Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Author Interview: Trevor Shane

Photobucket We are thrilled today to be putting the spotlight on debut author Trevor Shane. His novel, Children of Paranoia will be released on 9/8/2011 by Dutton Books.

Girls Just Reading (GJR): What inspired you to write your debut novel, Children of Paranoia? Was there a particular non-fictional war that you were thinking of when writing?

Trevor Shane (TS): It is difficult to pinpoint a single inspiration for Children of Paranoia since so many different aspects of the book were inspired by different experiences. I can say that the first chapter of the book was the first part of the book that came to me. I was walking down the street in Brooklyn, heading home from the gym, when the first chapter jumped into my head. The images were startling and vivid and I immediately started thinking about Children of Paranoia’s contemporary dystopia where the dystopia only exists for certain people as the everyone else goes about their daily life completely unaware of what’s going on around them.

As far as drawing inspiration from actual wars, I’m a little hesitant about comparing a work of fiction to specific non-fictional wars because Children of Paranoia is, first and foremost, meant to be entertainment--though hopefully entertainment that does make people think. I don’t want to minimize people’s real world experience with wars by comparing specific wars to a work of fiction. That being said, I am fascinated by, and definitely drew inspiration from, non-fictional conflicts where the violent animosity of the two sides seems to pre-date any remembered, reasonable explanation.

GJR: When we first meet Joseph he is on the job and he is committed to the war and his job, as the novel progresses he begins to have doubts. Do you think he could have changed if he hadn’t met Maria? Why was Maria integral to him changing?

TS: Personally, I don’t think that Joseph would have changed the way that he did had he not met Maria (though I hope readers draw their own conclusions both from what’s on the page and from their own experiences). The changes that Joseph goes through are really because of Maria and because of the situation that he and Maria find themselves in, a situation which suddenly causes Joseph to feel an urgency that goes beyond his role in the War. I have a deep personal connection to what it is that drives Joseph after he meets Maria.

As far as what makes Maria so critical in changing Joseph, I think that Joseph is initially drawn to Maria by a clear physical attraction but, after their initial meeting, I think that it’s Maria’s innocence that he’s attracted to. When I talk about Maria’s innocence, I don’t mean in an age-related or sexual way but innocence as Joseph would see it: a lack of paranoia and cynicism. Despite the fact that the War takes place right beneath the belly of the modern world, for Joseph and the other soldiers, it is a paradoxically lonely and isolating life. Maria helps Joseph realize that the rest of the world isn’t just background noise for his own violence but is a tangible and real option if he has the courage to pull himself into it.

GJR: Maria was a character that while she’s instrumental to changing Joseph, I didn’t particularly think she was integral to the story as a whole; until the end. Was this intended? At times I just wanted her to leave him because she didn’t seem strong enough and I wanted her to be more than she initially is.

TS: I believe in the use of audacious ideas in fiction and the war in Children of Paranoia is a pretty audacious concept. In my mind, half the fun of fiction is to use new, brazen ideas to entertain while trying to say something about the world around us. It seems weird to me that some people will accept stories about vampires and werewolves but kind of baulk at unique, new ideas. However, after you’ve picked your audacious concept, I believe that you have to be realistic to the world that you’ve created. In other words, once you’ve made the rules, you can’t cheat.

I think Maria comes off the way she does in Children of Paranoia because I was trying to stay true to the narrative structure and the world in which the characters live. First of all, Children of Paranoia is written as a journal from Joseph to Maria so I tried to be conscious of what Joseph would actually say about Maria to Maria. Due to this narrative structure, more than anyone else in Children of Paranoia, Maria’s character has to be read out from between the lines. At the same time, to have Maria be anything but totally overwhelmed by the circumstances she finds herself in would, to me, be cheating. For her, everything that happens in the book is sudden and scary and beyond strange. She isn’t given the time to grow accustomed to this world the way that the people raised into the world are. Maria is simply thrown into it. So, in Children of Paranoia, she is a bit of a foil, almost a traditional damsel in distress (let me assure you that this changes in the second book--see below for talk about the trilogy), who ends up driving the story mostly through her interactions with Joseph. Still, if you do read between the lines, I think you can begin to sense the seeds of Maria’s strength in those interactions.

As you’ll see, Maria grows into one of the two or three most important characters as the trilogy goes on, and not in passive way.

GJR: Joseph is very different. Do you find it difficult to write his character or did you enjoy doing so?

TS: My sense from the reaction of different readers is that Joseph is a pretty polarizing figure. Some people really like him and some people can’t forgive him for the things that he does. I suppose that’s the nature of the beast when, in the first twenty pages of your book, the main character follows a woman he doesn’t know home and murders her on her doorstep.

Despite everything Joseph does, I like to think of him, in a lot of way, as an everyman who is simply caught in a very extreme situation. I think the moral struggle that he goes through is the type of struggle that a decent person would go through in his situation even though it’s clear that he’s done things that no decent person outside of the Children of Paranoia world would do.

Joseph was difficult to write at times because, as this kind of everyman, I tried to write him without the identifying quirks and characteristics that make certain famous characters so immediately recognizable (see Lisbeth Salander, Harry Potter, Katniss). As a writer, it’s fun to lean on these quirks and characteristics and they often work wonderfully (like in the examples I gave) but I felt like giving Joseph these quirks would ultimately make him less relatable to the reader. So, the difficultly was in making Joseph a rounded, fully-formed character without any quick, one-off characteristics and allowing Joseph’s relationship with the reader develop more slowly over the course of the novel.

GJR: The ending of Children of Paranoia pretty much guarantees a sequel (YAY!); can you give us a glimpse of what comes up next? Any idea when it will be released?

TS: Children of Paranoia is actually the first book in a trilogy. I had the outline for the whole trilogy before I actually wrote one word of Children of Paranoia. While I think that Children of Paranoia stands up on its own, I’m really excited to see how people react after they’ve seen how the three books compliment and build on each other. Thankfully, Dutton has signed on to publish the entire trilogy. The plan is to have one book come out each year, starting with Children of Paranoia this year.

I’m actually working with my editor to put the final touches on the second book now (before the long process of more detailed editing). Without giving too much away, I can tell that the second book is really Maria’s story (it’s primarily written from her point of view). A number of the other characters from the first novel also return and the Children of Paranoia world opens up even more so that readers get to see things from a lot of new and exciting perspectives.

GJR: What are you currently reading? Any favorite authors or books you return to time after time?

TS: I’m about to start reading The President’s Vampire by Christopher Farnsworth, who was one of the authors who was nice enough to blurb Children of Paranoia. Not only did he blurb it, but he offered some generous and very useful feedback that actually made it into the book (so, at the very least, I know that he actually read it!) I really enjoyed Blood Oath, the first book in his series, and am looking forward to reading this one.

I don’t often read more than one book by authors unless the books are part of a series (and then I kind of consider them one work anyway) or I really, really love their work. I think people will be able to see the influences of some of my favorite authors and books in Children of Paranoia: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, anything by Kurt Vonnegut, For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemmingway, Darkness at Noon by Arther Koestler is amazing and was a really useful source in trying to understand a world full of propaganda and paranoia.

GJR: What motivates you to write? How do you avoid the dreaded writer’s block? How do you get over writer’s block?

TS: I love writing. I love thinking of ideas and I love how those ideas change and evolve when I sit down and start to put them on paper. It’s such a pure act of creation. As much as I love the act itself, I don’t think I could do it if I didn’t think that people were going to read what I was writing. The reaction of the audience is tremendously important.

I don’t really get writer’s block (near paralyzing bouts of self-doubt sometimes, but not writer’s block). Ideas generally come to me when I’m not writing and then I sit down at my computer and write until the entire idea has leaked out of my head and on to the paper. Once my brain is empty, I stop writing until the next idea comes. While ideas often evolve while I’m writing at my desk, I don’t think I’ve ever actually come up with an idea while sitting at my computer.

GJR: When you write, do you have to have background noise or total quiet? Has this changed as you’ve developed as a writer?

TS: I often listen to music while I write. I usually choose the music based on the tone of what I’m writing. For example, if I’m writing a scene with a lot of tension, I’m a big fan of Zoe Keating. I also sometimes choose the music based on what I think the character whose voice I’m writing in would listen to. The second book of the trilogy has a character that I consider kind of an old school rock and roll rebel and, whenever I was writing in her voice, I listened to live recordings of the Replacements. I’ve always written this way.

I’ve learned, over time, to edit in silence.

GJR: This is your debut novel, what have you learned the most from the whole process? What is your advice for anyone looking to get their book published?

TS: Be patient. Have thick skin. Write because you love it and not because you expect anything from it.

I started writing Children of Paranoia in 2005. I started querying agents in 2008. It took me about a year to find the right agent and then another year for her to sell the trilogy. So, it took five years from when I started writing the book to the date that it was eventually sold--five years full of rejection and hard choices (the hardest choice being saying “no” to an agent or a publisher because they want changes to your story that you think undermine what you’re trying to say and deciding to hold out for people who really love and understand what you’re trying to do despite the fact that those people might not exist).

I finally got the call from my agent that Dutton had extended an offer to purchase the trilogy on the same day that I started a new job. I kept having to sneak into a conference room to take phone calls about the offer and then I couldn’t really celebrate because it didn’t seem appropriate on my first day. I thought that it was all okay though because I figured I would get to celebrate with my wife and son when I got home after a hard day’s work. So, after work, I walked to my apartment in Brooklyn, ready for the celebration, only to find my wife and son waiting for me in front of the apartment building. I thought it was so nice that they were greeting me at the door to congratulate me except that they weren’t standing there to greet me at the door and congratulate me. Instead, they were waiting for me because one of the other kids at my son’s daycare bit him on the arm and we had to take him to the clinic to have the doctors look at the bite wound. We were at the clinic for almost four hours that night. So, I spent the night that I sold my first novel in the waiting room of a doctor’s office in Brooklyn. When we got home, all three of us were so exhausted that we went right to bed. Life goes on without regard to your successes or your failures, your good fortune or your bad luck. If you want to be a writer, you have to be patient and embrace the rest of your life because, without it, you’ll have nothing to write about.

Our many thanks go to Trevor for taking the time to answer our questions and to Dutton for arranging the opportunity.

You can follow Trevor on Twitter by the handle @ChildofParanoia. He also has a website that shows the book trailer.



M.E. August 30, 2011 at 1:57 PM  

Really enjoyed this interview with Trevor. I cannot wait to read his book after watching the book trailer. Thanks, girls!

Farin August 30, 2011 at 2:53 PM  

Great interview! And great job, girls!

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