Video Interview with Joe Compton of GoIndieNow on YouTube Sept. 15, 2016
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Interview With Author W. Clark Boutwell Buzz Blog January 2016
- What inspired you to write your book?
I can place the inspiration of Outland Exile: Book 1 of Old Men and Infidels quite accurately, although much of it is still lost to me. A ten-year old Ghanaian boy had attached himself to me the first trip to the Mamprusi district of Northern Ghana, while I was working at a mission hospital there. I was dusting a camera (the hamarttan was blowing in from the Sahara) when he offered me a rendition of his nation’s national anthem. Like most of the ilk, it was full of admonitions to good behavior and condemnations for selfishness, all to grow a better nation. I reciprocated and while my young friend was trying to recover, I mentioned that the USA was only about 230 years old, rather younger than the Malapruli Empire’s near 600 years.
He was dumbfounded.
“Has not America always been?” he asked.
“No, actually both the US and Ghana were colonies of England,” I mentioned off hand.
“Ghana has never been a colony.” says he.
Amused and a bit dismayed that my friend’s education was lacking, I remembered that when I was his age, my Weekly Reader was full of news about Kwame Nkrumah’s leading the first British colony of Gold Coast into independence. I countered, “Then why is it you speak English and Cote D’Ivorie speaks French?”
He smirked a little.
“Because Ghana is an English speaking country,” says he.
I gave up.
My young friend’s father and grandfather were alive. The old man was an avid football fan. I watched the semi-finals of the Africa cup that year as a guest in his mud-walled hut, on a nice color television. My friend refused to translate for me the comments made by his grandfather when Ghana was defeated. Surely, this good man was capable of telling my friend the truth about Ghana’s origins. Perhaps he had.
It hadn’t taken.
Ghana had suffered terribly under Nkrumah’s eventual dictatorship, but Accra is still crammed with memorials to him.
If you have no past, how long can you have a future?
It started me thinking as to what America would look like without any of its past to leaven the narrative of our politicians.
The seed for Old Men and Infidels was planted.
- What is it about?
Outland Exile is about people, countries, power, and time.
I imagined two countries: one with no one over the age of forty and another country with a life expectancy of 150 years or so. This is not so speculative. We are well on our way. The world is definitely getting younger. The average age of Americans has dropped to the lower thirties due to improved survival of children and lack of major wars. In most developing countries it is even more pronounced and for much the same reasons. Ghana, as an example, has an average age of twenty-two.
Simultaneously, the world is getting older. The life expectancy of Americans since the end of World War II has gone from the early sixties to the early eighties. In developing countries, again, this is more pronounced. Ghana, for comparison, has seen its life expectancy go from forty-eight to sixty-three in the same time.
I imagined a country, the Democratic Unity of America that enjoys full employment, free health-care, education and housing, computer-less surfing, frequent binding plebiscites, and recreational drugs at quite reasonable prices. The elderly, those forty and above, enjoy their own retirement facilities away from the bustle of urban life, so as not to contaminate with their error and fatigue, a society based on youth, vigor and innovation.
I imagined another, poorer, less well graced, country, the Restructured States of America, which, nevertheless, has a cheap medical treatment whereby one may reasonably expect to live a vigorous, healthy life well into their second century.
I separated these countries and let them incubate for a few generations before taking one individual from the young country and dropping her into the old country. I took copious notes.
Many authors talk about how a character “comes alive” to them and they merely transcribe their imagined character’s actions.
I was not blessed with one such character, but two. They both sprang forth fully conceived on the first day I started writing, down to the color of Malila’s eyes and Jesse’s off-and-on Glaswegian accent. Both of them are middle aged. Malila at seventeen, is in mid-career in the Unity’s military when she becomes an unknowing pawn to her superior’s ambitions. Jesse, as it happens, is also middle aged. As a frontiersman, poet, man-killer, colonist, and country doctor, Jesse has made good use of his first seventy-six years; he still has “a few careers” he wishes to explore. Then he captures Malila.
The basic arc of the Jesse-Malila story is already competed. Book One, Outland Exile,takes Malila through her enlightenment of her own homeland and her decision to leave it. Book Two, now in draft, takes her through a harrowing escape, only to be captured again once she leaves. He captor is green. Book Three weaves the story of the ten major characters, but especially Malila and Jesse, into a showdown in a freezing-cold basement in Atlanta during its invasion by Unity forces in August of 2129.
- What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book?
I have, as a first-time author, great hopes for my baby, Outland Exile. I think it is a funny, serious, thoughtful, and at times, perhaps, a profound speculation on what the world may yet become. It is hard-science. With very few “necessary” fictional inventions, all the science it contains is here today. More importantly, the political and societal forces that create the Old Men and Infidels “world,” are already clearly evident.
The charge of bigotry has become a cudgel wielded by some for trivial gains in absurd crusades. Even as this crusade advances against the culture of tolerance of thought, the freedom of speech and the sanctity of the university, authentic bigotry is making huge strides in America that few thought possible forty years ago. The groups that can now be publically vilified and even righteously chastised in public now include the aged and those of faith. Threads on social media that propound opinions are ended, as often as not, by the loser claiming his opponent is old or a Christian and thus need not be argued against.
At the same time, the rather tenuous thesis that somehow a bureaucrat can make decisions for an entire country goes unchallenged. That these unelected, detached, isolated individuals, immunized from retribution for their poor decisions, can make better choices for our huge country than locally elected legislatures is absurd. It is the story of Babel all over again. We Americans speak with many voices and should. Malila talks about her distaste for glory and her new found appreciation for small things “the smile of a baby and how men and women live and get old together” as the real wealth of the savage outlands. She may be right.
- What advice do you have for writers?
This is going to be short and probably rather trite. I only know what my life has become since I started writing what I imagined would be a short story in February 2013. I have had to unlearn much of the science/medial English that I learned during my forty odd (some would say peculiar) medical career. Moreover, as a Canadian-American, I started off with a few engrained peculiarities that have left more than one editor gasping. Please do not consider this sage advice but rather a hewn path into a thicket.
A) Write! Every day, rain or shine, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. Yes, your work is sort of a marriage. It takes time and attention to make it work. I started getting up at 0530. In over three years, I have missed less than a dozen times. If not time, try word count, or complete an outline division, but write!
B) Don’t Edit! Editing has its own piquant attractions. Save it for later. Don’t work out inconsistencies, discontinuities or glaring errors even. Why? See rule A above.
C) Change something!
When you get stuck, as you surely will be, it matters little what you change.
Add a new character. You can murder him/her off later if you need to. But have him/her start talking. Dialogue is a great stimulant for plot jockeying.
Write differently. Paper and pen. Outside rather than in. Bottom to top (imagine where your characters have to be and work backwards from that point.) See rule A.
Go to a coffee shop, a dog park, a ball game, any place you can talk to random humans. On a whim I went to a local baseball game and sat down by a guy, my own age. By the bottom of the sixth, I knew his name, city, history and the disease that was killing him.
Go to a library where you cannot talk to anyone. They have books there. Read some.
Talk to your significant other. Listen to any suggestions about the book. Do the opposite. Unless they are similarly afflicted as you are with this “writing” thing, they are more interested with your mutual welfare than you may be. Writing is conflict.
5) Where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
It seems to be galloping off in all directions. The odds are getting worse and the size of the bet keeps escalating.
Ebooks, perfect bound paperbacks, mass-marketed paper books, hardbound books; the end products are diverse. The delivery systems seem to morph on a daily basis. Payments are easier than ever. Publicity is limited only by imagination. However, the consolidation of the publishers into such a very small number of Cinderellas and such an ever-increasing multitude of dwarfs cannot be good. My sympathy is with the entire industry, from us writers to those who try to get people to pay good money for our labors.
The end result depends on the public eventually funding the whole show. With the huge number of free downloads of stories, and books, unless the present chaos settles down a bit, it remains, for an independently-published author, like I am, very much a dart game in a wind storm. Any random hits have less to do with design or the quality of my novel and so much more to do with luck. I am NOT the impecunious garret-writing starving artist. I can pay for publicity, but it is like bailing with a colander: much effort for little return. ForOutland Exile, it is worth it to me, however.
- What challenges did you have in writing your book?
My last class in creative writing was with Mrs. Helwig at Upper Moreland High School in 1966. Since then, I have written only for my craft, medicine. That sort of wreaks you for writing fiction. Subjunctives galore, passive voice, peculiar verb use, arcane vocabulary and paragraph-long compound sentences, are just a few things I needed to unlearn. I was aided by being confident that I had something to say and the ability to say it. The “how” took some time.
I am still a full-time physician, with frequent night-calls and midnight trips to see sick babies, earning the money to publicize Outland Exile. The upside to this has been professional insomnia. I wake up fast. The down side is a rather messed up schedule, which is the proximate reason for my preferred 0530 writing gig.
I am not young. Within the month, I will be 68, with no plans to retire until my wife tells me I can. Unfortunately, I also have some of the diseases that flesh is heir to. Besides a few chronic diseases (we all need a hobby, after all), I learned, during this long writing process, that I have recurrent cancer. While I refuse to think this is anything too dramatic, it does change your outlook. I certainly do not want to slow down my writing. I feel I have at least four more books in the Old Men and Infidels series. Times a wastin’.
- If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?
I am not a greatly sentimental man. Despite being surrounded by babies, I consider cute an occupational hazard. Pink ponies have been known to make me nauseated. Moreover, I have more grim stories and experiences to tell about the death of innocents than any three drill sergeants could stomach. Yet, I wrote parts of Outland Exile through tears. The words seemed to spill out, telling a story I was hearing for the first time. It made me weep.
Going back to do the numerous cycles of editing is meant to be a rational, judgmental even cerebral process. There are several passages in Outland Exile that made me weep with each reading, even after the book was published.
I doubt whether there are many readers who are “wired” the way I may be. Nevertheless, I think we all read for the emotional nourishment good fiction can provide. I think Outland Exile can provide that emotional feeding.
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at email@example.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©.
Mercedes Fox was kind enough to extend an invite for an interview, published on 6 January.
Howdy lovelies! I have another great writer visiting today. Hello and welcome to W. Clark Boutwell. He’s agreed to a little Q&A.
Why do you write? Why indeed. My wife of almost forty years is mystified as well. What I tell her is that I can hear a voice for my narrative which I do not hear in other writers today. Of course, I do have some of my own thoughts about this world I would like to explore. The “big concept” is what got me started but I continued because of the power of a narrative to draw people’s interest with my own voice to frame the story. Obviously, people write because they enjoy it, the process, the work itself, the idea that others will be entertained or outraged. It is a seductive codependence that writers try to have with their readers. For me, the capacity of “what if” sparks likely plot twists entertains me. However, I think people read because of the emotional impact of the characters, the compelling dynamo of the narrative and their own imaginations fueling the need to find out “how it all comes out.”
When did you decide to become a writer? Excellent question, as I managed to get into my seventh decade without being a writer. That is not wholly true, I have kept journals when I have been on climbs and overseas trips, but most of my writing has been professional: passive voice, subjunctive and tortured.
But I started writing a thing called a “blog” for a foreign medical mission trip I took in 2008, rather than just broadcasting emails. I enjoyed writing the small vignettes for that and several of the blog’s followers were very kind and about my writing style. I started writing memoirs for myself and poetry, as well. The short story form was what I had decided to tackle next, in early 2013. The major story arc for the whole “Old Men and Infidels” series, I thought would be a short story until it grew out of all bounds undetected. I divided it into two more compact narratives and Outland Exile is the first installment. I guess I did not so much decide to become a writer as I discovered that I enjoyed the craft of writing and chose to do a better job of it, to provide more “value-added” for the reader.
What genre are your books? Speculative Fiction (aka Science Fiction). My first novels are near-future hard science novels.
“What if …”Hasn’t that been the basic idea of fiction since the dawn of time? Homer no doubt asked himself “What if Achilles got miffed and sat in his tent while the Greeks were getting their clocks cleaned?” Perhaps not in those words. Fiction is based on the author knowing and revealing the story in a way to attract the reader. But the force of the attraction is the emotional response we have to the characters. For a hundred years, it has been a post-modern meme that all heroes are flawed, most tragically and all fatally. Yet, the heroic is an essential part of the choices people make in life, not just for those who run into burning buildings when every right-minded people are running out, but the heroism of sacrifice, honor and discipline. I wanted to see how two very different societies with but a single initial difference might interact. To do that I had to invent a war, a terrible outcome, a revolution and a social catastrophe. Best to do that sort of thing in the future where no one is going to get mad at you.
What draws you to this genre? The chance to play god in your own sandbox? What’s not to like? For what I had in mind, speculative fiction is the only choice, really. The “big concept” (no spoiler here) is how “ageism” is one of the several bigotries that is, rather hypocritically, tolerated and encouraged in modern American society. I wanted to create two plausible parallel societies, one that is half the average age of America today while the other is twice the average age. Separate the two societies for a good seventy odd years, take a sample from one, and drop her into the other, then watch what happens. It has been interesting.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something? A conversation with a Ghanaian boy of about ten years. He had been shadowing me while I was working in northern Ghana. I mentioned casually that the USA was begun in the 18th Century and he would hardly credit that the USA had not been there since the dawn of time, like Ghana. I confirmed that and added that the USA had been a colony of England and then added that Ghana had been a colony as well.
This he flatly denied. “Ghana has never been a colony,” says he. “Then why do you speak English,” asks I. “Because Ghana is an English-speaking country,” says he.
Knowing defeat when it is taken out and shaken into my face, I beat a strategic retreat, thinking that countries that deny their past can be taught anything … and frequently what they learn is a lie.
Do you write full-time or part-time? Every day since early 2013, I have knocked out my 1200 words a day. Frequently, that is all I can do for a day. That said, I have been a physician who specializes in the care of sick newborn infants for over forty years and I still practice my craft. I guess that makes me part-time.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?Up before dawn, as a rule. Firstly, I am as fresh as I am likely to be, the house is quiet and my laptop has a full charge. I wind a blanket around myself and sit in a large comfy blue leather chair until about seven thirty. I gives me two solid hours of writing with no interruptions. If I am working as a neonatologist, I am usually busy for the next five to six hours. Depending on the nature of the work, I may or may not have some time later to write. The good thing about writing fiction is that it doesn’t take a lot of impedimenta. A four-pound laptop goes with me most places. Thus these novels have been written in numerous hotel rooms, airports, ships, hospitals, nurses’ stations, ICU’s and call-rooms on three continents and half a dozen countries. The exotic (okay, prosaic) background of most of these places allow me to festoon my stories with my own imagination. I think some of my easiest narratives have come about in the most impoverished environments.
I am currently in Ghana and have been here for a couple months working every day with extremely sick children. It is a privilege to be here. I was in something of a writer’s block before I arrived and have had no difficulty spinning my thoughts since arrival despite fatigue, discomfort and a nasty case of tourista.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively? Excellent question! When I started writing, I was initially interested in poetry and the sounds and cadences of the words. I confess, the poems are probably not very good but it was good practice to see the “bones” of the language, how to alter words and phrases to get the right feel to the lyrical line.
When I started writing a few memoirs (they are all about personal incidents I have had while hiking or climbing over the last fifty plus years), I was interested in getting the lyrical, the poetic, line into the description of natural things.
By the time I started consciously thinking of creating a narrative, it was to support a world view that I wanted to explore. A real epiphany occurred for me after I had a rough draft: that I needed to create an emotional signature for all of my characters. This was difficult to do for all of them because I didn’t like some of them very much. They were nasty people and it made me feel nasty to write for them. However, more than a few people have remarked that writers are like actors, becoming emotional chameleons as they write for each character, giving each breadth and texture and some emotional appeal even if that appeal is not affection. That took some work.
Finally, there is a “value-added” aspect of writing that I am still learning. How to play fair with the reader, get into his/her skin so that the transitions are clean, the prose is not obscure (even as you are creating wholly illusory worlds) and still give the sensation that if the reader could “peek around the next corner” the view would not destroy the illusion already created.
What have you written? A short book of poetry, privately distributed.
A short story memoir of a solo crossing in the Sierras in early winter.
I just self-published my first book, 394 page, “Outland Exile: Book One of Old Men and Infidels.” Book two, tentatively called “Exiles’ Escape” is in rough draft and beta readers. Book three, working title, “Silent Revolution,” is in outline and book four, “Outland Ambassador,” is in my dreams.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just seeing where an idea takes you? I have an outline but that is saying very much less than it sounds. I outline fairly carefully an opening description and a closing description, including a time line. I write “job descriptions” for the major characters who will do the heavy lifting in the story. I make an inclusive appendix of technologies various characters will have and then I specify for myself the emotional arc of the major characters, how one or the other will change during the course of the novel.
At this point I start writing cruxes, the difficult transitions for the major characters, like Malila’s capture by Jesse or her trying to solve the Mao-Mao dilemma. This always sets up the need to expand the plot, creating the tensions that brought the characters to one crux or another. I keep on making scenes until I have a cogent narrative and then I start from the top and fill in the segues between scenes, If needed I add subordinate motives and minor characters to “voice” an alternative narrative line.
It is primarily important to me to get a narrative arc completed. Then the fun starts. Editing is where you scour and flesh out the narrative, adding texture and incident subtracting indulgences and fat to make the narrative sing.
How do you market your books? Still learning there! Seriously, the first book of the series, Outland Exile, I self-published through iUniverse the very end of October 2015. I am trying to learn the craft, so I am not using their services (which are pricey and probably well worth every dime). I have given away dozens of copies to every county library, independent book store and coffee house I can reach. I have given copies to libraries of counties where I wrote action scenes for, like Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. When I get back into the states, I will probably do some serious driving to give away more of them. I did pay for some Google adds and the website (oldmenandinfidels.com) has had a surge of visitors since then, but alas, no buyers from me or Amazon. Who know about B&N? or Kindle for that matter. I have just started a giveaway on Goodreads for fifty books ending the 6th January. They seem to be snapped up pretty quickly so I am probably going to repeat the giveaway in the future, but at somewhat smaller offerings.
All books ordered from my own website, which has a substantial discount over Amazon, I personally sign.
I have entered my book into the Alabama Book Festival, which usually selects only established authors … but, being a homeboy (not really) they might accept me. That would be fun.
Is there any marketing technique you used that had an immediate impact on your sales figures? Google Ads seems to have had an immediate and sustained traffic through my website and some activity with the Kindle version. Goodreads I need to try to exploit more. Readers read. I have had more interest from “cold” contact in Goodreads than elsewhere.
Did you make any marketing mistakes or is there anything you would avoid in the future? For the year prior to the release, I was placing Facebook ads on the Book Series page I maintain. Some of the posts were highly trafficked but the return on the investment was quite poor, about 1/250 views. Considering the limitations on the promotions and the cost, I doubt I will do that again.
Do you have advice for aspiring authors? I am an aspiring writer. So this is my advice to me.
WRITE! You can’t edit nothing. Do something every day. Set a schedule for yourself. If you get blocked up, change something. Write using paper and pencil, dictate, tell the story to a friend. Invent a new character (preferably quirky and doomed to die a colorful death). Just keep writing and don’t care if it is dreck. Imagine the crap that got edited out of War and Peace!
Pay for a good editor. It buys for you a little harmless ranting that a friend doesn’t deserve, and it buys you honest (read brutal) correction. Editing is the art of making your book a good value for the reader. Up until recently, I had never put down a book after I had read the first couple chapters. (Probably a childhood habit like eating the broccoli first.) I can no longer say that. Within the last year, I have bought many books, mostly fiction. Lots passed the first chapter rule but languish yet in the “Ain’t never gonna be that hard up for reading material” category. I am either getting older and grumpier or the books that escape into print never saw a good editor. Wrong words, bad spelling, obscure and grotesque punctuation, only begin to suggest the problems.
Learn the Craft!
Use adverbs cautiously.
Maintain a POV for most of a scene and/or at least 1000 words.
Don’t filter emotions.
Show! Don’t tell.
Short sentences get boring. Long sentences, lilting from nuance to insight, built on dependent and colorful clauses, hold interest.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he do that is so special? In Outland Exile, the main character, Malila Chiu, is, in her own culture, in early middle age. She has been working at her career for over half her life. She has had more than a few sexual liaisons, and she is a
teenager. By forty, she will be forcibly retired and removed from the society she has known since her (rather grim and sterile) childhood. She thinks of her world as a utopia.
The story is many things, a political cautionary tale, an adventure, a realpolitik thriller, but first and foremost it is a coming of age novel. I call it a dystopian novel but it may be better described as an anti-dystopian work. Instead of a “plucky young heroine battling against the Powers That Be in a world, not of her making, to win through to enlightenment and happiness,” I have a self-righteous wanna-be plutocrat who learns that the real world is just over the last hill and involves drooling infants. Malila is enlightened by her time among the primatives, and it allows her to analyze her own world accurately, saving her life and possibly her soul.
Where do your ideas come from? Where indeed? I think that everyone has ideas, like virtual particles, flitting in an out of existence all the time. The ideas are random, silly, and evanescent. Most deserve to evaporate harmlessly. If writers have any claim to fame, it is perhaps, that we listen to the good ideas and write them down.
What is the hardest thing about writing? Creating a society, a plausible society, that I don’t admire, like the Unity. Even more difficult is getting into the head of a character I don’t like! My villain, Eustace Jourdaine, is a spider and I had to get into the spider’s brain and pull the wires and push the buttons. In the end, Eustace is so nasty that I am kinda proud of him, in an atavistic, wholly villainous way, of course.
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book? In my second book, working title is Exiles’ Escape, the tough part is weaving six different narratives into a single story, giving each character their doom and their hope but tying three of the storylines in to what happens in a short hour of time in a grubby basement room on a bitter cold morning in Atlanta in August of 2129. By contrast, Outland Exile is a walk in the park.
Which writers inspire you? That is a tough one. It changes weekly if not daily. Scalzi with his “Old Men’s War” of course I read after I had plotted out my own story. We have very different takes on the “old” thing. Stephenson is so capable of handling multiple world views, and I admire his work greatly, even if Anathem is way too tedious for any but philosophy students. Tolkien for his resurrection of the heroic eucatastrophe in modern literature and C.S. Lewis for his understanding of why soldiers fight and how to “sneak in under dragons’ noses.”
Tomorrow, I will probably have an entirely different list … except Lewis stays.
What do you do to get book reviews? I bought some pre-release editorial reviews from BlueInk and Kirkus. Another professional reviewer, whom I will not mention, must have read a different book than the one I wrote, or just skimmed the first hundred pages. The review was rife with factual errors. I will not be using them again. These reviews I used for blurbs on the cover.
I bugged all my friends and relatives, bribed them with free copies and was shameless in my pleadings. This got me just a few. My people don’t shame easy.
Several Goodreads friends have placed reviews both in Goodreads and Amazon.
Authors aren’t allowed a lot of pride, are we?
I traded a few reviews with other authors, but I have not found a genre which would be well served by my observations. (Translation: Zombie apocalypse, vampire anything, and erotic romance novels would suffer if I were required to read and review them. Those are the ones that are willing to trade with me to read a nice fat (394 page) hard science novel).
Fortunately, I have gotten a few here and there spontaneously.
How successful has your quest for reviews been so far? I have over a dozen reviews on Amazon, overwhelmingly positive, and a few additional on Goodreads and Barnes and Noble. It gives me hope that if I can get people to read Outland Exile, I will be able to collect a loyal following for the next few books. I think it will be quite the ride.
What is the current book you are promoting? Outland Exile: Book One of Old Men and Infidels
Who is your favorite character in your book and why? Jesse Johnstone, the old man. He was just fun to write. He is a mystery for half the book as you do not get inside his head to hear what he has to say for himself until then, but Jesse sprang full grown from my head on the first day I started writing. He is a paladin in an almost medieval sense: noble, selfless, confident, but lusty, conflicted and introspective. When he gets flummoxed he starts speaking lowland Scots dialect, the language of his father who was from Dumfries.
Who is your least favorite character and why? No question, Eustace Tilley Jourdaine. He is a spider. Disdainful of all lesser creatures, manipulative, scheming, disloyal and invidious. Getting into Jourdaine’s head was a trial, although it got easier (or I got more sneaky) as the book went on.
If your book were made into a movie, who would you cast? The only casting difficulty would be Jesse. The Unity characters are meant to be shallow in their own way. Pretty, uniform, intelligent, snarky but shallow. The outland characters are meant to be one-of-a-kinds: quirky, authentic, seemingly simple but actually rather profound thinkers.
We are suffering a kind of dearth of rustic old actors at the moment, aren’t we? With the exception of Harrison Ford (hopefully returning to acting shortly), Tommie Lee Jones and Sean Connery, most are too young to pull it off.
What is your next project? Book Two, Exile’s Escape, which is in rough draft. This is the conclusion of the major emotional arc between Jesse and Malila that I imagined at the start of writing. It has been fun, writing this, adding people like Frog, the Higginses, and Will Butler while tying them to the original story by the odd coincidences that I planted while writing Outland Exile.
Who is your favorite fictional character and why? Frodo Baggins. I read LOTR just before starting college. Although I didn’t know it at the time, Tolkien was almost singlehandedly recreating a mythic heroic tale in an age that had, in his youth been seduced by the Victorian illusion of Progress and in his young manhood, the Lost Generation’s illusion of despair. Tolkien and Lewis, almost alone, have resurrected the idea of heroic mythology, not as a porcelain St George fighting a drawing room dragon but as mortal and authentically honorable men opposing evil because it is evil.
Frodo is heroic, not for his exploits but his perseverance and in the end for his failure. He is not a superman but gets the job done, even at the last when he abandons thought of personal survival. He is wounded in soul and body but the world lives because of his actions.
What one person from history would you like to meet and why? Ben Franklin. I grew up outside Philadelphia and had a difficult fourth grade term as we had moved. I gained an epiphany when I realized that the answer to every question from 1750 to 1800, if it was in Philadelphia was “Benjamin Franklin” (first fire department, library, hospital, etc). Dr. Franklin saved my bacon and I would love to have an hour of his time to chat.
If there was one thing you could do to change the world, what would it be? Government corruption, and by this I do not mean the USA or Western Europe. I am not saying that we first-worlders are corruption-free but rather that the scalawags know what they do is wrong and have the dubious integrity to act guilty about it. I do mean the rest of the world where privilege is bought by the misery of others and power is seen as the license to grind the faces of the poor by extracting bribes. It is an invidious plague on the poor of the third world. Money sent to help the poor merely lines the pockets of the corrupt, from traffic cops to presidents.
How do you write your books? Generally, one sentence at a time. Plot lines are notoriously limited, aren’t they? Only supposed to be a few dozen of them. So in a way we writers are always writing the same plots over and over again. That said, I start with a crux, a dilemma for at least one major character, and work backwards and forwards from there. In Outland Exile, this meant that, for example, I had to have everyone implanted with a homing beacon for one set of reasons and then have the beacon removed for one character for another set of reasons. That conflict consumes a good chapter and eventually requires that a passing sturgeon be recruited to be used as a decoy. It made perfect sense to me, I promise. Besides, Mississippi Sturgeon, as plot devices, have been egregiously neglected in literature, to our collective shame.
The whole Bear sequence, which consumes several chapters, is modeled on “Ten Little Indians” by Agatha Christie, except it is in Indiana not Hampshire, in winter, outside rather that a country house, in a blizzard, with bad guys, eight not ten and extremely un-British. Bear is another fun character to write, another one that emerged entirely well-formed from the very beginning, I just had to write down what he would do.
Who inspires your writing? My wife. Cheryl has tolerated me for about forty years, bourn our children and made a home for us both. She doesn’t like most of what I write and has never been enthusiastic about any of it. That said, I aspire to write something she might like. Mercedes comment: My husband, Jason, has always stood behind me telling me I can do it. As for reading my books, he never will. Not because it’s my work, but he can only read non-fiction and instructional manuels.
Where do you come up with your stories? This story has been almost pedestrian in its simplicity. I set as a task for this work a relatively basic premise. This one was about age. So I invented a history which would create the appropriate societies. I was anxious not to say, as so many dystopian novels do, that “Shazam! Something really bad happened in the past and when the smoke cleared, this is what we got.” I wanted this ‘history’ to follow recognizable patterns of History, particularly the histories of violent revolutions. Then, I knew I needed two protagonists, one from each nation. So the big concept dilemma was enacted, in microcosm, by my two protagonists. I did not want Malila to be an unsympathetic character throughout the story but to change and mature, using the time she spent in the outlands as enlightenment for her subsequent life. Likewise, I did not want Jesse, who is my mythic hero, to be the superhero. He is a man who acutely understands his fallibility even as he makes heroic choices. Once the bones are established like that, then filling in the incidents is a good deal easier.
As an example, in the Sniper sequence, Malila must show competency in her chosen profession, soldiering. She must discourage Jesse from recapturing her. Likewise, Jesse must recapture her without hurting Malila but at a calculated risk to himself. Of course, Malila would act that way; that is who she is. Likewise, Jesse’s character would never allow him to abandon Malila. The story kind of writes itself.
Who is your favorite author? Surprisingly, it is C.S. Lewis, dead over fifty years. While I enjoyed his space trilogy and the Narnia series, and have had the LWW read to me (before the USA debut actually) as well as having read it to my children, it is his non-fiction I have found most important to me as a man and a man of faith. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain” is a book that I think should be required reading for all physicians of faith.
What is one great lesson you have learned as a writer? The importance of the little. Glory is ascribed to events by the survivors and the opportunists. Great tasks are done by people who commit to each other and trust their doom to another human. I am immeasurably impressed by the foot soldier. They are not philosophical as a rule but choose to submit their lives to fight for each other, even when that action is suicidal. It is little, the loyalty and devotion show in that action, rather than large and sloganized.
What is one thing you hate about being a writer? The sensation of becoming, by that I mean, the abiding and pervasive sense of needing to have your work validated by an anonymous, multi-headed monstrosity known as “people.” We can never really arrive in the sense of being acknowledged. Either we are unknown (as most writers are, in reality) or we are only as good as our next work. I suppose the only secure reputations are those of the dead.
Tell us something unique about you. Unique? One more old white guy with a book? Hardly. I have not, at this age (67), tried to create a unique persona for myself, but have done things along the way that seemed important, interesting, helpful or necessary. Since I was eleven, I have been a solo hiker, backpacker, and climber, gathering skills I thought useful. I am passionate about the care of infants in the USA and abroad because they are the “canaries in the cage.” Babies are sincere in their criticism of the bad care they receive: they die. A society’s response to the newborn is like the famous ink-blot test, telling us nothing about babies and everything about those who pronounce judgments about babies.
I sincerely hope those concerns are not unique.
Is there anything else you would like to add that I’ve included? C.S. Lewis, when asked if the world needed more Christian writers replied that what the world needed were more writers who were Christian. My faith is important to me and underlies a good deal of the understanding I have of this book and the societies that I have imagined. I hope Jack would be pleased in this highly American and secular attempt on my part.
Wow! Thanks so much for taking my interview Mr. Boutwell. I do hope you stop by again.