Please welcome Sharon Lynn Fisher back to the blog! Her new book, THE OPHELIA PROPHECY, is out today, and she stopped by to answer a few of my questions about it, and more!
Sharon, welcome back to the blog! Will you tell us a bit about your new book, THE OPHELIA PROPHECY and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you for having me back! OPHELIA is a post-apocalyptic biopunk Romeo and Juliet story. In case that doesn’t shed much light: It’s about a man who’s part of a genetically engineered race of humans (with insect DNA) and his forbidden attraction to an amnesiac human woman who should be his enemy.
The idea for OPHELIA began with the title. I don’t know how or when I got into the habit of reverse engineering stories from titles, but it seems to have become an essential part of my creative process. The bug part of the story was inspired by a dream I had, of two praying mantises fighting each other with wooden staffs. (My bug people are mostly blended with mantis DNA, and are called Manti.)
How about Asha and Pax? Why do you think they’re so appealing, and why do you think readers will root for them?
Regarding Pax, what makes him interesting to me is he is biologically (and hereditarily) stuck in an alpha role. He and Asha encounter each other at a point in her cycle when his more-than-human sensitivity to pheromones almost drives him to do something he doesn’t at all want to do. He is very much a thinker, and a compassionate being. This places him in the awkward position of protecting Asha against himself. Made all the more awkward by the fact his race engineered a virus that all but wiped out humanity, and she is one of the last enemy survivors.
What’s interesting to me about Asha is in the opening chapter she finds herself in a very precarious, vulnerable situation. There are things about herself she doesn’t remember — and won’t, until about the middle of the book.
She’s frightened and confused, yet manages to tap into resources she didn’t know she had, to engage with Pax from a position of strength. One of the most interesting parts of the story, I think, comes when she remembers all she’d forgotten, and has to reconcile the Asha from before the memory loss with the Asha who developed while the other was sleeping (the Asha who’s falling in love with her enemy).
For the Manti, why did you go with an insect-like creature, as opposed to something else?
That’s a great question. I wish I knew the answer.I think it was mainly the mantis dream I mentioned in question 1. Once I had that visual, I started thinking along the lines of a race that could almost be construed as a futuristic fae — humans embellished with bug and plant parts.
What’s one of your favorite things about writing SF?
Science books!!! I heart science books. I (along with most writers, I think) can build an entire world off one terrific paragraph of nonfiction. While working on OPHELIA, I read a book called FRANKENSTEIN’S CAT, about our genetic manipulation of animals. For ECHO 8, the novel I have coming out next year, I read ENTANGELED MINDS (twice) — about the intersection of psi abilities and quantum physics — and also HIDDEN REALITIES, string theory physicist Brian Greene’s multiverse book. Currently I’m reading a very scholarly (and fascinating) book on the trickster archetype (TRICKSTER MAKES THIS WORLD), and I’ll soon be diving into some reading on dark matter. (Squeee!)
If you were to recommend an SF title (other than our own) that might appeal to someone that might be a bit intimidated by the genre, which one would it be, off the top of your head?
If you’re talking specifically about sci-fi romance, I’d have to go with the obvious: RWA RITA-nominated author Linnea Sinclair. Plenty of romance, adventure, and worldbuilding. I also really loved THE OUTBACK STARS, by Sandra McDonald. More military focused, but easy on the science-y bits. For accessible, compelling, psychological sci-fi (my favorite flavor) with some romantic elements, one word: WOOL.
If Ophelia hit the big screen, how would you cast it?
Oh, fun! When I was creating Pax, I had Dominic Cooper in mind. They’d have to make him look taller. He was so sexy and adorable in THE DUCHESS. For Asha: Rose Byrne. She’s got these very expressive brown eyes. She’s also slight, but can play a tough gal, like the heroine. For Iris, Pax’s sister: MERLIN’s Katie McGrath. For Father Carrick (human/wolf transgenic ex-priest): THE HOBBIT’s Richard Armitage.
Read any good books lately? Did you have any favorites of 2013?
I devoured THE LAST HOUR OF GANN, which is no small feat considering the length. I was SO impressed by her worldbuilding, and the romantic tension she created between the human heroine and lizard hero. As mentioned above, I also really enjoyed the WOOL saga. And AMONG OTHERS, by Jo Walton — a quirky little book I very much liked.
I’ve asked this question of a few authors, and I always enjoy the answers I get: What’s one of the most fun/interesting/challenging etc things you’ve learned or experienced since becoming a published author?
I think I’d have to say the roller coaster ride — it’s fun, interesting, AND challenging. One day you’re seeing your cover for the first time. (Shiny!) Another day you’re reading a great review. (Happy!) Another day you’re smarting over a critical review. (I haz a sad!) Then you’re opening up that box of books. (Surreal!) And now you’ve got two weeks to turn around copyedits while trying to meet the deadline for submitting another book. (Help!!!)
It’s always rolling and changing, up and down, never a dull moment. Yeah, sometimes it’s hard. But it’s also invigorating!
What’s next for you this year, and beyond?
My third book for Tor, ECHO 8, has just gone into production. Here is how I describe it on my web site: Parallel-universe romantic suspense that explores possible connections between quantum physics and psi (also a Bermuda Love Triangle between a parapsychologist, an FBI agent, and an energy vampire). I’ve been referring to it as psi-fi romance.
I’m also working on a new book I don’t want to say too much about just yet. But I will say it’s set in Portland and is a sort of sci-fi take on urban fantasy romance that incorporates a bunch of different mythologies. After that I’m planning to write a sequel to THE OPHELIA PROPHECY, following the story of Pax’s sister Iris and Father Carrick.
Here are the new releases in SF, Fantasy, and Horror for April 2014.I’ve also included audiobook links where they apply. Enjoy!
April 1st, 2014:
April 8th, 2014:
April 15th, 2014:
April 22nd, 2014:
April 29th, 2014:
Here are the new releases in Mystery, Suspense, and Fiction for April 2014.I’ve also included audiobook links where they apply. Enjoy!
April 1st, 2014:
April 8th, 2014:
April 15th, 2014:
April 22nd, 2014:
April 29th, 2014:
The absolutely superb THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD, Laura McHugh’s debut novel, came out this month, and Laura was kind enough to stop by and answer a few of my questions about the book, and much more! Please welcome Laura to the blog!
Your debut novel, THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD, had gotten amazing buzz. Will you tell us more about it and what inspired you to write it?
The novel centers around seventeen year old Lucy Dane, whose friend Cheri was recently murdered, and whose mother disappeared into the hills years ago. I had always wanted to write a novel set in the Ozarks, and as I was writing, I came across a news article about a terrible crime that took place in one of the small Missouri towns where I’d grown up. The crime itself was quite disturbing, but what really struck me was that it had taken place over several years, with multiple people involved, in a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business—and yet no one said a word. They were able to keep it a secret. That crime inspired Cheri’s story and changed the course of the novel.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know how to make that happen. I was a first-generation college student, the youngest of eight kids, and none of us really considered following our passions. We all wanted to get stable jobs and climb out of poverty, and we weren’t terribly concerned with whether or not we would actually enjoy what we did for a living. I worked as a software developer for ten years. I lost my job unexpectedly, and my husband encouraged me to write a novel, like I had always wanted to do. I started writing The Weight of Blood while staying home with a newborn and a toddler.
In an interview with Karin Slaughter, it’s mentioned that you moved to the Ozarks as a child, but what made you decide to use it as your novel’s setting? What about the area inspires you the most?
The landscape is darkly beautiful, and the remoteness of the area lends an ominous feeling—perfect for suspense—but what has always fascinated me most about the Ozarks is the culture. It’s rich with folk wisdom and superstition and home remedies and music, all of which I tried to weave into the story. I also wanted to explore how family bonds and loyalties affect people in these tiny, insular communities, where the laws of kin can be held sacred above all else.
Why do you think readers will connect to Lucy Dane, your main character?
This book is partly a coming-of-age story for Lucy, and in that respect, she goes through things many of us have gone through. She is growing up and beginning to question the world around her, and her place in it. She’s realizing that she has to make her own decisions and find her own way, that she can’t rely on the adults in her life to do the right thing or to provide the answers she’s looking for.
What kind of research did you do for the book, and what is your writing process like?
I didn’t do much research for this book. Mainly I was drawing from my own memories of the Ozarks, and then I would fact-check the bits that I wasn’t fictionalizing. I started with the setting, and then Lucy’s voice came to me. I began to tell her story, and then the two mysteries (Cheri’s death and Lila’s disappearance) developed, and I knew they would somehow converge, though at first I wasn’t sure how. For my second novel, I did a lot more planning upfront, and it made the process go faster, but it was fun to write The Weight of Blood not knowing exactly what would happen.
Why suspense? What are a few of your biggest literary influences?
I love suspense and mystery, but I read lots of other genres, too, and I didn’t really think of my novel as suspense as I was writing it. My goal was to get the reader to keep turning pages. I have a long list of favorite authors and literary influences, but a few are Ray Bradbury, Annie Proulx, Charles Frazier, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Shirley Jackson, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrisson, and Daniel Woodrell.
What do you hope readers will take away from the novel?
I hope that a little bit of the Ozarks lingers with them, so that they can be haunted by the place as I have been for so long.
What books have you read recently that you wouldn’t hesitate to recommend?
I recently read John Searles’ novel Help For the Haunted and loved the spooky atmosphere he created. I then read one of his earlier novels, Strange But True, and really enjoyed its dark twists. I have a towering to-read stack that includes Long Man by Amy Greene, Above by Isla Morley, The Kept by James Scott, The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah, and The Martian by Andy Weir.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. The first time I read it, as a child, it had a dark, magical beauty that was unlike anything else I’d encountered.
What’s next for you?
I’m finishing up my second novel now. It’s set in the crumbling grandeur of a Mississippi River town. A young woman witnessed the kidnapping of her sisters twenty years ago, and now a jarring discovery forces her to question everything about her past, including her own memory.
About THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD:
The town of Henbane sits deep in the Ozark Mountains. Folks there still whisper about Lucy Dane’s mother, a bewitching stranger who appeared long enough to marry Carl Dane and then vanished when Lucy was just a child. Now on the brink of adulthood, Lucy experiences another loss when her friend Cheri disappears and is then found murdered, her body placed on display for all to see. Lucy’s family has deep roots in the Ozarks, part of a community that is fiercely protective of its own. Yet despite her close ties to the land, and despite her family’s influence, Lucy—darkly beautiful as her mother was—is always thought of by those around her as her mother’s daughter. When Cheri disappears, Lucy is haunted by the two lost girls—the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn’t save—and sets out with the help of a local boy, Daniel, to uncover the mystery behind Cheri’s death.
What Lucy discovers is a secret that pervades the secluded Missouri hills, and beyond that horrific revelation is a more personal one concerning what happened to her mother more than a decade earlier.
The Weight of Blood is an urgent look at the dark side of a bucolic landscape beyond the arm of the law, where a person can easily disappear without a trace. Laura McHugh proves herself a masterly storyteller who has created a harsh and tangled terrain as alive and unforgettable as the characters who inhabit it. Her mesmerizing debut is a compelling exploration of the meaning of family: the sacrifices we make, the secrets we keep, and the lengths to which we will go to protect the ones we love.
The Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston (St. Martin’s Press, March 25th, 2013)-Paula Brackston’s The Midnight Witch transports us to 1913 London, to a country on the brink of war, and a young woman grieving for the loss of her beloved father. However, the death of her father is not all that Lilith has to contend with. She must prepare herself to become the new Head Witch of the Lazarus Coven, to take over the title that her father held until his untimely death. When she begins the ceremony that will cement her new place as Head Witch, she is challenged, and must call a demon and send it back into the Darkness in order to prove her worth. This she does, but at terrible cost. Soon, she realizes the Sentinels, a band of sorcerers that are even more ancient than the witches, are determined to undermine her position as head of the Lazarus Coven, and not only that, they are after a sacred and very powerful artifact, one that Lilith, and her coven, are bound beyond all else to protect. Bonds are a big theme in The Midnight Witch, actually. Lilith and her coven are bound to secrecy, not allowed to reveal their status to those outside the circle. Lilith is engaged to marry a fellow witch, Louis, who she cares deeply about (they grew up together and are dear friends), but does not truly love, although he loves her deeply. Lilith is also the daughter of a duke, with a brother who is hopelessly addicted to opium, but whom she fiercely loves. She’s expected to take part in all that high society has to offer, but when she meets Bram Cardale, artist and son of a steel worker, love begins to bloom, and it’s a love that she can’t ignore. Can Lilith fulfill the obligations of her coven, and her station, and make a life with Bram as well?
In The Midnight Witch, Brackston lovingly crafts the sights and sounds of prewar London, and the opulence of Lilith’s high society lifestyle, while giving us a heroine, and even a hero to root for. If Lilith seems a bit selfish and spoiled in the beginning, the ensuing events do quite a bit to mature her and by the time the story (drawn across several years) concludes, she’s a mature young woman, worthy of her coven’s trust and more than able to fend for herself and those she loves. Her journey isn’t without danger. In fact, as a woman that constantly hears the voices of the dead, she is keenly aware of the thin veil between life and death, and how easy it is to lose everything in a flash. She’s also up against some very determined, power hungry adversaries. The narrative alternates between first person with Lilith, brief interludes with the villain, and a third person account of Bram’s experience as an artist’s apprentice to a stone sculptor, and witch, Richard Mangan, who lives with his wife and children, and his utterly glamorous German mistress (and muse) and her child in his Bohemian household. Bram’s medium is paint, however, and there is no better muse than Lilith herself. Bram’s love for Lilith is all encompassing, and he’s determined to win her at any cost.
I enjoyed this love story set against one of my favorite periods in history, and although there is magic, this is Lilith and Bram’s story, above all, and of course, they are a very much star-crossed lovers. Although it didn’t grip me quite as much as The Winter Witch (there were a few slow patches and I didn’t warm to Lilith until a bit later in the story), I’m kind of a sucker for these kinds of love stories (a bit of magic doesn’t hurt.) Also, the utterly charming and larger-than-life Mangan and his noisy, robust, and very unconventional family were an undeniable treat.
Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry (St. Martins Press, March 25th, 2014)-If you’ve been wondering what Joe Ledger and his team have been up to, wonder no longer, because the new book in this fantastic series, CODE ZERO, is here! First of all, Joe is happier than he’s been in a long while. Junie Flynn’s cancer is being treated with experimental drugs, and he’s most definitely in love with her, so he now certainly has something good to go home to. Unfortunately, when he goes to question a man named Reggie Boyd, who works for DARPA and has been selling secrets, the kind of secrets that can get people killed. DARPA is supposed to keep us safe, and a software package called VaultBreaker is at the forefront of helping to stop terrorists from shutting us down. If it gets into the wrong hands, it could be devastating. It looks like Reggie was approached by a woman calling herself Mother Night, who leads a team of cyberhackers from China, North Korea, and Iran. Soon, acts of terrorism start popping up all over the country, and innocent people are getting hurt, and dying. At the core is Mother Night, and her army of disenfranchised youth that are eager to please her, and do anything for her. However, all this isn’t just to cause chaos and panic, although for Mother Night, it’s just icing, but she’s got something up her diabolical sleeve. A very dangerous auction is about to take place, and extremists in numerous countries are preparing their bids. Mother Night is also sending out millions of Trojan Horse viruses, infecting untold numbers of computers.
By this time, Joe has already been attacked by a mob of young men and women bent on murder, and as the acts of terrorism build, he’s tasked with screening new recruits, since the DMS is stretched pretty thin. Unfortunately, out of over 90 hopefuls, only a handful are measuring up to DMS standards, and they need all the help they can get. It doesn’t help that Church wants Joe to roll the new recruits out immediately, without Joe’s preferred three weeks of additional training. All in a day’s work for Joe, right? In addition, the Berserkers have made an appearance again, after Joe and his team thought they’d eradicated the last of them. And, after all, this is the direct sequel to Patient Zero, so of course the horrible plague that played a huge part in that book will certainly be back in play in Code Zero.
If you think Joe has dealt with some weird shit in the past, well, he has, but Code Zero hit 11 on the scare meter for me, because there are a lot of bioweapons being thrown around by Mother Night’s minions and this stuff, at least to me, is dizzyingly terrifying. In fact, it’s so terrifying, that Joe, who has always had to fight the three distinct personalities taking up space in his head, is finding that the Warrior wants desperately to find Mother Night and do horrible things to her for the terror and chaos that she’s wrought. So, I suppose an important question for Joe and crew is just who is Mother Night. The author lets you in on that early on, and it’s a fascinating look into the making of a villain, and Night’s complexity and motives make the progression into utter mayhem even more chilling.
Also, if you thought you’d seen the last of the repugnant Vice President Collins, think again. He’s still around and bent on taking over the Presidency. He’ll do anything to do that, and if it includes bringing down Church and the DMS, that’s just icing for him. He’s into this mess up to his neck, and if he can’t gain the Presidency, the power he can gain from working with Mother Night will do just fine.
Now, if I keep going, I’m going to let something slip and spoil the great, rollicking, violent fun that is CODE ZERO, but suffice it to say, fans of Joe Ledger won’t be disappointed, and also, new readers could jump into this one with no problem. Even though it’s a direct sequel to PATIENT ZERO and the 6th in a series, it’s rather nicely self-contained and Maberry gives enough background that you won’t feel lost. However, I firmly believe in starting with Book 1 if you haven’t read them, only so that events will resonate more strongly with the reader (plus, they’re all awesome.) I will say, though, that in terms of Joe’s mental state, CODE ZERO is the toughest on him yet. Fighting the Killer is becoming harder and harder, and faced with an enemy like Mother Night, who is as brilliant as she is cunning and ruthless, he’s very much starting to worry about the state of his psyche. CODE ZERO is written in the same nail biting countdown style as most of the series, and it races toward a spectacular stunner of an ending. It’s a game changer for Joe, and it’ll knock your socks off. If you think that CODE ZERO is just a kick ass adventure novel, it is, but it’s so much more. It’s about good vs. evil, a nation’s loss of innocence, and our ability to rise above what attempts to tear us down. Heavy stuff, indeed, but roll it up in Maberry’s signature brand of nerve-wracking prose and high-stakes situations, and you’ve got one excellent package. Don’t miss this one. Hell, if you haven’t discovered this series, what are you waiting for?
Kind thanks to St. Martins for providing a review copy
Please welcome Susan Froetschel to the blog! Her new novel, FEAR OF BEAUTY, has been nominated for the 2014 Mary Higgins Clark Award, and she was kind enough to stop by and answer a few of my questions!
Congratulations on your nomination for the 2014 Mary Higgins Clark Award! Will you tell is a little about FEAR OF BEAUTY and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you so much! Fear of Beauty is set in a small, remote village in Afghanistan. Most of the villagers, and all the women, are illiterate. One of the women becomes desperate to learn how to read after her oldest son is found dead at the base of a cliff on the day before he was supposed to leave for school. Earlier that day, this woman had walked in that area with her son and found a document – she suspects this paper may be connected to the death.
The idea came to me in 2009. The suggestion went out that the United States might have to negotiate with the Talban to end the war in Afghanistan and was immediately ridiculed. The debate over how to end the war got me thinking. Just how many Taliban were there in a country where 50 percent of the population is under the age of 18 and, of course, 50 percent are women? The number was hard to find. In 2012, Reuters reported there were 25,000 Taliban fighters in a country of more than 30 million, and only 20 percent were hardcore. I also wondered if negotiations with ideologues possible and about the opinions of women? How does an individual woman respond when a few in her society – and fortunately such militants are few in number – want to honor the gender by controlling all aspects of her life? How does a woman who cannot read begin to change her family or community? While on a long car ride, an idea jumped into my head, and that became a tiny part of the plot, but went on to trigger many other thoughts about the war, culture, literacy and people of Afghanistan.
You have a journalism background, but have you always wanted to write fiction? What made you decide to set the novel in wartime Afghanistan?
Now that you mention it, I can see how a similar plot could be set in any community that has a high rate of illiteracy. But the earliest idea was generated by that political debate over Afghanistan – also, the fact that troops from the United States and other countries were stationed there since 2001, not only fighting but also organizing the provincial reconstruction teams and delivering technical advice on agriculture, education, health care, construction and much more. I had read and heard so much about Afghan hospitality, and I wondered how a country could reject education for so many of its citizens and regress so quickly. The Afghan society – much like our own – is conflicted between progress and modernization and embracing traditions of an earlier time. But that divide is fluid. Like it or not, every new encounter – book, person, or natural challenge – can shape an individual’s values and perspective. The conflict within is probably more difficult than the broader social conflict – and maybe that’s why some individuals are so intent on trying to control others.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
Even though I was working at the time for YaleGlobal Online, reading and editing articles about the war, I was uncertain that I could write this book. I was in love with the idea of an illiterate woman trying to learn in secret, trying to influence her community, but didn’t want to ruin the story either with inadequate research.
My first step was spending a day in one of the upper floors of Sterling Memorial Library in the stacks, browsing through books great photos of rural Afghanistan – books published in the 1920s and 1930s. I also started reading the Koran, and I read blogs and watched videos submitted by soldiers who did tours in Afghanistan. I listened closely to friends who described growing up in rural India and Bangladesh and reached out with questions to Afghan refugees and veterans.
And then, most importantly, in the writing, I had to simplify – and think about a world that lacks the many modern conveniences that we take for granted in our society. I compared my routines with those described in articles about rural life in the undeveloped world, in Afghanistan and other less developed areas where women must collect and carry the household supply of water, enter into marriages and work early in life, care for multiple children who lack adequate schools, cook on stoves fueled by wood, take care of fields without modern conveniences – even as communications or travelers might, deliberately or not, relay the possibility of an alternative way of life.
All the research reinforced my plot ideas – the handful of questions and wisps of imagination seemed logical and only possible for that setting. I stopped working on another book – still unfinished – and focused on Fear of Beauty.
What is your writing process like? Is there anything you need that helps you get the creative juices flowing?
Like many others, I prefer writing every day. I often start by quickly reviewing what I wrote the day before and end a session by thinking of the points I want to cover next. I keep those points in my head until I have the next chance to sit down and write – often imagining various scenarios and possible conversations as I walk, cook or engage in other activities. Getting away from the computer and heading outside to run, walk or bike helps, too.
Why suspense? What do you love most about writing, and reading, in the genre?
I enjoy wanting to know what happens next, anxious to turn the next page, but also taking a set of clues and evidence to analyze and predict the future. The best books in all genres provide this sort of analysis and suspense.
What are a few of your favorite authors? Have there been a few that have particularly influenced you?
Favorite authors change as I age. I love the books that make me stop and think and re-consider how I go about life. As I grow older, I also enjoy the books that reaffirm how I live my life – whether it’s been what to pursue or what to avoid. One favorite is Richard Marius who wrote After the War and Bound for the Promised Land and described poignant hopes that are later dashed.
What are you currently reading? Are there any books on your radar that you’d like to read this year?
I’m in the middle of two books. First, I’m reading selections from The Best American Mystery Stories, edited by Lisa Scottoline – and am continuously amazed at writers’ skill in organizing detailed and full characters, good plot and suspense, in such a deliberate and concise way. And in the evening, I’m reading Asunder by Chloe Aridjis. The writing is exquisite, and I appreciate when an author explores, actually, a better word is attacks, a specific theme or concept – in this case, the divisions in our lives – demonstrating the multiple layers and contradictions. And I have always looked forward to reading the nominations for best mysteries from Mystery Writers of America – especially the nominations for best first novel. Those books tend to be trend-setters.
What do you like to see in a good book? Is there anything that will make you put a book down, unfinished?
I so rarely put a book down. Even if I don’t enjoy it, even if it has problems, I can still learn as a writer. But that said, I do prefer books with plots. The plots can be simple or complicated, they can have a truncated ending or abrupt introduction, but I want a story. I tend to have less appreciation of novels that offer a stream of dialogue, emotions or encounters with no purpose in mind.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
Reading all types of fiction and nonfiction with my cats sleeping close by; entertaining friends and their friends while talking about books and politics; visiting or reading about historic sites with surprising insights and stories that have been forgotten by most; getting outside for a walk or a bike ride; talking with people from around the globe and thinking about the connections between our world and theirs.
What’s next for you?
I’m finishing up a follow-up book to Fear of Beauty, also set in the same fictional village in Afghanistan, one that focuses on a father-son relationship. And then I want to start in on another book set elsewhere in Asia, but it’s way too early to say much more than that.
Keep up with Susan: Website
About FEAR OF BEAUTY:
The battered body of an Afghan boy is found at the base of a cliff outside a remote village in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Did he fall as most of the villagers think? Or is this the work of American soldiers, as others want to believe? Not far from the village, the US Army has set up a training outpost. Sofi, the boy’s illiterate young mother, is desperate to find the truth about her son’s death. But extremists move in and offer to roust the “infidels” from the region, adding new pressures and restrictions for the small village and its women. We hear two sides of this story. One is Sofi’s. The other is that of US Army Special Ranger Joey Pearson, who is in this faraway place to escape a rough childhood and rigidly fundamentalist parents. In time, and defying all odds, Sofi secretly learns to read-with the help of Mita Samuelson, an American aid worker. Through reading, the Afghan woman develops her own interpretation of how to live the good life while discovering the identity of her son’s murderer and the extremists’ real purpose in her village. As they search for answers, Sofi, Joey, and Mita come to the same realization: in each of their separate cultures the urge to preserve a way of life can lead to a fundamentalism that destroys a society’s basic values.
A cornucopia of Mystery and Suspense under $5 for Kindle! As always, doublecheck before you click the BUY button!
Please welcome Ben Peek to the blog! His story collection, DEAD AMERICANS, just came out and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about it, and much more!
Congrats on your new collection, DEAD AMERICANS! Will you tell us a little about yourself and your background? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yeah, alright: I live in Sydney with my partner, Nikilyn Nevins. I’ve lived here for all my life, but Nik moved here from the States a few years ago – we’ve just finished going through the long and painful process of getting her residency here. She’s a photographer, and you can search out her stuff, if you’re so inclined.
As for me, I’ve mostly gotten by so far. Over the years, I’ve been a projectionist, a lecturer and a teacher, and I have a doctorate, which just sort of happened, but mostly I’ve been a writer, of greater and lesser success. I started publishing fiction when I was eighteen, and I’ve managed to keep it up so far.
What’s one of the first things you can remember writing?
I wrote a big fantasy novel when I was fourteen, maybe thirteen. It was going to be thirteen books and epic, I tell you, epic.
Still, I think we can all be thankful it wasn’t published.
Or, y’know, finished.
In DEAD AMERICANS, you feature quite a few big names in your stories. What inspired the concept?
American culture has a big resonance around the world, and in no place is it more true than in Australia, where the country – like most colonial countries – struggles to discover its identity.
You can feel the American influence very deeply in Australia. Presidential elections are watched keenly, people watch American movies, listen to American music, and learn the names of their franchise heroes, celebrities, and Presidents, before they learn the Australian ones. Such a description sounds negative, I know, but the truth of it is that I am fascinated by it, and endlessly interested in how it influences us as human beings. Much of the Dead American fiction is, then, really an exploration of this huge culture that exists around me, and the things that influence me, and the things that influence others.
What is one of your favorite stories in DEAD AMERICANS, and why?
My favourite is ‘Octavia E. Butler’, which is based on the world of the great, but sadly lost, author Octavia Butler.
I like it, primarily, because of how strongly and importantly Butler’s work resonated with me. Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents had a great impact on me as an author and adult, and I admire her first novel, Kindred, very much. Not all her work is great: Fledgling (corrected), her final novel, as an odd piece, and felt incomplete, in many ways, but even when I didn’t enjoy a book as much as another, I always admired what she was doing, the intellectual pursuit, the emotional engagement.
I have seen a few people reading ‘Octavia E. Butler’ as a piece about her life, and her as a person, and while I don’t like to tell people that they’re wrong in how they read a piece, I feel it is important to point out that the story isn’t about her as a person. Rather, it is about her work: each chapter is structured around one of her novels, and my goal with it was to fashion a narrative from Butler’s work that was, in one breath, a single, cohesive narrative in its own right, and in another, was a critical conversation about the themes that drove her work, turning it into a creative non fiction. You don’t have to have read her work to enjoy it, but if you haven’t read Octavia Butler’s work, you really should.
I’m assuming you did a bit of research for the book since it involves some pretty famous names. What was one of the most fascinating things you discovered?
Yeah, but mostly, it’s the research you’d not expect that seeps into the work. Dead American stories are, by and large, focused on the cultural influence of America, and so the figures who appear in it are not designed to be autobiographically true. They’re symbols, first, and the influence of their art, or the aura they presented, comes before the reality of their lives. For example, John Wayne is the embodiment of what the classic American male once was, in that he was loyal to his friends, honest to himself, and if he was flawed, and he often was, he was always capable of rising above it for a moment of greatness. In real life, Wayne, whose real name was Marion Morrison, was a supporter of Black rights, but he never supported the rights of Native Americans for their land entitlements – there’s a quote that around where he says that he always thought the Native Americans selfish, for they had enough to go round. I found that fascinating.
The story of Wayne being on Joseph Stalin’s assassination list came from Orson Welles, a man who never let truth stand in the way of a good story, and while I am not exactly the same, I am content to leave my research behind if I get a better thematic resonance from the story.
What is your writing process like?
It has a lot of rewriting.
I tend to write a first draft, and then I rewrite. All the real writing, prose style, theme, all the things that make a story work, are done then. For me, a first draft is nothing but a vomit of ideas and occasional good lines.
What are a few of your biggest literary influences?
It really depends on the day you ask me, but today, I’d like to actually just mention Lucius Shepard.
Shepard died last week, sadly, and I liked him a great deal as a person and as an author, but rather than sit around and tell you all about my personal relationship with him, I’d like to talk about his work. He wrote excellent stuff – his collections, the Jaguar Hunter, Ends of the Earth, Trujillo and Other Stories, Dagger Key and Other Stories, Five Autobiographies and a Fiction, and more, reveal a really strong and commanding body of short fiction, intellectually and emotionally connected to themes of equality and culture. For anyone looking for a consistently impressive body of work in short fiction, Shepard’s work is an excellent, and diverse place to begin, and I admire than endlessly.
What do you like to see in a good book or story, and is there anything that will make you put a book down, unfinished?
Man, what do I like to see? You know, it really differs, but I like to see good writing, intelligence, and I like fierceness, as well. I like it where work engages my adult self in any of the many, many multitude of ways that I can be engaged – I’m mostly turned off when I think an author is coasting, or bad, or when I think they’re being simple.
Heh. Well, I have had a long love for film, though of late it feels a bit weak, and I’ve been enjoying TV series like True Detective and Breaking Bad. Also, Elementary. I find that much more progressive than Sherlock, and one of my favourite past times is to engage my students in debates about how racist and sexist Sherlock is. So, y’know, trolling my students. I suppose I could be teaching them…
But otherwise, I like to find new books, and occasionally old books, I like to listen to music, and my girlfriend and like to travel a bit, though we don’t get to do it enough at the moment.
I can’t wait for your next book, THE GODLESS! Will you give us a bit of a teaser?
No, wait, here’s the cover: it has a girl holding a burning sword. What you can’t see are the dead gods that lie around the world, the army coming up the mountain and, well, all the madness that is a big fantasy novel filtered through my adult self (as opposed to my childhood self and his thirteen book series).
What’s next for you?
I am finishing the second book in the Children Trilogy, Leviathan’s Blood.
About DEAD AMERICANS:
A collection of the critically acclaimed dark, weird, and surreal short fiction of Ben Peek. It presents a world where bands are named after the murderer of a dead president, where the work of Octavia E. Butler is turned into an apocalypse meta-narrative, and John Wayne visits a Wal-Mart. It presents a world where a dying sun shines over a broken, bitter landscape and men and women tattoo their life onto their skin for an absent god. It presents a zombie apocalypse, Mark Twain dreaming of Sydney, and answers a questionnaire you never read.
Please welcome Simon Logan to the blog! Simon’s new book, GET KATJA, the sequel to KATJA FROM THE PUNK BAND, just came out, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Also, we’ve got 2 ebook copies to give away, so be sure to check out the details at the end of the post!
The brand new book in your Katja series, Get Katja, is out this month! Will you tell us a little about it?
Get Katja is a direct sequel to Katja From The Punk Band and is set a few months later. Katja is on the mainland but has been in hiding since making it there however she finally decides she will hide no longer – only it turns out that emerging from the shadows wasn’t such a great idea after all. Whereas in the first book all the characters are after a chemical vial, this time they’re all after Katja herself. Soon enough she’s being chased by transvestite debt collectors, psychotic surgeons and fetish nurses, a corrupt detective and more.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I think I was fairly late to writing, certainly later than a lot of writers. I never did that thing of making little books for my parents or friends which many seem to do and I wasn’t even that big a reader until I was in my late teens but when I did get into it, it consumed me fairly quickly. I have a pretty insatiable desire for input and pretty much from the moment I get up to the moment I go to sleep I’m either listening to podcasts or audiobooks, reading, watching movies or documentaries, just anything to draw in as many ingredients for potential stories as I can. I’m a pretty solitary person and prefer my own company to that of others so it seems like a good hobby to take up as you never really need to interact with people – as opposed to being a filmmaker or in a band.
How do you think Katja has changed the most since Katja and the Punk Band? Why do you think readers will root for her?
With only a few months between the two books she’s not had that much time to change but when we meet her in Get Katja she’s reached a point where she is just fed up hiding. She knows there is a risk of showing her face but she’s decided that she’s just going to face up to whatever – and whoever – might be out there and start doing the only thing that gives her any meaning in her life, playing in a band. It turns out to perhaps not be the best idea she ever had. As for rooting for her, everything she did in the first book, and everything she does in this one, is just about surviving a pretty brutal world. All she wants is to be able to play music and the world keeps getting in the way so I wonder if, to an extent, people will just relate to that frustration.
You describe the books as industrial crime, which sounds great to dark crime fans like me, but how do you define “industrial crime” to the uninitiated?
The industrial part comes from my previous works which have been termed “industrial fiction”, mainly just because at the time it was in its infancy I was drawing a lot of inspiration, in terms of the feel and sensation of the stories, from music by bands like Nine Inch Nails. It kind of evolved and developed, absorbing other influences like punk, political activism and the like, but also integrated genre inflections, be it horror or scifi or something else. One strand went off and became the fetishcore collection Rohypnol Brides and another drifted towards the noir/crime side of things which was a natural fit. There’s no strict definition for any of this but like I say it’s mostly to do with the aesthetic, the dirty, grimy, entropic world in which it all takes place.
Why crime? What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, in the genre?
I’m not actually a big fan of the genre, to be honest, and have barely read in it at all. I never really meant Katja From The Punk Band as a crime book, it was just a book which had some crimes taking place in it so I’ve never been aware or conscious of any of that genre’s tropes or rules or clichés. However the book got the attention of a few folk, including a high profile editor and an agent, both of whom were rooted firmly in the crime genre and so when I had a handful of ideas to weigh up for my next project it seemed natural to go for the more crime-themed ones.
Everything I write has to have some sort of off-beat, genre-inflected edge to it just to maintain my own interest however, so it’s fun to mix noir with other elements which are more fantastical – for example one manuscript I’ve written, lovejunky is very noirish but mixes in ideas of being able to chemically infuse someone’s body with a drug in order to transport it and of an addict being able to feed off of another person who has become infused with the drug they are addicted to. So I’m happy to take the crime genre as a basis but my first thought after that is pretty much always “yeah but what else can I add to the mix?”
Speaking of writing…what’s your writing process like?
I tend to develop ideas casually, just letting them gather momentum and flesh themselves out at a steady pace until they reach a point where I can start assembling a plot. I do like to plan things out in advance quite a bit and only ever start when I’ve reached the point that everything is lined up and the story is screaming to be written and I only ever work on one full-length work at a time to keep my focus. I will usually have several ideas being incubated, one being plotted and one being actually written at any one time but I won’t start on something new until I’ve completed what I’d already started on.
Who are a few of your favorite authors, and which ones have influenced you the most?
Vonnegut, Ballard and Palahniuk are the main ones, the first two because they are happy to use genre elements to better tell a story and Palahniuk because I found his style very liberating and he showed me how you could play with form (even though I wish that once in a while he would stop playing and just writing a normal fucking book). Clive Barker was an early influence too, again because he showed me, after years of reading King and Koontz, what you could do if you just broke out and did your own thing in a genre.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Hmm, I don’t have a ready answer for that one. I really enjoyed Palahniuk’s early stuff, mainly Survivor and Invisible Monsters and I think I read them at an age where they really connected with me so it might be interesting to revisit them (if for no other reason than his later stuff has failed to have much impact on me – with Snuff being a notable exception). Maybe The Books of Blood which I remember reading tucked away in a park in between exams at school – and, despite my general lukewarm feelings about Stephen King, his Nightmares and Dreamscapes collection will always be special to me because I dubbed the audio cassette versions of them from the library and just listened to them over and over when I was younger.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your free time?
With two young kids there’s not really such a thing as free time but when it does arise watching a good movie is usually the first port of call for me. I go to the gym, I get tattooed, I listen to podcasts and audiobooks and I read. I people-watch too and I think I spend a lot of time in a strange hybrid of a daydream state, – where thoughts and ideas just collide and dilate in my head – and acute awareness – paying attention to everything around me and just sucking it all in. Input, input, input.
What’s next for you?
I have two completed manuscripts – lovejunky which I mentioned already and Blue Light which is a short mystery novel – which I hope to find homes for somewhere, and I’m currently straddling a couple of projects, trying to figure out which one to pull the trigger on first. (Which isn’t, as I said above, my usual process but it’s just worked out this way this time). One is a similar style and theme to the Katja books but featuring new characters (though I might up the crazy a bit more) and the other is a dual narrative which revolves around two people who suffer from delusions going on the run together – it deals with cults and conspiracies and how everything can spiral when we succumb to irrationality. And of course there’s always the third book in the Katja series which I have some ideas for – though whether it gets written or published will probably depend on how Get Katja does so I won’t get ahead of myself.