What Inspired You to Write This Book?
Well, I’ve always wanted to write, and have gone through a number of plot ideas mentally, but never really had the time. This one became my favorite “mind book” because it was a confluence of a number of concepts for me – the nature of evil, how the common person fights evil, what would happen if people could have anything they wanted, etc. So when the opportunity finally came along, this is the book I started on and once started, I was determined to finish it. By the way, if anyone is interested, they can find more info on my thoughts on writing on my blog at http://tomwolosz.com/ . Just look on the page titled “Musings, Jotting and Stray Thoughts.”
How did you come up with your characters?
While I try to flesh out the characters in the book, they’re not based on anyone in particular. Instead they are characters that allow me to explore themes. “Him,” the enforcer, is an everyman character. For the most part a good person, he’s in a job that requires him to support a basically evil establishment, and that takes its toll on him. In a way he’s modeled after people who have lived under totalitarian regimes and just need to survive. They don’t support what’s going on, but they don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. The apprentice, “Her,” is basically the poor child suddenly adopted by rich adults. She’s grown up on the street – a survivor. Now she’s faced with decisions. In a sense there’s a war for her soul going on. Most of the other characters, the “gods” of the book, are studies in absolute power corrupting absolutely.
Tell us your latest news?
Right now I’m spending what time I have available from my day job working on the sequel to “Agony of the Gods,” blogging occasionally, writing reviews of really good books by new authors I’ve met and interviewing those authors when possible. I post when I can. Mostly I’ve written about writing, and what I’ve learned over the last few years. It’s all on my Website http://tomwolosz.com/ . I’ve pretty much framed out the plot for the “Agony of the Gods” sequel, working title “The Village,” and have a number of chapters written, but still have a long way to go.
When and why did you begin writing?
I actually wrote my first story when I was in grade school, but lost interest while I grew up. I played at writing a number of times, but the real world was just too demanding for me to really dive in. A big difference may have been that I really didn’t feel the need to write the stories I was thinking about. They were fun to spin as mental exercises, but they were just never compelling. “Agony” was different – it was a story I needed to write.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I really haven’t thought much about it. I guess, when I started interacting with other writers on the internet I considered myself a writer, but I think it first really hit me when I knew I had finished the first draft of “Agony of the Gods”. I remember looking at the print out of the ms and it was huge (180,000 words!). I was so proud of myself - I had actually completed a novel! Maybe that’s when I actually began to consider myself a writer. In a way that’s funny because I’ve been teaching technical writing for years, but a novel is just something really different, something very special.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Not really. I change style depending on the story. In “Agony of the Gods” I use the “Him” and “Her” titles to indicate the shifting POV. I felt it was important to the story to see what was going on from both character’s POV’s because the interaction of the two is so important to the understanding of the book. I’ll probably use a similar style in the sequel, although I haven’t used it in anything else I’ve been working on.
How did you come up with the title?
“The Agony of the Gods” just seemed obvious based on the material in the novel, and it was also a unique title. One big problem for first time writers is that they often come up with a title that seems to jump off the book cover and suggests a dynamic, fun read – the only problem is that the title seemed the same to a large number of other authors who have already used it for their books. When a new book (unless it’s by a well established author) shares a title with lots of others, it just gets lost in the crowd.
The subtitle – “Softly Falls the Snow” – is also different and unique, and says something about the entire story. Read the book and when you come to the end, think about it. It’s subtle, I admit, but I’m telling you something about this entire world. I’ve had some readers who got it and some who didn’t, but either way I’m always happy to discuss it. By the way, if you ever want to talk about it just go to the discussion page on my Web site. It’s titled “Into the Machine.”
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I’ll let the readers decide that for themselves. That’s the one way a writer can actually tell if he made his point. If someone who’s read the book tells me what they got out of it, then I’ll know if I got my point across. To let on what message or messages are supposed to be in the book is like giving someone a Cheats Book before they start an on-line game. Let the reader read on his or her own terms.
How much of the book is realistic?
That’s kind of a funny question for a sci-fi novel. I guess I’d have to say the characters. The science – if science it is – is so far beyond us as to still be in the realm of fantasy. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, we just don’t really know yet. Remember, I think it was Arthur C. Clarke who pointed out that any civilization advanced enough to have visited us in the past would have science that would look like magic to us. This is pretty much the same thing. But I see the science as a set on which my actors perform their parts. My main interest is in the characters. If I put a person in the following circumstances, what will they do? Of course, that depends a lot on the person. So I try to have my characters be true to themselves in the sense that they are real people, and their actions and reactions are realistic. So as I said, if anything here is realistic, it’s the characters.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I hope not! I’ve been relatively lucky. The worst I’ve ever seen is kids being bullied by others. But every day you are immersed in stories of cruelty and pain if you just bother to follow a news feed on your phone, pick up a newspaper, turn on the tv, or read a history book. I’m always impressed by those individuals who swim against the tide, who fight for the little guy, or even care about them. It’s just so easy to go along with the bullies. To a large degree that’s what “Agony of the Gods” is about, swimming against the tide, or at least the agonizing decision whether to go along or fight the good fight.
What books have most influenced your life most?
As I try to write scifi the funny thing is I have tried to stay away from it as much as possible, although I must admit that lately I’ve gone back to reading a lot of sci-fi. The big problem I’ve found is if you read too much Science Fiction you tend to become mentally incestuous, recycling ideas from other writers. But I grew up reading sci-fi, enjoy it greatly, and I’d be lying if I tried to claim that it hasn’t influenced me. In one of my blog posts I mentioned how some minor background in some of Andre Norton’s books set the stage for what would eventually become “Agony of the Gods”. All it really came down to was the idea of a refugee camp after an interstellar war. You probably wouldn’t even recognize it in my book, but sometimes it’s the very small things, and the way they strike you, which matter most. I’m also impressed by the late John Gardner’s concept of Moral Fiction, that it should test human values. In “Agony” I try to do that in a subtle way. On the flip side, I find the very concept of evil at the level of what went on during the Second World War incomprehensible. How could people take part in such things? So I’ve read a number of books on the subject, and try to explore the concept of evil in “Agony”.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I think any answer to that one will come off as either self-serving or egotistical. I don’t try to write like anyone, or copy a style. I wish I could write like Sir Terry Pratchett, or maybe J.R.R.Tolkien, or Philip K. Dick, or J. G. Ballard, but I can’t and don’t. I write like Tom Wolosz.
What book are you reading now?
Well, I recently finished a collection of Ambrose Bierce’s short stories. Having survived the Civil War, Bierce was definitely a cynic. But at the same time, his twist endings and odd horror and ghost stories followed Poe and predated Lovecraft. Lovecraft, of course, was the spiritual forefather of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone stories. Prior to that I read John Gardner’s “On Writing” and a collection of great American Science Fiction from the 1950s (I discuss some of them in my blog post). I also recently read “Marching Home” by Brian Matthew Jordan about the trials and tribulations of Civil War veterans after the war ended. Lately I’ve read Connie Willis’ Blackout series and a collection of her short stories, a number of Gene Wolfe’s short story collections, and almost everything by Paolo Bacigalupi. I must also mention that I’ve read a lot of new authors who have written really good books (I’ve reviewed them on my Web Page), including Mike Hagan, Atthys Gage, Curtis Bausse, and someone you might have heard of – Kate Kinnear. So I’ve been pretty much all over the place in my library.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I haven’t really had much time to explore new authors recently. Over the past couple of years I read a few of China Meville’s works, but wasn’t totally thrilled by them. I also read “Wool” by Hugh Howey which was a good read, but hasn’t led me to any real desire to read the sequels. Probably one of the best books I’ve read by a new author was Mike Hagan’s “Demiurge” which really carried me along. I’ll be up front and say that Mike’s a friend I’ve know through Book Country and Bookkus, but I was really impressed by his Inspector Hassom, and would like to read more stories involving him. Also, I must say, even if it sounds fawning, that your “Prostitute of State” is a book I’ve read a few times now, and enjoy it more with each read through.
What are your current projects?
My blog is currently taking up a lot of my time, I’ll be posting a couple more reviews soon. I’m trying to decide what to do with some novellas and short stories I’ve written – maybe I’ll just post them to my Web page. One called “And The Last Shall Be First” is a cautionary tale which takes place on a generation starship, basically about how everything falls apart (civilization, not the ship). Also planning some hikes to do some more Adirondack photography through the coming spring, summer and fall. But my main goal is to make some real progress with the sequel to “Agony of the Gods.”
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
As I discuss in my blog, the (sadly) departed Book Country was a big help in that it allowed me to get feedback from other writers. I think that is one of the biggest drawbacks faced by a lot of budding writers. You can’t go to friends and family for real feedback, and most professionals are too busy (unless you’re paying them). On Book Country I found writers willing to help other writers by reading their work and giving fair critiques and feedback. Now of course this wasn’t always true, but it was enough of the time to make a big difference.
Do you see writing as a career?
I’d love to be able to write full time, I have a number of ideas for stories and there is a third book planned for the “Agony of the Gods” series, but for now I have to keep the old day job.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
You know I’ve thought about that off and on. One editor I worked with for a short time wanted some major changes that I just couldn’t agree with, but I could see making some additions to help develop one or two of the secondary character relationships a bit more. The problem was that the book was already fairly long so I decided against it. I guess “Agony” is pretty much exactly where I want it to be right now, so I’d say I’m pretty happy with it.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
If you read the dedication to “Agony” you can tell where it started. My Aunt Helen brought me a book from the local public library when I was 6 or 7 years old. That started my interest in storytelling, but since I liked Science Fiction that naturally transitioned into an interest in science. As they say, the rest is history
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Anyone can read the first three chapters of “Agony of the Gods” on the Bookkus Website, at http://www.bookkus.com/review-a-book/Agony-of-the-Gods/ or on Wattpad at http://www.wattpad.com/story/27757787-the-agony-of-the-gods .
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Yes – writing. While I would love to say that the words just flow from me through my keyboard and onto the screen, I’d be lying if I did. I often spend a lot of time going back and forth between my thesaurus, dictionary and manuscript, hunting for the right word, or the correct sentence construction. That assumes that I’ve already figured out the fine points of the plot. Writing is a labor of love, but without any doubt it’s LABOR.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Definitely the late Sir Terry Pratchett. I always greatly enjoyed his Discworld series and eagerly awaited the publication of each new novel. Pratchett had a unique ability to meld satire, a fun read and very likeable characters together in a crazy world which was, after all, a mirror of our own world. Add to that a sense of empathy, a respect for all peoples no matter how different (remember, over the series each out group, no matter how weird, ended up accepted and merged into the society of Ankh Morpork) and I think you have a really wonderful writer. I also have to throw in Paolo Bacigalupi. He has a way of taking things that are currently going on and projecting a rather unsavory future based on them. That might sound odd, but other than pure escapism, I find the main strength of sci-fi is a cautionary genre. Think of Wells, Orwell and Huxley. Sometimes it helps to think about the route you’re taking, because it might lead you somewhere unexpected.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Mainly to the library, both physical and on-line. I try to add as much detail as possible in my stories, so when it comes to things like architecture or weapons I found myself spending time researching the design and décor of European Opera Houses and early weapons. I hike a lot as a hobby, and am also an advanced amateur photographer (you can see some of my pictures on my Website) so outdoors descriptions and the descriptions in chapters dealing with the Imager character came easily to me.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
There were some scenes that were difficult to write. Not gruesome, but morally bankrupt and evil. There’s quite a bit of suffering in the book and when you write, you’re invested in the characters, so you tend to feel with them. There were times when that hurt as I was writing.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Yes, I learned that there are a lot of great fellow writers out there all willing to help each other out by offering valuable criticism. I also learned that a writer quickly develops a mental callus which makes getting poor reviews easier to take and learn from. That’s a really important aspect of learning to be a writer – the ability to take good criticism and use it to help yourself grow as a writer.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I think it was the great science fiction writer Clifford Simak who said something along the lines of the art of writing is a matter of applying your backside to the chair in front of a typewriter and getting to work. I didn’t add quotes because while I remember the gist of the quote, I’m not sure it’s exact. But really, it does come down to sitting and forcing yourself to get started. Once you do that, it’s a matter of keeping at it. I once read a blog about new “writers” that I thought I had kept the link to but I just can’t find. What the author pretty much said was that 100% of us have a story to tell. Maybe 50% will sit down and start to write. Maybe 5% will actually finish a first draft. Maybe 1% will do a second and third draft and submit. Maybe .01% will keep trying after getting that first rejection slip. Only some of those .01% will eventually sell a story. So about 99.99% of us are in the self-fulfilling prophecy group – they’ll never get published because they give up. Think about that, and good luck getting into that .01%!
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Well, obviously, I hope you enjoy the book. I think I’d also like to say that I wrote it, in part, for readers like my mother. She was a big fan of Agatha Christie’s mystery books. I remember her telling me how she always read through a Christie novel quickly the first time for the plot and ambiance, then once she finished it, she’d read it again slowly to pick up all the little hints and clues Christie would sprinkle through the book. I tried to do a bit of the same with “Agony”. Mike Hagan (whose book “Demiurge” I highly recommend) was a big help as I was posting chapters to Book Country. He didn’t read the complete novel until it was submitted to Bookkus. Here is a small portion of his comments – they told me I’d succeeded!
From Mike Hagan’s review: “A good test of this is when after a book’s revelation is given, do I think…. ‘of course’? Here the ‘of course’ was so loud that I got suspicious as to why I had not worked it out and went back through the book to find where something didn’t add up (thus throwing my keen and intuitive mind off the scent.)
It all adds up. “Damn” I thought, then “Clever!””