Author Interview: Sumiko Saulson

It’s an honor today to welcome Sumiko Saulson to the blog.  Sumiko’s novel, Solitude, is a fascinating examination of the lives of diverse individuals isolated in a San Francisco seemingly void of all other human life. In the absence of others, each journeys into personal web of beliefs and perceptions as they try to determine what happened to them, and the world around them.  I’m happy to have Sumiko here as we delve into some of the concepts and personal histories behind her novel.

Gwen: You open this story with a powerful scene–that of young Margo folding a paper crane with the knowledge that “only a few, martyred youngsters were able to have their stories told.” She folds the crane not because she believes that she’ll save a life but because she empathizes with the Sadako story and the rough life that the girl had. What inspired you to begin here?

Sumiko: Originally, the story didn’t start with that scene, but with the next scene, which establishes another character Angela’s extreme and catalytic resentment towards her ex-husband. I have a tendency to imagine my books as a movie: I blame film school for that, because I spent a year at Film Arts Foundation’s “STAND” program for first time directors learning about story arch and character development. In the little movie “Solitude” I was imagining in my head, where Gerry is being played by a 1990s version of Bruce Willis, the story needed to begin with a lot more character connectedness than Angela’s two-dimensional hatred. Her pain was a bit too forcefully expressed to allow the reader to relate to her very well. I needed a softer touch at the beginning.

I went back and inserted the prologue about half way through the story, when I was in the middle of explaining Margo’s relationship to Josette and her Chihuahua, Crazy. I realized that because she was written as an agoraphobic shut in, Margo was a character with whom people would relate primarily through her internal life. Giving her rich and interesting internal dialog would make her interesting. That was important because she refuses to leave the house: she is a character for whom a decision to go outside is a tremendously big deal. I was a very introverted child, but I became a lot more outgoing as I matured. That is why I decided to make the reader’s connection to Margo begin in her childhood. You could say that Margo is a character with whom I have certain things in common but whose life takes a divergent course from my own. I felt I could write a more convincing narrative by starting at the period in life when Margo and I would have been the most alike. I used books I read as a child to make this connection.

Gwen: There are a number of perspectives that you use to tell this story which makes the world of Solitude incredibly rich with diversity, both in terms of your cast and the scope of the novel. Did you find it challenging to weave a narrative with so many voices? How did you select the voices that you finally used?

Sumiko: The greatest difficulty was in keeping the timeline consistent, because when the narrative switches from one character point of view to another, especially at the beginning of the book, it is talking about something that happens in more or less the same period of time. In the first draft of the book, I switched from perspective to perspective too quickly for some readers to follow. They found it confusing. I was writing these quick-switch edits as an almost reflexive response to my history as a video editor. When you want to show action and excitement in a video or a film, you go back and forth fast, like in a music video. That doesn’t work as well in a novel. The other reason I kept changing points of view quickly was because I hadn’t mastered a way to keep time moving forward when these incidents were occurring at or near the same time. That issue was eventually resolved with the help of the book’s editor, Stephen Douglas.

We worked together to identify a few pieces of writing that would be more effective put together. He had me do a series of re-writes connecting the action during the initial event. For instance, the scene where Shane is on the Bay Bridge when people start disappearing is considerably more action packed than it was the first time around. The same can be said with the scene involving Gerry and the newly feral dogs circling him at Safeway. By the time we were finished with re-writes, the book was 50-pages longer, and the timeline was consistent. Switching character voices in the middle of a major catastrophe such as the event these individuals experience does require a lot of attention to detail with regards to the consistent movement of time. The character voices themselves were not difficult for me: I have been good with characters for quite some time now, but I spent over a decade with great characters that had no story to tell.

Having a story was the hard part.

I’d written a number of shorter works prior to writing Solitude, my first novel. I also attempted to write a novel many years ago, and found myself “stuck” in the middle of it. To avoid getting “stuck” in the middle of Solitude, I developed a rough mental map of where I was going, and how to get to the end. This was my substitute for an outline. It was a notebook filled with character sketches, and I used the traits of any given character to determine how she or he would react in a given situation. That made it easier for me, because when the story wasn’t moving forward, I could switch to a character that would be most likely to react in a way that would cause things to progress and keep me on course.

Gwen: As I was reading, I felt a connection with Margo almost immediately, one that deepened as we progressed into the novel and saw her at an older age. There’s a couple lines that just really hit home for me in particular: “None of these challenges stopped her from making something of her life. In a way, they formed her, created for her a sense of direction.” When I read that, it just resonated. Are there characters that you discovered you had more affinity with as Solitude unfolded?

Sumiko: I am happy to hear that. Margo is a character with whom I have a personal connection due to my own anxiety issues. In a way, I used the character to process a lot of feelings I’ve had related to my disability, and while we are definitely not the same person, we have some challenges in common. I think that my own history deepened my understanding of the character’s challenges. I am not agoraphobic but I do have post traumatic stress disorder and I suffer from social anxiety in crowded places, sort of a lesser version of what she’s dealing with. I wrote her as someone I could relate to, with the hope that the reader might feel the same way. She is not me, but there is enough of me in her for me to feel happy when a reader likes her.

The character I became increasingly connected to throughout the course of the story was Gerry, the homeless guy. He more than makes the most of a bad situation: he acts like a guy who was born to play this role. He’s already used to facing challenges, and he adapts to this situation heroically. The bad situation just happens to have the proper sort of alchemy to bring out the best of him. He’s a diamond formed under pressure.

I also really, really like Rosalind. She was a character I wrote into the story later for continuity, and to keep things moving forward. She is from my parents’ generation, and she sort of embodies everything I have come to love about Baby Boomer chutzpah. She is protective and maternal, but liberated and vital at the same time.

Gwen: Sumiko, I think as authors, we often incorporate small pieces of our own lives into the stories that we tell but they often appear in unusual or surprising ways that are not obvious to anyone who doesn’t know us. Do you agree with me here? Is there a scene with a connection like this that you’d like to tell us about?

Sumiko: Yes. It’s true. The strangest and certainly least obvious connection is between the Chihuahua, Crazy and my calico cat, Marla. I didn’t write the dog as her own character, but readers related to her as such. The dog ended up with her own kind of little fan club – but the dog is based on my cat, Marla. Margo is also named after Marla, and Margo as seen through the eyes of Crazy is exactly as I imagine my cats view me. The sort of impatient affection she has for the dog is similar to my attitude towards my cat: I love her, but sometimes she gets on my nerves, and she was an especially large pain in the butt during the time I was writing the novel Solitude. She was a nine month old feral who had been abandoned by the previous tenant of my apartment. By the time I convinced her to move in she was a year old, which is the age at which the SPCA will formally consider them feral and spay for the catch-and-release program. They said that cats can usually be redomesticated during the first year of life. Almost a year on the dot, she decided to move in. I got her spayed. That didn’t change the fact that she’d started to mark territory, and especially my things because I was “her” human and there is another cat in the home. I got advice from animal experts and they told me to use a spray bottle, so I did. Marla is probably the inspiration for the number of wild evil animals roaming around the San Francisco of Solitude.

When Crazy calls Margo the “Okay Lady” it’s precisely how I thought that Marla felt about me: I mean, I fed her and petted her, but I also let this other cat live in “her” house, and how dare I? I took her to get surgery, and I sprayed her with the water bottle for trying to pee on my blanket, so she might have had mixed feelings about me. Anyway, I think that’s pretty random, and most people wouldn’t make the Crazy/Marla connection even if they knew me.

Angela’s rage over her childless state is more than a nod to my own struggles with fertility. I noticed infertile women or women who regretted not having children showed up on all three of my novels, so I guess that’s something I’ve tried to process through writing.

Gwen: Science fiction can be a powerful medium with which to examine contemporary issues. What influenced your choice to tell this story in that way rather than going with another genre? Do you think that there were particular strengths and/or weaknesses in this choice? Did you ever consider telling it in a different way?

Sumiko: I didn’t set out to write a science-fiction novel. I intended to write horror, but the novel has been categorized in either genre or more frequently, in both. I agree, science fiction has been a popular platform for issues that people are better equipped to face when they involve alien life or robots. Gene Roddenberry practically made a career out of inserting modern political struggles and wars into “Star Trek”, and a lot of the original series episodes deal with civil rights issues regarding both race and feminism. I take up a lot of these issues, but I would be doing so even if I weren’t writing science fiction because I am a woman of color and we all write what we know.

When I first began to shop it around locally, I found myself in a number of conversations about Octavia Butler, because I’m African American and Russian-Jewish American, and I write multicultural characters. I found the comparison both flattering and intimidating: Ms. Butler is largely responsible for the fact that it is becoming increasingly acceptable for women of color to write genre fiction. For a long time, if you were a black woman, you were expected to only write very serious literary fiction. There was an unspoken rule that we all were going to write like Toni Morrison. It wasn’t okay to write fantasy, or romance.

But the day I decided I was going to write a novel I was reading two books, The California Book of the Dead, by Tim Farrington, an old friend of mine: a work of literary fiction taking place in San Francisco, and Forsaken by L.A. Banks*, an extremely prolific African American paranormal romance writer. The book was number seven in her Vampire Huntress series, so you know: this woman writes a lot. I got about half way through the book before someone stole it off the bar at a karaoke club, but it was one of the two books that inspired me to believe that someone like me could write horror.

And I did. But it looked a lot like science fiction.

Being categorized as science fiction is definitely a boon, horror being a maligned genre. Saying you write horror is almost like saying you write erotica: a bunch of people are going to decide from day one that they are not going to give your work a chance. Anne Rice said that your readers define your genre for you. I think she’s right.

Gwen: If readers want to find out more about you and your work, what’s the best way for them to do so?

Sumiko: I have a website and blog at http://www.sumikosaulson.com. From there, you can learn just about all there is to know about me as an author. I’m also on Facebook, and Twitter, and you can find me there and all other places Internet via my website.


* Editor’s Note: We regret to note that LA Banks has since passed away. Her death is a great loss to the speculative fiction community but she lives on in the wonderful body of literature that she left behind.  Sumiko writes of this loss on her blog.

Hey, Authors…

Courtesy of sxc.hu

I was asked to pass this along so here it is:

A brand-new website, That Book Place, has opened up.  This site was designed for authors and readers to connect with one another and they’re looking for both readers and writers to be a part of the community.

If you’re an author who’d like to be interviewed, they’d love to talk to you.  Check out their interview submission form here:

http://www.thatbookplace.com/author-interview-submissions/

Please spread the word!  More communities for readers can only be a wonderful thing.

Behind the Villain: Ellette of Morning Star

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Desiree Finkbeiner, author of the recently released Morning Star, the first volume in the Ethos series.  Ethos is a great new YA fantasy series that has inspired a lot of conversation between Desiree and I over recent weeks.  Among the things that I find so intriguing about Desiree’s work are the many facets of her characters, particularly the villain Ellette.  Because I had so many questions about the character, I asked Desiree to allow me to “interview” first her villain and then herself to learn more about the concepts behind Morning Star and the world that she has created.

First, I present the interview with Ellette, the fallen warrior of the Ethos series.

Gwen:  Ellette, what is the strongest emotion that drives your actions?

Ellette:  Fairness. Life is cruel and unfair to those who try to do the right thing. I did everything I was told to do; gave up my chance at happiness so that others could be happy, and look where it got me. What’s the point in sacrifice if it carries no reward? The universe is unfair to those who sacrifice, giving the spoils of their labor to schmuck who stands in line behind them with their hands out.

So I’ve taken it upon myself to be the great mediator, the one who makes it fair for everyone. Rather than a select few carrying the weight of the universe on their shoulders, why not force everyone to do their share? No one gets off without contributing to the greater good. Since life will be unfair to everyone, therein lies the fairness. No rich, no poor. Thus, no one will be special and no one will be left behind. I’ve a plan that will be the great equalizer of the people. In my name, all will be fair, unlike the balance of the so-called universe, which is really nothing more than the illusion of fairness.

Gwen:  Creating a fair world, by any definition, is not an easy task and requires making hard decisions.  I imagine that you’ve had to make quite a few in your life.  If there is one thing that you regret, what is it?

Ellette: I regret the time I wasted in the service of others who didn’t appreciate the sacrifice I was giving for them. All the wasted time and life energy I could have used on pursuing my own dreams, wasted on ungrateful souls could who could care less.

Portrait of Ellette by Desiree Finkbeiner.

Gwen:  As you think about all of those that you spent your time on,  was there someone who affected your life profoundly?

Ellette:  Aziza. Her name meant, cherished, beloved. And love her I did, as if she were my own. I met her in Africa while I was on post to watch over the mushroom. Aziza was the daughter of a very rich man, from the tribe of the small village where I traded for supplies. He had six daughters, and she was the fairest, the youngest. Perhaps about four of your human years in age. Never had I met a soul so filled with life and adventure before Aziza. She had given me so much, and filled my heart with love, something I had never experienced before. Because she had given me the gift of trust and friendship, I responded to her love with a gift of my own.

One night, on a full moon, I came to her as the village slept, so she could see me in my true form. I took her for a night fly, soaring high into the sky so she could feel the wind in her face. It was to be our secret, something we shared between us. Each time the full moon came, we did this until her family grew suspicious. She had spoken of my magic to her sisters and made them promise not to tell, but she had broken my trust by breaking her promise to keep it secret.

It broke my heart, so to teach her a lesson about loyalty, I told her I would not be visiting on next full moon. But she came seeking me, snuck out in the night all alone. I told her never to seek me because the land had been plagued with cobras and jackals. She didn’t listen, and it cost her life. Of course, I was blamed for her death and they rounded up a posse of their best warriors to hunt me, calling me the white winged demon.

I was heart broken and I regret ever loving her… had I not loved her, she’d have grown into a beautiful woman.

Gwen:  A tragic story.  Have you kept anything of her–even something that remains secret?

Ellette: I still have a lock of Aziza’s hair, taken from her corpse, as a reminder why love is dangerous.

After hearing Ellette’s story, I asked Desiree to expound upon what her creation was like from an author’s perspective.

Illustration from the forthcoming print edition of Ethos: Morning Star.

Gwen:  One of the most difficult challenges a writer faces is creating a great villain. What was your greatest struggle as you developed her character?

Desiree: The hardest thing was looking back into my past at who I was when I was younger. I absolutely loathe who I was from about age 17 to 20, I was a terrible person and made some poor decisions (wrote a book about it in high school but deleted the file later on, now I wish I could go back and read it). I really do feel that I was a wicked young woman at that time in my life; manipulative, controlling, prideful, stuck-up, attracted to darkness, seduced by the occult and dark arts. I based my villain off of myself. It was a time in my life where I was estranged from God and sought after worldly aspirations. I was spiritually dead to light, lost in a very dark place. But it’s because I have experienced falling and losing my path, that I’m able to craft a dark character from a realistic perspective.

I know Ellette’s demons all too well, for I had created my own hell and it took a miracle (and a lot of prayers) to free me from the prison I had built for myself. And though those experiences are very personal, let’s just say, I’m grateful for those who didn’t give up on me. Ellette is my flipside… So the hardest part was revisiting my past to allow that character to live once more in my fantasy world.

Gwen: Did you find it easy or difficult to relate to the choices that Ellette made?

Desiree: Obviously, I relate completely. I understand heartbreak and what it’s like to desire power over others. I also understand how easy it is to let hatred and bitterness canker the soul. Luckily, I also know what it’s like to embrace light and let forgiveness heal the wounds of past transgression.

Gwen: How do you, as a writer, reconcile yourself to writing “evil” or “dark” characters?

Desiree: Evil is a part of us all. Some of us embrace it, and some of us seek to cast off works of darkness to embrace light. Unfortunately, sometimes life requires embracing darkness before we can appreciate light. One cannot know love and joy without first having passed through loss and sadness. So those two ancient enemies (good and evil) are necessary for us understand the universal question “Why?”. Without evil, there could be no good, and vice versa… so in order for there to be balance in the universe, the two must constantly oppose one another and stand for their cause.

I like to look at it this way. Wherever there is light shining its rays to illuminate an object, there is also a shadow cast by the object where light cannot pass through. In order for something to be completely filled with light, it must first become transparent. But when something is transparent, it no longer has visible form to be considered beautiful by the naked eye. So the shadows cast by light actually create beauty in the world around us. One simply cannot exist without the other. So in order for there to be a hero, there must a villain of equal power to oppose the goodness and light, otherwise, there’d be no adventure… and no point for anything to exist.


Desiree Finkbeiner, author of Ethos: Morning Star

Desiree Finkbeiner attained a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from Missouri Southern State University (2006) with a heavy background in business, marketing, music and fine art– She was heavily involved in campus affairs and served actively in several committees focusing on campus entertainment and events. She performed with musical acts/bands in rock and electronic genres, released seven studio albums, performed in 11 states and has written hundreds of songs. Her band, Carbon Star, was a finalist for VH1’s “Bands on the Run” reality TV show in 2000. Then she performed with Pointy Teeth until finally leaving the music industry for the quiet life.

Continuing education is a constant adventure for Desiree with topics of interest ranging from civil and corporate law, history, political conspiracy, homeopathic medicine and spiritual healing. She prefers to read non-fiction, especially on topics that educate and broaden her perspectives on controversial issues.

With thousands of completed art works in her archives, most of which appear in private collections worldwide, Desiree hopes to focus more on publishing, marketing and licensing her work so she can leave a legacy behind.

To find her work, visit her author page at Hydra Publications.  Ethos: Morning Star is currently available on Amazon.

Before & After: Rachel Hunter

Rachel Hunter

Rachel Hunter is the focus of today’s Before and After, a new feature on this blog. In Before and After, we will hear from new authors before the publication of their novel and then follow up after the book’s publication to find out how the experience went.

Rachel’s first book is A Llathalan Annal: Empyreal Fate, coming out this spring from Hydra Publications. Rachel has also just released the short story, “Perfect Nothing,” about her battles with anorexia nervosa. Proceeds from this story will be donated to Give Kids the World. It is available now on Amazon.com.

Gwen: Welcome to the blog, Rachel! I always like to start out by having the author tell a little bit about their book. Can you share with us what the book is about?

Rachel: Greetings, Gwen!

Thanks for featuring me on your blog. I would be delighted to share a bit about my book: Empyreal Fate – Part One of my Llathalan Annal fantasy series.

Filled to the brim with forbidden love, an ancient evil, and a nation in disrepair, Empyreal Fate is a tale of riveting bravery and mortal corruption.

The land of Llathala lingers on the brink of war between men and elves, a dark history surrounding each race. Stirred by tensions of the land, a shadow of the past reemerges, taking precedence in reality and consuming the very soul of mans’ mortal weakness. Darrion, the son of a poor laborer, is ensnared in a hostile world, forced to choose between loyalty to his king or the counsel of the elves. Yet Fate has other plans in store, tying his course to Amarya, an elven royalblood of mysterious quality and unsurpassable beauty. But this forbidden connection incites betrayal from members of their own kin, marking them as traitors to the crown. In a land torn asunder, only Fate’s decree can allow such love to coexist with an ancient enmity.

Behold: A Llathalan Annal: Empyreal Fate – Part One.

I won’t give away much of the details here, but Empyreal Fate basically sets the stage for a great war between the races of man and elf. Part One focuses on developing a crucial piece of the story (which the reader will unravel as he ventures forth), and it establishes the basis through which the characters will learn and grow. I find a story comes to life when its characters mature and express marked wisdom. Indeed, as my Llathalan Annal series progresses, I hope the reader is able to make those connections and also tie himself in Llathala’s realm as well.

Oh – and just a word of caution… Keep an eye on the young one. She’s not always as she seems.

Gwen: What inspired you to choose fantasy as your genre?

Rachel: Fantasy – a beautiful word against my lips! What could be more magical than transporting oneself into realms of the impossible – the enchanting? Since I could but only grasp onto the covers of a book, I have been reading to my heart’s content. Although I enjoy works spanning all genres, I have found that fantasy beckons my attention far above all. There’s something in the nature of the fantastical that draws me in; there’s something about the feel of alternate worlds and mystical planes that ensnares me. And this is why I’ve chosen fantasy as my own genre. I want to make others feel the way I do about words: to breathe in awe at their elusive connectedness – to marvel the fluid way in which they bind. It’s this internal delight that delivers life upon a sheet of parchment. And it is this feeling I wish to instill.

I wish to add a side note here, as I have also a penchant for poetry. ‘I dance with words,’ as some may say. As a poet, I have incorporated my fascination of speech within Empyreal Fate, thereby bringing to light the lofty language and mystical tongue of an epic world. Every sentence I wrote flowed through my head along with a beat, and I recounted my tale accordingly. Thus, I wish to share with all the beauty of words and the unique way in which they breathe.

Gwen: I know that I myself was reading fantasy from a young age—the first book series that really captured my imagination was the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Reading so much fantasy–particularly those novels with their use of metaphor and subtle discussion of religious themes–definitely influenced me as a writer. Have you had a similar experience with any books that you’ve read? Is there any theme or aspect of a novel you read early on that just sticks with you?

Rachel: Vivid words and breathing characters. Regardless the genre and regardless the message, if these crucial elements are for lack, the tale will hardly hold together. Fantasy-speaking, I do well enjoy political references and spiritual subtleties. In fact, when I wrote Empyreal Fate, I sewed in some ties of my own spiritual quandaries. I would definitely say that having read other works throughout my life has inspired me to intertwine such concepts. The most important part I gleaned was how – despite the message or whether I truly believed it– the influence or ‘readability’ of the characters was key. In fact, I believe The Shannara Series – by Terry Brooks – was the first truly epic fantasy collection I read, and I was immediately intrigued by the character dynamics. Without that connection, the inner workings of the novels would not have been as profound.

Gwen: When we write, there is often an idea behind it that we want our readers to discover (and we’ll talk more about that in our “After” interview). As a first-time novelist, however, what ideas did you uncover in your own work? Did you learn any lessons from your own characters?

Rachel: Indeed – as I wrote, I delved further into the histories of my races: how they came to be and why, etc… At first, I had only a rough outline in my head, but as I progressed, the details blossomed anew. Needless to say, I could hardly keep up! I had so many ideas rampaging at once. I suppose that’s where the subsequent parts to series will come into play…

As for my characters – they instilled in me the importance of virtue, of love, and of truth. (I would say more, but for fear of spoiling anything, I shall refrain.) I will, however, suggest that one takes note of the Cauychin. Now there’s a witty beast with heart to tell.

Gwen: Let’s shift gears a little and talk about one of the hardest things that any author has to do—finding a home for the work when they’re finished. What was the most difficult part of this process for you?

Rachel: Oh – goodness! Where to begin? I would definitely say that querying agents and publishers (in general) was the most difficult part. It seems everyone has different procedures that must be followed; and to break a single ‘rule’ in the process is a one-way ticket for rejection. Patience is key. It was difficult to fathom the fact that publishers generally look for reasons to decline a book – especially if they are swamped with submissions. So… yes… I would have to say that finding a publisher who met my needs – as well as found interest in my novel – was the hardest part. (Especially finding a publisher with whom to trust. A completed manuscript is like a babe – you cannot simply sell it to just anyone on the street.)

Gwen: How did you come to choose Hydra Publications for your book?

Rachel: Actually, I was offered two contracts for Empyreal Fate within roughly the same week. It became readily apparent, however, that the first company was not the right ‘fit.’ Therefore, Hydra graciously accepted me into their family, and I could not be more pleased – nigh, honored!

Gwen: Do you have any expectations about what will happen once the book comes out? Any special plans for other projects?

Rachel: Well, with college and various academic endeavors, it is difficult to find the time to specifically plan things. I do, however, hope to attend more writing conventions, assert myself further via social media, and perhaps participate in blogs/interviews such as this! Of course, I also plan to polish the rest of my series, but as for a schedule – it’s up in the air! We’ll see where Fate takes me. So far, the journey looks promising.

Gwen: What has been the most rewarding part of your experience thus far?

Rachel: Meeting new people – immersing myself in the collective wisdom of my peers. Simply experiencing the joy of fellow authors and readers claims my heart. It rewards me most of all when I can share my opinions with others – whether about novels, poetry, or life in general – and, in turn, gain insight of my own. I’ve learned a lot from others throughout this process thus far. And I, too, wish to inspire. I wish to awaken the muse in those who seek its majesty. You never know what one may discover within.

Gwen: If readers want to follow your work or find out more about you as an author, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Rachel: As of now, one can find me on my blog, websites, Facebook, and Twitter. Also, be sure to visit Hydra Publications’ Website, where I can be found – as well as a plethora of other amazing and talented authors: http://www.hydrapublications.com.

Some of my links can be found below:

http://www.rachel-m-hunter.blogspot.com/

http://www.rachel-m-hunter.yolasite.com

http://www.wix.com/rachel_hunter/author

http://www.facebook.com/people/Rachel-Hunter/713230996

Again, thank you for having me! ‘Twas a pleasure indeed.

Author Interview with Jeffrey Zweig II

Jeffrey Zweig II

Jeffrey Zweig II

My special guest to today’s blog is fantasy author Jeffrey Zweig II. Jeffrey is the author of the brand-new novel, The End Begins: The Nine, and also runs the blog “Stories of a Sleepless Mind” where he spotlights excerpts from his works-in-progress. The End Begins is a great story with such a dramatic twist that I’ll have to work hard to restrain myself from spoiling you!

And so with no further ado, I bring you an interview with Jeffrey Zweig II.

Gwen: Hi, Jeffrey, I’m excited to have you here. First, let’s start by having you tell the readers a little about your book.

Jeffrey: Thank you for taking the time to learn a little more about me and my work, Gwen.

The End Begins: The Nine is a science fiction, fantasy story about Cassarah Telmar, a sorceress who finds out the students of her Academy, The Nine, are being used in experiments to pilot a war for a group known as The Coalition. She escapes their program and sets off to bring them down. However, her actions could devastate the people she’s trying to save.

Gwen: One of the things that I found particularly interesting was how this novel mixes real-world events and history as part of a broader alternate universe beginning with World War II. How did you decide at what point to alter history, so to speak?

Jeffrey: One reason I think I chose World War II (WWII) is because people know about it. So many movies, video games, TV shows are based on it – it’s familiar, and since I had so many strange elements going, I wanted that familiar base to draw from. I did some research on “what if” scenarios during the war – as in what if a battle went this way or that, and in turn a much different outcome could have happened. So I toyed with who was involved, how long it went, and tried incorporating some relevant issues one could see today. WWII always has a lot of potential to work with, and making those changes opens up many more things I can work with to make it my own.

Gwen: During The End Begins: The Nine, the reader is taken on a journey that shifts focus to a number of different characters. Changing perspective from one character to the next really gives us, as the readers, a much broader sense of the world that you’ve created. Of your main characters, who was the most challenging for you to write and why? How did you get into their head?

Jeffrey: The hardest to write for was James. First, he’s like Cass where he’s foreign to the world he’s journeying through because he’s dealing with a form of amnesia. But at the same time, he’s coming from a world that is similar to our modern day. So I had to resist the urge to constantly compare one to the next as a running commentary.

Second, because he initially starts as a mini-macguffin and has so little to do with the start of the story, he was a risk to have. I had to make him relevant but not be obtrusive. That was also hard to do. Whereas most of the characters had a clear objective at the start of the novel, James did not. He was kind of a wild card, and that can be dangerous for an author if the reader doesn’t want to go along with it.

Gwen: I know that in my own writing, minor characters often end up being some of the characters that I like the best. Was there any character that you’d like to focus on more in future stories?

Jeffrey: Kevin Barone – the group’s mechanic, tech guy, and the outsider of the independent nation of Arcovia. I think because he is so rooted in the world being a kind of drifter, that through him I could explore the world in more detail. Having known people like that, I have fun writing someone who is a little more relaxed/reckless than Cass. But in my story he evolves from that drifter, to becoming heavily relevant to many people, and I would be interested to see how his actions affect those around him trying to keep that independence.

Gwen: Another big part of your story is culture. One of my favorite scenes was when Cass ended up going into the world and had to learn how to interact among people and ideas with which she wasn’t familiar. How do you prepare to write a scene like that?

Jeffrey: First I had to decide while building the world for my novel how different things were on that personable level. Once I had that, I had to think of Cass, more or less, as a foreigner as if she visited another country entirely (Which you could argue is the case here). How would I (or Cass) react when dealing with food, social norms, or science. I did my best to make things different, but not too different in that respect. I’m reminded of an exercise you would do in a creative writing course, if you were an alien exploring another world – that’s basically what I had to do.

Gwen: Tell us about something that you think makes the Nine particularly unique.

Jeffrey: This is a hard one, truth be told. Because I could say a lot of things that appear to make it unique, but you can insert that answer for many other books, games, movies, etc. which are great.

“Her actions could devastate the people she’s trying to save.”

So instead I’ll get down to the core of the human element for Cass, our main protagonist – it’s a story with a very straightforward question – what is your choice? Cass’s choice – to live a slave or die with freedom is a choice many people are faced with in one way or another. Maybe its being tied to a job, an abusive relationship, or maybe its on your death bed living on life support. Very different situations, but that choice is a choice people may live with every day. Some stories are caught up in the grand scheme of the major plot. Really, in the end, the book is about Cass’s choice in her own self worth when she learns everything she has too. That is one of the things I think make this book unique – the boldness of that one choice amidst a epic sci-fi plot.

Gwen: Where else do you see yourself going with future novels? Will you be continuing in this universe or do you have other stories ahead? Tell us a little bit about your future projects.

Jeffrey: I will be continuing this universe in a sequel but it will follow a different character this time around. I hope to have it ready by the end of the year, maybe 2013. Right now, it’s still in the outline, rough draft stages so I don’t want to get into that right now, other than its coming.

My future projects are two Novelettes called Lost in a Dream-scape (tentative title) which is a high epic fantasy about a man who discovers their dreams may not have been dreams at all. And I also have The Tales of Captain Force, which follows a journalist as he discovers the secret of the heroic urban legend of his city.

Other than that, working on short stories I hope to have done before the summer rolls around.

The End Begins: The Nine

The End Begins: The Nine

Gwen: Last but certainly not least, what’s the best way for readers to find out more about you and the book?

Jeffrey: My blog, Stories of the Sleepless Mind, is updated most frequently with information about what I have going on which has not only has bi-weekly updates with prototype material of new stuff I’m working on, but interviews and nuggets of advice to my readers. There’s a link to a Wiki I’ve established giving more in depth information about ongoing projects and stuff I’ve published in the past. You can also find me on facebook and twitter, which is the best way outside my own e-mail to chat me up. I’m always interested with connecting with authors and readers!


The End Begins: The Nine is currently available at Amazon.com in both Kindle and print editions.