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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bonus Q&A with G. T. Almasi (By Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “Blades Of WinterHERE
Read an excerpt HERE
Read FBC's Review of Blades Of Winter

Q: Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To start with, could you tell us what led you to be a writer in the first place? Also could give us a brief bio?

GTA: Sure thing. I come from a fine arts background, and I went to RISD for illustration. I’m in my twentieth year as a graphic designer, which I absolutely love doing. My creative-career track also includes: bass player in a rock band (loved this too), CEO of a flopped dot-com, record producer, window washer (dangerous), house framer (really dangerous), burger-flipper (smelly), dish washer (really smelly), copy-shop minion (boring), ka-chunk machine operator (dangerous AND boring), and I spent exactly three and half hours as a security guard at a grocery store (OMG sooo boring).

All these experiences were integral components of my absolute and complete lack of a plan to become a novelist. A friend of mine told me I’m a master of do-it-yourself careers. He means this as a sincere compliment, but it also speaks to the fact that I’ve had to muddle through my entire life to figure out how to get the most out of the double-edged sword of having a hugely active imagination. When people ask me where my ideas come from my answer is, “Everywhere.” Ideas and thoughts constantly pop into my head, but they aren’t always fun. My challenge is to disregard the scary thoughts and to write down the good thoughts, (including ideas for novels).

The decision to write a novel came from four things. The first was how my friends and I concocted an entire fictional world named after me (I’m the Emperor). We figured out everything; the economy (everyone makes $10,000 a year no matter what they do, and we fixed the prices so all the citizens can have a good time), the national holiday (my birthday), the taxation system (universal 10% flat tax, payable to me in cash), social centers (extensive chain of Go-Go bars), trash collection (undead zombies), and even what we’d use as postage stamps (lead donuts). The highway system consists of steel-lined canyons where everyone drives tanks that shoot big paintballs. All this exists under a dome onto which I project The TV Channel which consists primarily of reminders of how awesome it is to live there. I never intend to make this into a book, but it’s a great exercise in world-building.

The second thing that got me into writing was that I’d concocted another, much more realistic, fictional world where the world’s superpowers recruit children, fit them with biotic enhancements, and then send them out to spy on each other. Very often these young people would kill each other too. My inspiration for the combatants being so young are the super-human abilities of Olympic athletes, the children soldiers of Africa, and the ruthless cruelty of governments everywhere.

The third and fourth things were Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson and Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. These two books opened my eyes to the idea that writing a novel could be as fun as reading one. So, one summer at a lake house in Maine with trusted friends, I launched into the principal writing of what became Blades of Winter. I’d never done anything like it before, but neither had a lot of novelists. Besides, I didn’t care about getting published, I just wanted to create the world’s fastest novel so I could have fun reading it to myself.

Q: What was the precise spark of inspiration, which lead to the creation of Alix Nico & the Shadowstorm series? And what drew you to the subject matter of the series?

GTA: It’s funny that we’re in an Olympic year, because the biotically-enhanced agents at the heart of the Shadowstorm were inspired by Olympic athletes, especially the female gymnasts. They’d make terrific covert-action agents because of their super-human agility, their focus, and their fearlessness. And their youth would make them more psychologically impressionable.

The subject matter appeals to me because I’m a big history buff, and while much of real-life history is written by generals and their armies, a lot of significant events were created by covert agents. Plus, I grew up during the Cold War, so my sense of international conflict is basically Spy Vs. Spy.

Q: So for someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write, what would be your pitch for the Shadowstorm Series?

GTA: My goal is to inject the rapid pacing of TV, movies, and video games into my story-telling, so I’d describe my books as The Fast American Novel. There’s a perception that a lot of people don’t read books. This is true. A lot of people don’t read books, but it isn’t because they can’t. It’s because books bore them. J.K. Rowling’s brilliant Harry Potter series showed what it takes to get teens of all ages to read: give them what they want. People who primarily take in electronic entertainment are the same. If a book is as compelling as what’s on their TV or computer screen, they’ll read it.

My elevator pitch is, “Blades of Winter is a fast-paced sci-fi espionage thriller set in an alternate history where the Germans win World War Two.” My friends laugh when they hear me recite this to people because I say it so quickly.

Q: Speaking of the series, how many volumes do you think will be required for Alix's saga? How far along are you in the next book, and is there anything you can tell us about books two, three and the series beyond?

GTA: The current story has a three-book arc. The second book, Hammer of Angels, is finished and will be out in the spring of 2013. I’ve outlined the bones of the third book and I plan to start principal writing on it this fall. I’ve also written a screenplay set thirty years after the events in the current series, but that still needs some work. I don’t want to drop any spoilers, but I can say that the world goes through some dramatic changes during the course of my alt-history.

Q: “Blades of Winter” is written in the first-person which is not so common for tech-thrillers. Why did you choose to go in this direction and what do you feel are the differences between first-person and third-person narratives?

GTA: I wrote in first-person to immerse the story in the emotional intensity of what Alix goes through on her missions and in her life. It also allowed me to create a much more unique, personalized voice.

I don’t see a huge difference between first-person and third-person, since you can write in third-person and still be very much inside someone’s head. I’ve read and loved many books written in third-person, so it’s not like I plan to always write in first-person, it’s just what worked better for Alix.

Q: Io9 had a post about your book’s timeline back in 2010. You have set your series in the early 80s with influence from certain events in the 70s. What was your reasoning for basing the story in that particular decade?

GTA: The story is set in the early 1980s because the world is still closely affected by the outcome of World War Two. I wanted this because my parents lived through the war and its immediate aftermath, and I lived through the results of that, so I wanted to capture some of the mood of that time period.

Q: What types of books do you like to read, and who are your favorite authors in the genres that you read?

GTA: For fiction, I grew up on J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Forester, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, and Ken Follett. In college I discovered Robert Ludlum, Frank Herbert and Kurt Vonnegut. Later, after I read Snow Crash, I back-traced Neal Stephenson’s influences to William Gibson and now I’ve read a bunch of Gibson’s stuff.

For non-fiction I’ve read almost every Vietnam memoir, many of the World War Two memoirs, plus innumerable history books covering periods from Sumeria through Ancient Greece and Rome, into the Middle Ages in Europe, and up to the present day. I’ve enjoyed most of Thomas Cahill’s Hinges of History books, as well as the work of Stephen Ambrose and John Keegan.

Q: In alternate history, often a map or timeline makes the narrative easier to follow for the reader; will we get to see either or both in the next book/s?

GTA: To help me with story continuity, I generated a full timeline and a series of black-and-white world maps, one for each alt-decade from 1940 through 2020. Tony Mauro, the illustrator who did the beautiful covers for Blades of Winter and Hammer of Angels, took my 1980 map and did a fantastic, full-color version. This piece is owned by my publisher, and I’m not sure what their plans are for it.

I don’t plan to release the full timeline since it would trigger an avalanche of spoilers. Blades of Winter contains material that tells the alt-history up to the time at which the story is taking place, so readers will know exactly how my alt-world got the way it is.

Q: Lastly as a writer, what do you aspire for? What are your future plans?

GTA: Fun, fun, and more fun. I’m coming to writing as a (potentially) second career, so if I’m not having a good time then there’s no point in doing it. Luckily, so far what I’ve thought is fun has been what other people think is fun too. Hopefully your readers will agree :)

Thanks! - GTA

NOTE: Both pictures courtesy of the author.


SQT said...

Got my eye on 'Blades of Winter." Thanks for the interview.

The Reader said...


Glad to hear it. I hope you enjoy it.


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