An interview with Edward Ashton, author of Three Days in April

edwardashtonEdward Ashton’s new book, Three Days in April, just came out this month, and he kindly answered a few questions for me. Please give him a warm welcome!
Congrats on the new book! Will you tell us a little about Three Days in April and what inspired it?

Thank you so much! Three Days in April is set in the (very) near future—after the introduction of genetic and cybernetic modifications, but before we’ve figured out how to make them work particularly well. Anders Jensen and his friends are members of the first generation to adopt these changes in a big way, and they’ve got a lot of the same problems with their bodies that you might expect from the first model year of a new car. They also have to deal with the resentment of the unmodified majority, who view them as privileged elitists at best, and soulless monsters at worst.

The action of the book centers around a disaster that wipes out the population of Hagerstown, Maryland. Each side blames the other, and Anders and company find themselves catapulted into the middle of an incipient civil war. Hilarity ensues.

The idea behind Three Days in April actually came from a novel approach to cancer therapy that my lab was examining. It was really exciting work, but it occurred to me that with some tweaking, the technique we were using could potentially be put to much less altruistic ends.

Why do you think readers will root for Anders? What makes him a compelling character?

I think Anders is actually a bit of an everyman. Sure, he’s a member of the genetic elite—but he’s also broke, underemployed, and living with a really aggravating roommate in a run-down building next to a crack house. He’s an adjunct professor, a job which his best friend (accurately) describes as being the assistant nugget fryer of the academic world, and even though, as someone who actually studies nanotech, he ought to be more clued in than any of his friends, he spends most of the book one bewildered step behind them. That’s basically how I spend my life, so I identify pretty strongly with him. Hopefully at least a few readers will too.

What kind of research did you do for the book?

One of the oldest cliches in writing is that you should write what you know. Believe it or not, that’s mostly what I did here. I’m a cancer researcher by day, so I started with a pretty solid understanding of the biology I put into Three Days in April, and earlier in life I spent six years working for the national security apparatus, where I learned about fun stuff like kinetic energy weapons and all-pervasive surveillance. I’m a stickler for technical accuracy, so I did have to look up a few things, like the precise impact velocity of a de-orbited weapon, and the amount of kinetic energy that weapon has to transfer to whatever it happens to land on. I also had to give myself a refresher on the geography of Baltimore. I used to live there, but it’s been a very long time.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Can you tell me a bit about your journey?

Oh, absolutely. I’ve been writing more or less since I learned how to read. I sold my first short story (for $99 and a sheet pizza) when I was nineteen, and all through college and into grad school I had one foot in the hard sciences and one in the writing program. Half-way through my Ph.D., the university’s writer-in-residence cornered me on the quad and tried to convince me to drop out of my doctoral program and apply to Iowa. And you know, I thought about it—but in the end, I wanted to want to write. I didn’t want to have to write. That’s more or less where I’ve been ever since.

What’s one of the first things you remember writing?

I made my first attempt at a novel when I was twelve years old. It was two hundred pages long, written out in pencil on loose-leaf notebook paper. I gave it to my father, asked him what he thought. He read it, start to finish, then handed it back to me with a three word summary: hackneyed and derivative.

There was more to it than that, actually. He gave me a long speech about the importance of the years of study and preparation that are necessary before you can create anything of real value, but hackneyed and derivative was the only bit that stuck with me.

I’m kind of hoping he gives Three Days in April a stronger review.

What are a few of your favorite books and authors?

That’s a hard one. I like a lot of things. In no particular order: Bill Bryson, Margaret Atwood, David Brin, Dying of the Light, Incendiary, Spaceling, Kurt Vonnegut, Octavia Bulter, Neil Gaiman, City, Vernor Vinge, Department of Speculation, and Bill Watterson.

If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?

Cat’s Cradle. “…she laughed, and brought her finger to her lips, and died.” Gets me every time.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve got a few books in the hopper at the moment. I’m most of the way through Lexie Dunne’s Superheroes Anonymous, and a little less that half-way into Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of all Maladies. I also just finished Suki Kim’s Without You, There Is No Us. Of the three, Lexie’s book is definitely the most fun.

What’s next for you?

World domination, I assume. I’m currently trying to put out about one short story per month, and I’m a bit more than half-way through my next novel, which is set in the same future as Three Days in April, though it really isn’t a sequel. When you’re an evil scientist, you learn to take things one day at a time—you never know when the peasants are going to show up with pitchforks and torches—but I’m pretty happy with the way things are headed at the moment.

Keep up with Edward: Website 

About Three Days in April:
Anders Jensen is having a bad month. His roommate is a data thief, his girlfriend picks fights in bars, and his best friend is a cyborg…and a lousy tipper. When everything is spiraling out of control, though, maybe those are exactly the kind of friends you need.

In a world divided between the genetically engineered elite and the unmodified masses, Anders is an anomaly: engineered, but still broke and living next to a crack house. All he wants is to land a tenure-track faculty position, and maybe meet someone who’s not technically a criminal—but when a nightmare plague rips through Hagerstown, Anders finds himself dodging kinetic energy weapons and government assassins as Baltimore slips into chaos. His friends aren’t as helpless as they seem, though, and his girlfriend’s street-magician brother-in-law might be a pretentious hipster—or might hold the secret to saving them all.

Frenetic and audacious, Three Days in April is a speculative thriller that raises an important question: once humanity goes down the rabbit hole, can it ever find its way back?

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