Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Interview With Sean McLachlan... Plus, Where Have I Been?

Greetings all, well, in case you haven't noticed, lil 'ol Rusty has been disappeared lately. I'd explain, but really, there isn't much to say. I've had much to do, and someone has been stealing time from my days. It doesn't leave me with many options. So, I've not been around. I will be back on the bandwagon soon. Not quite yet, though. I still have some things to take care of around the homestead before I can officially say I'm back.

So why am I posting today? Because I wanted to take a moment to introduce everyone to Sean McLachlan, author of Radio Hope. I read this in February and thought it was amazing. When he said he'd be interested in visiting the blog here to discuss his latest novel, I jumped at the chance to have him.

And like a good sport, he answered some of my questions. So, without any further awkward apologies from me, check out our conversation below:


First off, you worked for a decade as an archaeologist and have written a large number of non-fiction books. What made you decide to branch out into fiction?

I switched from archaeology to writing about 15 years ago. I had already earned a Masters degree and worked on excavations in several different countries such as Israel, Cyprus, and Bulgaria. But I got to a point where I looked at the atmosphere in academia, with all its petty territorialism and backstabbing and scrambling for tenure, and I realized it wasn’t for me. I’d already gotten what I wanted out of archaeology—the thrill of discovery with some great excavations. It was time to move on.
I’d been part of the zine movement for a while, producing my own zine called Ichthyoelectroanalgesia and writing for others, so it was an easy step to move into freelance writing, focusing on my strengths of archaeology, history, and travel. Like most writers I wanted to do fiction as well. Someone once told me “a writer is a reader inspired.” As a lover of historical novels and post-apocalyptic fiction, I guess it’s no surprise I started writing them too!

Your most recent novel, Radio Hope tells the story of one settlement trying desperately trying to hold on to civilization as the rest of the world slowly descends into anarchy. What made you want to tell this type of story, as opposed to another historical narrative, like in your previous novel?

My first novel, A Fine Likeness, was deeply rooted into the research I did about Civil War Missouri. I’ve always been a fan of the post-apocalyptic genre, so I decided to try that next. My fiction often explores the consequences of bad decisions, so my post-apocalyptic story doesn’t have zombies or alien invasions or asteroid strikes, instead the destruction of civilization is our own fault.

I'd assume, as an archaeologist, that you've got some insight into the major contributing factors that have caused previous societies to collapse. Anything you'd like to share about what failed societies have in common, aside from the fact that they failed?

One of the most common traits in failed societies is a lack of care for the environment. Even preindustrial cultures can impact the environment. For example, the Easter Island civilization rose to great heights of technical and artistic ability, but they cut down all the trees on the island, radically reducing their ability to survive. Cultures such as the Maya and Abbasid period Iraq damaged their environment through over-farming, helping to lead to the decline those complex societies.
Another disruptive force is a failure to transfer power from one ruler to another. Perhaps the best example of this is Rome in Late Antiquity, when various rival emperors wasted the Empire’s resources in constant power struggles just as the Persian and Germanic tribes were closing in. War with more powerful neighbors can also destroy a civilization even if it manages its environment and politics well.
There are, of course, many reasons for a civilization to fail, and the process isn’t fully understood, but you can see how our current environmental decline could lead to a rise in warfare, leading to more harm to the environment and creating a vicious downward spiral that ends with a world like that in Radio Hope.

You did a marvelous job of having a story with characters that are motivated for understandable reasons. I didn't see any real villains here, just people with different ideas about how to make a better world, or a disagreement over what a better world would look like.
One of the interesting things you bring up in the novel is that it's a crime punishable by banishment to lay accusations about what caused the fall of society in the first place. Can you talk a little about that? It seems like it might be a great idea not to cast blame in the aftermath of a tragedy, but it sounds like there is backstory there about why it's such an unforgivable crime. Please tell.

The founders of New City made some strict rules early on in an attempt to stop their nascent society from repeating the mistakes of the past. During the fall of the old civilization, from the Economic Collapse and World War Three through the Plague Years to the City State Wars, there was a huge amount of infighting with people scapegoating whomever they thought of as the enemy. New City tries to avoid all that by forgetting the past and moving forward.
This, of course, doesn’t always work. One of my main characters, Jackson Andrews, was branded and stripped of his citizenship for Blame, and now that he lives on the fringes of society outside the walls he’s continuing to Blame. In the second book, Refugees from the Righteous Horde, due out in May, more of this infighting bubbles to the surface, and in book three it explodes.

Radio Hope is a mysterious station that broadcasts practical information to people hoping to survive and rebuild, I'm intensely curious about what we're going to learn in future books. Can you give us some clues?

Radio Hope is an anomaly in this world—people giving something for nothing. The station operators are anonymous and no one knows where the broadcasts come from. The radio operators are transmitting vital information about medicine, agriculture, and other subjects with no way for the listeners to pay them back. In the first book of my series there are fleeting glimpses of the people behind it. More information is forthcoming in future volumes, including how it was set up, and its possible links to the mayor of New City. Something happens at the beginning of Book Three that forces the people behind Radio Hope to come out of hiding. The truths they reveal shake New City’s society to the core.

This is clearly the start of a series, with the second one soon to come. How many books do you have planned?

I don’t have a set number of books planned. There are a lot of stories to tell in this world so I’ve decided to leave it open-ended and let the series live out a natural life, which is more than most of the residents of the Toxic World get to do!


So, there it is, great stuff. Check out the blurb and be sure to pick up a copy. Seriously, it's very good.

In a world shattered by war, pollution and disease. . .
A gunslinging mother longs to find a safe refuge for her son.
A frustrated revolutionary delivers water to villagers living on a toxic waste dump. 
The assistant mayor of humanity's last city hopes he will never have to take command.
One thing gives them the promise of a better future--Radio Hope, a mysterious station that broadcasts vital information about surviving in a blighted world. But when a mad prophet and his army of fanatics march out of the wildlands on a crusade to purify the land with blood and fire, all three will find their lives intertwining, and changing forever.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

IWSG - the World is Ending... I'm Calling Time Out

I'm not going to lie about this. I'm in a hurry today. The winds of change in my personal life are blowing and I'm having to discover a new routine for posting and such. Right now, I've not been doing much internety things.

But, this is the one day a month that Alex J Cavanaugh has given us, through the Insecure Writer's Support Group, to vent about all our troubles and woes and not have to worry about people thinking we're whiney, we're supposed to be whiney today. All of you trying to encourage others on your own blogs are starting to make me feel bad, so make up some troubles if you have your act together, just to make me feel better about myself. You know, misery loving company and all that.

Anyway, this month, I want to take just a moment to talk about my latest meltdown, which is this: I'll never be good enough.

It would take me way too long to get into all the details of how I went down this rabbit hole of self pity and doubt, but needless to say, that's where I'm at. I feel kinda like Michael Jordan when he quit basketball to pursue life as a baseball player. Not that I had this other field I'm so great in that I left, but that he was one of the most notoriously hard workers on the planet, but no matter how much work he put into it, he just couldn't will himself into being a major league baseball player.

And all that work he was putting into developing his skills of a baseball player, well, it was described like thing: If he were on your company softball team, you would think he's he greatest ever. But put him on a team with other major league prospects, and you begin to see that he's missing something.

Ah Ha! That's me. I've spent a decade obsessing about the craft - in spite the of fact that the comma is a still a mystery to me - and I think back to Michael Jordan, yes, I can shoot 1000 free throws per day just like he did when he played basketball, but there is not training I can do that will give me hands large enough to wrap halfway around a basketball, or to jump so high that I'm in danger of hitting my head against the rim when I leap.

Those are things that someone is born with. I wonder if writing is the same way sometimes. Yes, I can learn to plot a decent story, but that won't make me great.

And that's my rant, my fear, to put it more succinctly, is that as good as I can ever dream of being, won't be enough to ever make me the writer I want to be. Period. And as such, well, I don't know. Don't judge me. It's my free day.