Star Wars fan—I like it but I’m not fanatical about it—but I can’t think of a single project in the last seventy-five years that has had more of an impact on SF than Star Wars. It’s had more of an impact on the world of SF than Star Trek, even.
By this I mean that it has inspired writers and graphic artists and filmmakers and more to pursue SF, that it has filled them with wonder to such a degree that they chose SF as their field to the exclusion of others .
For me, anything that takes place in the future, and examines that future in a meaningful way, is SF. It doesn’t need to revolve around a controversial invention or the advent of cyborgs or giant armadas fighting a generations-long war over a mineral-rich planet.

To me, any work that takes the future and examines it and examines the human condition in it, that is SF. Some folks call Star Wars “skiffy,” in a derogatory way taking the term “sci-fi” but pronouncing the C as a hard K. That’s bull. Some say that speculative fiction is SF without the tech and science so it’s not really SF, and I just scratch my head. It’s all SF, and the constant haggling and debating seems to me a waste of time, and mostly I keep out of it because I’d rather be writing than arguing. But on my website, I felt like putting a period to the whole thing and making my feelings known once and for all.

What are some of the biggest influences on your writing (authors, books, etc.)?
The Dune saga by Frank Herbert was the biggest influence on me as a young reader/budding writer. To see, in prose and sparking my imagination, such an impressive tapestry and vision, it blew me away. So Frank Herbert showed me the promise of SF revealed and fulfilled.

Then I read Alfred Bester’s short stories and novels, and they showed me that language can be playful, can be imbued with unique styling that changes your perception of the limits of language. Namely, that it is limitless. This isn’t always true about regular fiction in the way that it’s absolutely true for SF.

If someone was dipping their toe in the sci-fi pool for the first time, what titles, or authors (besides your own, of course) would you recommend as starters?
I’ve found that people who don’t generally read SF have the misconception that SF books read like textbooks, or they’re all about alien civilizations, or that they’re just plain boring and slow with cardboard characters. This is not so.

I’m asked this question a lot, from curious readers wondering where to start, so I have my answer ready, and I think it’s pretty infallible. First read Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. It’s a lot of fun, very engaging. Then go on to When Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger. After that, Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke. Lastly, The Man In the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. This list of books will give you a good idea of the scope of SF.

If you find none of them appealing, then maybe SF isn’t for you. But I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
There are, certainly, a variety of ways to answer this question, but I’ve made many converts with the answer I’ve just given.

I haven’t suggested some of the older classics because some are dated and, to anyone just cracking open the field, it might put these potential converts off. Down the line these classics should be read, but not necessarily right away.

When you manage to find some downtime, how do you like to spend it?
There’s not a whole lot of downtime for me. I’m always researching or writing or editing. And as a self-published writer, when I’m not doing those three things, I’m actively marketing and promoting. But that stops on the weekend, all of that stops or I’d burn out.

I’m a film buff. I also like foreign films and J-Horror and anime. I love music—predominantly shoegazers, classic rock, a little heavy metal.

I’m still in love with reading and I don’t expect that to ever change. As a youngster I started with comic books and went on to reading novels, but I never totally abandoned comics, so I read the occasional Graphic Novel or Trade Collection and I find them immensely entertaining. Comics are wonderful but, as with SF, there are a whole lot of adult readers with misconceptions. They think comics aren’t for them, they’re for children. That’s wrong, this misconception, another misconception that makes me angry. But that’s a topic for a different interview.

A little traveling is always nice. I hate to cook. I never exercise. I suppose what I like to do most when I have some downtime is nap. Seriously. I’m a very big napper and I come from a long line of nappers, just ask my parents.

What’s next for you?
Periodically I’m working on formatting my first novel, Counterfeit Kings, to be released as an ebook. It was published traditionally eight years ago, it’s still in print but it can be hard to find, and it’s a book I’m proud of, so I’d like a cheaper and more accessible version available to my fans. That’ll be sometime in 2013.

Also I’m deep into my fourth book. It currently has a few titles, I haven’t been able to choose the perfect one yet, but I’ll be publishing that by June or July of 2013. Self-publish, I mean. I’ve lost faith in traditional publishing for a lot of reasons, so this will be an ebook as well. The beauty of ebooks is that on the day I think the book is done and ready for the world and for my readership, it will be available that same day. Compared to how publishing has worked in the past, I’m almost tempted to call ebooks SF.
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