Was the online world occupied by ghosts?

Alex Austin Author Interview

End Man follows a man who hunts people pretending to be dead. On his next case, he unearths the secrets of his own phobia-plagued life and the inner workings of the company he works for. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

The idea for End Man came from an online experience. I’d been trading pages with a fellow writer. We’d been in this relationship for months, and we thought the swapping beneficial. I emailed her some new chapters and asked her to send her material. She didn’t get back to me acknowledging my new chapters or sending hers. I sent several messages, which also got no response. In her story, her main character was battling an incurable disease. Had she fictionalized her own ailment? Could she be hospitalized—or worse? I checked her Facebook and Goodreads pages, but I found nothing to explain her silence. As I reviewed more of her online haunts, I realized if she had succumbed to an illness, everything she had posted online would remain intact. She would still get likes; people would continue to comment on her posts, friend her, spam her. As if her life went on. How many internet users was this already true of? Was the online world occupied by ghosts? This seemed to be the stuff of a speculative novel. As I developed the plot, I recalled Gogol’s novel Dead Souls in which the main character figures out how to profit off of dead serfs (Gogol gets a shout-out in End Man). Now I had to come up with a contemporary (2030s) business plan to match the Russian author’s slick scam. Over many drafts,  I recognized I had to provide details sufficient to raise venture capital if I were pitching Norval Corporation in the real world. As to my missing writer, I discovered that—ironically—she was “ghosting” me, a term that came into play while I was writing the novel. To that point, yesterday, Linkedin invited me to congratulate a former colleague on his work anniversary. The man is five years dead.

Raphael Lennon is an intriguing and well-developed character. What were some driving ideas behind your character’s development?

In early drafts, I had two POV characters: Raphael Lennon and Clark Ramfree. Clark was a middle-aged former journalist who lived the good life abroad; Raphael was a 26-year-old IT worker with a lifelong phobia that made it impossible for him to leave his Los Angeles neighborhood. Clark was free, and Raphael unfree. I wanted to explore how Raphael’s phobic prison affected every aspect of his life to produce a shy, self-conscious person whose boundaries occupied him. With Clark, I wanted to see what would happen if his freedom proved illusory. Unable to weave the two character threads,  I extracted Clark from the novel, leaving Raphael alone to explore the notions of freedom and imprisonment. Raphael suffers from dromophobia, the fear of crossing streets, but he has a rare form. It’s only four streets that he can’t cross, but the four intersect to form a rectangle of about one square mile. Each of the four streets holds its own terror. Because his phobia is so unrelatable to others, he has hidden it, making far-fetched excuses why he can’t go to the beach at Malibu or the class trip to Magic Mountain. In his own eyes, he is weird, and believes others view him similarly (crank up Radiohead). Saddling Raphael with this heavy load, I lightened it a bit by making him an expert skateboarder, which provides physical exhilaration. I also gave him a love of music, which I view as transcendent. Guided by his mother, a museum curator who died young, Raphy also loves art and is a painter himself. He works on a canvas that stretches across his living room ceiling, and may be the key to his freedom. He resembles David Bowie, but his name is Raphael Winston Lennon, and there are parallels with both artists in his character. John Lennon’s mother, Julia, was killed by a car at age 44. Her death devastated Lennon, and he wrote several songs about her, reflecting his grief. In End Man, Raphael’s mother, at about the same age as Julia, dies of a horrible disease that turns her to stone; Her memory and suffering haunt Raphael. End Man is a dystopia in the making. Winston is the protagonist in Orwell’s 1984. It’s also John Lennon’s middle name. David Bowie’s favorite book? 1984. David Bowie created his last album around the theme of death.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

Our appointment with death, and our refusal to accept it, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The eroding of death’s meaning. Stalin said, “One death is a tragedy; one million deaths is a statistic.” I’m not sure that one death remains a tragedy. We get numb. We can’t keep count of all the mass shootings. The extent to which our personal data is accumulated and the ends to which it is being put. What is consciousness? Can a machine (AI) become conscious? Our frames (the rectangles not found in nature): cell phones, computers, coffins.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

The publisher has asked me to write a sequel. I’ve been mulling ideas for the plot. In End Man, I set up a new pantheon of minor gods, influencers, and I’m sure they’ve been up to mischief. I’m also finishing a rewrite on a realistic novel called Blood Marriage about a young woman who escapes an arranged marriage in Pakistan. The novel has been up on Radish, but its second half is a mess. The beat goes on.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | LibraryThing

Once your life is diluted to ones and zeroes on the End Man’s desk, it’s over. Or is it?

Afflicted with dromophobia, the fear of crossing streets, 26-year-old Raphael Lennon must live out his life within the four thoroughfares that border his Los Angeles neighborhood. Luckily, he found a fulfilling job within his space as an End Man at Norval Portals where Raphael is the best possum hunter in the company. He hunts the dead who live, people hiding under the guise of death. He doesn’t want to bring these “possums” to justice but to keep them out of his firm’s necrology database so their presence doesn’t crash the whole system.

When the company founder assigns Raphael a fresh case, he sets aside all other work to investigate Jason Klaes, a maverick physicist with boundary-pushing theories that may have attracted unwanted and sinister attention. Raphael soon discovers messages sent by Klaes after his supposed death—threats to people who have subsequently died. As he digs deeper, he receives his own message from Klaes, a baffling command to pursue the truth.

As he unravels the mystery, he unearths the secrets of his own phobia-plagued life and the inner workings of Norval, whose corporate ambitions include a nightmarish spin-off of its product. Raphael must stop them or he’ll never be free and neither will anyone else.

About Literary Titan

The Literary Titan is an organization of professional editors, writers, and professors that have a passion for the written word. We review fiction and non-fiction books in many different genres, as well as conduct author interviews, and recognize talented authors with our Literary Book Award. We are privileged to work with so many creative authors around the globe.

Posted on September 20, 2022, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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