Please welcome Thomas Sweterlitsch to the blog! His debut novel, TOMORROW AND TOMORROW, just came out yesterday, and he kindly answered a few of my questions about it. Also, courtesy of the nice folks at Putnam, we’ve got a copy of the book to give away to one lucky winner, so be sure to check out those details at the botto of the post!
Congrats on the new book-it’s already gotten great buzz! Will you tell us about Tomorrow and Tomorrow and what inspired you to write it?
Several years after our honeymoon in Prague, I came across the fold-out walking map my wife and I had used to find our way around that city. I traced out different streets, remembering what we’d seen and where, remembering what the feel of the place was like…and couldn’t help but wonder if I would ever make it back to Prague, or if I would only be able to relive my trip through this map and our photographs. I wrote a short story about that idea called “The City Lies Within” about a man living in Prague who could only revisit his memories of his destroyed home city through an interactive map. That short story was the seed for Tomorrow and Tomorrow, a novel about a grieving man who discovers a murder in the digital reconstruction of a destroyed city called the “Archive.”
You have a library background, but what made you finally decide to take the plunge and write a novel?
My job as a library assistant at the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped was meant to be a one year temporary job before finding an MFA or PhD program—but I grew to love the work and the people I worked with and ended up staying there for twelve years! I was always writing during that time, though—every morning I’d wake at 5:30 to scratch out a few hours of writing before clocking in at the library.
When Hannah Wilde arrives at the remote farmhouse in Wales, with her young daughter, Leah and seriously injured husband, Nate, in tow, all she knows is that she must protect them at all costs. As she attempts to nurse Nate back to health, with help from a local man (who may be more than what he seems), the terrifying story of how Hannah got to this point unfolds, resulting in an interweaving of historical suspense and present day terror.
The narrative goes back and forth between the 70s, when Hannah’s father, Charles, meets her mother Nicole, who holds dear a series of diaries tied with string, and also the 1800s . Nicole eventually tells Charles a fantastical story involving a man that can change shape and a legacy of murder, and even genocide, that began in the 1800s.
The String Diaries is a clever mash up of historical puzzle mystery and modern day thriller with a bit of a stalker twist, and for a long time, the man at the center of the puzzle remained somewhat elusive. We get bits of his childhood, and his inability to fit in with the rest of his kind, but I can’t help but wish that it was fleshed out a bit more, along with the group that have taken it upon themselves to oversee, and sometimes eliminate, these supernaturally talented people (and no, they’re not vampires, although they are fairly long lived.)
While I enjoyed the story of Charles and Nicole’s fraught courtship, and how Hannah came to be the strong wife and mother that she is now, the scenes at the farmhouse, with her husband gravely wounded, and a young child to protect, were some of the most terrifying, because at first, it was unclear as to what the menace was, and once it was revealed, it became even more obvious why Hannah felt like she must be diligent every single minute. Imagine never knowing who you can trust, even if it’s someone you think you know. If it seems like I’m being deliberately vague, it’s because I am, since revealing the nature of the supernatural menace would destroy quite a bit of the chilling fun of this novel. This is a debut novel, and it’s not without its flaws, but the author is great at stretching out tension to its breaking point, and the present day scenes reminded me very much of classic Koontz, which for me is a good thing. If you enjoy a bit of historical flavor to your thrillers, as well as a supernatural twist, I think you’ll enjoy this fairly ambitious debut. Stephen Lloyd Jones is most definitely a writer to watch.
This isn’t my first interview with Craig, but it is my first as Craig (I’ll let you figure the other one out :-D), but I’m thrilled to welcome him back to talk about his new book CATARACT CITY, proves he’s a brave soul by re-reading Blood Meridian, and spills a bit about his next project!
I love your work, and can’t wait to get my hands on Cataract City! Will you tell us a little about it, and what inspired you to write it?
It’s the story of two boys growing up in Niagara Falls, which is nicknamed Cataract City—the latin for waterfall is cataracta. So it’s a coming of age story at the outset, then it kinda segues into a story about what happens to these two boys once they’ve come of age, the ways they stick together and the ways they fall apart.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I don’t know that I’ve always wanted to be one—and now, in my late 30s, I often wonder how much longer I want to be one. It’s kind of a skill that, once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. You can improve it, sure, or it can deteriorate on you, but essentially you know how to string words together. So if I did decide to step away, I suppose I could come back to it years later when I’m in my 70s or something, provided my brain hasn’t turned to mush by then. As for background … pretty boring. Canadian, middle class. Dad was a banker and Mom a nurse. We moved around a lot. I got into writing because it seemed a job that wasn’t hampered by my physical shortcomings—I realized pretty quick that I wasn’t going to be a basketball prodigy so I needed to find something else to do with my ambitions.
What’s one of the first things you remember writing?
Oh, I think I wrote some war story for my Grade 3 class. My first and last war story. There were many other faltering steps before I got to the point where I was halfway decent as a writer. Some days I don’t think I’m even halfway decent! But then that’s the mentality of a certain type of writer, or person, and I guess I’m one of those.
A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride (Open Road/Mysterious Press, June 2014)-What do a good cop in a corrupt rural Missouri county and a bunch of meth dealers have in common? Other than the fact that it’s Deputy Sheriff Dale Banks’s job to bust said meth dealers (and manufacturers), they now have about $52,000 in cold hard cash in common. That’s a lot of money, and to a man like Banks, who has always tried to walk the straight line and do right by his family (including three kids, one of them disabled), it’s a temptation that he can’t refuse when he finds the sack of cash in a squalid trailer. He can help put his kids through college with that money, and ease some of the burden off his wife’s shoulders. But he knows that this won’t be an easy take, and even though he’s stolen from criminals, he still feels guilty about the theft. Jerry Dean, however, is dependent upon that money, for the most part because if he doesn’t’ get it back, the Reverend Butch Pogue will unleash is particularly vile brand of hell on him. Jerry Dean manages to call attention to himself after an attack on an elderly man that Banks happens to be close to, courting Banks’s wrath as a result.
There are a lot of unsavory folks in A Swollen Red Sun, but let’s talk about Pogue for a bit. Jerry Dean is a rascal and a criminal, but comparing him to Pogue is like comparing Nermal the cat (from Garfield) to a Tasmanian devil. Pogue lives on a mountain with his cadre of vicious dogs, his, er, “wife”, and his, um, other “wife”, who is actually chained in the basement (yep-he’s a winner.) You’re probably getting a fairly good picture of Pogue at this point. He’s evil personified, and for him killing is sort of like weeding the garden (ie no big deal), and he’ll most likely recite a sermon while doing it. Trust me, you don’t want his kind of anointing. Now that you know about the foulness that resides on the mountain, you can see the desperation that drives Jerry Dean to get that money back, and in a way, you can understand the lengths he’ll go to in order to do it. But, he’s got a formidable foe in Dale Banks.
World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books, July 15th, 2014)-(This review assumes you’ve read the first 2 books in the series)-It’s now less than a week until an asteroid will hit Earth, one that is expected to destroy all life as we know it. Feeling the weight of the remaining days pressing down on him, Hank Palace does the thing he always been driven to do: detective work. He’s desperate to find his younger sister Nico, who, since the announcement of the asteroid, has been running with a group that claims they have a solution to the problem, a way to destroy the asteroid and save the world. Hank has always doubted these claims and in the end, it doesn’t really matter. He just wants to be with his sister when the end comes. His search has brought him to an Ohio police station, along with Cortez, who he’s been traveling with for a while. A tragic and bloody discovery opens up an entire new world of clues, and doors, literally and figuratively, begin falling open with shocking swiftness. Time is running out, and Hank must find his sister before it’s too late for everyone.
In reading this superior series, there’s always been a pervasive sense of melancholy, driven by the fact that, if the author stays true to the foundation he’s laid, the world WILL come to an end. Through it all, I couldn’t help but wonder how Winters would do it. Would he end it with a whimper? A fall of ash that blocks out the sun? Or, a quiet acceptance of the inevitable? We know-or think we know- the ending, but it’s the how of it; how his characters handle it, that is, that the author must navigate so carefully. Over the course of three books, I’ve fallen in love with the dogged, determined Hank Palace and the care and attention to detail that he applies to all things, even the smallest things. Because, really, nothing is a small thing anymore when the world is ending in a couple of weeks. The world is crumbling around him, but Hank manages to find diamonds among the rubble, and it’s these people that lift him up, and keep him going, even in the face of such horrid inevitability.
Emberly has spent a good number of her many lives trying to save humans. So when her prophetic dreams reveal the death of Sam, a man she once loved, she does everything in her power to prevent it from happening. But in saving his life, she gets more than she bargained for.
Sam is working undercover for the Paranormal Investigations Team, and those who are trying to murder him are actually humans infected by a plaguelike virus, the Crimson Death—a by-product of a failed government experiment intended to identify the enzymes that make vampires immortal. Now all those infected must be eliminated.
But when Emberly’s boss is murdered and his irreplaceable research stolen, she needs to find the guilty party before she goes down in flames….
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ECHO LAKE is Letitia Trent’s debut novel, out this month from Dark House Press. Please enjoy this excerpt, and be sure to check out the book!
Excerpt from Echo Lake
by Letitia Trent
Christopher walked at night along the dirt roads near his parent’s house, down the same roads he’d walked as a kid and would probably walk until he died, just like that old man who lived down by the high school who had died in his house, slumped onto the kitchen counter over a bowl of soup. He faced this matter-of-factly, without anger. He wore a headlamp, the kind hunters used to spot deer, so he wouldn’t be surprised by a dog or bear. When cars passed, he jumped down into the ditch by the road. Everybody knew him—they waved from their cars and sometimes sounded the horn. He nodded, but rarely waved back. He kept to himself.
In high school, he had been a fixture, neither loved nor hated, just one of the people who had grown up in Heartshorne, who had always been there and always would be. He remembered his high school years fondly, though imperfectly. He remembered everything being easy: schoolwork, the mostly friendly and familiar people around him, the teachers in their seats at the front who didn’t ask much of him but his presence.
He lived in his parent’s basement and had since graduation, when he decided that life didn’t need to move forward. If he stayed where he was, in the same room, the same house, things could remain as they had before. And they did. Not completely, of course. He had a job. He worked at the lumber yard just outside of Keno. He drove there in his truck every morning, usually before the sun was just a haze at the horizon, and came home well before dinner, exhausted. He took a nap until hunger woke him and he wandered upstairs to see what his mother had made for dinner. He’d come back down afterwards and listen to music or watch television. He liked shows about traveling and food. The best shows were about both traveling and food—about the strange things people ate who lived in other countries. Bugs or organs or animals that people here used as pets. Sometimes he went fishing or drinking with buddies from high school, other young men who had stayed in Heartshorne, men who lived in the low-income housing just outside of Keno or with their parents, creating lives that echoed the smooth hum and movement of a school day. He had a girl who drifted in and out of his life: she didn’t seem to expect much, and he liked it that way. She’d gone to visit family in Tulsa and he didn’t miss her, but he knew that he’d be glad to see her when she showed up at a party or called him up to meet at a bar. She didn’t ask anything of him that he wasn’t willing to give. It was just like in high school, only they could drink legally and she’d sleep with him almost any time he wanted. School, he decided, had been the best time of his life. He hadn’t realized it then, but now he knew the secret that adults didn’t tell: it wouldn’t get any better after graduation. Life had never resumed that delight of daily expectation—the bus arriving in the cold at the same time each day, lunch on a regular rotating menu, and that beautiful hour of waiting for the last bell to ring to go home again. It had been so simple.
Tim Weaver is a huge deal in the UK, and he made his US debut last week with NEVER COMING BACK. Enjoy his guest post about his hero, David Raker and his journey so far, and be sure to snag a copy of the book, while you’re at it!
NEVER COMING BACK is my debut here in the States, but it’s actually the fourth book in a series. All four are centred around a missing persons investigator called David Raker. He’s an ex-journalist who stumbled into paid detective work almost by accident after his wife lost a long battle with breast cancer. The first in the series, CHASING THE DEAD, opens in December 2010, a year after the death of Raker’s wife, where we find him raw, emotional, battered. From there, the series has seen him gradually – very gradually – coming to terms with her loss, through 2011’s THE DEAD TRACKS and 2012’s VANISHED, until, in NEVER COMING BACK, we find him having traded in London, where he’s spent most of his life, for a small cottage in an English fishing village. Here, he’s recovering from another, major life-changing event, which NEVER COMING BACK fills in for people new to the series. As with all the books, they can be read as standalones.
Despite the loss Raker’s suffered, what we discover about him is he has a real aptitude for the work; a natural gift for investigation, and – because of how deeply he felt for his wife – an ability to understand people; to read them, to bring them onside if he thinks they can help him, or cut through to the truth if he thinks he’s being lied to. He’s a big, confident, intelligent hero, but (my hope, at least) is that he’s one with a strong emotional centre. Certainly, as the series goes on, Raker starts to develop a deeper connection to the missing, believing that he has some unwritten responsibility to them. Much of that is borne out of the way he felt for his wife, and the difficulty in accepting her passing, and letting go.
California by Edan Lepucki (Little, Brown, July 8th)-Frida and Cal are about as happy as two people can be in a post-apocalyptic America that’s refreshingly devoid of zombies. This particular apocalypse was a protracted affair, consisting of more natural catastrophes, and as the country crumbled around them, Cal and Frida did their best to survive. Now they’ve settled, more or less, in the house of a family they once knew in the woods, far away from the dangers of Los Angeles, their former home. They cling to each other, and if the country is no longer strong, their love still is. However, Frida thinks she might be pregnant, and longs to seek out a populated place to give birth, one in which they’re not so alone. It just so happens, that not far away, there seems to be some kind of encampment, surrounded by tall spikes that make up a maze. Cal knows that, for his wife’s sake, he must make an effort to make contact with the people beyond the spikes, and they do, but a shocking revelation leads to uneasy alliance. Can Cal and Frida make a life among the people of The Land, and most importantly, once it is revealed that she is pregnant, will they even want to.
Yes, California takes place in a “post-apocalyptic” setting, but that’s just backdrop to the very real human drama that she presents so effectively. Frida has long held onto her past, imbuing everyday items (but ones that are treasures in the current landscape), with near mythical properties and still mourns the loss of her brother who was part of The Group, whose whimsical activities first meant to call attention to our rampant consumerism eventually took a turn into terrorist territory. Cal is devoted to Frida and will do anything to protect her and their unborn child, and eventually becomes enmeshed in the inner workings of The Land and its upper echelons. Cal’s a rather handy guy to have around in the given conditions, having attended a school given over to the tenets of green living and self-sufficiency, and Frida notices that they are separated more and more. However, the folks at The Land are a secretive bunch, and whisperings of Pirates have Cal worried.
Please welcome Stephen Lloyd Jones to the blog! His new book, THE STRING DIARIES, just came out last week, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about this rather awesome book (trust me, it is.) We’ve also got 3 copies of THE STRING DIARIES to give away to 3 lucky winners, so check out the details at the bottom of the post!
Congratulations on the new book! Will you tell us a bit about THE STRING DIARIES?
My pleasure. It’s the story of a young woman, Hannah Wilde, on the run from a man who has murdered the last five generations of her family. All Hannah’s knowledge of him comes from a string-tied collection of journals, notes and letters written by her ancestors. They represent everything the family has managed to discover about this horror that stalks them.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I’ve wanted to be a published writer for as long as I can remember. I received my first rejection slip when I was fifteen. There was a long period, as I concentrated on my media career, where I didn’t write a thing, but the dream never went away.
Why do you think readers will connect with Hannah Wilde?
Faced with an almost inconceivable threat, Hannah’s sole concern is her daughter’s future. She’s prepared to sacrifice everything to secure it: her life, even the lives of others she loves. That doesn’t stop her contemplating the agony of those sacrifices or her ability to make them, and it doesn’t dull her terror of what’s coming.
I hope readers will be able to connect with the idea that taking a particular path, even when you know it’s the right one, can be monumentally difficult.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
Some scenes take place in nineteenth century Budapest, and those took the longest to write. I travelled to the city, spent months researching Hungary’s history, and pored over old maps and photographs. It was great fun to bring it all together on the page.