The Qwillery | category: Overlook Press


The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

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 Lee Markham, author of The Truants

Please welcome Lee Markham to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Truants was published on July 11th by The Overlook Press.

Interview with Lee Markham, author of The Truants

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Lee:  I’ve written for as long as I’ve been able to, all the way back to my early childhood. Storytelling has always been a big thing on both sides of my family. I’m Irish on my mother’s side, and they always like to spin a good yarn. On my father’s side, lots of Christianity (to which I seem to have an immunity, if not quite an allergy) – including quite a few preachers in the bloodline. So the why part of the question doesn’t really apply, or at least feels like it doesn’t – storytelling is something I’ve always been made of, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t make stuff up.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Lee:  OK so, here’s the thing – my internet is down right now, so I can’t read through what the other guys you’ve asked have said in response to this, so I’m going to have to answer it blind: is it actually possible to be exclusively one or the other? I do get what you’re saying, and am perhaps being (deliberately?) obtuse, but for me it kinda goes in zebra stripes – plot then pants, pants then plot – and if you fly through it fast enough perhaps it starts to look like the greyness of a hybrid approach… but I can’t begin to imagine that if you subscribe to pantsing (and on a side-note, while we’re here, can we think about addressing the terminology?! I mean, really: pantsing?!) that you don’t have to eventually stream it into some kind of structure. And vice versa, if you have too rigid a structure/plan, your characters will suffocate if you stop them wandering off-piste… they just become Sims ¬– just crappy automaton versions of you.

With The Truants it went like this – I had a neat idea: vampire blood on a knife, that knife ending up on the streets and dropped into the knife-crime mix – so I’d say that would fall at the ‘plan’ end of the spectrum. I then ‘pants’ed my way through the first few scenes of that scenario, and saw where it went. From there I could then see some very clear narrative pillars dotted right the way across the novel – so more plan (I’d say mapping actually feels nearer the mark). I then ‘pants’ed my way out from those opening scenes towards those new pillars on the map. And a ways across the map from there a huge twist (which lands about one third of the way in) came out of nowhere, took even me by surprise and so a huge pants moment, but from which the whole map then revealed itself, so plan plan plan to the end. But yeah – you gotta flip between the two, surely?

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Lee:  Writing for me seems to be quite a visceral, primal thing. When it comes, it just explodes out of me, and oftentimes largely fully formed and ready to roll. The hardest thing for me to do is to tame it, and make it do what I need it to do. With The Truants, entirely by necessity (at the time I was working a horrible job for a sociopathic manager, commuting, all consumed) I accidentally stumbled across a process that worked – I set my alarm clock for 4am every day. Fell out of bed. Was writing by 4:15am. By 6:15am I’d have done 2000 words, half of them from somewhere unknowable between my conscious and subconscious mind. I did that for about 40 days straight and the book was done. I genuinely don’t recall writing huge chunks of it. But the question you asked was what’s the hardest thing about writing – my answer is this: getting up a 4am every morning until the bastard is done. That’s how I do it. It’s massively antisocial. I disappear from the world when I’m writing. It’s like a moon mission. I really struggle to do it around other stuff… and by other stuff I even mean the sound of my own conscious mind wittering about day-to-day rubbish.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Lee:  At the risk of sounding pretentious, simply the pursuit of truth. Even if I’m writing about vampires. It’s just that constant internal churn of questioning about why we’re here, what we’re for, is it really worth it? I struggle sometimes with the world we live in, and have to battle frequently to work around existential impasses. My mind never lets it go. A line in a poem I wrote once rather neatly summarises this process as “Chewing on these same old rages, like dogs killing sticks”. It’s pointless, and no answer ever seems to stick, but that’s the essential machinery of me, and it can be quite exhausting (one reviewer has actually picked up on this, and yeah… it’s a fair cop, I’ll take it). On the plus side though, when I have a narrative idea (like for example a knife with vampire blood on it), I can throw it into that same machine and all sorts of interesting stuff comes out. So there’s that.

I have of course been influenced by other storytellers too – all of whom seem to chew on those same old rages too – and by storytellers I mean anyone working creatively, imaginatively. So not just writers. Filmmakers and musicians too. And journalists. All those guys lifting up the rocks, looking underneath, and reporting back. But to check off a few writers: formatively I went the Stephen King/Clive Barker route… alongside that there was David Cronenberg and John Carpenter working in film… more recently the writings of Robert Fisk, Blake Morrison (whose As If was the single biggest influence on The Truants), and Cormac McCarthy have hugely influenced my voice, if not my style. Alan Moore too.

But the thing that most fires up the 4am writing beast is music. Certain songs can hit a core id button and trigger off whole scenes of a story… the song that was most on a loop whilst writing The Truants is one called CPU by Skream. It’s quite cold and mechanical on one level, but has swirls of fractal undercurrents that perfectly tapped me into The Truants duality of the old-ones’ ancient manipulations contrasting the feral survival instinct that governs the world they’re thrown into. Too much other stuff to go into here – there’s actually a Truants playlist on Spotify and even that only skims the surface.

TQDescribe The Truants in 140 characters or less.

Lee:  A desperate prayer for love and purpose in this endless age of rage and sadness

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

Lee:  I think what perhaps gets lost in the description is the truth of it. That it’s more about love, and grief, and the futility of being, than it is about vampires and neglect. But – and this is a huge but – I don’t feel comfortable claiming any higher-ground credit for that. The Truants really did explode out from somewhere deep down and hurt, and it is what it is. It’s not easy. It assaults. For better or worse it is the sound of my soul weeping for us all, and raging at us all. And it doesn’t have any answers. I don’t know… it seems to catch a lot of readers off guard – they come in expecting something they’ve experienced before, and it breaks the rules. No-one, and nothing is safe. Nothing is assured or sacred. It’s asking, it’s pleading… it’s destabilising… because that’s where I was when I wrote it. Where I still am, really. I think, when it’s boiled down to a soundbite, what’s missing from the book description is this: The Truants hates you, but it wishes, more than anything, to be loved by you. Just like the children in the tale it tells. It’s hoping you will tell it everything will be OK, whilst blaming you for everything being screwed. It wouldn’t blame you for fearing it, but really it just wants to hold you. It’s complicated. It might make you sad. Or angry. Or both.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Truants? What appealed to you about writing a dystopian novel?

Lee:  I’m not sure I would actually call The Truants dystopian. To my mind it’s simply the here and now. With vampires. The world of The Truants is very much a documentary vision of the world we already live in. And so in that sense the inspiration to write The Truants was simply this: how might this horror high-concept (Vampire knife!) play out in the real world? What might that story look like as an after-the-watershed BBC Panorama documentary about inner-city strife? Or what if we looked at the events in this story in the same way Blake Morrison looked at the events in As If? Might it be possible to drag horror, vampires and all, back into reality like Romero did in the 60s with Night of the Living Dead? What might something like that look like today?

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Truants?

Lee:  Obviously As If formed the core of that research – although interestingly the crime it details is far less alluded to in The Truants than other incidents. Those incidents that do form key pillars in the novel – the murders of Baby P and Damilola Taylor, as well as the shooting of Mark Duggan and the subsequent city riots of 2011 – are all events that received extensive coverage in the media both at the time and subsequently. To an extent these things are key strands in the weave of the narrative that currently exists in the UK about our inner cities – with one side seeing these horrors as symptomatic of how far people have fallen from decent society, whilst the other side sees them as symptoms of how much decent society is actually failing its people. Round and round, tit-for-tat. The Truants dives into that debate, lives in the minds of both sides, and tries to explore how such opposing views have become so hopelessly entrenched. So from a research POV, I just buried myself in as much objective, inquiry-based reading on each event as I could – which was pretty rough, especially in the case of Baby P – as well as then swinging to each end of the commentary-spectrum. In terms of locale for the story – I just set it in the city I’ve known and lived in for years.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Truants.

Lee:  The cover for The Truants is by a guy called Zack Crook. I think it’s an incredible piece of work. In fact, when the book was initially going through preparations for publication, it went through a name-change – it was originally called The Knife – and I wasn’t 100% sold on the new title. I was open to persuasion, but had my reservations. But when I saw the new title dropped into Zack’s cover design, everything came together for me – that was the moment I thought “OK, cool – we’re all on the same page here.” He may not be aware quite how pivotal he was in putting my mind to rest on the matter, so quite nice to be able to put it on the record here.

TQThe vampire is often used as a metaphor for something else. Are the old-ones of The Truants a new twist on the vampire mythos? What do they stand for in your novel or are they simply another type of vampire?

Lee:  If anything I’d say they’re a metaphor for society itself – a representation of what humanity, and the so-called civilization and social mores it has accrued over millennia, might look like as an individual – which is then used as a device to explore the notion that society might be just as susceptible to patterns of behaviors – doubts and insecurities, judgments and belief systems, a conflicting sense of purpose/purposelessness – as we all are as fleeting, mortal individuals. And then what was interesting was to force this immortal psychology to exist within its constituent mortal ones and see how, perhaps, it’s not as different/superior as it thought it was. For that to work though, I did have to twist the vampire mythos into a new form, so that’s true as well.

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

Lee:  None of the characters were technically hard to write. They all represent voices that chatter in my own journey through life, and so it was easy enough to allow them each time on the platform to say their piece uninterrupted. But writing as Peter was especially tough existentially – painfully heart-breaking – certainly his early scenes.

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

Lee:  Ha! OK… The question would be: is it just me, or is there something being said about gender roles, and gender politics, in the final chapter? Yes. Absolutely. There’s a lot of noise out there at the moment about what constitutes the family unit, and the argument that parenting should ideally consist of a male-female/mother-father double-helix. The final chapter is a discrete parting shot that calls bullshit on that. And on notions of gender and sexuality being defined simply by physical biology. It’s not a core point of the novel, but it pleases me to think some readers might think “Hey, is he saying here that it’s OK for two people of the same gender to start a family?” Yes, I am saying that. Although to be fair it could be argued that the way the point is only very lightly alluded to it might suggest I’m saying the opposite – let me clear right here that I’m not saying that at all. But yes, there is a nod to that debate tucked in there at the end.

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

Lee:  Probably my very favourite quote in the book is also kinda silly, certainly throwaway. And divisive. Most readers I suspect don’t even notice it, but some laugh out loud at it – much like I did when it came to me – others think it’s really annoying (one reviewer went so far as to accuse of it “triteness bordering on the twee”, which also makes me smile – the contrarian in me likes to think the publishers might one day even put “Twee” on the cover in amongst the other reviews because that would tickle me). But anyway, that quote is:
“She didn’t put food down for the cat. She didn’t have a cat.”

The next two are particular favourites with readers. Both capture the melancholy that underpins the whole novel, but the second one punches through into the actual grief of losing a child and forms part of a longer passage that I’ve heard a number of times has left readers on the floor:
“The black tiger-stripes burnt into the blade reminded him of the trails raindrops would weave as they fattened and became too heavy to cling to rain-struck windows. He remembered watching the rain on the windows when he was little. He remembered liking it. He remembered when he was little and would sit and watch the rain on the windows for what seemed like hours and he would feel OK. It had made a kind of sense to him that he couldn’t put into words, but which made everything else seem acceptable. It made everything seem as if it had its place, even the bad stuff, and that if things got too much, they’d simply roll away under their own weight.”
“She hadn’t turned any lights on when she’d got in. She’d gone through to her room, in her coat and her shoes, and she’d lain on the bed and looked at the ceiling. She hadn’t cried. She barely even made a sound. She tried not to breathe. She tried not to blink. But in the end her body would oblige her. That’s just the way it was built. She felt guilty about that. Eventually she got tired, and eventually she slept. She’d felt guilty about even countenancing the idea of sleep, but it had crept up on her in the end and taken her away from it all. She hadn’t dreamt.
        When she’d awoken there had been a few moments when it had all been a dream. A heavenly interlude of untruth, swaddling her in the beautiful notion of her boy not being dead. It had been her shoes that had shattered that moment. The shoes still on her feet. On her bed. They were the vicious little detail that moored her to reality. It had been her shoes that had appropriately repositioned her existence from hope to despair and had reset the trajectory of her life ever since. It had been her shoes that had calibrated the sine wave of her grief. Set in motion the pendulum of her pain.”

But the passage I think I’m proudest of, and which is one of a few passages that I don’t quite recall writing – I channelled it from somewhere in an early-hours haze between sleep and waking – is this one:
“For so long, he ran with me, hunted with me, lived with me, and he was beautiful.
        But if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then time serves only to blind us. Or perhaps time merely serves to erode beauty’s myopia and reveal the base offal at our core, that writhing, desperate need to be something more than life-struck mud and barely repressible appetites. Engines of procreation and decay. Bubbling and gurgling towers of digestion and waste.
        I don’t know. I think these things, and I sound like him.
        I see him now, as he sees everything. That too, I suppose, has been gifted to us both by age.
        After all these years, lifetimes really, I still don’t even know what beauty is, much less love. Other than that once I found him beautiful, and that I remember thinking I loved him.
        But he changed. Of course he changed. Everything changed, everything changes. And perhaps that’s what really happened to him – he stopped changing, stopped moving. And like a shark that stops swimming, the stasis brought him low. His vision clouded over and he lost sight of beauty. He started to hate.
        He started to die.
        He got old.”

TQWhat's next?

Lee:  I have a lot of ideas for a follow-up to The Truants. It’s set about 7 or 8 years after the event of the first novel, and goes a lot deeper and wider. That’s something I’d love to get stuck into. I’m also keen to finish work on a novel I’ve been kicking around for about 25 years now. That one is called The River, and would I suppose be my own Dark Tower – the one that forms the spine into which everything else might plug into. Beyond that, I’ve a few ideas for some other stories in the vault that look pretty interesting. And I’m also working on a series of children’s stories – Chestnut Tree Tales – that have gathered some dust recently, but which I’d love to get up and running again.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Lee:  You’re welcome!

The Truants
The Overlook Press, July 11, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 272 pages

Interview with Lee Markham, author of The Truants
A fresh twist on the vampire mythos, The Truants is a dystopian novel of startling intensity, narrated by immortal old-ones.

Contorting the conventional vampire narrative into a startling tale of immortality, blood lust, and rage contaminating London’s inner-city youth like a virus, The Truants tells the story of the last of the old-ones―creatures afflicted with a condition not unlike vampirism: ancient, bloodthirsty, and unable to withstand sunlight.

The last old-one has decided to end his life, but before he can act he is held up at knifepoint. His assailant disappears, the knife in his pocket, the blood of the old-one seared into its sharpened edge. The knife trades hands, drawing blood again, and the old-one is resurrected through his victims’ consciousness and divided, spreading through the infected. With his horde of infected youth, the old-one must reclaim the knife to regain control of his soul. But someone is out to stop him...

About Lee

Lee Markham is the founder of the children’s publishing house Chestnut Tree Tales and No Man, an independent publishing house. He has previously worked as a brand content developer, and he has written articles for magazines including Admap and Brand Strategy. The Truants is his debut novel.


Interview with Tarn Richardson, author of The Damned

Please welcome Tarn Richardson to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Damned was published by The Overlook Press on March 1st.

Interview with Tarn Richardson, author of The Damned

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Tarn:  Hello Qwillery! Thank you for having me. Well, I remember very clearly the age I was when I knew I wanted to be a writer. I was eight and our teacher at the school I attended in Somerset, England, was reading us The Hobbit. I'd never heard anything like it before. The language, the scenes, the characters, the huge vision, all of it seemed so obvious to me, as if I understood entirely what Tolkien was trying to say. I was flabbergasted. I knew right then I wanted to write stories.

I started to write novels when I was at art college, a lazy good for nothing student with these big ideas but absolutely no finesse or ability to finish anything! Throughout college, university and various job in media, I kept writing, on and off for twenty years, a million plus words, never finishing a single novel, just trying to find my voice and something which would stick, everything utter rubbish until I discovered The Damned, or maybe The Damned discovered me?

Why did I write? I suppose like most writers, it wasn't a choice. Something inside has always compelled me to write, to tell my stories, to exorcise my demons.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Tarn:  I definitely was a pantser, although after the second book in the The Darkest Hand trilogy, The Fallen, very nearly killed me, I've since become more of a hybrid. I got lucky with The Damned. I had an idea of where I wanted to get to and the path to that point revealed itself as I wrote. My second unrelated and yet to be released novel which I wrote straight after The Damned followed in the same manner. Just poured out of me. I was on a roll! I then hit big problems writing The Fallen without a clear plan and ended up writing and rewriting it NINE times in 18 months. It was murder on me, my sanity, my family and my fingers.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Tarn:  Balancing writing with work and family. Being a debut novelist, the income from my writing is tiny at the moment, certainly not enough to pay for a household consisting of two hungry boys and hungrier cats. So I have to write around running my own business, which means evenings, weekends and holidays are often spent on my own in my office tapping away. The exhaustion of writing at the end of a busy day is one thing, but the sacrifice I make, but also my family makes, in the hope that one day things might turn favourable with my novels and they might start making an income, is a burden you have to bear if you want any chance of making it. But, in my experience, all the best writers are very very selfish individuals, so I shut out the guilt, shut the office door, drink strong coffee and get on with it.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Tarn:  Mrs Jones reading me The Hobbit at eight was the spark which lit the fire in me. Tolkien, Dave Eddings, the British comic 2000AD, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, John Wagner, Pat Mills, they're all literary touch points to making me the writer I am today. Certain music and songs can inspire and turn on my writing brain. I wrote much of The Damned listening to this Norwegian black metal band called Kvelertak. One whirl of that and I was instantly in the trenches of World War One. And everyday things around you influence and inspire, from injustices and horrors you read and see in the news, to watching people grey and diminished from their careers, commuting to and from work, it all goes into the mix. Much of the central character within the book, Inquisitor Poldek Tacit, was borne out of seeing these poor souls flogging themselves half to death on jobs they hated and then drinking themselves half to death on the train journey home.

TQDescribe The Damned in 140 characters or less.

Tarn:  A gripping work of dark fiction set in an alternative World War One, where werewolves roam and a ruthless inquisition still hold sway.

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

Tarn:  As well as being a murder mystery thriller, The Damned is also a study of what makes people who they are, how individuals can become corrupted and broken by their past, become monsters on the power given to them, or crippled by the fear of expectation. I love writing about what makes us who we are, giving characters depth and setting them in situations where natural instinct reacts before they have the opportunity to consider their actions. I am very proud of bits in The Damned and almost all those bits are related to the revelations in characters' pasts and their development through the book.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Damned? What appeals to you about writing Dark Fantasy and also Alternative History?

Tarn:  It was 2012 and I had just come back from France where I had been visiting the trenches with my father and brother in law on the trail of two great uncles who fought out there in the Great War, one who came back and one who did not. It was an incredible trip, really moving and inspirational and I just felt I had to write about the experience.

So, when I got home from France I started planning this grand epic of World War One, sort of like Game of Thrones meets Band of Brothers. Which no one really wants! And pretty soon I had got myself tied into knots and wasn't making much progress. Then one night I was sitting down and reading a bed time book to my youngest son Will and he stopped me and said that the book I was reading was 'boring'. So I asked him what he would write a book about and he immediately replied, "World War One and werewolves" and a light came on in my head and after that I was off and running! Out of the mouth of babes!

In World War One, soldiers really weren't thought of as individuals, they were thought of more as tools by their commanding officers, the people planning this terrible war and who weren't on the front line themselves. These officers were monstrous, but would always counter any doubt by saying they were being 'monstrous to avoid becoming monsters' i.e "Monsters we are lest monsters we become." I've always liked this saying, something which can also be attributed to the poor souls who were in the trenches who actually did the fighting and these monstrous things simply to stay alive.

So armed with this quote, and the concept of werewolves in the trenches, I had a plan in my head! Dark Fiction and Alternative Fiction allow you to take these ideas and themes and stretch and extrapolate them out so they take on even greater meaning and resonance. It's the wonder of this genre.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Damned?

Tarn:  Visiting the sites featured in the book, Arras, Fampoux, the trenches of the front, was an incredible opportunity to really soak up the atmosphere and feel a little of the landscape and surroundings which would have greeted the men when they arrived on French soil. Of course, the land was ravaged by the first barrages of war at that time when the book is set, but the rolling undulating countryside still remains as it was back then and it's incredibly poignant to walk around it and imagine, or at least try to imagine, the terror and the horror of what happened there.

I also spent many hours at the National Archives at Kew In London reading these beautifully written army diaries of the soldiers in the trenches, detailing troop movements, activities and behaviour.

I also read a lot of research books on World War One and those early months of the conflict. I used to hate research but as I've got older and uglier, I've come to really enjoy immersing myself in a subject so I can give the reader as truthful an account as possible.

Lastly, I had a great time digging through old tomes and peculiar websites on werewolf folklore and its connection with the Catholic Church. Pretty quickly everything started to fall neatly into place; the locations, the events, the people and the superstitions, as if it was the novel was writing itself.

TQWho was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Tarn:  That's a great question! I think Lieutenant Henry Frost was the easiest to write, because I suppose he was the closest in personality to me - and English! He's an officer in the British Army, a career soldier, but with his conscience, and perhaps his naivety, still to be knocked out of him. He's trying to do his best in a complicated world he increasingly grows to despise. Interestingly, he became the hardest character to write in the sequel (which I have just finished).

As for the hardest character to write in The Damned, I would say that must be Sandrine Prideux, simply because she is so terribly complex in herself as well as wildly spirited in her personality. All her life closeted away, working and doing for others and suddenly she's set loose to live and be free and yet she's not free at all. I can't say too much, because it will reveal the book's secrets, but she was tricky at times but also wonderful to portray.

TQWhy have you chosen to include social issues in The Damned?

Tarn:  From the very start I knew I wanted to incorporate social issues into the book. Writing gives you the opportunity to raise serious points you feel strongly about, even if you mask them under a wonderfully fast paced and violent historical fantasy thriller! So they're there if the reader wants to acknowledge them, or they can just enjoy the action packed adventure on its own.

I was really keen to explore class and whether where we come from and what we experience as children defines us adults. And, of course, World War One was entirely about social issues, a war of class, a war where the rich sent the poor away to fight in order to prove who of the royal dynasties had the biggest and best empire.

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

Tarn:  "Would you like to sign this contract here for the film rights to The Damned?"
"Go on then. And can I be an extra?"

Of course, this is a holy grail for a lot of novelists, having their book turned into a film. But everyone who's read The Damned describes it as 'very filmic'. So I am hoping there's something there! Being a big comic reader, twinned with my background in film and media, I think the book is very visual and I do think it could translate well, both as a graphic novel but also an 'epic' movie. Whether the end result would carry the gravitas and depth I've tried to build into the pages, or go for the easy option of an out and out action thriller, we'd have to see. I think often Hollywood settles for the easier of the two routes in the hope of mass appeal, rather than select artistic appreciation. I'd be happy to investigate!

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

There came a sudden tumultuous roar of gunfire from the distance, followed by the strained cries of men, the blowing of many whistles, the steel ring of shells and the thump and bang as they landed. The noise sounded very far off from the bottom of the trench.

“Sergeant!” Henry cried, leaping down into the trench and scrambling along it. The relentless angry clatter of gunfire confirmed that he had missed the party. “What the hell’s going on? Why’ve the men gone over?”

“Received an order to make a forward assault, sir, from Major Pewter. The Major thought it would be prudent to keep Jerry on his toes, make him think we weren’t slacking, weren’t bedding in for the long stay.”

Henry stared beseechingly to the east. “Madness!” he screamed, his hands to his temples. “Sheer fucking madness! Why would the Major do such a thing?”

“Respectfully, ours isn’t the place to ask sir. We just do as told.”

“Tell me then,” snarled the Lieutenant, “how many did we send over the top?”

Holmes blanched and then seemed to take hold of himself. “Too many sir.”


“So, you don’t think we’re winning then, Tacit?” asked Isabella, “winning the fight against our foes? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Winning? No. But that’s the point, Sister. We never will. It’s war without end. And that’s why I’ll keep squeezing the life out of our opponents, correcting our superiors’ mistakes, washing the blood from my hands and breaking the unworthy, because it’s the only life I know. There is no other direction to go other than onwards, spiralling ever down, down, down.”

“And what about you, Tacit?”

“What about me?”

“Have you lost your way?

He shook his head. “No, you and your Vatican lackeys don’t need to worry about me. Because there’s only one way we’re going so it’s impossible to get lost.”

TQWhat's next?

Tarn:  The sequel, The Fallen, comes out in the UK and Australia in May this year and I am currently writing the third and final part of the trilogy, The Risen. Then? A very long and nourishing sleep!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Tarn:  Thank you very much. I enjoyed it.

The Damned
The Darkest Hand Trilogy 1
The Overlook Press, March 1, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages

Interview with Tarn Richardson, author of The Damned
A gripping work of dark fiction set in an alternative World War I where unspeakable creatures roam and a ruthless Inquisition still holds sway

In this "sublime work of dark fiction" (Intravenous Magazine), set in an alternative World War I, unspeakable creatures roam the grisly trenches, and a ruthless Catholic Inquisition holds sway ― still powerful, but working in the shadows.

When a Father is brutally murdered int he French city of Arras, Poldeck Tacit―a determined and unhinged Inquisitor―arrives on the scene to investigate the crime. His mission: to protect the Church from those who would seek to destroy it, no matter what the cost.

As the Inquisitor strives in vain to establish the truth behind the murder and to uncover the motives of other Vatican servants seeking to undermine him, a beautiful and spirited woman, Sandrine, warns British solider Henry Frost of a mutual foe even more terrible lurking beneath the killing fields―an enemy that answers to no human force and wreaks its havoc by the light of the moon.

Faced with impossible odds and struggling with his own demons, Tacit must battle the forces of evil―and a church determined at all costs to achieve its aims―to reach the heart of dark conspiracy that seeks to engulf the world, plunging it even deeper into conflict.

About Tarn

Interview with Tarn Richardson, author of The Damned
Tarn Richardson was born in Bristol in 1972 and developed an unhealthy interest in ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night from a very young age. When he was seven, he moved to a remote seventeenth century farmhouse near Taunton, Somerset, rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of a little girl - the news being the icing on the cake as far as Tarn was concerned.

Attending Taunton School, his education was remarkably unremarkable except for one thing. At the age of eight, his class teacher, Mrs Jones, read him and his class The Hobbit. “I can still remember the moment very clearly. I’d never known, let alone heard, anything like it. The language, the scenes, the characters, they all seemed to talk to me. I knew exactly what Tolkien was trying to say, as if I too inhabited his world. It was as if a light had gone on in my head. I knew after that what it was I wanted to do with my life. Write stories.”

Growing up on a diet of Tolkien, David Eddings and 2000AD comics, after school Tarn attended art college, spending most of the year writing when he should have been drawing, and he’s not stopped for the last twenty years.

He’s worked for IBM working as a copywriter, writing scripts for CDs and content for the very first web sites, as well as murder mystery dinner party games, including titles for The Whodunnit Murder Mystery Company.

In 2014, he was offered a three book deal with Duckworth Overlook. THE DAMNED is his debut novel, the first in a trilogy featuring troubled inquisitor Poldek Tacit.

He lives in Salisbury, England, with his wife, two sons and two cats.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @tarnrichardson

Interview with Nadine Darling, author of She Came From Beyond!

Please welcome Nadine Darling to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. She Came From Beyond! was published on October 13th by The Overlook Press.

Interview with Nadine Darling, author of She Came From Beyond!

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Nadine:  My goodness, thank you so much for having me! I've always written, for as long as could actually write. My mom was a big reader; my first trip out was a trip to the library. I remember she and my sister discussing books and there was such an importance there, and I was very drawn to that, to how consumed they were by books. I remember my mom telling us the ending to Stephen King's Pet Semetary, for instance. I must have been all of six. And I still remember the ending, not reading it, but the way she described it. I had my little fan-fiction down, too, in middle and high school. I'm glad it doesn't exist anymore but it was super earnest. My Lost Boys fan-fiction. Young Guns. And years and years of Backdraft fan-fiction. Of course we didn't call it fan fiction then, and there was no real means to share it. I just thought I was a nerd. And, I was, really.

TQAre you a plotter, pantser or hybrid?

Nadine:  I just go. I sit, I put on my music, and I get the words on the paper. I'll go back later and clean it up, but I am a big advocate for just writing whatever it is in an almost stream of consciousness way.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Nadine:  Time. I have a one year old, a two year old, a six year old and four stepkids aged 12-19. Which is probably why I write the way I do, as though something is chasing me. I don't have the luxury of meandering through it.

TQWho are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Nadine:  Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel, Myfanwy Collins.

TQDescribe She Came from Beyond! in 140 characters or less.

Nadine:  Oh, gosh. "Dumbass falls in love. Plus movies. Good times. Oregon."

TQTell us something about She Came from Beyond! that is not found in the book description.

Nadine:  I will tell you something very special about it. Its publication date is the two year anniversary of my mother's death from a brain tumor. My editor told me October, and I looked at all the Tuesdays in October, one of which was the 13th. I thought, hmmm. And of course that was the date. Of course.

TQ: What inspired you to write She Came from Beyond! ?

Nadine:  I was a short story writer, and I was interested in writing a novel because I didn't know if I could do it. I was afraid it would be choppy and that it would have no flow, so I just sort of took it chapter by chapter. I was as surprised as anyone! I wanted to write about being a stepmother because it's so strange, it's such a strange role to play. My stepkids have a mother and a father who are completely present and loving, so that makes what I do a sort of a glorified babysitting, kind of. At least when they were babies. Now we're friends. The evolution of it is very mysterious and beautiful. My relationship with my stepkids is incredibly complex and rewarding.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for She Came from Beyond! ?

Nadine:  Not much. I wrote about things that I know a lot about- Oregon, bad movies, being pregnant, mental illness, being in love. It flowed fairly naturally.

TQWho was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Nadine:  The easiest was Easy, the main character! She was me, in a lot of ways, with all her flaws and anxieties and the way that the things in her life were always reminding her of vague references from movies or songs, or whatever. My sister, Kelly, and I we have a Simpsons quote for everything. Everything. And if I'm alone and I can't tell anyone about it- that's the absolute worst! The hardest character was Harrison's- Harrison is the male lead- wife, Joan, because she was super complex, a character unlike any I'd ever met. She was patched together from different people, like my dad and my dad's dad and even myself. She's really smart and funny but she has limitations, and yet she's really honest about those limitations. I never knew what she was going to do from chapter to chapter, and she's absolutely nothing like my husband's ex-wife, whom I adore.

TQWhich question about She Came from Beyond! do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Nadine:  Well, hmmmm. I guess I'd like someone to ask about the writing of it, the finding of an agent, and the selling of the book, so I could tell them not to worry about it. It's scary, right? Sometimes people talk to me as though I've walked on the moon when they talk about publishing, and it's not like that because, at least for me, it happened very gradually. And it should be fun. There is rejection, and that part of it can be discouraging, but I completely believe that it's within reach. It's the old cliche: attitude is everything.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from She Came from Beyond!.

Nadine:  I can't, I'm so sorry. I'd love to, but I don't actually have a copy of the book with me, or even a galley! The lines that I like, though, are the ones that I forgot I'd wrote that make me laugh. Sometimes I can see a little swagger in a line and I like that because I know that when I wrote it, I wrote for myself and not for effect or whatever. I like the section I wrote about the fictional Oregon town where the story takes place, Troubadour. The town is a character, always broke, always lovable.

TQWhat's next?

Nadine:  Top secret! No, not really. A trilogy. Very cool. More about Troubadour. Maybe some character overlapping. I like easter eggs. I want people to read the new books and then go back to SCFB! and say, "wait a minute...."

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Nadine:  It has been my pleasure! Thank you, again!

She Came From Beyond!
The Overlook Press, October 13, 2015
Hardcover and eBook, 272 pages

Interview with Nadine Darling, author of She Came From Beyond!
A darkly comic debut novel, a hilariously told story of love, attachment, anxiety, and nerd culture.

Easy Hardwick has it made. At just about thirty, she’s got a tumbledown cottage in small-town Oregon and an uncomplicated acting gig as the space-babe eye candy on a sci-fi parody show. She spends her downtime online, bickering with fans and fellow culture vultures about film trivia and relishing her minor-but-satisfying celebrity.

Enter Harrison. What begins as a jocular online flirtation spills into a messy IRL affair, and Easy finds herself pregnant with twins and sharing her home with the love of her life…plus the teenage daughter, baby son, and slightly unhinged, soon-to-be-ex wife she kind of didn’t totally know he had.

Easy may play a space ditz in hot-pants on TV, but her voice is restlessly intelligent, negotiating the absurdities of a world lived onscreen and online and striving to make sense of heady problems: love affairs, ex-wives, teen girls, eating disorders, and whether cannibalistic flies count as zombies. Like the captive great white shark that sets Easy’s story in motion, Nadine Darling’s writing has got teeth. Her pointed, precise dialogue, empathetic insights, and live-wire observations elevate this novel from zany domestic drama to outlandish comic masterpiece. She Came From Beyond! is an audacious, fresh debut from a writer to watch.

About Nadine

Nadine Darling's short fiction has appeared in Night Train, Edifice Wrecked, Eyeshot, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Per Contra. She lives in Boston with her family.

Website  ~  Tumblr  ~  Twitter @darling_nadine

2015 Debut Author Challenge Update - She Came From Beyond! by Nadine Darling

2015 Debut Author Challenge Update - She Came From Beyond! by Nadine Darling

The Qwillery is pleased to announce the newest featured author for the 2015 Debut Author Challenge.

Nadine Darling

She Came From Beyond!
The Overlook Press, October 13, 2015
Hardcover, 272 pages

2015 Debut Author Challenge Update - She Came From Beyond! by Nadine Darling
A darkly comic debut novel, a hilariously told story of love, attachment, anxiety, and nerd culture.

Easy Hardwick has it made. At just about thirty, she’s got a tumbledown cottage in small-town Oregon and an uncomplicated acting gig as the space-babe eye candy on a sci-fi parody show. She spends her downtime online, bickering with fans and fellow culture vultures about film trivia and relishing her minor-but-satisfying celebrity.

Enter Harrison. What begins as a jocular online flirtation spills into a messy IRL affair, and Easy finds herself pregnant with twins and sharing her home with the love of her life…plus the teenage daughter, baby son, and slightly unhinged, soon-to-be-ex wife she kind of didn’t totally know he had.

Easy may play a space ditz in hot-pants on TV, but her voice is restlessly intelligent, negotiating the absurdities of a world lived onscreen and online and striving to make sense of heady problems: love affairs, ex-wives, teen girls, eating disorders, and whether cannibalistic flies count as zombies. Like the captive great white shark that sets Easy’s story in motion, Nadine Darling’s writing has got teeth. Her pointed, precise dialogue, empathetic insights, and live-wire observations elevate this novel from zany domestic drama to outlandish comic masterpiece. She Came From Beyond! is an audacious, fresh debut from a writer to watch.

Interview with Erik Hoel, author of The RevelationsInterview with Lee Markham, author of The TruantsInterview with Tarn Richardson, author of The DamnedInterview with Nadine Darling, author of She Came From Beyond!2015 Debut Author Challenge Update - She Came From Beyond! by Nadine Darling

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