An Interview With Craig Dilouie, Author of “One of Us”

Today I am thrilled to be sharing an interview with author Craig Dilouie. I recently reviewed his latest novel One of Us which releases today and found myself instantly drawn to its alternate but familiar setting,  and powerful themes. You can read my thoughts here.  I want to extend a special thank you to Craig for his time and the opportunity to discuss his work!

one of us
Links: Goodreads Amazon. Com Amazon.UK BookDepository

Q&A

My experience with One of Us is one that I still struggle to properly convey. It was an equally rewarding and challenging read that explored very relevant and heavy hitting themes that continue to resonate with me. Can you share with us a bit about your inspiration or original goals for this story?

First, let me say thank you for reading One of Us and having me as a guest on your blog. I’m very happy that the novel got you.

I believe good fiction entertains but also viscerally engages readers with powerful themes. For me, a big idea always starts with an intriguing question. For me, the question was: What if monsters lived among us, but were monstrous only in how they looked? How would we treat them, and what would that say about us? The result is a misunderstood monster novel that turned into a much more ambitious examination of prejudice and what makes a monster a monster.

An early inspiration was Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird; author Claire North called my novel To Kill a Mockingbird meets The Girl with All the Gifts, which I thought was wonderful. I became fascinated with using the venerable Southern Gothic literary tradition to treat the subject of monsters. Southern Gothic is dark and over the top, and deals with subjects such as the taboo, grotesque, prejudice, and a society in decay. The result is a novel of monstrous humans and human monsters.

I felt that the younger cast of characters really intensified many of the scenes and helped solidify the overall effectiveness of the storyline. And I have to admit, they felt incredibly relatable. Was there additional research that went into creating a younger set of characters and protagonists?

Making the monsters budding teenagers allowed me to show them coming of age, where they begin developing mysterious powers while beginning to gain a more adult understanding of the world and their place in it. It triggers more sympathy in the reader, who sees these kids just being kids, their goofing around and tenderness and friendships, while subjected to institutionalized abuse. And it emphasizes they didn’t just appear, they were born of “normal” parents. They came from us. They’re family.

Having them interact with “normal” teenagers in the town allowed connections based on innocence and hope for the future. I hope this makes sense, but I didn’t write them as teenagers so much as individual characters with a more innocent, enthusiastic teenager’s point of view. In the end, I hope their perspectives mingle with those of the adults in the novel to provide a satisfying and realistic look at life in this small town during the age of monsters.

On a final note, I’m noticing some reviewers found the novel too dark for a YA read. Which is true, as it’s not a YA novel! I hope people won’t let their teenaged kids read it without reading it themselves first, as it explores some adult themes.

As someone who grew up in the Southeastern region of the US during the 80s, I have to admit that the setting was eerily familiar and incredibly immersive. Did you draw upon personal experiences and your own childhood to help create this alternate reality?

I’m very happy to hear the world of One of Us struck you as authentic. As I was writing about monsters living in the real world, I wanted that world to be as lived-in and authentic as possible to both ground the monsters and make them subtly all the more fantastic through the contrast. In my view, if a fantasy novel’s world suspends the reader’s disbelief, the reader is much more apt to suspend disbelief with its fantastical elements.

Otherwise, as with the teenagers in your last question, I wrote the town as an Anytown and then decorated it with a rich palette made possible by setting it in the rural South, from the heat to the cotton to the wonderful witticisms you know have been passed down for generations. The idea was to immerse the reader using these elements, not put them too far forward where they would call excessive attention to themselves. As a guy who grew up in New Jersey, lived in New York City for a number of years, and then moved to Canada in 2003, this required quite a bit of research to make it truly immersive. I obsessed on details such as local fauna and flora, and read a huge number of Southern Gothic novels to capture their perfect earthy flavor.

One of Us contains several graphic and darker scenes. Do you find these harder to write or is there a specific process you implement when tackling difficult scenes?

One of Us pulls no punches, and some of these punches are aimed at the gut, where I wanted the reader to experience the novel’s themes on a purely emotional level. Because I was dealing with the idea of monstrosity and what that means, and this is a Southern Gothic, there are taboo subjects, and there’s violence and other dark stuff.

None of it was hard for me to write except for an attempted rape scene. This is a very sensitive subject, and it had to be handled in a way it completely served the story without any gratuitous aspect. As a result, it’s described as a series of impressions rather than the actual act. There is also a town loser who convinces himself he’s in love with a woman far younger than him, which some may find disturbing, something else I had to handle with care. Even though these can be upsetting subjects, I felt I’d rather lose readers sensitive to them rather than cut them out. The story needed their monstrosity, and for me as a writer, the story comes first.

I found myself developing a strong connection with Enoch almost immediately. I have to admit that while each character appealed to me, he resonated with me the most. Was he influenced or modeled after yourself or anyone close to you?

As a writer, I tend not to base characters on myself or people I know. I’d rather create them based on a unique combination of need, want, challenge, and conflict, and let them grow and become flesh based on that. Enoch represents hope in the novel. He has a childlike hope and belief that the world is essentially fair, and that he has a future in it if he plays along. He’s simple, kind, and loyal. Unfortunately, he’s wrong. The world isn’t fair.

Normally when I read narratives that are alternating perspectives, I tend to favor one over the other. That was not the case here. I found each character to be equally fascinating. Did you favor writing any specific perspective or character over the others and if so why?

I’m very happy to hear you say that. Characterization is at the heart of One of Us, and there is an ensemble cast in this small Southern town, some of them monsters, some intentionally Southern Gothic tropes. I didn’t particularly favor any one perspective over another, as each character is such a powerfully unique individual that writing scenes from each’s perspective was always fresh and fun. I wrote each character with love, even the despicable ones, to make them come across as people both ordinary and yet larger than life.

I guess if pressed, my favorites were Brain, Goof, and Amy. Brain is a genius trapped in a monstrous body, and he believes the genetic mutations that produced the plague children are a repeat of an ancient germ that long ago produced the creatures of mythology. He is a tragic figure, choosing violence to free his kind while becoming trapped by its horrible cost. Goof is just plain funny, and his interactions with Shackleton, his government handler committed to exploiting his special abilities, were a lot of fun to write. Amy is interesting because she’s such a typical teenager while also being something else hiding in plain sight.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing One of Us?

You know, it’s funny, almost every novel I’ve ever written, I could pin an answer to this question in an instant. For One of Us, I can’t really say it was that challenging. It was a unique experience for me in that it flowed right out of me without any speed bumps. I was writing with abandon, with a fierce joy, and for a while I was in that world with these characters. The challenge came later when Bradley Englert, my wonderful editor at Orbit, wanted me to take the novel to another level on par with Orbit’s Girl with All the Gifts, a challenge I happily accepted and worked hard to meet. I hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

If you had the opportunity, would change anything within the story?

Nothing. No, that’s not entirely true. I think it’s hard if not impossible for an author to look through a novel he or she has written and not want to change little things here and there. It’s a symptom of growing as a writer. If you’re always practicing your craft, you’re never as good a writer as you will be a year from now. Which is a good thing!

Can you tell us what we can expect next?

I recently signed a deal with Orbit for a novel tentatively titled Our War, which tells the story of a brother and sister forced to fight as child soldiers on opposite sides of a second American civil war. I’m really excited about it and couldn’t be happier to have the opportunity to work with Bradley and Orbit again.

Last but not least (I always ask), do you drink tea and if so do you have a favorite blend?

I’m a hardcore coffee drinker and even with that, I’m no connoisseur. I’ve always wanted to get into tea and tried several times, but I’ve never gotten beyond being a tea tourist. Your question is triggering my tea envy. Maybe I’ll try again.

Thank you for having me on your blog! I enjoyed our conversation.

craig dilouieAbout the Author

Craig DiLouie is an American-Canadian author of speculative fiction including One of Us, which was published by Orbit on July 17 and is now available in bookstores and through online booksellers.

Follow Craig Dilouie: Website  Twitter  Facebook  Goodreads

 


Again, I want to thank the author for his time and Orbit publishing for my copy of One of Us. This opportunity has been a welcomed and rewarding experience. I look forward to learning more about the upcoming project!

Happy Reading,

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An Author Interview with Will Ruff

AuthorInterview (2)Today I am thrilled to welcome Will Ruff to Books, Vertigo and Tea for an interview and to share his debut book; The Tomb of the Primal Dragon. Will is speaking at SXSW this year!


valence (2)The Book

The Tomb of the Primal Dragon
By Will Ruff
ISBN: 9781973416173
Pages: 414
Genre: Mystery/Crime

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Synopsis:

Arthur Biers, a young would-be historian just returned from a trip to Xi’an, China that nearly got him killed. He has a fresh wound, he’s been discredited in the media as a grave robber, and his role in the illegal excavation of the first emperor of China’s tomb nearly started a war. The United States government wants to know what happened. He recalls the story directly to the United States Ambassador who’s desperately trying to smooth things over.

In an attempt to get into graduate school, Arthur found himself searching for any position covering the drifting relationship between China and the United States. Ready to give up, and with nothing to show for it, Arthur stumbles on what appears to be the perfect opportunity. He encounters a technology mogul intent on building the next media empire using virtual reality. The man behind the project, Wyatt Waller, is trying to win a contract for a pioneering excavation of the tomb using drones. He invites Arthur to join the project as a researcher and when Arthur arrives, he quickly begins to suspect that there’s something more going on at the site than the excavation of historical relics.

Their research suggests the tomb is hiding deadly secrets, if it survived, but China has taken the position that the technology isn’t there to excavate yet, and they have no plans to begin. The story follows Arthur, Wyatt, and several others on a journey across China as they begin to question our understanding of history and the way it’s written. And they all become obsessed with the idea of breaking the real story behind the legendary tomb. Even if they find out what’s inside though, they may not be able to prove it.

Read an excerpt here.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com  Amazon UK


 Author Interview

1. The Tomb of the Primal Dragon presents a fascinating concept! What inspired you to develop a plot involving secrets contained within a tomb and museum?

I always knew I wanted to write a story where a character changes the way the world understands history. In college that was spurned on by the story of Heinrich Schliemann who discovered the historical site of Troy. He was a businessman, and his methods were pretty far out of the accepted norms for archaeology. He was convinced the Iliad and the Odyssey were based on historical events, and he spent his life trying to find the evidence. He eventually did despite the entire archaeological community not taking him seriously.

When I was studying traditional China the textbook mentioned the first Emperor and how he unified China, and when it referred to the tomb of the terracotta warriors, and the emperor’s tomb which is almost a mile from the warriors, there was an aside that said of the emperor’s tomb “Itself not yet excavated.” That was the exact moment I decided to write a book about someone becoming obsessed with it, and I spent years digging into it from several angles and what a thing like that meant to the world.

2. Can you describe some of the research that went into writing a story set in China and evolving an excavation?

I studied Chinese history in college, and took a few semesters of Mandarin before studying in Beijing. It was 2009, and I was there for four months taking four hours of language classes a day, history, and mass media, and enjoying the culture. When we got there we took a trip to Xi’an where I got to lay eyes on the Terracotta Warrior museum so a lot of the descriptions come from that. Same goes for all the other sites featured in the book. A lot of the half-English half-pinyin you’ll read in the book comes from that experience. I also wrote my senior thesis on President Nixon’s trip to China where he met Mao and basically changed the balance of power in the Cold War.

The technology side of it was the hard part. When I first started writing it years ago, the idea of drones being used for archaeology had been floated in various articles I found online, but I had no idea how the stuff worked. Then I started reading up on things like LiDar and I eventually connected with a drone software expert who helped me sort of plan this fictional excavation down to what it might cost, and how long it would take to capture enough data. The technology part of it is the coolest, because I’ve been able to speak with so many brilliant people who love the idea and I can actually get them excited about this tomb—itself still not yet excavated.

3. I know that The Tomb of the Primal Dragon was your debut novel. What were some of the biggest challenges you encountered during the writing and/or publication process?

Writing when you don’t know exactly what you’re trying to say is really hard, and it took me a long time to really get going on the story. I tried writing it in college, but that turned into 25 failed attempts at writing an opening chapter. I’d never done anything on this scale before, so I thought I would probably never be able to do it. It wasn’t until years later when I put pen to paper and stepped away from the computer that I could finally focus and get through it. I wrote 80 pages by hand and then finally moved it to the computer and knew where I was going with it. The scene I had written turned out to be the scene where the main character Arthur, who’s fresh out of college and trying to find work in a technology driven economy meets this media mogul who wants to build an empire for journalism in virtual reality. Their encounter is this sort of “technology meets storytelling” moment which is one of the main themes of the book. The big lesson I learned is that you don’t write in chronological order, you write, and you figure out what comes next, and whether anything came before. Then you make sense of it.

4. Did you have a character that you favored most while developing them? If so, what was it that you enjoyed about them specifically?

That’s definitely a hard question to answer since Arthur’s perspective is in first person. In that sense I probably injected all my studies into his character, but there’s aspects in all of them I find intriguing. Bruce has this philosophy that history doesn’t belong to anyone and it isn’t yours to hide. There’s something charming in that but it gets distorted for him and he goes down the wrong road of philosophical purity as opposed to looking at how his work is going to have an affect on people. Emmy I think represents what every ambitious hard working person wants. She’s brilliant, she has a talent for making things happen quickly, and she’s very intent on getting it right the first time—even if she goes against what everyone else thinks. But she hasn’t been given the right opportunity. Arthur is a guy who desperately wants to get into graduate school and he wants to be a part of history, not just teach it. A lack of job training makes it hard for him. And then there’s Wyatt. Wyatt is this serial entrepreneur who has money and can build pretty much anything, and he thinks a media empire is the next obligation he has to society. He’s also in this very self-reflective phase of his life which I can identify with.

5. You mentioned that you will be speaking at South by Southwest (SXSW) this! Can you share a bit more about that with us?

Yes! I’ll be bringing the book to SXSW to talk about the writing process, thought process, and main themes behind the book. Should be about an hour, and I’ll do a Q & A if anyone has interest in that sort of thing. The really cool thing about SXSW is that it’s a big tech festival, and in writing this I got really excited reading up on the technology that might be used for this kind of excavation, and people in tech circles are so far pretty huge supporters of the idea behind the novel. Should be a blast!

6. Last but least, I always ask this one – are you a tea drinker, and if so, what if your preferred cup?

The best tea I’ve ever had was in Shanghai during that semester abroad. I have no idea what kind it was unfortunately. I like tea, but I’m more of a coffee drinker. Black coffee.


imageAuthor Bio

Will’s writing has been compared by readers of his early works to classic authors from Hemingway and Hitchens to some of the great defining authors of the modern generation including Michael Crichton and John Grisham.

His debut novel, The Tomb of the Primal Dragon, is a genre bending exploration of both what it’s like living in the modern day in a world where technology eclipses meaning, and an exciting adventure following the geopolitical balance between the world’s great superpowers as they plunge headfirst into the new theater of war, the digital world.

Fans of thrillers looking for a fresh take on the genre as well as those trying to understand how technology is shaping the future will find much to dissect in his writing.

Follow Will Ruff: Website  Facebook  Youtube


A special thank you to Will for his time and the interview today!

Happy Reading,

Danielle ❤

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Author Interview with Tiffany McDaniel

AuthorInterviewTiffany McDaniel is a name that many of you are familiar with. And for very good reasons. Her debut book, The Summer That Melted Everything, has earned her several awards and nominations, finding a permanent home among fans of fiction. She also happens to be an incredibly talented poet and artist. I am thrilled to share an interview with her today on Books, Vertigo and Tea.

the interview1.I noticed you also write poetry and paint. Did you grow up wanting to be a writer and artist, or did you have other career dreams when you were younger?

I’d make homemade books out of notebook paper, using cardboard as the cover and binding the book with my mother’s crochet yard.  I wasn’t driven to write by an external source.  I think for most of us authors, the desire to write is something that’s born within us, ultimately part of our soul.  For me, I had an innate desire to write down the images and characters that were in my head.  Where art is concerned, I would illustrate my stories and poetry.  The visual art form has always gone hand-in-hand for me with the art form of the written word.  As far as other careers, I’ve always loved archaeology and the various sciences that explain and explore our universe, so I’ve always thought digging up bones or walking the stars as an astronaut would be a pretty nice way to spend one’s life.  But the joy of writing is that writing gives me the opportunity to be an archaeologist, an astronaut, and more, because there’s no career that writing itself, can’t explore on the page.

2.Do you find the process of writing to be one that energizes you or exhausts you?

The best part of being a writer is the writing itself.  It’s publishing, and the business of publishing, that is the exhausting part.  The Summer that Melted Everything is my first published novel, but it’s actually my fifth or sixth novel written.  I wrote my first novel when I was eighteen and wouldn’t get a publishing contract until I was twenty-nine.  It was an eleven-year journey full of rejection and frustration, but for many of us authors, the struggle to get published is the fire we must walk through in order to realize our dreams.

3.Do you recall the moment you knew you were going to write The Summer that Melted Everything, or was it something that sort of happened over time?

I do recall.  It was one of those Ohio summers that was so hot, I felt like I was melting.  When I start writing a novel, I start with the title and the first line.  These two things lead the entire rest of the story for me.  So, The Summer that Melted Everything was a title born out of true heat.  I didn’t know everything I was going to write in the novel, for I never outline or plan a story beforehand.  I like for the story and the characters to develop with each new word and page I write.

4.I find magical realism to be an extremely difficult but wonderful genre as a reader. It seems that it either works very well or not at all. Most readers I talk with will agree. Where did you draw your inspiration from? Was there a lot of researched involved in your writing process?

I actually didn’t see the novel as being magical realism until some readers labeled it as such.  I don’t mind that label, I just never focus on a particular label when I’m writing.  I just let the story come out, with the goal of telling the truth of the characters to the best of my ability.  As far as where I draw inspiration from, it is from the characters.  They’re like real people to me, and I want to make sure I’m writing their authentic life.  I’m inspired by them to do just that.  In regard to research, the novel takes place in the early 1980s and in the early days of AIDS, so I researched how the emergence of that disease was affecting the nation and the world.  I don’t research a whole lot for a time period, because I want the story to feel timeless, so as far as the 1980s themselves were concerned, I did surface research such as what clothes were popular, what music folks were listening to, things of that nature.  But for the landscape of the story itself, I had the fortune of coming-of-age in this Ohio setting, so the research of the land and of the culture was from my own memories and experience.

5.What challenges, if any, did you encounter while writing from the perspective of male characters?

A writer’s job to be able to write every race, culture, religion, gender, and age, so for me, writing a different gender from my own, wasn’t a challenge, but more of an opportunity to explore life through another lens.  I think female authors are often thought to not be able to write a male perspective in an authentic voice.  That theory is just another representation of sexism within the industry, which being a female author is something I’ve often faced.  I even thought of writing under a male’s name, but then I realized I wouldn’t be part of the solution, I’d be part of the problem, and I’d be hiding my identity in the process.

6.Did you edit any portions of The Summer that Melted Everything that you now wish you could have left in the story?

I was fortunate in that the story was one that my editor and I were happy with from the get-go, so what the editing process entailed was more fine-tuning.  Probably since this is my fifth or sixth novel written, I’ve gotten to the point that it’s less about fitting everything into a single book, and more about writing a story that best expresses what you’re trying to say.

7.I could not help but notice that you are also from Ohio. I grew up in South Eastern Ohio for most of my childhood. Did you encounter any struggles or concerns related to writing about a story set in Ohio?

It’s great to hear that you’re an Ohio native, too.  Yep, I was born and raised here.  The town in the novel is based on a town in Scioto County, Ohio, which is where I spent my childhood summers and school-year weekends, on the family farm.  Both my parents were raised in those foothills of the Appalachians, and it’s where my extended family still nests.  It was a landscape that was so different from where I was coming from, which was central Ohio, where the land is flatter and the dialect lacks that country twang.  So far, for all the eight novels I have written, Ohio has been the setting for all of them, particularly the fictional town of Breathed, Ohio.  That landscape and southern Ohio culture has shaped me as a writer and writing about it is like writing about an old friend.  I’ve been approached by readers from that area who have read the book and it’s their stamp of approval that makes me happy.  Oftentimes, when you’re writing about a real place, you want to make sure that you’re doing the place and the people who call that land home, proud.

8.I could not help but look through some of the watercolor you have on your website that seems to correspond with the book. Do you have a favorite painting you could share with us?

When I write a novel, I do corresponding artwork.  I like to take the story and the characters to that next level that art allows.  The pieces, “Show Me Your Horns, Sal” and “I Melt with You” were pieces I’d done as possible covers for the novel.  But perhaps my favorite of the novel’s artwork is “Old Fielding and the Great Weight of Sorrow.”  My mother held the hand pose for that one, even though the traits were turned into those that would represent Older Fielding.

old.jpegOld Fielding and the Great Weight of Sorrow
By Tiffany McDaniel

9.What can we expect from you in the future in terms of books? Do you have any current projects in the works that you can share a bit about with us?

I have eight novels written, and a completed compilation of my poetry.  I was hoping to have a next book out soon, but as always, publishing is proving to be an uphill battle and so far my pitched novels have received only rejections, with editors predominately citing the “riskiness” of my writing, which, as a female literary fiction writer, is something I’ve heard often throughout my career.  The novel I was hoping to follow TSTME up with is titled, The Chaos We’ve Come From.  It’s a story based on my mother’s coming of age in southern Ohio from the 1950s to the death of her father in the early 1970s.

10.Last but least, I must always ask; do you drink tea and if so, what is your favorite blend?

Though the house always seemed to have iced tea in it when I was growing up, I’ve only had tea myself a handful of times.  It wasn’t anything fancy.  It was Lipton served hot with sugar.  It’s what me and my mom would drink down on the farm.  Even if I do ever have a better blend of tea, nothing will ever be better than that tea from the pot I shared with my mom.


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new paperback of tstme

The Summer That Melted Everything
By Tiffany McDaniel

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Synopsis:

Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil.

Sal seems to appear out of nowhere – a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, brings him home where he’s welcomed into the Bliss family, assuming he’s a runaway from a nearby farm town.

When word spreads that the devil has come to Breathed, not everyone is happy to welcome this self-proclaimed fallen angel. Murmurs follow him and tensions rise, along with the temperature as an unbearable heat wave rolls into town right along with him. As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe that Sal is exactly who he claims to be. While the Bliss family wrestle with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.

Purchase: Amazon.com  Book Depository


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Tiffany McDaniel is an Ohio native whose writing is inspired by the rolling hills and buckeye woods of the land she knows.  Also a poet and artist, she is the winner of The Guardian’s 2016 “Not-the-Booker Prize” and the winner of Ohioana Library Readers’ Choice Award for her debut novel, The Summer that Melted Everything.  The novel was also a Goodreads Choice Award double nominee in both fiction and debut categories, was a nominee for the Lillian Smith Book Award, and a finalist for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Star Award for Outstanding Debut.  The novel is currently a Target Store/SkimmReads pick.

I don’t want to sell you on the novel, but I want to direct you to the places you can learn more about it if you’re interested.
Feel free to visit my website:
*I want to extend a very special thank to Tiffany for her time and this thoughtful interview. Being originally from Scioto County, this was a wonderful experience for myself.

 

Happy Reading!

Danielle ❤

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