The Qwillery | category: 2021 DAC Interview | (page 2 of 2)


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

Interview with J. S. Dewes, author of The Last Watch

Please welcome J. S. Dewes to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Last Watch was published on April 20, 2021 by Tor Books.

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

J. S.:  Thank you so much for having me!

I have a problematically terrible memory, and can’t even begin to recall what my first piece of fiction might have been! My first vague memory of writing fiction was probably from third grade or so, when my teacher told us to forget about spelling and grammar and just get our ideas on the page. I think that comment somewhat horrified my mother, haha, but in retrospect it was actually great advice! You can’t revise a blank page, after all. :)

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

J. S.:  I definitely started out a full-on pantser, and I discovery wrote all of The Last Watch. However, since then I’ve written two more books and learned a lot more about myself as a writer in the process. Though I wouldn’t say I’ve settled fully, I’m currently pretty much a hybrid. I’ve frankensteined a flexible plot structure from a few different sources that works well for the kind of stories I like to tell, and I’ve used it to help my panster brain craft those pesky outlines editors and agents sometimes want to see.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

J. S.:  Though every phase has its different challenges, I find organizing revisions probably the most difficult. Though I’ve devised a system that works pretty well for me, setting up a revision plan within that system is hugely time consuming, and I definitely wish my brain was able to just contain and process it all at once, and I wouldn’t have to structure it all within a ridiculously detailed organization scheme. Alas.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing? How does script writing affect (or not) your novel writing?

J. S.:  I draw from a wide variety of influences—video games, films and television, concept art (Pinterest & Art Station), and more. Music is a big one—all my story ideas thus far have come from song lyrics, and music is a part of my process during every phase of writing. I love creating playlists for different books, scenes, moods, and characters, and it’s a big part of my creative immersion process. (Which is greatly helpful when you can only squeeze in an hour or two of writing a day!)

And yes, I definitely think script writing had an impact on my novel writing. Though I didn’t fully realize it at the time, looking back I think that experience informed my instincts while pantsing my first couple novels; I didn’t have to undertake any structural edits at any point for The Last Watch, and I think that was in large part due to my understanding of plot and pacing from having written screenplays. There are definitely other relevant skills that transfer, especially things like showing versus telling, characterization, and dialogue.

TQDescribe The Last Watch using only 5 words.

J. S.:  Criminal soldiers fight danger physics!

TQTell us something about The Last Watch that is not found in the book description.

J. S.:  Despite the high concept conveyed in the blurb, the story is actually very tightly focused on the characters and their relationships. Also, there are 144 instances of the F word.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Last Watch? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

J. S.:  The original concept for The Last Watch was inspired by a song lyric! There’s a song I’ve loved for years called “Highwayman” (written by Jimmy Webb, performed by The Highwaymen), with a line: “I’ll fly a starship across the universe divide.” That got me thinking about what might lie outside the confines of the universe, or what might happen if the universe stopped expanding and you tried to find the edge.

Science fiction is great for so many reasons—outer space, aliens, and fun technology not least among them. But when it gets down to it, I love science fiction because it gives you a really unique way to reframe modern issues, allowing you to explore and attack those questions through a different but familiar lens. There’s also just a very specific mix of wonder and fear only science fiction can evoke, and that’s always intrigued me.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Last Watch?

J. S.:  Quite a lot of research went into The Last Watch! Some of the minor categories were things like military protocol, ordnance, political science, computer & electronic engineering, and I did a fair amount of digging into fusion reactors (specifically ITER.)
      The biggest research category by far was physics, in pretty much every flavor. Physical cosmology was a big one (shape of the universe, components, structure, etc.), as well as gravitational physics, relativity, quantum mechanics, and some specifics regarding zero-g and weightlessness. And math, so much math. I truly dread math, but it’s a necessary evil in the world of physic
     I definitely *over* researched, considering what made it into the actual text. I tried to make my science as “believable” and realistic as possible, while allowing for variation when it best served the story to expand outside of those margins. I didn’t want to alienate readers by going on long technical rants, and wanted the experience to stay focused on the characters and plot, with science and technology as a background. As a result, I think this falls somewhat firmly in the center of hard and soft sci-fi, but we’ll see what the readers think about that. :)

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Last Watch.

J. S.:  I absolutely love how the cover turned out! As soon as my editor suggested the concept, I readily agreed, and couldn’t wait to see it come to fruition. Asking for a depiction of utter annihilation from space and time at the edge of the universe is a pretty big ask, but designer Peter Lutjen...well...annihilated it. Between the contrasting colors, gradient of stars, and surreal depiction of unraveling matter, it perfectly evokes the scope and existential chaos of the setting.

TQIn The Last Watch who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

J. S.:  I’m lucky in that pretty much all my characters went very easy on me, and I love writing all of them! But if I had to pick one as the easiest, I’d go with Cavalon Mercer, the sarcastic disowned prince who’s one of the two point of view characters. It’s like there’s a switch in my brain I can just flip at will to turn on his voice, and he just flows right out of me and onto the page. Writing from his perspective is so easy, and a total blast!
      The most difficult was probably Griffith Bach. Though he’s not a POV character, he’s definitely in the category of “primary” and I’d (accidentally) wildly underdeveloped him in the early drafts. During revisions my editor encouraged me to flesh him out, and I quickly realized I’d created kind of a cardboard cut-out of a person.
      Most of the time when I’m writing characters, their histories and personalities and secrets come through to me pretty naturally, but that wasn’t so much the case with Griffith. I really had to dig into his backstory and mindset and come up with a lot of “off screen” content in order flesh him out for the final draft. The result was absolutely incredible however, and the way he ties into the plot and other characters now is light-years better than before, so I’m super glad I went to the effort!

TQDoes The Last Watch touch on any social issues?

J. S.:  Yes, definitely! Though the setting of The Last Watch is fairly contained, there are a lot of subplots and hints in the worldbuilding surrounding the social issues prevalent in their society—topics like segregation, discrimination, human rights, as well as moral questions in regards to things like cloning and eugenics. Without getting into spoilers, I can say that the second book in the series delves more deeply into some broader social and political issues, some of which, coincidentally, more directly reflect our own society than I would like. :)

TQWhich question about The Last Watch do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

J. S.: “Do you want fan art for The Last Watch?”
         Why yes, yes I do!

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Last Watch.

J. S.:  “You do not seem appropriately shocked.”

          “Physics doesn’t really give a shit about your existential disposition, Rake!”

TQWhat's next?

J. S.:  Next up for me is the release of The Exiled Fleet on August 17—the second book in The Divide series and sequel The Last Watch! I’ll also be continuing my “virtual tour” for The Last Watch with some panels and chats with other authors, all of which I’m very much looking forward to!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

J. S.:  Thank you so much for having me!

The Last Watch
The Divide 1
Tor Books, April 20, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 480 pages
The Expanse meets Game of Thrones in J. S. Dewes's fast-paced, sci-fi adventure The Last Watch, where a handful of soldiers stand between humanity and annihilation.

Most Anticipated Book for April 2021:
Nerd Daily
Geek Tyrant
SFF 180

Amazon Best of the Month April 2021

The Divide.

It’s the edge of the universe.

Now it’s collapsing—and taking everyone and everything with it.

The only ones who can stop it are the Sentinels—the recruits, exiles, and court-martialed dregs of the military.

At the Divide, Adequin Rake commands the Argus. She has no resources, no comms—nothing, except for the soldiers that no one wanted. Her ace in the hole could be Cavalon Mercer--genius, asshole, and exiled prince who nuked his grandfather's genetic facility for “reasons.”

She knows they’re humanity's last chance.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo


The Exiled Fleet
The Divide 2
Tor Books, August 17, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
J. S. Dewes continues her fast paced, science fiction action adventure with The Exiled Fleet, where The Expanse meets The Black Company—the survivors of The Last Watch refuse to die.

The Sentinels narrowly escaped the collapsing edge of the Divide.

They have mustered a few other surviving Sentinels, but with no engines they have no way to leave the edge of the universe before they starve.

Adequin Rake has gathered a team to find the materials they'll need to get everyone out.

To do that they're going to need new allies and evade a ruthless enemy. Some of them will not survive.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

About J. S. Dewes
Photo by Dave Dewes

After graduating from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in film production, J. S. Dewes went on to serve as cinematographer for independent films, write, produce, and shoot a zombie musical, slay internet dragons, and act as lighting designer for presidents and presidential-hopefuls so many times it became mundane. Having grown weary of such pedestrian exploits, she decided to begin forging worlds in the form of novels, returning to her roots in science fiction and the written word.

She currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband, who’s proven to be a mixed blessing, but he makes her laugh, so she’s decided to stick it out. They have two dogs (full blessings) and a cat of unpredictable demeanor. The Last Watch is her debut novel.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @jsdewes

Interview with Erik Hoel, author of The Revelations

Please welcome Erik Hoel to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Revelations is published on April 6, 2021 by The Overlook Press.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Erik a very Happy Book Birthday!

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

Erik:  A novella called Homecoming was probably the first good piece that I wrote, back in high school. It was filled with thinly veiled friends and acquaintances and quickly made the rounds, much to my chagrin.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Erik:  Hybrid. Individual scenes come out at least somewhat resembling their final form, but the ordering of scenes and the shifting around of things within scenes is constant. For every two steps forward in writing, I take one step back to edit everything else once again.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Erik:  Writing is easy, breaking into the publishing industry is hard. Especially if you don’t have an MFA. And I say that as someone who had a number of both fiction and nonfiction awards going in.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Erik:  All sorts of writers, like Bruno Schulz, Karen Russell, Dow Mossman, or Richard Powers. Far too many to name. A lot of classic authors as well. I read Moby-Dick five times during the writing of The Revelations, along with all Melville’s other works. What attracted me was how much nonfiction Melville put in his fiction: entire chapters just devoted to describing whaling, which is indeed a fascinating, almost metaphysical, enterprise. I was trying to do the same thing, but with how science works rather than how whaling works. And of course, the richness of Melville’s language. Obviously by modern standards Melville’s pacing is insanely slow, but some things he does are just pure magic that contemporary authors can only hope to partially replicate.

TQDescribe The Revelations using only 5 words.

Erik:  Brains investigating brains investigating brains.

TQTell us something about The Revelations that is not found in the book description.

Erik:  What’s not discussed is that this is very much a novel about New York City. The city is described in mind-like terms, as if the city has its own consciousness, which is evinced in its psychogeography. The subway system, as well the city’s homeless denizens, act as the city’s unconsciousness and show up at important plot points.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Revelations?

Erik:  This is a novel about science, but not futuristic technologies or theories like traditional science fiction. It’s about the process of science, about scientists as humans. Pretty much everything that is described: the brains in vats, monkeys with holes in their heads, animal research, how science itself progresses, are all based on real things, things I’ve witnessed. So it’s inspired from my own experience. Very originally it was simply an idea I had when I was young, an idea of wanting to write a novel about science. But back then it was pretty formless, and it took years for the actual mechanics of the book to assert itself.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Revelations?

Erik:  The book is all about the search for a scientific theory of consciousness. As I said, I’d had the idea for a novel that took place in the world of science since before college. Eventually I realized the most interesting aspects of science are when things are unknown, when there’s still work to be done. So I received my PhD in neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, helping develop aspects of the leading scientific theory of consciousness, Integrated Information Theory. I went on to become a professor at Tufts University. Certainly in the back of my mind during my scientific career I was always researching the novel, so this is something based on more than ten years of research. And it is research of the most in-depth kind one could imagine, since I was living it.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Revelations.

Erik:  The team at Overlook Press and Abrams Books did an incredible job. It’s a gorgeous look that captures the chromatic nature of the novel itself. This is a novel that contains almost every genre within it: romance, murder mystery, science fiction. But at the same time, it constantly shifts and frustrates the more traditional aspects of those plots. The cover even kind of looks like the helix of DNA, but again, not quite.

TQIn The Revelations who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Erik:  All major characters I found easy to write. The hardest to write for me are always the minor characters. There are a significant number of characters in The Revelations, as it centers around a program at NYU with eight young scientists, and that’s not counting the professors and students and staff, and of course other New Yorkers. Having a person not be a caricature while only appearing for just a moment or having a few minor lines is always difficult, since their bandwidth to express themselves is so low.

TQDoes The Revelations touch on any social issues?

Erik:  I’ll mention an issue relatively underexamined in literature, which is the plight of the graduate student and the difficulties of academia. Perhaps this seems specific or niche, but almost 15% of Americans now get a graduate degree. The sciences, and academia in general, are filled with complex and extremely hierarchical relationships. If you get on the wrong side of someone higher up in the hierarchy than you, like a professor when you’re a PhD student, they can make your life hell. Graduate programs can be great, but they also put a person in a position of powerlessness. This plays a big part in the novel.

TQWhich question about The Revelations do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Erik:  There’s a bunch of hidden references that I’m interested if readers get. Certainly, they don’t have to in order to enjoy the book! But it can be an extra little jolt of fun for a reader when they do get one. Every classic philosophical thought experiment shows up at some point, hidden in characters’ backstories. Some are more obvious ones: e.g., there is a character Carmen who faces a “mind-body problem.” Her character’s backstory is moving from the world of appearances to the world behind appearances when she starts to study consciousness and becomes a scientist. Others are more subtle, like references to Kierkegaard’s philosophy and life.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Revelations.

Erik:  Some of the most fun parts to write were excerpts of Kierk’s journal. Most of the book is traditional in its third-person narration, but on occasion the reader gets a glimpse into what he’s writing. The journal contains his frenetic musings about a scientific theory of consciousness, which is always something like:

“Yes, the history of the world has been, and ever will be, written in consciousness, and they are the only words that matter! Imagine then what that final theory will entail, what it will give us: a sensorium syntax as pristine as mathematics, a dialect of pure consciousness. Imagine what type of alien utterances it will allow, for to write in such a language, to speak in such a language… No poet has ever come close. Words blow away as empty signs next to the white-hot heat of it! There is something it is like to be!”

TQWhat's next?

Erik:  I have several ideas for future novels that I’ve been playing with. One is a mystery set at Burning Man, the other is a novel about my childhood that contains a lot of magical realism. But I don’t write books unless they feel necessary. The one thing I can’t stand is art that appears needless, like it’s a career exercise for the author and there’s nothing at stake. It’s just another book they’ve put out. In order for me to write I need everything to be at stake. And other people’s time is valuable, so if someone gives me a few hours I want to give them an experience that’s actually, you know, novel.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Erik:  Thanks for having me here, it’s been fun!

The Revelations
The Overlook Press, April 6, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 368 pages
An edgy and ambitious debut about neuroscience, death, and the search for the theory of human consciousness, by a powerful new voice in contemporary literary fiction

Monday, Kierk wakes up. Once a rising star in neuroscience, Kierk Suren is now homeless, broken by his all-consuming quest to find a scientific theory of consciousness. But when he’s offered a spot in a prestigious postdoctoral program, he decides to rejoin society and vows not to self-destruct again. Instead of focusing on his work, however, Kierk becomes obsessed with another project—investigating the sudden and suspicious death of a colleague. As his search for truth brings him closer to Carmen Green, another postdoc, their list of suspects grows, along with the sense that something sinister may be happening all around them.

The Revelations, not unlike its main character, is ambitious and abrasive, challenging and disarming. Bursting with ideas, ranging from Greek mythology to the dark realities of animal testing, to some of the biggest unanswered questions facing scientists today, The Revelations is written in muscular, hypnotic prose, and its cyclically dreamlike structure pushes the boundaries of literary fiction. Erik Hoel has crafted a stunning debut of rare power—an intense look at cutting-edge science, consciousness, and human connection.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

About Erik

Erik Hoel received his PhD in neuroscience from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a research assistant professor at Tufts University and was previously a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University in the NeuroTechnology Center and a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Hoel is a 2018 Forbes “30 Under 30” for his neuroscientific research on consciousness and a Center for Fiction NYC Emerging Writer Fellow. The Revelations is his debut novel. He lives on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

Website  Twitter @erikphoel

Interview with C. L. Clark, author of The Unbroken

Please welcome C. L. Clark to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Unbroken is published on March 23, 2021 by Orbit.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing C. L. a very Happy Book Birthday!

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

C.L.:  Hi! Thanks for having me! First thing I really remember writing is a horror story in third or fourth grade in the vein of R.L. Stein. I think. I used to tell ‘ghost’ stories to my cousins on the hour long drives to church every Sunday. Ironically, I’m a scaredy cat now.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

C.L.:  At this point in the game, a plotter. My first draft of The Unbroken was largely pantsed with some ideas for where I wanted to go, but that ended up with so many full revision drafts, trying desperately to figure out how to make the story work. In the middle of that process, though, I read a lot of craft books trying to find a way to make that process easier. One of them was Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and overall, I jived pretty well with that process and though I’ve adapted it to my own style, it’s a pretty intuitive way to plot at least the first outline. What happens after I start drafting, though...heh.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

C.L.:  Mm. Writing politics. Which, as you can imagine, makes writing military/political-fantasy a very particular challenge...let’s just say I question my life choices on a regular basis.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

C.L.:  Everything. Maybe that’s a copout, but it’s true. Music, especially folk songs. History. History or historical societies inspire me a lot--The Unbroken came from several different historical ideas, like the European powers and their colonization of Africa, the conscription of soldiers from the colonies to use in world wars and their treatment (as well as treatment of Black soldiers in the US), and the forced separation and re-education of indigenous and colonized children across the world. I suppose historical isn’t necessarily accurate; all of this is ongoing in some way or another.

TQDescribe The Unbroken using only 5 words.

C.L.:  Mmm, I think it’s summed up pretty well with the tagline on the cover (thanks, Angeline!): “Every empire deserves a revolution.”

TQTell us something about The Unbroken that is not found in the book description.

C.L.:  The mother-daughter relationship is key. I love it.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Unbroken? What appeals to you about writing fantasy?

C.L.:  History, as I mentioned above but specifically, this project came from three classes I was taking at the same time in university: post-colonial literary theory course, and Francophone African literature, as well as this independent research project I did on violent women in fantasy. The thing that appeals most to me is getting to do cool shit--but I’m also an academic, so I like being able to do cool shit like write about riding dragons while also grappling with the real world.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Unbroken?

C.L.:  Oh, man. A lot, though some of it was what I gathered incidentally from classes. In grad school, I added war literature to my post-colonial focus. More actively, I also took some intensive courses in Arabic in the US and Morocco and spent some time researching at l’Institut du Monde Arabe (the Institute of the Arab World) in Paris so that I better understood the colonial relationships past and present. Lots of primary and secondary sources in both places, as well as the friends I made in Morocco who talked about their experiences. This was already my area of academic focus, but traveling made things much more personal. There are a lot of commonalities in Black lives in the US and present/past colonized people all over the world.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Unbroken.

C.L.:  IT IS THE BEST!!! It’s a Tommy Arnold (you might know him from his Gideon and Harrow the Ninth covers), and was designed by Lauren Panepinto. We wanted play with the trope of the male protagonist on the front cover in power poses and thrones, but with a woman. So this is Touraine, standing amidst the pillars in the Grand Temple. I couldn’t possibly be more thrilled with how it turned out.

TQIn The Unbroken who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

C.L.:  Touraine was the character whose voice was hardest to nail down, and I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if I have yet. The Jackal, I think, was the easiest, though she didn’t show up until the last draft before querying. Once I did, though, everything about her was crystal clear--it unlocked a lot of the story.

TQDoes The Unbroken touch on any social issues?

C.L.:  Absolutely.

TQWhich question about The Unbroken do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

C.L.:  What are some books you think The Unbroken is in conversation with?

What I was directly thinking about while I was writing...The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson and The Thousand Names by Django Wexler and The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar. Baru, because I also wanted to think about what happens to the colonized kids raised within the system, and the Shadow Campaigns series by reversing the usual hero/villain role in conquest fantasies, and finally The Winged Histories because I wanted to show the different perspectives of women in war, those who choose violence, those who choose peace, those who choose poetry, those who heal (originally, Djasha was also a point of view character and I wanted the teacher, the politician, and the soldier).

Other (first in series) books to pair it with that came out recently: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine and Savage Legion by Matt Wallace.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Unbroken.

C.L.:  Ohh...I think my favorite ones are all spoilery. Hm…oh, here’s a favorite:

“Balladaire was a land of gifts and punishment, honey and whips, devastating mercies.”

TQWhat's next?

C.L.:  Working on the second and third books of The Magic of the Lost trilogy mostly, but I’m also a guest editor for the upcoming We’re Here: Best of Queer Speculative Fiction 2020, which I’m editing with Charles Payseur. It’s coming from Neon Hemlock later this year. I’ll also have some short stories, essays, and a few virtual interviews over the next few months.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Unbroken
The Magic of the Lost 1
Orbit Books, March 23, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 544 pages
"A perfect military fantasy: brutal, complex, human and impossible to put down." – Tasha Suri, author of Empire of Sand

In an epic fantasy unlike any other, two women clash in a world full of rebellion, espionage, and military might on the far outreaches of a crumbling desert empire.

Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.

Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet's edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.

Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren't for sale.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

About C. L. Clark

C.L. Clark graduated from Indiana University's creative writing MFA. She's been a personal trainer, an English teacher, and an editor, and is some combination thereof as she travels the world. When she's not writing or working, she's learning languages, doing P90something, or reading about war and [post-]colonial history. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, FIYAH, PodCastle and Uncanny. You can follow her on Twitter C_L_Clark.

Website  ~  Twitter C_L_Clark.

Interview with Joshua Phillip Johnson, author of The Forever Sea

Please welcome Joshua Phillip Johnson to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Forever Sea was published on January 19, 2021 by DAW.

The QwilleryWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

Joshua Phillip Johnson:  Thanks so much for having me here! I have very vivid memories of writing Pokemon fan fiction on the computer in my parents' room. I saved it on a floppy drive that I labelled "Stories of Fun Adventures," and I must have added to it every day for about 6 months. I eventually moved on to other things, but that was the start for me: imagining myself in a world with tiny monstrous friends going on fun adventures. I lost that floppy drive at some point, which is probably for the best.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

JJ:  I'm a pantser who is trying to be a plotter! I'm bad at outlining, but writing is so much easier for me when I take the time and slog through the plotting process before I draft.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

JJ:  All of it! Writing is really hard for me, but it's a challenge I really love. Most difficult, though, is probably pushing past my internal editor on a first draft.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

JJ:  Other books primarily, but also the environment, politics, conversations with friends and other writers, relationships with family, colleagues, and friends. I tend to think everything in a writer's world makes its way into their work in some form or another, but books and the environment are probably top of my list for conscious and intentional influences.

TQDescribe The Forever Sea using only 5 words.

JJ:  The uncut hair of graves.

TQTell us something about The Forever Sea that is not found in the book description.

JJ:  There's a frame narrative surrounding Kindred's story, one told by a mysterious character known only as the Storyteller. His parts are some of my favorite, so I won't spoil them!

TQWhat inspired you to write The Forever Sea? What appeals to you about writing fantasy?

JJ:  I live in a place that was once covered in tallgrass prairie, and there are still remnants of it around here. I was inspired by that (mostly) lost landscape. Fantasy is my favorite genre to read, and I love writing it, too! Maybe it seems naive or childish, but I'm so interested in stories about magic, in part because it's awesome, but also because it feels really relevant to our world today. My favorite band, Cloud Cult, has this great line in one of their songs: "Everything is magic 'til you think it's not." So much of the world feels that way to me, and so stories that find joy in magic--both literal and metaphorical--are still my favorite!

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Forever Sea?

JJ: I'm lucky to teach at a university, so I spent time talking with and interviewing a colleague who studies the prairie. I also read books about prairie landscapes and had my copy of Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie at hand whenever I was writing. For the boat bits, I went sailing with friends of mine who have a small sailboat and spent a wonderful long afternoon at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. I'm sure I still got plenty of things wrong, and those mistakes are all mine.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Forever Sea.

JJ:  I was so fortunate to get two wonderful covers for the book.

1) The US cover is by the brilliant Marc Simonetti, and the jacket design is by Katie Anderson. The cover shows The Errant, a harvesting vessel that features prominently in the book, cutting across the Forever Sea, a fibrous spray of prairie plants filling the air around it. It's amazing and I love it.

2) The UK cover is by the amazing Julia Lloyd, and it depicts Kindred, the main character, standing in the Forever Sea, staring ahead at the ghostly image of a ship in the near distance. Much of the book pivots around Kindred's desire to know what's beyond the known parameters of the sea--what's beyond the horizon and what's below the surface, and it's so meaningful and cool to have a cover with her being in the Sea.

TQIn The Forever Sea who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

JJ:  Little Wing was maybe the easiest to write. She's the quartermaster/second in command aboard The Errant, and she's a character I love deeply. I'm not sure why, but her parts always came very naturally to me. Maybe because she's straightforward and focused in ways I only wish I could be. Anyway, I love her.

Hardest was Kindred, which is a problem since she's the main character! She can be quite internal and reactive (much like me), and I often found her at odds with a plot that was pushing forward. Writing her character may have been a bit of self help for me. :-)

TQDoes The Forever Sea touch on any social issues?

JJ:  Definitely! Environmentalism is always a social issue; people are disproportionately affected by scarcity and environmental problems based on race and class, and any climate solutions we come up with will need to seriously engage racial justice and social justice issues. I don't think that The Forever Sea is any sort of key text for these things, but they were all in my mind while writing.

The other is sexuality. Writing this book helped me come out as bisexual. This novel isn't about that process; Kindred is much more comfortable with her sexuality than I was while writing, and I'm still not in a place where I'm ready to talk much about it, but those ideas are certainly present.

TQWhich question about The Forever Sea do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

JJ:  Hmm! What a great prompt! I'd love someone to ask "Which plant mentioned in the novel is your favorite?" And my answer would be prairie smoke! It's such a gentle, unassuming plant, and when it blooms, it lets loose these long, fuzzy hairs that catch and move in the wind like tendrils of smoke.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Forever Sea.

JJ:  The first is from Kindred's first time really experiencing the Forever Sea: "What had been before only an unremarkable throw of green, monotonous and monolithic, became more for Kindred. She saw the rise and wave of more big bluestem around her, and other plants too--each one articulating radical existences in the spaces between light and dark green, between yellow and gold, between stalk and stem.

"Every blade a doorway and every shadow an entrance to a life Kindred had never known but which called to her all the same."

The second is a riddle Kindred buys: "Little-light, fallen from above. Sun sight without eye. Young, I follow dawn. Old, I drop young."

TQWhat's next?

JJ:  I need to revise the sequel to The Forever Sea, but I've also started work on a new project. It's still too fresh to really talk about, but I can say it's a fantasy novel with a math-based magic system, weird death rituals, and dangerously different ideas about green energy.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

JJ:  Thanks so much for having me!

The Forever Sea
DAW, January 19, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 464 pages
The first book in a new environmental epic fantasy series set in a world where ships kept afloat by magical hearthfires sail an endless grass sea.

On the never-ending, miles-high expanse of prairie grasses known as the Forever Sea, Kindred Greyreach, hearthfire keeper and sailor aboard harvesting vessel The Errant, is just beginning to fit in with the crew of her new ship when she receives devastating news. Her grandmother—The Marchess, legendary captain and hearthfire keeper—has stepped from her vessel and disappeared into the sea.

But the note she leaves Kindred suggests this was not an act of suicide. Something waits in the depths, and the Marchess has set out to find it.

To follow in her grandmother’s footsteps, Kindred must embroil herself in conflicts bigger than she could imagine: a water war simmering below the surface of two cultures; the politics of a mythic pirate city floating beyond the edges of safe seas; battles against beasts of the deep, driven to the brink of madness; and the elusive promise of a world below the waves.

Kindred finds that she will sacrifice almost everything—ship, crew, and a life sailing in the sun—to discover the truth of the darkness that waits below the Forever Sea.

About Joshua Phillip Johnson

Joshua Phillip Johnson lives in a little green house on what used to be the prairie with his partner and their child. His work has appeared in Syntax & Salt, The Future Fire, and Metaphorosis Magazine, among others. He teaches at a small liberal arts university. The Forever Sea is his first novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @JohnsonJoshuaP

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