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.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sean, we are glad you gave up archaeology to write. Although it gave you an incredible background and wealth of experiences for your stories. Wonder if we'll see some of Iran or Turkey once this series is finished?
Good stuff, guys! Sean rocks.

Tina said...

Nice to see you, Rusty! No apologies necessary, just blog when you can. Life is important.

Hi Sean! Post-apocalyptic sci-fi is my favorite genre of sci-fi, which is my favorite genre... It's what I write, too. This book sounds like exactly the kind that MIGHT slow down my works way too hard Engineer to sit and read...perhaps a gift is in order...
Best of luck with your book, and those to come.
Tina @ Life is Good
A to Z Team @ Blogging From A to Z April Challenge 2014

Tony Laplume said...

If you inverse the name, does that also make Jackson Andrews a better person?

Jo said...

Sounds like a good read. When I get through the TBR I have.

Nice to see you around Rusty.

M Pax said...

I sure want to read that book. It was fun to learn more about Sean.

Andrew Leon said...

It's a hard sale for me. I'm really just so over post-apocalyptic literature. I've been over since it the 80s.

Sean McLachlan said...

Alex: my wife and I are talking about going to Iran for our 15th anniversary next year! I was there in the 90s and loved it. I'd sure like to get back.

D.G. Hudson said...

Nice to see Sean here! I've started reading Radio Hope, and I'm enjoying it. I like seeing how we interpret surviving a major disaster.

You never know when you might gain some knowledge, just in case, you know. Now I want a ham radio.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Being an archeologist must give you a fascinating insight into the world for your books. Great interview Sean and thanks for popping in Rusty!

Briane P said...

Andrew, how can you not love a good post-apocalyptic story, especially one that has no zombies in it?

This sounds REALLY good. I'm gonna wishlist it. I love the radio station idea.

Heather Holden said...

Great interview! I was especially intrigued by the different ways a society could collapse...

40Plus Teenager said...

Blog when you can, see you during A to Z.

Jay Noel said...

Radio Hope sounds so incredibly interesting. I will check it out!

Nigel G. Mitchell said...

Sounds like a unique take on post-apocalyptic stories. I like it!