Dave Freer is a fascinating guy. Trust me on this one. Not only is he an author (prolific doesn’t really begin to cover it), he’s an ichthyologist, and I promise if you visit his Flinders Family Freer website, you’ll find yourself mesmerized by his and his family’s unique and fascinating lives (there are wombats!!). He’s funny too. I know, it’s totally not fair, but luckily, in his books, he shares some of this fun with us! To my delight, Dave was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of my questions, so please give him a warm welcome!
Oh hey, did I mention that I have shiny new hardcover copies of Cuttlefish and The Steam Mole that will go to one lucky winner? Be sure you check the details at the bottom of the post!
Dave, your new book, The Steam Mole, is out this month! What can we look forward to from your heroes, Tim and Clara, in this installment?
(Blink) Chaos. Mayhem. Strange inventions, high ideals, adventure, courage. A shred of romance. What else do I ever deliver? In terms of where the story goes, into the red heart of Australia, A hotter-than-now heart, where humans survive as termites do. And coal is still king.
When you started the series, with Cuttlefish, did you already have in mind how many books you’d like to write or did you just plan to see where our characters took you?
Well, I would like to write one more. I had two definite in mind and one possible. The Antarctica book will have to wait for now. Basically they take steam into the environment and each book centers on the inventions that such an environment would need – I’ve done the sea, I’ve done the desert and tropics, and I’d love to do the ice and air. To some extent these are character growth and development stories, so barring new characters, there would be a limit on how fat I’d take Tim and Clara.
Cuttlefish and The Steam Mole have definitely been described as “steampunk”. Why do you think this genre has become so popular in recent years?
Um. Possibly because it has escaped the grey goo, angst and misery that seem to enveloped so much of the writing world? It’s a robust, exciting slightly eccentric and fun subgenre, which takes us down a pathway to a very different society. Steampunk still tends to leave you feeling good at the end of a book. And the inventions and clothing entertain me, and therefore, I hope, a lot of other people.
You’ve published many titles in adult fantasy. What made you decide to write a young adult series?
I think, having done such a lot of practicing, I am a little more skilled, and thus better equipped to write for slightly younger readers. No, I’m not joking. I’m firmly of the belief that if it is not good enough for adult audiences, it’s certainly not good enough for younger readers. Some of the concepts in CUTTLEFISH and STEAM MOLE are very complex. So is the underlying socio-politics and alternate history. I just didn’t have the skill to write that, in a way that was still a fast moving, fun story, full of high drama, back when I started. I like writing for younger audiences. They get excited by new ideas and that fires me up.
Is there one character in this series that you enjoy writing more than others?
Oh tough one. Cookie is probably nearest to my own character, so I have a soft spot for him. He’s the ship’s cook with the attitude that if you have to die, it might as well be well fed. Look, so much YA is just girly romance -which is all very well (I’m very fond of Georgette Heyer myself)but didn’t appeal much to me as a YA reader, and, um, appealed to girls like my now wife even less. Not that we objected to some romance, but we wanted story and action… So I set out to write the sort of hero and heroine that did things. I love the impetuous loyalty of Clara, and her attitude. She’s a heroine boys would like. I gather some females approve too.
You have a very rich and varied background, and I don’t think I’ve ever met an ichthyologist! What have been some of the biggest influences on your writing?
Deadlines. If I didn’t have them… Okay, look I always say I had a formal training in writing Science Fiction, as I made recommendations on how many fish could be caught. That’s fiction. Quite a lot of science is really quite fictional, but it affronts the dignity of people with PhD’s so it is bad manners to mention this. Look, you don’t need to have been swimming with sharks to write about it, but it helps (the writing, not the sharks. The sharks don’t think about books much.). The science background makes me research carefully, and makes me systematic and methodical about getting it all wrong. I have found, actually, that rock-climbing and diving side are both very much about balancing fear and determination. A hero isn’t someone who is not afraid. That’s a fool and not someone that’s easy for us ordinary people to identify with. Courage is taking the risks while knowing the consequences, and I suppose I do know about that balance Clara and Tim are, in very different ways both very determined, and at times, very afraid.
If someone were to visit you for the first time on your remote island home in the middle of the Bass strait, what would you show them first?
Show? Most of the time the poor beggars get off the plane, a little shaken (it’s a small plane and can be an interesting landing) and find themselves whisked off to DO, not to see. Gone to catch squid in the sunset, with the outer islands floating on the horizon like something out of Celtic myth, found themselves thrust into a kayak or shoved into a wetsuit, or walking up the mountain with a rope. Trousers Point reserve, where the mountain runs from granite crags and down to fossil remains of a mangrove forest etched into sea-caves and stone mushrooms, and the sea is either an angry froth or limpid clear turquoise, is where we’ve take the few visitors who thought would need a slightly gentler introduction to the enchanted islands.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your time?
When it rains or blows I read. I read fast and omnivorously. Yes, I even read shampoo bottle contents in the shower. I also cook, which I love. We’re self-sufficiency freaks, so we grow, rear or catch almost all our own food (except of course from the two basic food groups coffee and chocolate, which I have yet to succeed at. I have roasted my own beans though.). I love the sea and the cliffs and wild places, so I can often be found in water catching lobster or spearing fish, out among the islands.
What’s next for you?
Well two books going at the moment. CHANGELING’S ISLAND which oddly is about changelings and islands, and the sea, danger and dogs with moustaches, which you might not have guessed by the title. I also am in the throes of the next massive Alternate history/fantasy novel set in 15th century Venice. Lots of interesting food in that, and a few cockatrices.
Keep up with Dave: Author Site | Flinders Family Freer | Twitter
Lavie Tidhar is the author of numerous short stories, The Tel Aviv Dossier, The Bookman Histories series, and most recently, Osama. He was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of my questions, so please welcome him to the blog!
Lavie, your newest novel, Osama, won the 2012 World Fantasy Award! Did you do anything to celebrate?
Well, it was all a bit of a blur! But I went for a really nice meal with my publishers. Then I spent something like 36 hours awake as I flew back to the UK, did four telephone interviews back to back, caught up on e-mail and passed out. Oh, and I had to smuggle H.P. Lovecraft through Customs!
Will you tell us a bit about the novel?
It’s an “existential thriller” – at least that’s my term for it! It’s about a private detective called Joe who is hired to find the obscure pulp writer of the Osama bin Laden: Vigilante series. And what happens to him as he begins to unravel the mystery around who he is and the nature of his world.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about your background?
I think I did! Weird, isn’t it. I grew up on a kibbutz in Israel and have since lived, well, in various places – South Africa, Malawi, Vanuatu, Laos, and the UK. I’m back in London now, which is the city I probably feel most at home in.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
I think Philip K. Dick is an obvious influence on Osama – which is a book actually heavily shaped by film, for several reasons. I’ve been very inspired recently by the works of Israeli writer Shimon Adaf. I’ve never been a huge H.P. Lovecraft fan, which is ironic, as he’s currently glaring at me from the bookshelf!
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
That’s a really good question. I don’t know. Maybe Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, though I keep re-reading it every few years and enjoying it just as much. It’s a wonderful book.
What are you reading now?
I just got a Kindle, so I was catching up on some older books I never read before – William Hope Hodgson’s The Ghost Pirates, Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale (the first James Bond novel – and what a strange book it is!), some very early P.G. Wodehouse stories. And I’m just going to start another Susanna Gregory mystery – I love her books.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Free time, yeah… right. Well, no, actually I probably spend a fair time cooking – it’s very relaxing! And right now, coming to the end of the year, I’m catching up on reading . Reading and beer… though not together!
It’s been quite a year for you with not only the World Fantasy Award win for Osama, but also a British Fantasy Award win for Best Novella with Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God! What’s ahead for you in 2013?
Quite a lot! There should be at least one, and possibly two, new novels out next year, some short stories, hopefully some other stuff – it’s all in a bit of a flux at the moment, if you ask me again in a couple of months I’ll hopefully be able to say more!
Keep up with Lavie: Website | Twitter
Purchase Osama: Amazon| B&N | Indiebound
“An awesome book, dark, twisty alt-universe terrorist noir” – Lauren Beukes, author of Zoo City
‘Bears comparison with the best of Philip K Dick’s paranoid, alternate-history fantasies. It’s beautifully written and undeniably powerful.’ – The Financial Times
‘A strange, melancholy and moving refl ection, torquing politics with the fantastic, and vice virtuosically versa.’- best selling author China Miéville
Here’s my roundup of book news (and other fun stuff) around the web for the week! Sometimes I add stuff throughout the day on Friday, so be sure you check back over the weekend too!
Also, don’t miss my list of gift ideas for book lovers at the bottom of the post. I’ll try to offer up new ideas every week until the end of December.
Interviews, articles, and more:
Excerpts and such:
Fun stuff (some book-related, some not):
Gift Ideas for Book Lovers (and beyond!)!!
This is my list of must-reads of January 2013 in the Spec. Fiction/Fantasy/UF/Scifi category (in order of release date). You can click on the pics to preorder, and I’ll be posting a separate list in the Suspense/Thriller/Mystery category in the coming days. It was really hard to only choose 10, because there are a ton of awesome titles on the way in January, but here it is! What new releases are you looking forward to in January?
First up is The Crossing by Mandy Hager (PYR 1/8). This one won the 2010 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards in Young Adult Fiction and is finally being released in the US by PYR. Here’s the synopsis (via PYR Books): Maryam refused to play by the Rules, and now they’re out to get her blood. . .
The people of Onewere, a small island in the Pacific, know that they are special—
chosen by the great Apostles of the Lamb to survive the deadly Tribulation that consumed the Earth. Now, from their Holy City in the rotting cruise ship Star of the Sea, the Apostles control the population—manipulating texts from the Holy Book to implant themselves as living gods. But what the people of Onewere don’t know is this: the white elite will stop at nothing to meet their own bloodthirsty needs . . .
When Maryam crosses from child to woman, she must leave everything she has ever known and make a Crossing of another kind. But life inside the Holy City is not as she had dreamed, and she is faced with the unthinkable: obey the Apostles and very likely die, or turn her back on every belief she once held dear.
The Uninvited by Liz Jensen, out from Bloomsbury on Jan. 8th, looks to be a trip through a dystopian nightmare, so, you know, for me, perfect reading. Here’s the synopsis: A seven-year-old girl puts a nail gun to her grandmother’s neck and fires. An isolated incident, say the experts. The experts are wrong. Across the world, children are killing their families. Is violence contagious? As chilling murders by children grip the country, anthropologist Hesketh Lock has his own mystery to solve: a bizarre scandal in the Taiwan timber industry.
Hesketh has never been good at relationships: Asperger’s Syndrome has seen to that. But he does have a talent for spotting behavioral patterns and an outsider’s fascination with group dynamics. Nothing obvious connects Hesketh’s Asian case with the atrocities back home. Or with the increasingly odd behavior of his beloved stepson, Freddy. But when Hesketh’s Taiwan contact dies shockingly and more acts of sabotage and child violence sweep the globe, he is forced to acknowledge possibilities that defy the rational principles on which he has staked his life, his career, and, most devastatingly of all, his role as a father.
The Aylesford Skull by James P. Blaylock (Titan Books 1/15) is definitely on my radar and looks like a cornucopia of steampunk awesomeness. Synopsis: It is the summer of 1883 and Professor Langdon St. Ives – brilliant but eccentric scientist and explorer – is at home in Aylesford with his family. However, a few miles to the north a steam launch has been taken by pirates above Egypt Bay; the crew murdered and pitched overboard. In Aylesford itself a grave is opened and possibly robbed of the skull. The suspected grave robber, the infamous Dr. Ignacio Narbondo, is an old nemesis of Langdon St. Ives.
When Dr. Narbondo returns to kidnap his four-year-old son Eddie and then vanishes into the night, St. Ives and his factotum Hasbro race to London in pursuit…
The first new steampunk novel in over twenty years from one of the genre’s founding fathers!
Next up is Ever After by Kim Harrison (Harper Voyager 1/22), which is the 11th book in the Hollows series featuring Rachel Morgan. Looks like the ever-after is shrinking, and Rachel has to fix it. All in a days work for Rachel and the gang, though, right? Here’s the synopsis: The ever-after, the demonic realm that parallels our own, is shrinking, and if it disappears, so does all magic. It’s up to witch-turned-daywalking-demon Rachel Morgan to fix the ever-after before the fragile balance between magic users and humans falls apart.
Of course, there’s also the small fact that Rachel is the one who caused the ley line to rip in the first place, and her life is forfeit unless she can fix it. Not to mention the most powerful demon in the ever-after—the soul-eater Ku’Sox Sha-Ku’ru—has vowed to destroy her, and has kidnapped her friend and her goddaughter as leverage. If Rachel doesn’t give herself up, they will die.
Forced by circumstance, Rachel teams up with elven tycoon Trent Kalamack—a partnership fraught with dangers of the heart as well as betrayal of the soul—to return to the ever-after and rescue those she loves. One world teeters on the brink of interspecies war, the other on the brink of its very demise—and it’s up to Rachel to keep them both from being destroyed.
Look for my review of Ever After (and A Perfect Blood) on SF Signal soon!
One I’m especially looking forward to is The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher (Tor 1/22). The Civil War? Frankenstein? Zombies? I’m there! The synopsis: Nevada, 1869: Beyond the pitiless 40-Mile Desert lies Golgotha, a cattle town that hides more than its share of unnatural secrets. The sheriff bears the mark of the noose around his neck; some say he is a dead man whose time has not yet come. His half-human deputy is kin to coyotes. The mayor guards a hoard of mythical treasures. A banker’s wife belongs to a secret order of assassins. And a shady saloon owner, whose fingers are in everyone’s business, may know more about the town’s true origins than he’s letting on.
A haven for the blessed and the damned, Golgotha has known many strange events, but nothing like the primordial darkness stirring in the abandoned silver mine overlooking the town. Bleeding midnight, an ancient evil is spilling into the world, and unless the sheriff and his posse can saddle up in time, Golgotha will have seen its last dawn…and so will all of Creation.
Between, the debut novel by Kerry Schafer (Ace 1/29) looks like an intriguing urban fantasy offering! The synopsis: Vivian Maylor can’t sleep. Maybe it’s because she just broke up with her boyfriend and moved to a new town, or it could be the stress of her new job at the hospital. But perhaps it’s because her dreams have started to bleed through into her waking hours.
All of her life Vivian has rejected her mother’s insane ramblings about Dreamworlds for concrete science and fact, until an emergency room patient ranting about dragons spontaneously combusts before her eyes—forcing Viv to consider the idea that her visions of mythical beasts might be real.
And when a chance encounter leads her to a man she knows only from her dreams, Vivian finds herself falling into a world that seems strange and familiar all at once—a world where the line between dream and reality is hard to determine, and hard to control…
The 2nd novel in the wonderful Shadow Ops series (after Control Point) by Myke Cole is Fortress Frontier (Ace 1/29) and follows a brand new character, Colonel Alan Bookbinder. Look for my review of this one and Control Point soon! Here’s the synopsis: The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began to develop terrifying powers—summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Overnight the rules changed…but not for everyone.
Colonel Alan Bookbinder is an army bureaucrat whose worst war wound is a paper-cut. But after he develops magical powers, he is torn from everything he knows and thrown onto the front-lines.
Drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder finds himself in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier—cut off, surrounded by monsters, and on the brink of being overrun.
Now, he must find the will to lead the people of FOB Frontier out of hell, even if the one hope of salvation lies in teaming up with the man whose own magical powers put the base in such grave danger in the first place—Oscar Britton, public enemy number one…
I reviewed Dead of Winter by Lee Collins recently,and loved it, so I’m really looking forward to She Returns From War, out on Jan. 29th from Angry Robot Books! I’m really looking forward to returning to the Wild West with heroine Cora Oglesby! Synopsis: Four years after the horrific events in Leadville, a young woman from England, Victoria Dawes, sets into motion a series of events that will lead Cora and herself out into the New Mexico desert in pursuit of Anaba, a Navajo witch bent on taking revenge for the atrocities committed against her people.
The Mad Scientist’s Daughter: A Tale of Love, Loss, and Robots by Cassandra Rose Clarke is out on Jan. 29th (Angry Robot Books), and it’s the second novel by the author of the young-adult fantasy, The Assassin’s Curse (which got LOTS of love!). I’m really looking forward to this one, and do keep an eye out for my review soon! Synopsis: “Cat, this is Finn. He’s going to be your tutor.”
Finn looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task now is to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion… and more.
But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world.
Last up but certainly not least is Shattered Souls by Delilah Devlin (Montlake 1/29). This one looks like a fun and sexy paranormal about a psychic ex-cop, Caitlyn O’Connell! Here’s the scoop: Caitlyn O’Connell had it all: a career with the Memphis PD, a passionate marriage, and the satisfaction that her work made a difference in the world. But she also had a secret, a supernatural “gift” that cost her everything. Now she scrapes by as a private investigator, taking cases the cops won’t touch and counting down the minutes until happy hour.
But when Sam Pierce, her former partner and estranged ex-husband, comes to her for help with a bizarre murder case, Cait can’t say no. And not just because Sam is still as irresistibly sexy as he was on the day they met. Something sinister—and demonic—is terrorizing Memphis, leaving a bloody trail of bodies and clues only Cait can read. Together she and Sam will venture into a dark world of magic and unholy terror, hunting a killer who will lead them to the brink of reality as they know it—and back into the thrall of their stormy past.
SEAL Cadet Jack Walker is only halfway through training when he’s abruptly yanked out to join a very different team, SEAL Team 666. They just lost a sniper on a certain mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan and someone very high up thinks Jack is just the man to replace him. His first mission with the team is in Chinatown at a sweatshop where the workers never leave and black magic is at work. The team is attacked by otherworldly creatures and after interrogating the Yakuza guards, they suspect something much, much bigger is at work. Eventually the team will have to travel as far as Myanmar to get to the bottom of things, and it’s going to get very messy. Can you say evil dude wearing a skin suit?
SEAL Team 666 revolves mainly around Jack Walker. He’s a talented newbie with a tendency to go with his instincts even when it involves not following orders to the letter. There’s a pretty good reason for this, though. Jack was possessed by a grave demon as a child and it’s left him with an internal radar when it comes to magic and the supernatural. Sometimes his radar goes off at inopportune times though, and his team hopes he’ll soon be able to control it. He really doesn’t have time to try, however, because SEAL Team 666 is go go go. Aside from a few scenes in the Mosh Pit (where the team lives and sleeps), there’s just not a lot of time for chit chat. Weston Ochse obviously knows his stuff, since he’s a retired US Army Intelligence officer and current intelligence officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency, and there’s enough gadget talk in here to make even the most die-hard military junkie happy.
SEAL Team 666 is about a most unusual Navy SEAL team, but more than that, it’s very much about the camaraderie and trust that must exist within a unit like this and there is a bit of examination on what it’s like being a hero that no one really ever knows about, and that sometimes never get recognized for the heroics they perform. They are a team tasked with keeping the citizens ignorant of the big mean baddies in their midst, and they must, by their very nature, exist in the shadows. That was the highlight of this book for me; the supernatural storyline was secondary to that, in my opinion. One fun thing mentioned was the group of Navy SEAL wives tasked with keeping their exploits out of social media and away from public consumption. Also, the team’s canine member, Hoover, was a delight, and I’d love to read more about her in further adventures. Most of SEAL Team 666 was pure candy, and that’s ok! There wasn’t a huge amount of character development here, but I don’t usually expect a large amount of it in a book like this, and it more than makes up for it with nearly nonstop action interspersed with very creepy scenes from Jack’s childhood involving his possession. If you’re an action/adventure fan and think a supernatural twist might be fun, SEAL Team 666 will provide a satisfying diversion. Here’s hoping for more adventures with Jack Walker and his team.
Daniel Jose Older is a paramedic by day and a jazz artist by night and certainly a writer by calling. His gorgeous collection of 13 stories are scary and tender, sexy and insidious, and each one is a gem. In Tenderfoot we’re introduced to Carlos, his half dead soulcatcher who works for the Council of the Dead and cannot remember anything about his former life. There’s a killer ghost on the loose, but it’s unlike anything Carlos has ever dealt with. Tenderfoot is very unique, and heartbreaking in a gentle, bittersweet way. It’s certainly one of my favorites in the collection.
In Salsa Nocturna, we meet Gordo, his portly jazz musician and protector of the city’s children. He’s been put on night duty at a non-profit care facility for emotionally challenged children, and when he starts hearing the music of the dead, he grows concerned for the children, and for good reason. This one is lilting and sweet, and I’d be shocked if you didn’t fall in love with Gordo like I did.
In Skin Like Porcelain Death we meet Jimmy, a teenager who has a 6th sense and realizes that his new girlfriend (and her doll collection), may not be what she seems. Carlos has to come to his rescue, which leads to a new, and not unwelcome, partnership for Carlos. This one sets the perfect tone if you’re in the mood for something especially creepy.
Magdalena was another of my favorites, and in it we meet Krys, another COD employee who carries a very large weapon and isn’t afraid to use it. She’s tasked with taking down someone she once loved who plans to take revenge on the man that wronged her in the most terrible way. Haunting and heartbreaking, this one will stick with you.
In The Passing, an ancient collector of stories feels something may be wrong with an old friend, and enlists the help of a young man who may be of more help to her than she ever imagined. The Passing is delicate, exhilerating, and sweet.
These are just a few highlights and each story takes place in the same world where ghosts roam the streets and the soulcatchers of the COD hunt their quarry. Ghost noir, indeed! By the time you reach the end of the book, all of the characters have come together at various points and it’s safe to say that there are some that aren’t happy with how the COD does business.
There’s plenty of ghostly ass kicking and I consistently marveled at the author’s inventiveness. Urban fantasy fans will love this, as well of fans of just plain excellent writing. His prose is just beautiful and if it seems like this whole review is a gushfest, it kind of is. Daniel José Older captures all of the dark recesses of the human heart and puts them to the page, all the while capturing the blinding light of the human spirit. Salsa Nocturna broke my heart, captivated me, and elated me in equal turns and my only complaint is that it ended. You’ll savor every word, then you’ll most likely read it again, because it’s flawless. Put this one on your holiday list and buy copies for your friends. I can’t think of a better gift to give a reader than this wonderful collection.
It’s kind of hard to put into words how much I love Daniel José Older’s collection of short stories, Salsa Nocturna, although I’ll do my best in my upcoming review. However, I did have the opportunity to chat with the author/paramedic about his writing (and other stuff) and I even attempted not to gush over Salsa Nocturna too much…
Please welcome Daniel to the blog!
Daniel, your story collection, Salsa Nocturna, is absolutely wonderful. The words gorgeous and evocative come to mind, and I could probably go on… What was your inspiration for the collection?
Thank you! These stories are inspired by my work as a paramedic and community organizer in Brooklyn. In both of these jobs you end up negotiating all these wild dynamics: bureaucracies of life and death, power plays and infighting, territory disputes – a whole saga of conflict. And that’s not to mention the blood and guts. So of course I write ghost stories! Ghosts are the literary crossroads of the future and past. What better way to express the tumultuous shenanigans I deal with on a daily basis? Ultimately, what has stayed with me from both organizing and medicine is that humanity wins out in the end – even amidst shattering degradation, lifelong trauma, oppression, stifling bureaucracies and the callous machinery of the state: there’s always this unbreakable arc towards healing, towards humanity. Ghosts speak to that arc – that even after death, something in the human spirit strives towards life.
How long did it take you to write the stories, then put them together (because story order does count)?
The first book I wrote was actually a YA urban fantasy called Shadowshaper. It takes place in the same world as Salsa Nocturna – supernatural Brooklyn, specifically, and has a few characters in common. While that was making the rounds to editors and agents I took a class with the great Sheree Renée Thomas at the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center uptown and that’s where I first started writing the Salsa Nocturna stories. The ordering does indeed count, particularly in an interconnected collection like this one, and it happened over a series of very entertaining conversations and brainstorms with my wonderful editor at Crossed Genres, Kay Holt. She was also the one that pushed me to open up the world even further – the first group of stories were almost entirely male-centric, it was, as one beta reader put it, kind of a sausage party. Kay was like, Listen now…*insert wise peptalk about where are the women that she phrased much better than I could* and I ended up writing two of the stories that have gotten the strongest responses in the whole collection: The Passing and Magdalena.
I’m guessing your day job as a paramedic keeps you pretty busy. How do you balance work, writing, and your band, Ghost Star?
They balance each other. Each one plays a role in leveling out the other, whether it’s by helping me pay the rent or process the chaos or simply have a good time. Paramedicine keeps me out in the world, it’s a physical, mental and spiritual interaction with people that can be draining and uplifting at the same time. Music is one of the deepest forms of expression I know, and while I am a writer first and foremost, music will always be there as a way to get at those impossible to put into words moments. When Salsa Nocturna came out we put on a series of performances at the Nuyorican Poets Café – a kind of extended release party/concert. Ghost Star backed me up while I read from the book and we interchanged song-story-song-story. Turned out there were all these interconnected themes between my music and fiction I hadn’t even realized.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
Junot Diaz’s The Brief And Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, Walter Mosley’s Six Easy Pieces and Steven King’s On Writing are the three books that got me to take on the craft of fiction in a serious way. They collectively opened up so many doors about narrative and voice for me, it was impossible not to write after reading them. The other main influence behind my writing is storytelling: paramedics weave some masterful tales, there’s endless bochinche on the domino tables, hair salons and street corners of Brooklyn, family histories that reach back into the blurry line between mythology and memory. All that stuff gets me excited to write – it’s why most of these stories are in the first person. Voice matters.
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Wild Seed by Octavia Butler did something to me. I love all her books, but the gift of Wild Seed was to say Look: you can tell a graceful, heartbreaking, sexy, inspiring story about life, love and history in a way that doesn’t flinch from our ugly past and looks bravely into our troubled future. And it’s short! All that in just 320 pages. The experience of reading it was a critical moment in my journey as a writer.
What are you reading now?
STORY by Robert McKee, which is actually for screenwriters but is an absolute must-read for any writer, INK by Sabrina Vourvoulius, a gorgeous, imaginative and painfully honest dystopian look at immigration in the US and Michael Gruber’s Tropic Of Night.
Your half-resurrected cleanup man Carlos is a major character in the Salsa Nocturna stories and is one of my favorites, along with Gordo. Will we see full length novels with these characters? Because I’ve gotta tell ya, I want more.
Gordo will probably have his little Alfred Hitchcock appearances in everything I do. Salsa Nocturna the story was the first piece I wrote for this collection and everything seemed to unfold from that. But Carlos is the true protagonist. I wrote a full-length novel, The Half Resurrection Blues, about Carlos trying to uncover the mystery of his origins and I’m working on finding it a home.
You have a section on your website entitled “Ambulance Stories”. Is it cathartic to write about your experiences as a paramedic?
Writing is a great outlet for all the madness we deal with but the ambulance blog is most helpful for the times I get stuck with fiction. Working as a medic comes with its own mini-forms of catharsis; it’s built into the job: the action of healing, even when it’s not successful, cleanses the spirit of the pain of being present at such traumatic moments. Writing the blog helps remind me that at the end of the day, we writers are just telling stories. Write what happened; it’s that simple. With fiction, you get to make it up, which can be overwhelming sometimes, but ultimately, our job is to tell the story.
I also read that you do workshops on music and anti-oppression organizing at public schools. Will you tell us a bit more about that? What do you find to be the most rewarding thing about it?
It’s been so incredibly inspiring to be able to have these deep conversations with young people about the intersections of oppression and strategies for empowerment. These are topics that people often don’t want to breach when dealing with teenagers, at least not in a real way – white supremacy and male privilege, institutional and internalized racism, collective action, art as activism. These are all concepts that I deal with in my stories and one thing about young people is that they give it to you straight. They have the analysis, although we don’t always give them the language to express it in. Facilitating these conversations has taught me again and again that there is more to every story, more depths to explore more angles to consider, more humor and edge and context and texture in a single interaction than a writer could ever hope to put down in words. It’s humbling. Most recently, I’ve begun combining the anti-oppression workshops with a writing seminar format. I find that the complexities of power and oppression can be the last thing that craft seminars want to deal with, and that turns out to be a tremendous missing piece. We are saturated with these issues, no matter who we are or where we live – how can we write about the world and without including them as part of the story?
Your love of New York City is obvious in your writing. I’ve only visited once and didn’t have much time to explore. Where would you take a new visitor to the city?
Brooklyn! But that’s a biased point of view of course: I’ve lived here almost ten years and I can’t seem to stop launching my characters on haunted missions through these Brooklyn streets. Most specifically, Prospect Park, starting at Grand Army Plaza (there’s a great farmer’s market there on Saturdays) and through the first great open lawn, up that nice hill with the tree and the boulder for some people watching.
You’re obviously a busy guy! When you manage to find some free time, what’s one of your favorite ways to spend it?
I am and as if all that wasn’t enough, I’m working towards a Masters in Creative Writing at Antioch University. But hey, twenty-four is a lot of hours, right? I love dancing. I love reading. Wandering the streets aimlessly has and will always be a favorite past time of mine, and I love that I live in a city big enough to offer up new discoveries and places to get lost in no matter how long I wander.
What’s next for you?
In one way or another, I’ve been writing about Cuba my whole life – in college I put on a mini-opera about a made-up fiefdom with a tourist economy based on giant man-eating insects. But the novel I’m working on now, tentatively called The Book Of Lost Saints, is the first time I’m approaching it head on. It’s challenging in a million different ways, throws me out of my comfort zone and it’s more sprawling and epic than anything I’ve ever written, and that’s what I’m loving most of all about the process right now. I have only a rough notion of what the final result will be but I’m excited to find out.
Keep up with Daniel: Website | Twitter
Purchase Salsa Nocturna: Amazon| B&N | Indiebound
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.
Keep up with Adam: Website | Twitter | Facebook
Silhouette, Dave Swavely’s first novel in his Peacer series, just came out in November, and Dave was kind enough to answer a few of my questions! Also, we’ve got one copy of the book up for grabs, so be sure to check out the giveaway details at the end of the post!
Dave, your brand new book, Silhouette, just came out! Will you tell us a bit about it?
Silhouette is the first novel in the “Peacer” series, and it’s a futuristic action/thriller/mystery set in a post-quake San Francisco. “Peacers” are law enforcement officers with a license to kill, doing the bidding of a controversial dictator named Saul Rabin, who some see as a fascist tyrant but others as the savior of the city. Michael Ares is a protégé and assistant of Rabin, who finds out that his daughter and best friend have been brutally murdered, and begins to investigate the crime. The story takes an unusual turn when Michael discovers that all the evidence leads back to himself, and it’s full of twists and turns from there.
What inspired you to write the novel?
I’ve always loved good stories set in a different world, and especially those made more interesting by futuristic technology. And I’ve always wanted to write the kind of fiction I like to read—the kind that is not only entertaining but also thought-provoking.
When and why did you begin writing?
The first version of this novel was actually written over ten years ago (long story), and I started writing it because I had an idea for a plot twist that hadn’t been done yet, and that I thought would accommodate a lot of other interesting ideas and developments.
What are a few of your biggest literary influences?
In the same genre, my influences are early Philip K. Dick and early William Gibson, plus movies like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. From other genres they would include the Bible, Dickens, Alfred Bester’s work in the 1950s, graphic novels and the TV series Firefly. I know you asked about “literary” influences, but I’m including those examples from visual media because I try to write in a “visual style” (my term) that “reads like a movie” (others have said that about my stuff).
What do you find particularly challenging while writing?
Finding the time! I have a big family and a very busy life.
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. Hands down.
What are you reading now?
Hegemon by Stephen Mosher, Death’s Apprentice by K.W. Jeter, The Deadhouse by Linda Fairstein, The Ultimates graphic novel by Millar and Hitch, and together with my wife I’m reading a book called Great Parents, Lousy Lovers!
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
Hanging with my family (especially my wife), learning and talking about Christianity and other worldviews/philosophies, watching movies and reading books like those above, playing basketball, and… taking naps!
What’s next for you?
I’m finishing Kaleidocide, the sequel to Silhouette and second book in the Peacer Series, and then I hope to write a third book if there are enough people who want to read it. I have some other series plotted, like Murder World and The Quixote Club, but we’ll see if they ever make their way to print. And in the immediate future, I plan to… take a nap! (I heard a missionary to South America say once, “There are two kinds of missionaries who have been to our country: those who take an afternoon siesta every day, and those who leave the field.”)
Keep up with Dave: Website
Myself and my fellow Jessica McClain Street Teamers have come together to offer you one massive giveaway from Amanda Carlson herself!
Here’s what’s up for grabs: 10 Lucky Winners will receive a Signed Copy of FULL BLOODED, as well as Limited Edition Pack Swag, including a Coffee Mug, bookmark & stickers. The best thing about this giveaway (other than it’s INTERNATIONAL)? Amanda will be sending them out in time for the holidays! Already have a copy of FULL BLOODED? She’ll throw in a signed bookplate and you can gift your book to someone you love. (Amanda will even address it to their name.)
So let’s sum that up: 10 Winners! International! Signed!! Oh, and you can enter to win at each of the Street Team sites (so TONS of chances, here!) Also, if you didn’t catch my review of FULL BLOODED and need a reminder of its awesome, here it is!
Fill out the Rafflecopter form below and head on over to Amanda’s Website for a list of Street Team sites (and a huge pic of the swag) so you can enter some more!