Tarbabies follows Josh as he lives through the invasion of Earth by the “tarbabies”, monsters made of a soft gooey substance. What was your inspiration for the tarbabies slow, but relentless movement and appearance?
I’ve been a devotee of zombie stories since I first saw Dawn of the Dead back in 1978, and have long toyed with the notion of writing my own contribution to the genre. But as I began to flesh out a plot, I came to realize that the story I wanted to tell wasn’t going to fit within the confines of the category. The core premise of Tarbabies is best summarized by the first line of the back cover blurb: “That Thing on the porch won’t go away.” Zombies work best in hordes. They’re terrifying when you’re surrounded by them, but a lone shambling corpse is easily dispatched or avoided, making it as much a thing to be pitied as feared. What I wanted was a threat that was just as dangerous on its own as in a mob, and that couldn’t be dismissed by something as simple as a bullet to the brain. The longer I thought about it, the more I realized I needed to make a monster of my own. One of my favorite conventions of zombie fiction is the fact that there are no second chances. The moment you’re bit, you’re done for. I decided to take that a step further. With the Tarbabies, a single touch is enough to seal your fate. For that, I can credit the Blob as a primary inspiration. Once I got the idea to merge the Blob with zombies, I was off and running. The Tarbabies, on the other hand, slowed down. Once the creatures took their final form as animated bags of muck, their plodding, sluggish nature followed inevitably.
Josh and his wife were my favorite characters. Was it difficult writing such an in depth relationship? Were you able to achieve everything you wanted with these characters?
What I wanted most from my protagonists was for them to be ordinary. Tarbabies is a story about what happens when the monsters come to your front door. I wanted my heroes to be people of modest ambitions and corresponding resources. They would not be battling their demons with an arsenal of weapons or years of Special Forces training. They would be limited to the same skills and means that a typical reader might possess. But there still had to be a reason why Josh and Libby can survive while their neighbors succumb to the monsters. I wanted this to be their ability to rely upon each other. There is nothing extraordinary about Josh and Libby’s relationship, but they are devoted to one another, and they know each other well. In a world where every mistake can be your last, this trust and familiarity allows our heroes to share the burden of survival, and gives each of them their opportunities to shine. Though this first book is a complete story, one of these two characters undergoes a significant, substantive change in the course of the novel. The full ramifications of this change are explored further in the third book in the series, and without giving much away, I can say that it represents the greatest test of Josh and Libby’s devotion to each other.
The tarbabies are slow moving, but the tension was expertly crafted in the novel. What was your approach to writing the interactions between people and the tarbabies?
I tried to strike a balance between the Tarbabies being equally repulsive and alluring. They may be shambling bags of ooze, but they are also Something New, and human beings have always been fascinated by novelty. This is why, when the very first monster arrives in Otterkill, Josh discovers one of the neighborhood children literally poking it with a stick. But it’s not just the novelty of the situation that captivates the residents of Otterkill. There is also the knowledge that these creatures used to be us. Every monster wandering Ichabod Lane used to be a neighbor, or a family member. This can only amplify the urge to understand what is happening to them, as it is ultimately what might happen to each of us. There is one final, more insidious reason for the Tarbabies’ appeal, and it’s one that actually occurred to me when I was watching the Twilight movies. In that series, vampires are immortal, super-powered, rich, beautiful, walk about freely in the daylight, and can survive without drinking human blood. In a world where there’s no downside to being a vampire, I thought, why wouldn’t everyone want to be one? It’s not an idea that translates naturally to oozing, amorphous abominations, but the more I played with it, the more I liked the idea of people lining up for their chance to become monsters.
This is book one of the Tarbabies series. Where does the story go through the next two book in the series and where do you see it going in the future?
The good news is, if you enjoy Book 1, you don’t have to wait for more. Books 2 and 3 in the series are available now. Tarbabies Book 2: The Siege at Friendly Haven follows the residents of the Friendly Haven Assisted Living Facility, whom we first met in Book 1. As the last remaining invalids and geriatrics struggle to keep a horde of monsters from oozing into their home, they come to realize that no one in the outside world will be riding to their rescue. Instead, their last hope of escape may come in the form of a 300 pound octogenarian and her beloved personal mobility scooter. In Book 3, we meet up with Josh and Libby once again. In Tarbabies Book 3: The Honey Pot of Defiance, the plague has spread over most of the North American continent. We follow our heroes as they push westward in an attempt to reach the safe haven that is rumored to lie beyond the Rocky Mountains. In the desolate oil fields of northwestern Ohio, they discover the origins of the tarbabies, and witness the next stage in their evolution. Beyond these two books, I have ideas for two more installments in the series. These will further the developments revealed in Book 3, and follow the spread of the tarbaby plague as it becomes a global threat.
That thing on the porch won’t go away. I called the police, but I don’t think they’re coming. They’ve got their hands full with the Manhattan quarantine, so they can’t waste their time on a nothing little town like Otterkill. That means it’s up to me and the neighbors, and there are fewer of us every day. Fewer of us, and more of them. Every person we lose is one more monster to deal with. The Spiller family, the folks from the Retirement Center, even the Mathises’ Rottweiler are now stalking the streets, waiting for someone to get too close. A single touch is all it takes. I don’t know which of my neighbors became the thing on the porch, and I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’ve got to get out of here, but the Tarbabies are already showing up in Albany, and Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. There’s nowhere left to run, and there’s no point in hiding. Not when the shadows themselves are after you.
Posted in Interviews
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Tarbabies follows the protagonist, Josh, as he and his wife experience a catastrophic event that changes the world as we know it. Through news reports, Josh watches as New York City falls victim to what he calls “tarbabies”, monsters made of a soft, gooey substance. These tarbabies have the ability to change any living thing they touch into one of them, and they are immune to physical attack. It’s not long before the simple yet dangerous monsters show up in his neighborhood, and despite their slow, plodding movements, they manage to increase their numbers daily. Josh and his neighbors try to learn as much as they can, but their knowledge might not be of any use, as they are slowly running out of allies. What they do learn, though, is just as mysterious. There is something attractive about these monsters. People attacked by them feel no pain, and instead seem to experience some kind of euphoria before being taken over completely. Josh and his wife leave their quiet neighborhood, determined to reach the safety of her parents’ home across the state. Will they make their journey safely? What are these monsters, and are they getting smarter?
Josh and his wife have loving, fun interactions. Brady did very well crafting these two, and I spent almost every page of the story hoping that both of them make it through. The author also excelled at creating each of the characters on Ichabod Lane, especially the young boy Logan, who treats the dangerous, slow-moving monsters as a fun activity.
The novel also has a nice balance of settings. There are scenes taking place in big cities, small communities, woodlands, and more. The characters travel well and the descriptions of their travels are very entertaining. Particularly, it was fun to read about Josh and his wife and their hiking adventure through the Catskills.
This novel is written very well. If I have any complaints, I would say that the pacing is a little rough, due mostly to the slow pace of the monsters, themselves. The main thought for the first half of the book is that if the main character does get captured by any of these creatures, it would be a silly mistake that would only immensely frustrate the reader. The events also take a long time to unfold once the initial shock from the discovery of the monsters takes place. There are several characters that are well written, but their interactions are difficult to care about as the action is a bit dull.
Overall, this novel provides plenty of tension and suspense through the monsters that have invaded New York. While the reader may want to experience more suspense and action, the author seems to be in this story for the long game, taking his time to develop the characters and to develop the rapidly evolving monsters. This series will be more entertaining the longer one reads, so don’t quit if the first hundred pages aren’t enough.
Pages: 272 | ASIN: B017PSKB58
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The Monster interviews author Allen Brady, author of The Fruithandler Time Engine.
The Fruithandler Time Engine is about time traveling, from the past to the preset. There are many paradoxes involved with time traveling. How did you handle these in your novel, or were they an obstacle in any way?
The paradoxes aren’t an obstacle; they’re a large part of the charm.
Time travel is all about contradictions. At its core, every single time travel story is about the inversion of cause and effect—about someone in a place they cannot be, armed with information they couldn’t possibly have. When contradiction is your starting point, paradoxes are not merely inevitable, they’re where the fun begins.
Exploring the logical ramifications of esoteric premises is precisely what science fiction was invented for. In no other genre does more entertainment derive from learning the rules, then expanding upon them, and there are no subjects more rife for this kind of speculation than time travel. If thrusting a character out of his proper time leads to paradoxes, my preference is not to ignore or dismiss them, but to embrace them.
One of the primary ground-rules of The Fruithandler Time Engine is that no one in the novel really understands how time travel works. Both Colonel Fruithandler and Deirdre are experiencing a brand new phenomenon for the first time. There are no subject-matter experts to consult here. Deirdre’s decisions are her own to make, and she has no way of knowing what the full consequences of those decisions will be. I wanted the reader to be in the same boat.
The Whenstones do indeed cause paradoxes in the world of the novel. For the most part, the universe doesn’t care. The novel’s focus is on individual timelines. The stones change characters dramatically, but only with respect only to themselves. Thus will effects endure even when their causes cease to be. The daughter will remain even when the mother never had children.
Not because it makes sense, but because it’s fun.
The book was more satirical than expected. Did you intend for the book to be created this way or was this more of an organic growth?
The time travel genre lends itself to satire almost by default. When you remove a character from his own culture and transpose him into another, you’ve created a natural springboard for commentary upon both those cultures. Add humor to the mix, and satire is inevitable.
From the outset, I knew the subject matter of this story would require a comedic tone. The Fruithandler Time Engine is a story of time travelers who know nothing about history. This provides an ample playground for satirizing not only the characters and the worlds they inhabit, but the time travel genre itself.
But while the book may be satirical, my hope is that it will not be read as ridicule. If I play with the conventions of time travel, it is only because I find them fascinating. The Fruithandler Time Engine is meant to contribute to the genre, not to subvert it.
Which part of The Fruithandler Time Engine did you enjoy writing the most?
This is a bit like picking a favorite child. In truth, the book was a hoot to write from start to finish. The Estimable Fellowship of Esteemed Fellows was where the book began, both in concept and finished product. The original germ from which the EFEF sprang was an idea for a radio play in which a group of 19th century gentlemen scientists struggle to conceive of an experiment that would suitably prove the efficacy of their new time machine. That survives in the novel in the form of Fruithandler’s demonstration with the cashew and the aventurine box. When I got the notion to expand that into a contest among the EFEF, I suddenly found myself with a forum for commenting upon phrenology, cryptozoology, and all my favorite pseudosciences.
As the plot of the story unfolded from this seed, each new scene seemed to be a goldmine for exploring a different facet of storytelling. The scene in the future allowed me to experiment with how our language may be evolving. The congregation of the Deirdres let me consider the possibility of a character literally growing tired of her own company. The explosion of the hyper-charged Whenstone gave me the opportunity for a stream-of-consciousness segment unlike anything I’d ever written before.
But if I’m honest, I think Deirdre’s escape from the Wykoff farm was probably the most satisfying section to write. I always find myself doing far more research for each of my projects than I had initially anticipated. Fact-checking one plot point inevitably leads to the discovery of half a dozen tangential bits of trivia, which in turn spawn ideas for new directions to take the story I had not considered before.
In this story, this pattern was most prevalent when I was trying to figure out how Deirdre might charge her Whenstones with only what she could find on an 18th century farm. Once I had decided on the overall plan, I needed to research what kinds of materials Deirdre would need to implement it. That in turn led to consideration of where she might find components like copper and zinc. In the end, I spent hours reading about the history of currency and coinage in pre-Revolutionary America, as well as a good deal on how batteries work.
The end result is a sequence I’m particularly happy with. Deirdre’s plan feels natural, logical, and well within the means of a twelve year-old girl. Being able to produce this kind of material, while simultaneously feeling like I’ve learned something, is exceptionally gratifying.
The characters were smart, but sometimes bumbling and humorous. What was your inspiration for creating these characters?
The first seeds for The Fruithandler Time Engine were planted during an online conversation about time travel. Someone had posited a device that could send you back to any place or time, but only as an observer. If you could not interact with anyone, but only watch events unfold around you, invisible and intangible, where and when would you go?
I suggested that this would be a good way to unravel the Ripper murders. Just post yourself in Buck’s Row on the night of August 30, 1888, and you’re bound to learn something interesting. Another participant, on the other hand, suggested that he would like to be present for the Sermon on the Mount.
I found this answer preposterous. Setting aside the question of whether the sermon actually occurred at all, and wasn’t simply a collection of material culled from other sermons, a conflation of speeches by other prophets, or invented out of whole cloth by the author of the Matthew Gospel, we’re still left with no clue as to when or where it is supposed to have taken place. Forget about the date or time; even selecting a year would be a matter of pure conjecture. And even if you stumbled upon the right location at the right time, would your grasp of ancient Aramaic really be strong enough to allow you to follow along?
This answer reminded me of a sketch from the old Ben Stiller Show, in which Janeane Garofalo played “B-Minus Time Traveler”. The premise was that Garofalo found herself shunted back into the middle of crucial historical events, with only a typical high-schooler’s understanding of what actually transpired. When she met George Washington, she could offer no better advice than that his troops would need more shoes. She tried to warn General MacArthur about the attack on Pearl Harbor, but couldn’t quite remember exactly what day it was that would live in infamy.
Without the opportunity to study rigorously for a specific place and time, a time traveler couldn’t help but do a good bit of bumbling. Transplant anyone a century or more into the past, and he is necessarily going to find himself out of his element. Even the most educated time-displaced character is going to need some time to catch up.
Besides, smart characters who are in over their head are a lot more fun to write than morons.
Alright, you have a time machine, it can only go in one direction, which way do you go; to the future or to the past?
The Fruithandler Time Engine is a different time travel book than others I have read. It’s part satire and part adventure. The satire is what I connected with most, which is brilliantly displayed in the language. For example, there is a line in the book that goes” true epiphany can only be found in the dance of the monkey who is not there”. This line is just one example of the many lines that keep the humor fresh and adds a new dimension to the story. Instead of the typical, mad scientist or love-struck genius trying to change time, you get a group of bumbling scientists (by their own definition) who time travel as part of a contest to see which of their “inventions” was better. This is a really unique approach to the time travel genre that kept me intrigued throughout the book. I wanted to know how the story would end because the characters weren’t really sure how they got in the situation in the first place.
I also liked the fact that the time travel was in reverse. Instead of the characters going through time to the 21st century, the 21st century is brought back to them in their time. This creates a unique (mostly humorous) situation where we (as the reader) can view our own history from a different perspective. An example of this occurs when Deidre talks with the group of scientists about intervening in time to prevent something horrible from happening in the future. The question is asked whether it’s OK to stop a bad person now before they get to the time where they do horrible things. This ends up in a discussion about an evil historical figure from our time. The interesting part is that the group of 17th century scientists don’t know or understand who this figure is.
The only issue I had with the book was with the language and word choice. The author displays a very powerful sense of word choice, that required me to look at a thesaurus (or Google) more than a few times. In some cases, this was actually fun. I learned a few more words than I knew before. At other times, it became an obstacle. There were a few times when a simpler word choice might have been better.
The Fruithandler Time Engine does a great job of sticking to the language and dialect, which is a good thing. The bad thing is that it involves words and associations that were a little shocking to read at first. Deidre is an African-American character who gets lost in a time when African-Americans were not recognized as African-Americans. This leads to humorous, but occasionally uncomfortable interactions, between herself and the group of scientists.
Overall, the book was a very unique way to approach the time travel. It was more satirical than expected, but also more realistic as well. Because we get to see unintentional time travel, we see humans as they are-bumbling, sometimes humorous, sometimes not creatures that are trying to make sense of the time that we have we with each other. This book challenged my own perception of time (We can get so caught up in our time.) and allowed me to engage in another time period for a little while. That was an interesting trip!