Interview with Jeffrey Thomas and a Free Download!

Solaris Books just issued this press release:
In March 2008, SOLARIS will be releasing the much-anticipated new Punktown novel from Jeffrey Thomas. BLUE WAR is a science fiction thriller set on a colony world in another dimension, with blue jungles and exotic cultures. Private investigator Jeremy Stake is brought in by military leaders to investigate cloned human remains found in an otherwise empty city, and it leads him into a plot that could ignite an old war between two alien races. To support the publication of BLUE WAR, SOLARIS will be offering a FREE DOWNLOAD of our first Punktown novel, DEADSTOCK.

DEADSTOCK will be released for free download on the 25TH JANUARY 2008, available in PDF as well as Mobipocket Reader format.

In honor of the upcoming download release of Deadstock, here’s an interview I recently had with author Jeffrey Thomas. Enjoy his answers to questions about Deadstock and Punktown, and then go read the novel next month, free from Solaris!

Angela/SciFiChick: For those who haven’t read Deadstock yet, can you give us a brief synopsis?

Jeffrey Thomas: First off, Deadstock takes place in the crime-infested future city of Punktown, where much of my fiction has been set, beginning with the short story collection Punktown and on to novels like Monstrocity and Everybody Scream! But I write each Punktown story to stand on its own, so while it would certainly enhance the experience to have read one of these other books before Deadstock, it isn’t a necessity. I seldom carry over characters from one book to the next, either, though the major exception to this is going to be the private investigator, Jeremy Stake. Stake is Deadstock’s principal character, hired by the owner of a biotech company to find his daughter’s stolen doll. The thing about this doll — a kind of living Maltese Falcon — is that it’s a bioengineered life-form, slowly developing a mind and will all its own. There’s also an interwoven subplot about a gang of tough street kids trapped inside an abandoned apartment complex overseen by an organic computer mind, and guarded by a deadly horde of bioengineered servants. As the novel progresses the connection between the two plots comes to light, and it all has to do with biotechnology gone awry and the Frankensteinian theme of life brought into existence without sufficient thought given to personal or moral reponsibility.

SFC: Where do you get your ideas for your unique characters in Punktown?

JT: Well, I think all my protagonists are me, in a way, distortions of who I am or at least grown out of elements of myself. That’s inescapable. But we are all of us so many people — people we can be proud of or people we loathe. Examining one’s own complexity is the best education for writers striving to formulate complex fictitious characters. But naturally, many characters are entirely figments of the imagination, while others are inspired by real people aside from myself. My wife Hong, for instance, is part of the inspiration for the character Thi Gonh, who appears in flashbacks in Deadstock but has much more to do in the follow up novel, Blue War. But there was another Vietnamese woman who helped inspire Thi Gonh, and that was a soldier named Vo Thi Mo, a hardened killer of Americans while just in her teens, who one day unexpectedly spared the lives of three defenseless US soldiers, maybe as much to her own suprise as anyone else’s. That event — and what it says about human complexity — fascinated me a lot, and blatantly worked its way into Deadstock. And getting back to the idea that I am all my many protagonists in one body, well, that might be a subconscious inspiration for Jeremy Stake, a mutant who has the ability to take on the physical charactersitics of other people and thus masquerade as them. He and I both have our useful masks, I guess.

SFC: Punktown is a unique and dark place. Has creating it been a gradual process, or did you come up with it right away?

JT: I’ve been building upon the concept and the city since the first inspiration in 1980, but that first inspiration came to me almost full-blown; an epiphany if you will! For some reason or other, a certain image set it off. My father was driving me somewhere, and I saw a woman in a car whose hair hung down in front of her face, so that it looked like hair was growing out of her shadowed eye sockets. This macabre image was the spark for a recurring Punktown race called the Tikkihotto, who are human looking except for their weird eye tendrils. But during that drive, it all started to flow from my subconscious to the forefront of my mind. Punktown would be this sprawling, crime-ridden city on another world where just about anything could happen. But more than a prediction of life in the future, it would be a distorted look at — and vitriolic commentary on — our own here-and-now.

SFC: If you could make any of your novels into a movie, which would it be and why?

JT: My novel Letters From Hades has already been optioned, so I’m going to say that one. Rather than Punktown, this novel takes place in my own humble vision of the netherworld. Again, it’s a setting I’ve returned to in other stories, such as the novella Beautiful Hell in the joint project Ugly Heaven/Beautiful Hell from Delirium Books (the corresponding Ugly Heaven novella being penned by cool “bizarro” author Carlton Mellick III). Then there’s my forthcoming collection Voices From Hades, from Dark Regions Press, which gathers all my Hades short stories plus some originals. The proposal for Letters From Hades has been making the rounds in Hollywood for a couple years, and I’ve heard again and again how people have loved it and the book, but it would have to be a big budget affair and so far no one has committed to the project, though my Hollywood connection and partner in this, Josh Boone — director of the upcoming movie Parallel — still has high hopes for us. Cross your fingers.

SFC: How long did it take you to write Deadstock?

JT: Oh, man, my memory is like a sieve so off the top of my head I can’t give you clear start and end points. I had been asked by then brand new publishing imprint Solaris to submit an idea for a Punktown novel, and so I sent an outline and three sample chapters. I can at least tell you that the novel’s acceptance was formally announced in a press release on April 4th, 2006. After that I went full steam ahead, and once the novel was completed and submitted there was an extended editing process and some rewrites. This was a little bit different for me, because in the indie press — where most of my work had appeared up until this time — I had never faced this level of editorial input on my books. I guess it was a humbling experience, but a valuable one. A lot was going on in my private life at the time, and at one point while I was staying in Vietnam with my wife I was so generally stressed out that I had a little meltdown over the process, and broke down (looking into my face as I talked to her, my poor wife empathized so much that she broke into tears, too). But as I say, I was stressed, and I’ve learned not to let my ego overwhelm me. In mass market publishing, a lot of money is at stake and sometimes you’ve simply got to make concessions, or at least open your mind to input and suggestions. You can’t always be the diva when other people are putting their trust in you like that. It’s a fine balance between being cooperative and remaining true to your vision.

SFC: According to Solaris, the sequel, Blue War, will be releasing in March of 2008. What can you tell us about it?

JT: Yep, and that will make a year since the release of Deadstock. Blue War is not strictly a sequel, so one can enjoy it without having read Deadstock — which as I’ve said is the case with all my Punktown work — though it does carry over some people from Deadstock, mainly the protagonist, private detective Jeremy Stake. Stake shared Deadstock with various other characters, but he is very much the heart and soul of Blue War, so that we view the proceedings pretty much entirely through his eyes. In Deadstock, and in the short story In His Sights, from The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, volume 1, we learn that Jeremy Stake is a veteran of the so-called Blue War, which took place in the blue-leaved jungles of the planet Sinan, a world that exists in another dimension. The war’s been over for a decade now and an Earth Colonies biotech company has begun developing apartment complexes there, grown from a semi-organic material. One of these projects goes terribly wrong, for reasons that Stake ends up investigating, and instead of another apartment complex the living material begins replicating the city of Punktown in all its vastness. Forming at an unbelievable rate, this bizarre Punktown replica is consuming the forests, displacing the natives, and creating dangerous tensions between the Sinanese races and the Earth Colonies. In the course of looking into this catastrophe, and into the related discovery of three mysterious cloned humans grown in the heart of the new Punktown, Stake goes up against Earth’s Colonial Forces, a local crime syndicate, and a powerful Punktown-based corporation. But in addition to all that, Stake has a chance to reexamine his own role in the war, and his brief romantic relationship with the enemy soldier, Thi Gonh, who was then his prisoner.

SFC: How many books do you have planned for Punktown?

JT: I have an idea and a lot of notes for another Jeremy Stake novel, or it may want to take form as a novella instead, and there’s a Punktown novel I wrote in 1987 called Health Agent that’s going to come out as soon as I’ve finally got around to addressing its edits, but other than that I really don’t plan too far down the road. I’m sure I’ll return to Punktown again and again, because I feel so at home there, but exactly when I’ll go and what I’ll find there remains to be seen.

SFC: What’s next for you, besides your Punktown novels? Any other stories on the horizon?

JT: As I mentioned, there’s the collection Voices From Hades due in early 2008 from Dark Regions Press, who released my recent horror collection Doomsdays. And later in 2008 Dark Regions plans on releasing Voices From Punktown, which will gather the most recent crop of my Punktown short stories to have appeared in print, in various magazines and anthologies, plus some original pieces. Then there will be some foreign language editions of my books, such as a Taiwanese Letters From Hades. There are talks regarding a graphic novel adaptation of some of my Punktown shorts, too.

SFC: Tell us a bit about yourself and your experience in writing.

JT: Well, like just about every other writer I’ve come into contact with, and there have been many, I’ve supported myself with a “day job” (though currently that’s a graveyard shift day job). My experience has often been in the blue collar world, though a lot of writers I’ve known have been technical writers, journalists, editors and teachers and so forth, at least in a sense making a living from the written word — if not the stuff they’re passionate about. That’s just the sad reality of it. You hear about the fat paychecks the fortunate few on the bestseller lists pocket, and you have your preconceived notions of the glamourous writing life, and so maybe you can’t conceive of a brilliant guy like Thomas Ligotti working a regular job to pay his bills. Or Ramsey Campbell — Ramsey Campbell! — recently having to work, if only for a short time, in a chain bookstore. It just shows that if you’re sticking with this writing thing, you must really love what you’re doing; that it isn’t just about the money for you. If it was just about money for me I’d be a pretty misguided, not to mention broke, soul. At least I can say, at this stage, that I do depend on my writing to help me make my budget. I couldn’t get by without that additional income, so I guess that’s something, huh?

SFC: What inspires you?

JT: Everything I come into contact with. For example, in 2004 I visited Vietnam (and briefly, South Korea) for the first time, and I’m someone who had previously never left the USA. Since then I’ve been to Vietnam five times more, and believe me, I’ve filled notebooks with my experiences and observations. Add to this the fact that my wife Hong is Vietnamese, and you can guess that a lot of my impressions are going to work their way into my fiction. This is for a variety of reasons. For one, it’s simply the way I digest and process the world around me. For another, I think it’s brought a whole new dimension to my life, broadened my insights into the world, which had been so much more limited before. When I first started writing about Punktown in 1980, the city I saw most in my mind was Worcester, Massachusetts. But as the years went on, I saw more of Boston, visited New York, changed planes often in Hong Kong and walked in downtown Seoul and Saigon, and all of this can only make Punktown more of the heterogeneous and multidimensional megalopolis that a city of the future would have to be. My experiences in Vietnam inspired me greatly through the writing of Blue War, as will be very apparent to its readers. The similarities to Vietnam of the novel’s setting are not a lazy device I’m trying to sneak past the reader, but something I chose very deliberately to do for thematic reasons. And you know, in the end I just want to share my great enthusiasm for that country. I want to shake your arm and say, “Hey, I saw this place that’s so different from here — let me tell you about it!” It’s that impulse that makes me a writer in the first place.

SFC: Who are some of your favorite authors? What books do you love?

JT: I have wide-ranging tastes, which I personally think is a must for a well rounded author. That, and doughnuts have made me fairly well rounded. Thomas Hardy, for his sense of place, poetry, and tragedy; his Tess of the d’Urbervilles may still be my favorite novel. Ray Bradbury for The Martian Chronicles; how many notes did he hit in that one collection? This series of stories, set in a particular place but with unrelated plotlines, had to have, at least subconsciously, influenced my collection Punktown. Lately I’m devouring Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko novels; he strikes the perfect blance between popular entertainment and literary ability, and his research is always breathtaking but unobtrusive. Other favorites are Blatty’s The Exorcist, Matheson’s I Am Legend, Danielewski’s House of Leaves, VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen, Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea, brother Scott’s Westermead, Kathe Koja’s The Cipher, The Godfather, Red Dragon, Fight Club, Barker’s Books of Blood, Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars stories, and anything Lovecraft. I could of course go on and on, and will kick myself later for forgetting some important favorites.

SFC: What do you do when you’re not writing? In your spare time?

JT: There’s barely enough spare time for writing, let alone much else, these days, what with my “day” job and new wife and all, but when I can guiltily squeeze in the time I love movies, often odd or foreign horror and the like. I have to confess that I love going shopping, hanging around in malls for hours on end, though again I haven’t had much time for that as of late. And one of my absolute favorite things is to take long walks around my town, during which I’ll stop for a coffee in the local bookstore with my son or for dinner and a few drinks in a Chinese or Japanese restaurant with my wife. Family time for me is paramount. Writing has to take a back seat, even ride in the trunk, when it comes to that.

SFC: Thanks for your time! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

JT: Just my gratitude for the opportunity to talk about my work like this. Thanks so much for that!

And check out Jeffrey Thomas’ interview with Fantasy Blog Critic as well:

4 thoughts on “Interview with Jeffrey Thomas and a Free Download!”

  1. Hey, I actually just posted my interview with Mr. Thomas too in correspondence with the Solaris press release 🙂 Very cool. I’ll be sure to link your interview with it!

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