A couple of days ago, I was asked by my writer friend, the inimitable Tyler Tork, if I wanted to participate in an author-centered "blog hop." (If you are unfamiliar with this phenomenon, think "chain letter for bloggers," and you have the idea.) I thought it sounded cool -- answer a few questions about my work-in-progress, and then pass the baton to other writers. It's a chance for our readers to find out a little about what we're currently working on, which is always fun. So, without further ado, here are my questions and answers.
1. What is the working title of your next book?
It's called Lock & Key. A wooden lockbox, and the intricate silver key that unlocks it, figures prominently in it.
2. Where did the idea come from for your book?
Well, there are two answers to this, the first one being, "Who the hell knows?" Ideas tend to pop into my head unbidden, and while sometimes I can pinpoint where they came from, most of the time, they just seem to explode into being, usually in the form of one or two powerful images, that I then have to write a story to explain. For this one, there is at least a partial further explanation, however; my younger son, who is interested in such bizarre fields as quantum physics, was having a discussion with me about the "Many-Worlds" interpretation of quantum phenomena. The idea of this theory is that at every junction in the history of the universe, all possible outcomes did happen -- just in alternate timelines in the space/time continuum. (Note that whatever Geordi LaForge might have to say about the matter, this is a conjecture that is far from proven, and in fact it very much remains to be seen whether it would even be possible to prove it.) In any case, after one such mind-bending conversation, I got to thinking, "Wouldn't it be cool if there was a place where all of the possible outcomes were kept track of -- where you could, if you wanted, look up what would have happened had someone acted differently?" And that was the genesis of the opening scene in the novel -- when the main character, the hapless bookstore owner Darren Ault, finds himself suddenly propelled into the Library of Timelines after his best friend, physicist Lee McCaskill, tries to kill him.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
Like most of my novels and short stories, I'd call it "speculative fiction." Some people would say that it's "science fiction," because it does involve time travel -- but I don't really agree with that, because unlike most writers of science fiction, the how doesn't interest me much -- the workings of time machines, spaceships, and so on. What fascinates me endlessly, and (really) what all of my stories riff on in some fashion, is how characters react when their world is turned upside down by events that they never thought could happen. How can you explain something that is completely outside of your experience? It's the people, and their reactions, that drive the story.
4. What is your synopsis or blurb for this book?
Darren Ault is a mild-mannered bookstore owner in Seattle, Washington, who is invited for a visit by his best friend, Lee McCaskill. No one is more surprised than Darren when, in the middle of dinner, Lee pulls out a pistol and shoots him in the head. But the surprises aren't over; far from being killed, Darren escapes without a scratch, but finds that the event has somehow made the entire human race vanish. This launches him on an adventure that involves a beautiful red-haired Scottish lass from the 10th century, a chronically depressed Norwegian silversmith, some religious crazies from 19th century Kentucky, Vikings, a manic and murderous highwayman, and the Library of Timelines -- the place where all of the possibilities, for everyone in the history of the world, are tracked, monitored, and chronicled.
5. What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Darren Ault -- I'm thinking Shia LaBeouf. Knows how to play a hapless nerd, but has some basic sex appeal.
Archibald Fischer, Head Librarian of the Library of Timelines -- Tom Felton. He had the sullen thing down pat as Draco Malfoy.
Maggie Carmichael, Fischer's administrative assistant and right-hand woman -- Tilda Swinton. No doubt about it.
Maire Gillacomgain, the lass Darren is supposed to save from a fate worse than death at the hands of the Vikings -- Karen Gillan. She has the red hair and the lovely Scottish accent.
Per Olafsson, the depressive Norwegian silversmith -- Paul Bettany.
Brother Zebulon Bell, leader of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ Risen and Triumphant Through Suffering -- I think if you put a white suit and a straw hat on Vincent d'Onofrio, he could pull it off.
Jane Bell, Brother Zebulon's free-thinking daughter -- Olivia Wilde.
John Andrews Murrell, the insane highwayman -- Johnny Depp.
Lee McCaskill, Darren's best friend and (attempted) murderer -- Chris Hemsworth. If he can do Thor, he can do a homicidal physicist.
6. Will your book be self-published, or represented by an agency?
I've completely given up on traditional publishing, after (literally) hundreds of attempts even to get a reading by an agent. I'm now self-publishing electronically. It may not be the road to fame and riches, but it's working for now.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Well, I'm not done yet. But this book has had an interesting history; I started it (first twenty pages or so) almost ten years ago, and then put it aside because I couldn't see where I was going with it. My writer friend Cly Boehs, who had heard that bit of it, encouraged me to pick it up again -- she said the whole concept of the Library of Timelines was just too good to give up on. So I sat down and basically mapped out the path the story would take, and I've been working on it steadily since then. If you added up how long I've put into it thus far, I'd say it totals about eight months. I'm guessing it'll be a year and a half total to have a finished manuscript.
8. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
As I've said, the two people who really launched this idea were my son Nathan and my pal Cly. Without them, I wouldn't be writing this right now (although I'd probably be writing something else; working on something is pretty much a perpetual state for me).
9. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Well, I'm not sure there's anything else I've read that's quite like the plot of this book. Stylistically, I owe a lot to Christopher Moore and Terry Pratchett; their ability to take wacky situations and drop characters into them to see how they react is basically a model for how I write. (This book has a lot of funny moments, as do most of Moore's and Pratchett's books; but a lot of my writing is scary/disturbing, and for that aspect of my writing I'd say I draw from inspirations like Neil Gaiman, H. P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King.)
10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
I've tried to work in real historical figures and events throughout, to give it a solid substructure of fact within which the plot can develop. John Andrews Murrell, for example, was a real highwayman in 19th century Kentucky and Tennessee, although I doubt he was as crazy as I'm portraying him. There were various plots against King Magnus of Norway, although my involvement of the (real) Archbishop of Trondheim is a fabrication, and I hereby apologize for slandering his memory by implicating him in one. Darren's visit to Norway lands him there in the middle of the Black Death, which was (obviously) a real event, and one which I've always found morbidly fascinating (I set my novella We All Fall Down during the same period, in central England). So along the way, you meet some interesting real characters, and witness some interesting real events, along with the rather frenetic fictional quest that Darren is trying to accomplish -- undoing the damage to humanity's past that Lee McCaskill unwittingly caused, and bringing everyone back from the paradoxical void.
11. Who's next in the Blog Hop?
I'm tapping three folks -- make sure you check out their blogs!
1) The incomparable K. D. McCrite, who has been a continual source of encouragement to me
2) Jeff "Smoke" Tsuruoka, writer of monster stories
3) Christina Esdon, actress, writer, and occasional mermaid