I reviewed Gene’s book, The Spaceship Next Door On Tuesday, and he was kind enough to talk to me about it:
I pretty much decided somewhere between when I learned to read and when I realized human beings were responsible for assembling the words I was reading. I was pretty young, let’s say.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Do I have a quirk? I’m not sure. I mean, my stories are all over the place in terms of genre and theme. I think I was writing ‘mash-ups’ before that was a thing. Like, Immortal is a sci-fi story with fantasy creatures, or it’s a contemporary fantasy without any magic in it. Take your pick. Likewise, The Spaceship Next Door could be a Young Adult book about a sixteen year old girl, or a sci-fi story about a spaceship, or a Douglas Adams-inspired bit of humor, or it could be a Stephen King-ish horror story about a small town experiencing apparently supernatural events. Those are all true statements.
Is that a quirk? Maybe. Mostly, I’m just writing whatever makes sense and gets me to the end of the story.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Every answer to this question ends up being a list of things I also do rather than what I like to do. I still work full-time, for instance, and between two and four times a week I bike to-and-from the office. It’s about 20 miles each way, so it’s a real commitment. Yet, I don’t think of that as something I like to do, so much as it is something I happen to do. I don’t bike recreationally outside of my commute, for instance, or bike indoors in the winter, on a machine. It’s conceivable what I actually like is putting my life in jeopardy every day.
Anyway, I guess my point is, I need some hobbies.
In one sentence, tell us what your novel is all about.
I routinely fail elevator pitch tests…
OK, let’s see… It’s about a spaceship that lands in a small town in Massachusetts and then doesn’t do anything at all for a while.
Or, it’s about sixteen-year old Annie Collins, and her most famous neighbor, the spaceship next door.
Or, it’s about Sorrow Falls, the small town with an interesting history, thrust on the international stage to the chagrin of everyone living there.
Basically, what kind of story are you looking for? It’s probably in The Spaceship Next Door.
What inspired you to write The Spaceship Next Door?
Most of the pieces of The Spaceship Next Door were rattling around in my head for a while, I just didn’t know it. The town of Sorrow Falls itself has been in the back of my mind since I created it back in college, based on a place I visited in high school on a field trip. I’ve written about Sorrow Falls on three different occasions, but never in anything that ended up published.
Then, around July of this past year, I picked up Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. Stephenson puts the earth-shattering, world-changing event that undergirds the whole novel in the first chapter, and I thought that was really interesting. Before I was halfway through his second chapter I had the idea of a spaceship landing in a small town. Having it land in Sorrow Falls was the first real decision I made, and Annie Collins as the heroine was the second. I made up everything else as I was writing.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing The Spaceship Next Door?
It’s more like something I re-learned. I’ve been writing for the same character (Adam the immortal man, from the Immortal books) for a while. I love writing Adam, but I forgot how much fun writing something new from scratch—in third person, which I don’t do much—can be. I also re-learned how much fun I can have in my version of omniscient narration. (It’s actually a combination of omniscient and close third. I appreciate that there are only perhaps ten people out there who know the difference, and five of them don’t care.) Basically, I haven’t had this much fun writing a book in a long time.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from a nice variety of people regarding The Spaceship Next Door, but I don’t get a ton of feedback one way or another. I’m on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, and I’m a complete Tumblr whore, so can be reached, but I also disengage from social media for long stretches while I’m writing, so I imagine this makes me seem not entirely approachable.
I think my favorite feedback so far for this particular book has been expressed in the various reviews, specifically regarding my main character. I’m not, and have never been, a sixteen-year old girl, so I love hearing that I got her right.
Is there a message in The Spaceship Next Door that you want readers to grasp?
While I would say there are definitely messages in the book that readers could and will walk away from it with, I don’t want to be the one dictating what those messages are or might be. I’m one of those annoying authors who answer, “Did you mean…?” questions with “I don’t know, what do you think?” And I’m not just saying that because I can think of at least one interpretation of the ending that could get me in some trouble.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in The Spaceship Next Door?
Yes, one thing. I gave Annie Collins the same kind of bike I ride, and then I had her complaining that the bike wasn’t good on hills, because of the bicycle’s design. Well it turns out my seat was adjusted wrong and the bike is no worse on hills than any other. I guess if this ever comes up I’ll just claim Annie outgrew the fitting she got for the bike when she first bought it and needs to have it resized but is too young to know it. That’s a much better answer.
What are the three coolest things that have happened to you since becoming a published author?
1: When Hellenic Immortal was published, the publisher flew me to NYC to appear on television, and then flew me to Los Angeles to appear again. That was fun, but mostly I’d never spent any time in midtown NY before and THAT was awesome. Hollywood was also awesome, but slightly less so.
2: Basically, any time a reader recommends me to someone and the person they’re recommending me to has already heard of me. That’s only happened that I know of a couple of times.
3: I wrote The Spaceship Next Door from scratch starting in August. I finished the draft in late October and had the final draft done by the end of November, and the book went on sale in late December. As a hybrid author (my other full-length novels are with a publisher right now) this was a revelation. That is an impossible timetable for any book that isn’t self-published. So I’d say being able to do this end-to-end without a publisher (even one who flew me to NYC and L.A.) is unimaginably cool.
The Spaceship Next Door is a stand-alone novel; tell us a little bit about your ongoing series.
There’s the Immortal Novel Series. I’d call that the Immortal Trilogy if I weren’t planning on another book in the future. There’s also The Immortal Chronicles, which is a series of novellas—five right now—with the same narrator as the novels. Also in that universe is Immortal Stories: Eve. I created that line of novellas for any time I want to give a different character in this universe their own story. There’s only one such book right now, but it’s slightly larger than the Chronicles novellas, and Eve is an important character in that universe.
The three novels and the chronicles are narrated by Adam, an alcoholic immortal man who has survived on his wits and a good immune system for about sixty-thousand years. Adam’s a lot of fun.
I also have a standalone novel called Fixer, which is about a guy who can see a rolling five seconds into the future and is trying to use his abilities to help people. There’s only one book to the Fixer universe right now, but I tied it to Adam’s universe in one of the novellas—Immortal and the Madman—when Adam met an ancestor of Corrigan Bain (the main character in Fixer). I haven’t decided yet whether Corrigan meets Adam at some point.
Tell us about future projects you’re working on.
I am right now trying reacquaint myself with Adam so we can finish writing a new Immortal novel. I also have about 1/3 of a new Fixer novel on the back-burner. Plus, sometime in the next month or so I’ll be debuting a new author website for myself, which is requiring a ton of content, as you’d expect. I’m also exploring audio options for The Spaceship Next Door, and I have a few other things I can’t talk about right now.
Also, the possibility that I’ll be struck by a new idea that requires me to drop everything immediately can’t be dismissed. That worked really well last time.