A book club contacted me because they were reading Clean (yay) and wanted me to answer some questions. Since my answers were long, I thought you might like to read them.
1. How do you approach setting up a plausible tone of the period you are writing about when it has yet to happen?
Future Decatur was pretty closely modeled on the Decatur of the time frame when I lived there, 2001 to 2005. The area at that time was an interesting mix of old and new, worn down and shiny, safe and dangerous. The faded cow sculptures, for example, in either the first or second book were taken from a Chick-fil-A sponsored art display they did throughout the city at the time. I pulled from details I saw and extended them out into the future, adding noir touches when I could. I had a very particular “smell” and “feel” for the world that I wanted. This got lost a bit in book 4, but I’m trying to pull it back as I approach book 5.
2. Do you use examples from the present to model/construct the parameters of your future reality? i. e. for Tech Wars, Koshna Treaty, Mindspace/Telepathy (“facts”)
Hopefully I understand the question here. The Mindspace/Telepathy is based on physics principles from my classes in school combined with some of how Catherine Asaro visualized her psion’s mathematical-based world. It’s also based on my understanding of how the human mind/brain works through such books as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, and others. While it’s fantasy, I tried to have it solidly grounded in real principles.
Koshna is the same. I pulled from the Pegasus books by Anne McCaffrey as my starting point (I loved those as a teen), but the details of how the Guild operated there seemed a little too idealistic and clean to me. I approached the same kind of problems with the gritty take on reality you get from good cops shows like The Closer and books like Catspaw by Joan D. Vinge.
I did a lot of research for these books, both in terms of online research on how police forces worked and through two trips to The Writer’s Police Academy. I tried to think critically about how telepathy would work in practice in combination with the law.
The Tech Wars are a simpler thing. I’ve always been a little worried about the Internet of Things and its inevitable growth and vulnerability to hacking. (Most Internet of Things devices are connected to the internet with little or no firewalls or protection of any kind—they’re just hanging there, open.) Tech Wars is just an extreme end point to the trends I see moving in the world right now.
The tricky part was thinking through the consequences that an event like the Tech Wars would have on the world afterwards. Up until the very last draft of Clean Adam and Cherabino still had cell phones, and I think there’s one use of them that I missed in final draft revisions. But the anti-technology thing that I had charted out ultimately didn’t play well with cell phones, or really anything. I actually sat down and tried to figure out if you could stabilize a fusion engine with the processing power of an oven timer chip… and roughly said that you could, mostly. We went to orbit on paper and pencil calculations, largely, and then eventually the moon with less processing capability than you and I have in our smart phones right now. If you’re careful with how you do it, analog can take you a long way.
3. Women are treated as equals in this society as long as they do their jobs whereas Adam, a competent high level telepath although recovering addict, is treated with distain. Is this just because the normals fear the possibility that Adam is still working for the Guild or that he could have some power over them if he chose to?
I gave up the conceit in later books because people just don’t see it in the first, but I intended for Adam to be an unreliable narrator in Clean. Half of what he reads in other people in the station is his own insecurities. Even when he reads Cherabino’s emotions correctly (which he nearly always does), the conclusions he draws from them are often wrong. Telepathy doesn’t mean omniscience.
So the “equal society” thing is a mix of two things. I do deliberately make society more egalitarian on the level of sex/gender than it is in our present world. But some of this is simply that Adam sees the world this way, and is a white male—he’s not in a position to see some of the sexism that’s happening behind the scenes, though I think he sees the shadow of the institutional racism that Paulsen is facing as she’s overlooked for promotions later in the series. Adam truly sees women as equals, without any caveats. His mentor at the Guild is a woman, and one of the most powerful telepaths who has ever lived. I think that helped. He also doesn’t like his father’s abusive and toxic masculinity, so he’s identified with the Guild’s at least surface level egalitarianism so strongly he doesn’t question it. His father is wrong. The Guild is right. Even in a world post-Guild, some parts of his identity are too solidly attached to move.
So the legitimate hostility that Adam faces (which is not everything he sees in the first book, some of which is his insecurities) is made up of two components. One, the police in that precinct see addiction as a character issue—and he’s fallen off the wagon while there. They have tremendous contempt for someone who falls to drugs, and that’s mixed with shame that some of them are repressing for being heavy drinkers in a world where heavy drinking is “normal” and yet deals out a lot of damage. They have to hate Adam so they can feel okay. Secondly, they’re afraid of the Guild and of the power that Adam can wield, in theory, to expose their deepest secrets. Given that they see him as flawed and untrustworthy, because of the drugs, and worthy of contempt therefore, they are terrified of having someone like that rummage in their heads and having the power to expose their secrets. They are hostile to try to re-establish their power.
4. Did you explain why Adam can’t ease Isabella’s migraine headaches since he seems to have multiple abilities that would deal with this pain?
I don’t think I did, actually, in the published material. I have a lovely scene about this that I wrote for Sharp or Marked that didn’t end up making it to the final draft (it didn’t fit). At that point, Cherabino trusts him enough to allow him deep enough into her brain to help set up an association to stop the migraine pain. That’s why her pain is so much better later in the series. Maybe I’ll try to find this, polish it up, and figure out a way to share it.
Basically, early in the series, Cherabino flat out doesn’t want him in her head and is sensitive enough to tell when he is. She’d rather hurt than have him that close, even though he’s offered. (She also flatly doesn’t believe he can do what he says he can do.) By the time that scene happens, he’s earned trust and a feeling of competence from her.
5. Swartz is a strong influence on Adam throughout the narrative. He says, ”Be humble, you need a system (to cope) with God and…others”. Adam slowly comes to embrace this at the end and wants to be “clean” and have a “regular life”. Is this your personal belief or just the words of your character Swartz? Is the name Swartz a nod to “May the Swartz be with you “ in the movie Space Balls?
LOL, it’s not, but sure why not.
Swartz represents an idealized set of beliefs that I held at one point, the best and most compassionate redemptive part of Christianity, the part where God pursues broken people with the belief that they are worthy of help and kindness and dignity and healing, and loves them endlessly and unconditionally through their pain. That part of the beliefs that I held at one point was truly beautiful, and made the world better.
Swartz is also based in part on a real person who I interviewed, a man named Theo who was in his late 60s when we talked. Theo got sober in his early thirties and has spent the last thirty years mentoring others, 2 and 3 at a time, in morning meetings like Swartz. He, like Swartz, believes in a God who loves and who heals, and sobriety to him means embracing that God. Approaching Theo’s character in Swartz means talking about God; to him, the two processes are indistinguishable.
I do absolutely believe that healing and wholeness from addiction and trauma absolutely require social support and ideally a sense of something greater than yourself. Setting up ways to be better when you feel weak is the only way it works.
6. I believe Adam’s name only appears at the end of the book? Is it because he undergoes a journey in this book to become a new man (Bible reference)?
LOL. Yep. I was feeling all literary and profound at the time, and giving him a name at the end was him finding his feet and his identity again after a long time away.
7. I appreciated the multifaceted characters of Adam and Isabella and watching them deal with the mounting pressures and tension as well as dealing with the slowly developing connections between them. Are they based on real people?
Thank you! I love these characters, though I know that not everyone connects with them. Glad you did. 🙂
There’s a piece of Adam that was based on someone I knew, and a piece of him that’s me. Eventually though he became his own person.
Cherabino grew over time, over the drafts. Her name was from a friend’s baby (I asked if I could use the name), and I struggled with her some. In the beginning she was only angry. Maybe a way for Adam to externalize his own anger. Once we went to the gravesite and saw who she was mourning, though, suddenly she started to come into focus. Cherabino, for all of her anger, represents an important external source of structure and justice that Adam desperately needs. She’s kicked and screamed and refused to let him give up at some very important times. So while he doesn’t like being hit, that time she hit him, in his heart he thinks he deserves it and in his heart he’ll sign up for it a hundred times if that means she’ll be there at his worst.
He knows she won’t let him die, or fall back into that life he had before, even if it kills her. The loyalty that binds them is very real and very important to them both, for all that they are dysfunctional.
8. Are you going to write more books to add to the books in this series?
I’ve got parts of 5 and 6 sitting on my harddrive right now, and I’m chipping away at them. I’ve had several very tough Major Life Things hit over the last 3 years, which have slowed me down, but I am planning to continue for at least another 2 books and, God willing, will release at least one of these Q4 2018.
What about you, dear readers? Any questions you want answered?