Alan Averill’s new novel, The Beautiful Land, just came out last week, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book, and more!
Please welcome Alan to the blog!
Will you tell us about yourself and your background? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Pretty much, yeah. My parents say that my favorite toys were always books, even when I was really young. And once I was old enough, I started spending tons of time in the library. Part of this is the sheer love of reading, but it’s also because I was an anti-social introvert who preferred to sit in a corner by himself instead of running around outside.
This never stopped being true, actually. In high school, I’d always choose a desk in the back of the room and read Arthur C. Clarke or Piers Anthony or the Dragonlance series when I should have been listening to the teacher. So my grades were never awesome, but most of them passed me anyway — they were probably just happy I was reading instead of smoking pot or whatever.
I guess that’s a long way to say that I always wanted to write for a living, which I’ve been lucky enough to do for the most part. I worked a couple of theatre tech jobs straight out of college, then managed to get on staff at Nintendo Power magazine before moving on to localization work and the novel. Basically, I took my two favorite hobbies — writing and playing video games — and figured out how to wrangle them into a career. I’ve been very, very lucky in that regard, because I never really had the dreaded ‘non-writing’ day job that destroyed my will to live.
Slightly longer version: The Beautiful Land is about a guy named Tak O’Leary who goes to work for a company that invents a time machine. During the course of his employment, he discovers that the company is planning to erase our timeline and overwrite it with another one, and that doing so will kill the woman he has loved since high school, an Iranian-American military translator named Samira Moheb. So rather than let that happen, he steals the machine and sets out to rescue her. But he doesn’t realize that the inventor of the machine is searching for a very special timeline he calls The Beautiful Land — and that he’s willing to destroy everything in existence to find it.
As for what inspired me, I think it was just the desire to create something new and different and fun. I hope I accomplished that, although your results may vary.
When you write, are you a plotter or a pantser?
Total pantser. I don’t plan anything. I’ve had entire characters pop up of out nowhere and ended up re-writing the story on the fly because I liked them so much. (This is oddly similar to my life, where I also seem unable to plan anything beyond about a seven-second timespan, and then will often change my mind right in the middle of it. It drives my wife crazy. Ask her about it sometime—she’ll probably start sobbing.)
What, or who, are some of the biggest influences on your writing?
Ray Bradbury was a massive influence — he was my first gateway into science fiction, and also a touchstone in terms of plot and pacing and overall tone. I always hope to get within shouting distance of his talent on a really good day.
Stephen King is another one, both his fiction and non-fiction. On Writing is pretty much the greatest book I’ve ever read about the process of putting a bunch of words in a row, and it was key to my finally attempting to write a book of my own.
Other writers/performers/influences that I love are (in no particular order): Haruki Murakami, David Mitchell, Ursula K. Le Guin, old Twilight Zone episodes, Cormac McCarthy, random people I see on the bus, Mad Magazine, Kelly Link, Neal Stephenson, Tad Williams, Adventure Time, my 99-year old neighbor Bob, Bethesda Softworks, Joe Posnanski, Kij Johnson, Ken Levine, Miles Davis, KEXP, and Kate Beaton.
What do you love most about writing fantasy?
That’s kind of a funny question, because I don’t really think of The Beautiful Land as fantasy. But I know some places have been classifying it as such, as well as sci-fi and just straight-up literature.
I guess genre doesn’t mean a whole lot to me while I’m working. I don’t really write a book and think “This is gonna be my science-fiction novel!” or “This is going to be young adult!” I just write the story that’s in my head and let other people worry about how to classify it. But I read a lot of science fiction—and watch/game a lot of it as well—so I suppose those elements tend to leak into my work more than others. I enjoy left field. I’m very comfortable there.
What do you like to see in a good book?
Sharp dialogue, big ideas, and flawed characters who screw up a lot. Humor also helps.
Is there anything that will make you put a book down unfinished?
Too much description will kill a book for me. So will overly poetic or flowery language. But I very rarely put a book down and don’t finish it, even if it means going back years later. I think the last book I didn’t finish was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell — which is a serious black mark on my reading life, because it’s an incredibly well-written and clever novel. But it just didn’t grab me. A lot of creative works are like that, you know? You can stand back and look at it and recognize that it’s really damn good, and yet it just doesn’t work for you for one reason or another. (For the record, I intend to go back and finish Strange/Norrell. Probably when I’m done here, because I’m kind of ashamed I just admitted that.)
When you’re not busy at work on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
I read a lot and play a ton of videogames, which is probably obvious by this point in the interview. I also watch baseball and have three fantasy football teams that take up far too much of my brain. Oh, and I take a lot of long, random walks to places I don’t know — although I’m usually thinking about whatever I’m working on at the time, so that probably doesn’t count.
What’s next for you?
I’m just about done with my new book, which I’ll send to my agent to see if he likes it or quits on the spot. I’ve also got a video game localization project that’s going to start really soon — maybe even next week. So it’ll a busy summer, but that’s okay. I’m doing what I love every single day, and you can’t ask for much more than that.
About THE BEAUTIFUL LAND:
Takahiro O’Leary has a very special job
working for the Axon Corporation as an explorer of parallel timelines—as many and as varied as anyone could imagine. A great gig—until information he brought back gave Axon the means to maximize profits by changing the past, present, and future of this world.
If Axon succeeds, Tak will lose Samira Moheb, the woman he has loved since high school—because her future will cease to exist. A veteran of the Iraq War suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Samira can barely function in her everyday life, much less deal with Tak’s ravings of multiple realities. The only way to save her is for Tak to use the time travel device he “borrowed” to transport them both to an alternate timeline.