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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Interview with Andy Giesler, the auhtor of The Nothing Within



Today, we have the immense pleasure to host a Q&A with Andy Giesler whose genre-bending book, The Nothing Within, awed us last year. 

ABOUT ANDY: Andy has been a library page, dairy science programmer, teacher, technical writer, and healthcare software developer. He’s schooled in computer science, philosophy, and library science, and grew up in a town in Ohio Amish country. He’s a husband, father, and nonprofit web developer living in Madison, Wisconsin. The Nothing Within is his first novel.

Find Andy online: WebsiteFacebook

Order The Nothing Within: Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Audible


INTERVIEW



Thank you for joining us, Andy, and welcome to Fantasy Book Critic! Before we start, tell us a little about yourself.

I appreciate the invitation!

You could caricature me (I don't mind) in four words: husband, dad, writer, geek.

I've worked as a software developer, teacher, technical writer, web consultant, official Corporate Philosopher, and now novelist, among other things.

My educational background is in philosophy, computer science, and library science. I spent my childhood reading science fiction, fantasy, and encyclopedias, as well as watching tragic quantities of awful television. (To this day I'm tormented by echoes of the 1970's "Meow Mix" jingle.)

I grew up near Holmes County, Ohio, the demographic heart of Amish country.

Who are some of your favorite writers, and why is their work important to you?

J.R.R. Tolkien: because he showed me the power of building a world, then revealing only part of it for your story.

Patrick Rothfuss: because even if he never finishes The Doors of Stone, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear are so astonishingly good.

Octavia Butler: because even though her stories are often harsh and unrelentingly bleak, they get under my skin in a way few others do. (Maybe it's because they're harsh and unrelentingly bleak.)

Kurt Vonnegut: because his writing can be wry and sweet and surprising and painful all at once, and he manages to do that with such simple, clean, direct prose.

What do you think characterizes your writing style?

I hope it's fairly straightforward and easy to read. I prefer to write short paragraphs and chapters. I deeply admire writers who can do intricate things with long sentences involving words that I have to look up...but I'm also okay not being one of them.

I hope my writing feels a little like I'm speaking to you, even when it's not written as narration or dialog. The spoken word is important to me. In fact, I edit my writing by reading it aloud.

I hope it's occasionally funny (at least a little), even when the subject matter is dark.

We loved “The Nothing Within”, it’s such a great and unique story. It combines elements of fantasy, science-fiction, dystopian fiction and Amish culture to great effect! What prompted you to write it?

While mowing one day, something very much like the book's first few lines just popped into my head: "My name is Root. I was sixteen when I first heard the voice no one else could hear. I thought I might be evil. I was nineteen when my village burned me alive. By then we were all pretty sure."

And I thought: "What's going on there?"

So I wrote the book to find out.

What made you decide to self-publish The Nothing Within as opposed to traditional publishing?

Easy: Impatience.

Traditional publishing is usually a very lengthy process. What's more, with the growth of self-publishing platforms and the pressure they place on traditional publishing, I had the sense that many agents and publishers had gotten increasingly selective and risk-averse—not something you want to hold your breath for.

I'd always dreamed of writing a novel. I'd written one. I was happy with it. I wanted to share it.

How would you describe the plot of The Nothing Within if you had to do so in just one or two sentences?

That's tricky, because in a sense it's two stories—one set in an Amish community during civilization's collapse, the other set long after.

But the main story is the After part, so: A brash young woman in a fearful, conservative society must violate all norms to confront a threat to her people—and to discover who she really is.

What draws you to the end of the world as we know it as a subject matter?

Hope.

Very few post-apocalyptic stories are about collapse, death, and despair. Deep down, most are really about finding something in the rubble and building it back up despite the collapse, death, and despair.

That's hope.

Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to The Nothing Within's protagonists and antagonists?

Root is the primary protagonist. She's stubborn, outspoken, cocky, and brave, and since she lives in a meek, modest, cautious society, she rubs nearly everyone exactly the wrong way. Part of the story's progress involves us (and her) discovering why she's so different. She's also blind. I tried to handle that as authentically as possible with help from a couple of blind beta readers. Root doesn't reflect much on her blindness since she's used to it. She's just getting by like the rest of us.

The secondary protagonist is a middle-aged Amish woman living through the collapse of civilization. Through her, we see the chaos long ago that's led to Root's more medieval/fantasy-like world. She's dour and conservative and has to reconcile her traditions and faith with the madness around her.

As for antagonists? Boy, that's complicated. I actually haven't decided who counts as an antagonist. More than one character, certainly. And even though we might disagree with them, I try to help the reader empathize with them, because they're trying to move the world forward in positive ways.

Root is such a great (if slightly unreliable) narrator—how long did it take you to nail her voice?

In a sense she was embarrassingly easy. Her voice was inspired by my Great Aunt Selma—a sweet, loving, and surprisingly tough old farm widow from rural Ohio. (Also partly by her sister, my grandma—a sweet, loving, and surprisingly tough old high school biology teacher.)

Great Aunt Selma's voice very much informed Ruth Troyer's. For Root, I just made that voice more rural, pushing it deep into the backwoods.

The details of Root's dialect did take a good deal of work, though. I ended up with a lengthy style guide that detailed capitalization, usage, grammar, common metaphors, and aphorisms. It took many passes to make sure her narration and dialog were consistent throughout.



Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of The Nothing Within?

Jeff Brown, a great SFF cover artist, developed the cover for me.


Originally I planned to go with something straightforward: Root standing before the walls of a village. But that made it look like a pure fantasy novel. We ended up with a golden village (fantasy) surrounded by a black cutout of Root (mystery) filled in with subtle blue DNA accents (sci-fi).

What about the audio version—were you involved in its production process?

When Tantor Media offered to produce the audiobook, they were great to work with in selecting a narrator. We ended up looking at three candidates. The vocal samples from Emily Sutton-Smith were perfect for Ruth Troyer, but not for Root. But when Emily adjusted her approach in a special reading of Root's passages, I was sold. I'm so happy with the work she did in portraying a wide range of very different characters.

Have you written The Nothing Within with a particular audience in mind?

Hm. Me, I guess. If other people like it too, that's a bonus.

What are you currently working on that readers might be interested in learning more about, and when can we expect to see it released?

Empathy is important to me. (One of Root's appealing qualities is that even though she's brash and bullheaded, she's always imagining the other person's perspective.)

In this age of angry populism and political polarization and social media cliques and The Great Sorting, I'm alarmed that empathy seems endangered. We're so quick to decide that someone who's unlike us is an idiot (or evil). And those gulfs appear to be widening.

So I started wondering: What if researchers discovered the neurological basis of empathy? What if they even found commercial uses for it? If so, as happens all too often, might someone even find a way to weaponize empathy?

So that's what I'm working on. A not-to-distant future where people are dealing with the fallout from our current angry, polarized societal churn, and are coming to terms with the implications of empathy. It's sci-fi rather than an SFF hybrid, so I miss writing with a twist of fantasy, though it does have metaphysical elements (and some phenomenology thrown in for good measure).

As for when? Not this year. I write methodically, then I edit obsessively, then I have at least a couple waves of beta readers. So...it'll be out as soon as I can manage.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?


I wish I were the kind of wise, insightful author who has important parting words to share.


Oh! Wait! How about this:


Be excellent to each other.

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