Life Sliding follows Gavin, the popular kid in school, as he is sent to camp Lift Me Up to help special needs children. What served as your inspiration while you were writing this book?
Like myself, lots of teenagers experience alienation in their high school life, which is a challenging time of self discovery while navigating one’s way to adulthood. My inspiration is those in the trenches now and those who survived those years. Within the walls of education, there is so much more learning going on than just algebra. At times, high school life is a tornado. I believe most adults have forgotten what was at times, a nightmare. Trying to understand my experience as an outsider, I explored the story from the popular kid’s prospective, peeling back the layers to discover who he is underneath his vamped up exterior. Much later after my school years, I became friends with someone who was in the “in crowd” at my school. I discovered this person was not who I had imagined they were. As we find with Gavin, one never really knows what’s going on inside someone, the real person. How do people end up where they are positioned on the social ladder? Jacob expresses his thoughts on the matter to Gavin in a deep conversation at camp; Jacob understands.
What I found most interesting about Gavin was the slow emotional change he undergoes throughout the novel. What were some morals you wanted to capture while writing his character?
We live in a society that is highly judgmental and most are quick to come to a conclusion about someone without ever getting to know them. You can’t judge a book by its cover and you will certainly fall short trying to make a summation of someone by their looks, they way they dress or zip code they come from. If anything, we need more understanding.
Was there anything from your own life, in high school, that you put into this novel?
I was an outsider who experienced some of the issues mentioned in the story and simply observed others going through their own trials. Between algebra and biology, it’s all there – self-harm, bullying, relationships, sexuality, eating disorders, angst and so on, but mostly life happening.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
My ya novel Always Here was just released in September 2017. I have an adult fiction novel tentatively titled Kudzu, which is in editing with no set release date and I am writing a New Adult novel titled Somebody Else.
As Gavin’s junior year comes to a close, he faces an inner conflict with his status as the most popular kid in high school. It’s not lost on his father, who sensed for some time that his overly indulged son needs redirection. Making matters worse for Gavin, his dad sends him away for the summer to assist at a camp for children with special needs.
Arriving at camp Life Me Up, Gavin is suddenly forced to dabble in a world less familiar. After his first uncomfortable encounter with a strange girl with multi-colored fingernails, who refuses to waiver his arrogant behavior, Gavin comes face to face with a person from the past, which leaves him uneasy.
Inevitably, three people clash and collide, but when tragedy strikes, they come to an understanding regarding their differences. Becoming a young adult, Gavin faces a summer of harsh lessons in reality. Once he crosses the bridge from a self-inflicted prison to the road to freedom, Gavin and his new friends implement a strategy to stir up the social order when they return to school in the fall.
Because of one jaded person jumping to conclusions, the plan backfires. Will they be able to survive the fallout of what they’ve put into motion?
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High school, a time for learning who you are, what your values are, and what matters in life. Gavin is the popular, most liked guy in his school. He is the trend setter and his hand-picked friends are at the top of the social pecking order. When they start planning their last summer bash before becoming seniors; he is quickly ripped out of his comfort zone when his dad decides he needs to spend his last vacation giving back to the community. Gavin is going to spend his summer working as a volunteer for camp Lift Me Up, it is a camp for kids with life threatening illnesses, a chance for them to feel normal. Here Gavin reconnects with an old friend Jacob, and they befriend Marissa, a girl with a lot of emotional baggage. Together the three of them bond and look to make their senior year one to remember not just for them, but for the whole school.
Gavin is your typical self-absorbed teenager, he’s on the football team, one of the popular kids, and comes from a family of money. Everyone knew that kid in high school, if you were not part of that crowd chances are you despised him, if you were in the crowd you looked up to him, or at least followed so not to lose your standing. When Jacob stopped following the cool crowd Gavin abandoned him. He never looked into why his best friend suddenly changed over the course of a summer. Gavin soon learned with his service at Lift Me Up what brought about the change in Jacob. Following the back and forth between Gavin and Jacob is exciting, you are never quite sure what their feelings for each other really are. Seeing Gavin grow is emotional, he learns that there is a lot more to the world than his little bubble, and he learns to really care for other people. This awakening is uplifting, it gives you hope that society is not doomed.
One of the most predominate themes in this novel is that love has no boundaries or appearances. High school romances are often flirty and based on who is who and what social class you fall into. While this novel starts out following those trends and is easily relatable to readers, it soon twists and becomes so much more. The story of Caleb, the boy with leukemia, that latches onto a resentful Gavin is a catalyst for the change in Gavin. His memory is a constant reminder of how fragile life is and that you can’t live your life trying to live up to everyone else’s standards. I was really touched by Caleb and how his short time impacted so many lives. It is a reminder that it doesn’t matter how long we are here on earth, but what we do with the time we are given. Caleb melted the heart of Gavin and reminded him there is more to life than his little social circle. Gavin and Jacob’s relationship is touching and so fluid you just can’t help but want to see how life goes for them both. Everyone should have a friendship like that in life, someone that loves you unconditionally and is there for you no questions ask. Life Sliding by S.L. Mauldin is a touching novel, thought provoking and full of compassion and hope.
Pages: 169 | ASIN: B01BBCY5RO
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The Birthday Club, by Jack Petersen, follows the lives of four high school friends bound together by a shared birthday. Angelina, Chris, Kurt, and Billy form a bond during their sophomore year and remain a tight foursome, all but shunning the world around them for three years. When their tight-knit cluster is infiltrated by Fred during their junior year of high school, little things begin to set the stage for large-scale changes in the lives of all five young people. Upon graduation, the members of the Birthday Club go their separate ways only to find themselves forever bound by one of its member’s desperate choices.
Petersen could not have chosen a more misleading title for this touching thriller. Now that I have finished, I am not sure I remember many of my original predictions about the plot. I do know that I had envisioned a much more benign and almost juvenile story line. Nothing could be further from the truth. Petersen does an excellent job of setting the background for each of his characters and builds steadily and purposefully toward a surprising climax.
I am a fan of Harlan Coben and have been for many years. Jack Petersen’s, The Birthday Club, rivals the intricate plots woven by Coben and features characters for which the reader will root. Petersen, like Coben, keeps the reader guessing, feeding only the most minute hints of what is to come. This was truly a “couldn’t put it down” read for me.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of Petersen’s writing style is his take on point of view. I thoroughly enjoyed the shifts in perspectives among his cast of characters. The author incorporates something not often seen in thrillers–the viewpoint of the antagonist. Readers are treated to a look inside the mind of Petersen’s villain and afforded the opportunity to make judgements from, literally, all sides. This 360° rotation between the main and supporting characters’ perspectives throughout the book is unique, refreshing, and appreciated.
Without giving away too much regarding the book’s conclusion, I will say that the ending was poignant and, in my opinion, leaves room for more books featuring Petersen’s Birthday Club cast. I can easily picture future plot lines growing from the closing scene. From beginning to end, the members of the club touched my heart and kept me guessing. (I wasn’t always right, and I loved that fact.)
Without hesitation, I am giving Jack Petersen’s, The Birthday Club, a solid 5 out of 5 stars. Angelina, Chris, Kurt, and Billy are a winning combination from the moment they meet and discover their September 14th connection to the book’s bitter end. I have not read a book so thoughtfully written and so carefully constructed to give each character a fair shot at telling his or her story. Petersen has set forth a group of personalities, who as a foursome, are a force with which to be reckoned. From Chris, the quiet one, to Angelina, the friend and object of each boy’s blooming love, Petersen has a home run on his hands. The Birthday Club is a mystery/thriller not to be missed.
Pages: 231 | ASIN: B01GDGJ7EE
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Sleepeth Not, the Bastard is a fascinating and thought-provoking look at suicide and how it affects the people around the tragedy. Why was this an important book for you to write?
While I myself have had no direct experiences with suicide, I’ve been around many people who have, and have also been stuck in situations surrounded by people who literally teetered on the edge of themselves with staying alive being on one side of that edge, and ending it all being on the other. It’s a sticky subject to talk about because so many people have a fixed concept in their minds that suicide is always, always, ALWAYS a bad thing. I’ve often questioned it myself, the idea of what it would be like to kill myself (albeit not seriously, just what the scenario would be and why and what would happen after the fact). I suppose it may be strange to think that yes, there can be reasons for one to want to end themselves. After all, we aren’t asked to be born, why can’t we have the freedom to decide when enough is enough? Then again, that’s not exactly the motive behind the suicide factor in this book. It’s become a wonder to me why so many people see victims of suicide as being selfish or even cowardly when it feels as though those left behind couldn’t possibly make that call themselves. To end one’s own life, depending on the circumstances of course, may be the most brave thing someone can do. I wanted to explore that with this book, because when Josh does take the leap, he puts into motion a train wreck that can’t, but also SHOULDN’T be stopped.
Your characters are always well thought out and often go through dramatic transformations throughout the story. What is your writing process like in developing your characters?
Generally, especially as of late, I can’t plan out from the start where my characters will end up by the end of the story. Most of the time I just start writing, and sometimes something in the background or from my memories will inspire me to expand upon said idea. The characters, as with all if not most writers out there, all have a little part of me in them. Sometimes characters turn into what I wish I could be. Sometimes they exist in a world in which I wish I existed, and so on. With “Sleepeth Not, the Bastard”, the characters just sort of came out of me; the dialogue, the exposition, the plot surrounding their actions and influencing their motives. I can’t describe it as well as I’d like. Maybe, if anything, I take the worst of me and put it into the story hoping the characters can figure out for themselves what would be the best course of action.
I understand that you work in the service industry and often travel from state to state. How has your work helped you write your books?
Travel has had a huge influence on my writing. Constantly being in a state of motion is more or less the cheapest drug I’ve ever been able to get my hands on, but with it also comes a slew of emotions. Being away from the people I love, not being able to feel the comfort of my own bed, things like that have a heavy effect on what goes on the page. Meeting people everywhere I go aids significantly in fueling the personalities and behaviors of my characters. As nasty as my job can get, even with the worst days I’ve had while on the clock, being on the road is more than enough to make up for it.
Your stories often cover a wide range of themes in many different genres. What is one genre or theme that you haven’t yet touched but want to write about?
I’ve dabbled in science fiction and fantasy in the way WAY past but don’t think I’ll ever go back, but that could change. I’ve considered tackling psychological horror, sort of in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe and Eli Roth, but there’s very little in the works in that department. Sometimes I’ll watch a horror movie and think, wow… I could definitely write something like that, and it’d be fun and terrifying. But then I get stuck on my other writing, my contemporary fiction kick that I’ve been on for a while. Who knows? After the book I’m currently working on, I might make a go at something completely different.
“The gravity of fate is nothing in comparison to the fleeting warmth of a loved one’s last kiss…”
….thus reads the final words of High School Senior Joshua Feranna.
Several years later, Lew, his father, currently working for a faceless loan shark, has dipped into a drug and lust-filled method of cope. Separated but not divorced, his wife Autumn finally tracks Lew down, begging him to come home to help take care of their identity-in-crisis daughter Zoey.
But when Lew’s friend from high school, Sarah Fox, having lived the life of a drummer in the all-but extinct rock band “The Bastards” returns to town stalked by a rumored “Resurrection Tour”, Lew’s world truly becomes a thing of legend….and doubt.
What transpires from then on is a continuing snowball effect that will inevitably lead to the cataclysmic destruction of one family and others as the world continues to busy itself around them in seamless melancholy.
“Sleepeth Not, the Bastard” is a story about people, each one steadily climbing towards a foreseeable yet undeniable end. Each person influencing the other in one massive string of events escalating and culminating at the end of their respective worlds whether those worlds be of mental, emotional, psychological, or delusional origin.
Part drama, part dark comedy, part rock ‘n roll epic, with a copious and perhaps endless helping of sex, drugs, and infamy… “Sleepeth Not, the Bastard” is a romp for this generation, an homage to those that came before, and a warning for those that follow.
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Wrath of the Fallen is an epic fantasy novel detailing the ferocious clash of angels and demons. What was your inspiration for this story and how did it change as you were writing?
This story has been kicking around in my head for some time. As much as I enjoy the human machinations of stories like Game of Thrones, I really like battles between good and evil as a larger construct over the human element in a story. I crafted this mythology over several years, drawing inspiration from some of my own beliefs, and cobbled them together with different failed story ideas that I came up with as far back as when I was in High School. The opening Prologue, for example, started as a scene from a story set in an entirely different world, but I eventually reworked it to be the jumping off point for this one.
Early in my college career, I was a dishwasher at a restaurant. I worked graveyard, and as you can imagine, I didn’t have a lot to do mentally from the hours of 9 PM-4AM so I started to craft this world in my head to pass the time. I came up with the history of the Mortal Plane, starting over a thousand years before Wrath of the Fallen, and continued it some two thousand years past that first novel with multiple other story ideas that I hope to get to someday. Overall, the initial planning of the world took place over several years, while the actual writing of Wrath took place over roughly two.
The characters in this book are well written and easy to visualize. What were some obstacles in your story that you felt were important for the characters development?
I ran into the issue when crafting the story of making the characters too black and white. I didn’t want to fall into the trap where Trent was always likable and never did anything good, and I wanted to make sure that the antagonist was somewhat sympathetic. The hard part about overcoming this was the good vs. evil divide that was built into the very fabric of the world. This is why I felt that it was important to give Trent his anger issues and resentment towards his father based on what happened in his past. I actually didn’t have him meet his dad in the first draft, but on the rewrite, I knew that adding that scene would give Trent a more realistic and humanistic characterization. Trauma, especially in childhood, fundamentally changes a person, and I wanted what happened to Trent to reflect that. Too many of the orphan chosen-one archetypal heroes are good people through and through and are too well adjusted for my taste. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I wanted to make sure that I gave the villain, even being an evil god, a real human motivation, so I picked what might be the strongest one out there: revenge. He couldn’t just be evil for the sake of being evil, but because he was also defined by trauma.
The backstory and mythology of this story, I can tell, was developed with a lot of thought and care. How did you set about creating the rich background for this story?
As I mentioned earlier, I started coming up with the history while washing dishes. Most of the world is still in my head, though I am finally typing it up into a series bible that I can refer back to. I also laid out an illustrated timeline on my website to allow others to see what the history of the world is leading into the Broken Pact Trilogy, which really helped me pin down specific dates for events that I was fuzzier on in the beginning.
I follow the history through storytelling method of worldbuilding. I would rather write a novel, novella or short story that details a historical event in my world and allow readers to learn the full details that way than writing out a detailed pseudohistory for them to pore over and wonder about. Those certainly have merit, and I enjoy reading them myself, but as a writer, I would much rather tell a story than write a history book.
This is book one in The Broken Pact series. Where does book two pick up and take readers?
Book two will be titled Cries of the Forsaken. It picks up immediately after the events of Wrath, and even a little bit before the final chapters to show us what happened to certain characters that we weren’t previously following. Some heroes that we thought dead return and some that we hoped survived do not. One of the themes of the next novel is good destroying good and evil destroying evil, so be prepared to see the conflict between the gods turned on its head.
The Mortal Plane has long been divided among the servants of Light and Darkness, suffering a thousand years of atrocity by both sides. When one god finally rose up and slew another, The Pact was formed, forestalling any further damage to the realms of men. But now, over the last few decades, signs of the Demons and their mindless Accursed minions have dwindled to an all-time low. It seems that after a thousand years of conflict the Gods of Light and the Gods of Darkness have finally tired of the bloody war. Or have they?
It falls to Trent, a Paladin of the Light with a soul torn with an impossible and unrequited love for his commander and scarred by a childhood filled with despair and pain, to travel beyond the walls of the city to discover what has become of humanity’s ancestral enemy. Only with his closest friend Devin by his side can Trent hope to keep from losing himself. Together the two men track a horde of Demons to a secret that will rock the Mortal Plane to its very foundations.
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Despite the years of bullying in school, Jewel Hart has remained sweet and kind. She has it all—a great life, a great family, and beauty—but she has never been able to obtain the one thing she wants—to belong.
When Jewel meets Kaiden Carter, a good-looking, charming new student at York Mills High, things start to look up. On the surface, he is perfect, but Jewel can’t shake the feeling that everything is not as it seems.
When the devastation of the rising suicides in her school hits too close to home and drives Jewel into a deep despair, she clings to Kaiden’s strength to find her way back. Through the pain and fear surrounding her, she finds hope and the will to go on. But just as she picks herself up, tragedy strikes again, threatening to steal her last glimmer of hope. How will she go on? Can she ever find her place in the world?
RELEASE DATE: December 18, 2017
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To Never Know depicts the story of Steven Lewis, and how he is affected by his life choices, his stalled inertia, and forces far beyond his control.
To Never Know, by Thomas Duffy, is a millennialist coming of age drama centered on the late adolescence and early adulthood of the main character, Steven Lewis. The story starts in 1994 in Queens, New York. Steven is in his Senior year of High School. Steven has a crush on a girl in his class, Kelly Brennan. She seems to be interested in him, finding excuses to interact by asking for his notes and a stick of gum. But he never works up the courage to ask her to Prom.
The story skips past graduation and things have changed for Steven. His life continues a downward progression: his grades are not as good at college as they were in High School, he drops out, takes some time off. He tried calling Kelly again, but he could not bring himself to talk to her.
A family friend encourages him to send Kelly a letter, so he does, on September 10, 2001. Keeping in mind that Kelly lives in New York, you can make some good guesses about where the story goes after that, but this story packs a lot more into it, as Steven’s life events continue to unfold.
This story is an exploration of millennialist worries and fears in a post-9/11 life: adulthood with its ever-increasing responsibilities, how to live a good life, intimacy, isolation, establishing one’s self-identity, and the existential fear of death. The story is deeply emotional, with conflicting emotions. The quality of writing is strong enough to convey nuanced emotions and details. There were a few copy editing issues, but none bad enough to detract from the powerful meaning of the story.
The title, To Never Know, gives some insight into the central themes within the story. There is a strain of philosophical agnosticism (not in the religious sense) that there are unknown unknowns in our lives and that tomorrow is never guaranteed. There is also the theme that there are “bells that cannot be un-rung.” Steven cannot go and have the relationship he wanted. We will never know what life would have been like if one thing would have been changed in the distant past, and we cannot know what tomorrow will bring.
This book is good, but really heavy at times. It is intended for adult audiences, and probably best understood by older millennials. There are depictions of sex, death, terrorism, and coarse language. The content of the story takes an odd twist at one point, and the end is unexpected.
Pages: 208 | ASIN: B01K7RYJB6
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A Guardian Falls starts soon after the events of the first novel, with Mara’s betrothed recovering from his injuries after she rescued him from her father’s killer. What direction did you want to take this novel that was different from book 1 in the series?
I wanted Mara to grow as a character into the heroine everyone needs her to be. In the first book she started off as an immature teen and at the beginning of this book there are notes of that too. I had a reader tell me recently she really didn’t like Mara at the beginning of this book because she was so unsure of herself and treated Kess poorly. But as more responsibility is placed on her Mara rises to the occasion.
At the time this book was written I also did not intend to write another book in this series so I wanted to end the story. Magical artifacts and other races gave me the perfect opportunity for all out war instead of single combat between Mara and Laran. Finally, and this is a spoiler alert, I was able to take Mara’s relationship with Kess to a whole new level.
Mara doubts herself and her destiny throughout the novel, but this makes for a more realistic character. Can you relate to Mara? Was there anything taken from your life that you put into your characters?
I wrote the first draft of this novel when I was a teenager myself. I was young and awkward and I had just lost my dad. Everything I knew was changing around me. Mara mirrors all my insecurities as I navigated the end of high school, a relationship with my boyfriend (who is now my husband) and starting college. She shows my triumphs at those times as well. When you read Mara’s life in a way you are reading mine.
One thing I thought you did well was writing both in-depth dialogue scenes and epic battle sequences. How do you balance both to create an engaging narrative?
I always think of my books like movies. I see the scenes in my head and try to write them that way. For me words should never be static, they should have a life of their own. When done properly you really aren’t reading at all; you’re watching a movie in your head. I’m sure it seems crazy to some but it’s how I read books as well.
I always try to write something I would like to read and aspire to have a great fantasy series. I keep those books and movies in mind when writing and try to emulate those writers. I don’t have a formula on how I write a novel simply because I hate formulas. When I’m writing I try to keep myself intersted in a project. If I’m getting bored so is my reader. I like plot twists and action so whenever I feel the momentum in the book slow it’s time to spice it up. I always have a general plan for a novel. The question is always how I get there.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
The next novel I am working on is the next book in this series with a working title of Descendants Rising: Chronicles of the Coranydas Vol 3. I am aiming for a February 2018 release date and the fourth book should be released later in 2018. I am also writing a short story that will be featured in HallowErotica 2017 due out this Halloween. It is a first person narrative of Nisha Patel’s life before she met Alexandria Diego in For Their Sins.
All looks bleak when Mara is forced to return home after her love’s brush with death. She only has one magical artifact and the army seems out of reach. The consequences should she fail or even succeed finally set in and Mara has doubts about everything. There will be a war of blades and magic with Mara at the center, but Mara wonders if she has the strength to survive.
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The Perfect Teresa follows a 43 year old woman that has hit rock bottom and is given a 2nd chance at high school by an ancient Aztec deity. What was the inspiration for the setup to this imaginative story?
I think we all have those moments we wish we could go back and re-do for whatever reason, whether it be an embarrassing childhood experience or something you wish you’d done differently as an adult. Of course, none of us can go back and do anything over, at least not without something completely absurd and fantastical happening. That’s really how this story came about. The “what if” question was, “What if there was some way, some kind of cosmic intervention that would allow someone to go back in time and re-do an experience?” And, yes, I’ve thought of what I’d do in a situation like that! So little by little, the pieces began to fall into place, and authors like Christopher Moore and Jenny Lawson really helped me to see that sometimes the most absurd things made the most sense. So, yes, an unemployed Aztec deity sending a woman back in time to do a talent show over again? Makes perfect sense to me!
Authors can often fudge the details in time traveling stories, but I felt that the 80’s was captured perfectly in The Perfect Teresa. What kind of research did you do to get it right or did you pull from experience?
So I guess I’ll date myself and say that a lot of the stuff in this novel is from experience and memory because I did attend high school in the late 80s! It was a fun process to re-discover 1988 New York City, and it involved everything from getting back in touch with childhood friends through Facebook, to doing lots of searches on Google Images and Google Maps. My old buddies really helped me piece together our old neighborhood (like remembering the Susan Terry store on the corner of Ditmars and 31st Street), while Google Maps helped me walk through some old haunts and rediscover old landmarks. The other big part of this process was music. I love music, and in 1988 I was really big into the underground metal scene. So just being able to put these playlists together and listen to these old metal and 80s pop songs really helped me situate the story. You can find a YouTube link to this unofficial soundtrack for the story on my website!
Teresa’s character is intriguing and well developed. She can’t move forward and is trapped in this sad, drunken life where happiness eludes her. What was your inspiration for her character?
Thank you! In some ways, Teresa embodies a lot of the self doubt and self sabotage that I’ve had to overcome throughout my life. But in many ways, her character was inspired by Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, which I think is the one of the great stories about personal redemption through service to others. Like his character, Teresa starts off very unlikeable, very self-centered, and, as you said in your review, unwilling to take accountability for her actions. She’s got a long history of dumb, self-destructive tendencies, and she never wants to acknowledge that this is why her life is in ruins. But I wanted her story to be about self-discovery, and about realizing that her selfish actions have real consequences for others. So like Murray’s character, she has to learn through this new experience that there are things more important than a silly talent show, and that there’s real happiness in providing help and happiness to others. I hope that by the story’s end, we find her journey plausible and redeeming.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
I’m working on two projects. One is a new time-travel sci-fi series tentatively called Quality Jones and the Time Keepers. But I’ve also started work on the sequel to The Perfect Teresa, titled The Perfect Vicente. I’m hoping to publish one of the other by the end of the year!
Lucky for her, an unemployed Aztec deity applying for Quetzalcoatl’s Trickster Department offers to grant Teresa her wish. He’ll send her back to 1988 to re-do the talent show! Catch? There’s no catch! After all, he’s a fully licensed deity with a Masters in Temporal Displacement Theory and a bachelors in Trickster Sciences and Cosmic Mischief. Besides, a talking coyote can be trusted, right?
For Teresa, it seems like the chance of a lifetime. But she soon finds that changing the past won’t be as easy as she thought, especially without Wikipedia. And that in a desperate effort to make her life better, she might end up making things much, much worse.
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Adam’s Stepsons follows Dr. Heimann as he designs the perfect soldiers for the United America’s in their war against the Martian colonies. What was your inspiration for the setup to this interesting science fiction story?
At the time I wrote the kernel of the story, I was working in a used bookstore and devouring all the short stories and novels by Phillip K Dick and Robert Heinlein that I could lay hands on. I was (and still am) fascinated by questions of “what is reality?” but I was (and still am) also intrigued by the question “who am I?” not only in terms of shared realities and perceptions but also ethnicities, religions, and personal relationships within the family. The sense of self is inextricably bound with community and history; my own family history, for example, is filled with generation after generation of soldier in nearly every major conflict since the 1680s. So I knew that I wanted the story of Dr. Heimann and his clones to take place during a military conflict of some sort. The US made it to the Moon first, so I figured any Moon Base would be set up by a future version of the US. But the rising powers of India and China would necessarily lead to competition and colonial expansion elsewhere in space. So I based the UAAF on the Moon, India on the ISS, and China (basically) on Mars. But something has gone wrong, as it usually does, and that sets off the conflict.
I should point out that, when I initially plotted the story and sketched out the characters, Dolly the Sheep hadn’t been announced, Battlestar Galactica was a late ’70s TV show starring Lorne Greene, and “The Clone Wars” still consisted of a single line spoken by Obi-Wan Kenobi. So as much as I’d love to say that I got the idea for soldier clones from the current zeitgeist, the underlying premise of Adam’s Stepsons actually predates the trend. My high school library had beat-up copies of Nancy Freedman’s Joshua, Son of None, and Ben Bova’s The Multiple Man, so it’s likely I internalized elements from those stories and subconsciously reproduced them in my own story.
Dr. Heimann and one of his cloned soldiers, Seth, have an intriguing relationship that becomes very deep. What were the driving ideals that drove the characters development throughout the story?
Dr. Heimann prides himself on his scientific bent of mind, but he struggles to cope to grips with the fact that he basically has no family left, and as Seth grows and begins to develop a real emotional attachment, the doctor desperately tries to push away the feelings he had for the person Seth is clone of. Meanwhile Seth has been trained (“brainwashed,” as the doctor puts it) to be an efficient killing machine, and his need for order compels him to seek out and eliminate anything unknown or unreasonable. Yet he, himself, can’t help feeling strong conflicting emotions, first toward the doctor and then toward his fellow clones. Both characters are driven to discover, deep down, who they really are as people, outside their rigid societal roles as scientist and soldier. Dr. Heimann knows that Seth is not his real son, but can’t help treating his stepson’s clone familiarly because it reminds him of what he has lost. Seth has been “programmed” not to think of anything other than army orders, but he can’t shake the sense that there is more to who he is as a person. Finding out he is a clone, and who his “brothers” are, is the trigger for the final confrontation.
Science fiction has always asked the ‘what if’ questions, but I feel that your novel went a step further. What were some ideals you used in building your story?
My original intention was to investigate not just the “what if” of human cloning (i.e., how would this be done? how would the clones grow physically and mentally?) but also the “what is self?” to a cloned human being. The scientists argue that personality is partly inherited and partly environmental; so if you were to make several different clones of one person and then controlled the information input, they would all become the same person. But personality also consists of emotional attachments made with other human beings on a deeper social level. Human beings are social animals; we need other humans to survive and thrive, and without others we have no clear sense of who we are and what our purpose is. So in order to examine this in a futuristic setting like a clone facility on the Moon, I needed to have a reason for making clones in the first place, plus other people who would provide the clones with that social environment. Once that was established, the real question became “Is what we’re doing morally ethical?” The military paying for the clones display classic cognitive dissonance, by using people they claim are not really people but know they actually are, in order to win what they call a morally righteous war but actually is destroying their entire society. Yet the General clearly also feels a sense of internal conflict, feeling obligated to protect every member under his command, including the clones, and also knowing through his friendship with Dr. Heimann who the clone really is and how this might affect his friend. Ultimately, I was interested in making sure none of the characters were typical “scifi” stereotypes, that they had ideals but were deeply flawed people, and ultimately would find themselves trying to make the best of what basically could turn out to be a lose-lose situation in the end.
What is the next book that you’re working on and when will it be available?
Right now I have a couple of projects I’m working on in various stages, but the one most closely related to Adam’s Stepsons is a metaphysical science fiction series set mostly on Mars. The first book is called Bringer of Light; a crew of ethnically diverse and somewhat misfit asteroid hunters recovers an extra solar object from beyond the solar system, experiences physical and spiritual changes, and ultimately becomes the new leaders of the united Mars colonies as they break away from the old political chaos of Earth and form a new society. The story combines hard science with various mystical systems of belief, ethnic and religious sense of self and identity, and international/interspacial political intrigue. I’m about a third the way through the initial draft; the aim is to finish writing by the end of summer 2017, and have an edited, polished manuscript done by spring 2018. The next two books (Defenders of Aeropagus and Return to Omphales) have already been outlined and plotted.
Dr. Johann Heimann designed the perfect soldiers: superhuman in strength and intelligence, immune to sickness and disease, programmed to lead the United Americas to a quick victory in the Mars Colony War. But Heimann didn’t anticipate the military’s unrealistic demands, or his own emotional responses to his creations. And now Number Six is calling him “Father”! What exactly is going on during the clones’ personality imprinting cycle? As Heimann starts his investigation, Number Six grows in confidence and self-awareness…and both discover the project hides a secret even Heimann, himself, doesn’t suspect…
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