Saturday, August 6, 2011
Interview with David Maine author of The Gamble of the Godless
Today's featured author is David Maine who just released his new book The Gamble of the Godless.
I was born in 1963 and grew up in Farmington, Connecticut. I was the youngest of four children, so I was always running to keep up, and I spent a fair amount of time playing or reading by myself, because in some ways everybody else was ahead of me.
When did you decide that you wanted to become a writer?
Very early. According to my mom, I learned to read at a very young age—like, three or four—and I can’t remember not reading. I was the sort of kid who, if he read a story, he would want to write one, and if he saw a movie, he’d want to make one, and if he heard a song he liked, he’d want to hum his own. I used to do the weirdest things—I made phony advertisements that parodied cars and cigarettes when I was like ten years old. I wrote and illustrated a fake handbook of birds. I didn’t even know what I was doing.
Do you remember any of those fake ads?
There was one for a brand of cigarettes called BAD. The motto was: “If it has some taste… it can’t be BAD.” There was another one for a kind of car called the Toesmobile, which was like an Oldsmobile but it was the Toesmobile because it always broke down and you had to push it. This sort of thing is pretty hilarious when you’re ten.
But you grew out of all that.
Yeah but it took a while. For a long time I was obsessed with Star Trek, so I read the Star Trek serializations by James Blish, and then wrote my own, and then wrote a Star Trek parody called Scar Trek—featuring Captain Jerk and Mister Schlock—and then wrote a gazillion post-apocalypse stories in high school. You know, it was like 1979, 1980, people were thinking about that kind of thing. I loved Harlan Ellison’s “A Boy and His Dog” and Roger Zelazny’s Damnation Alley. Oh and comics too, I was heavy Marvel fan. But then I went to college and it all went to hell.
You kept writing, though.
Sure. And later I went to grad school and got my MFA in creatuve writing and then I got married and moved overseas with my wife. We lived in Morocco for three years and Pakistan for ten, and moved back to the States in 2008. Interestingly, it was when I lived in Morocco that I began writing The Gamble of the Godless, and it was while in Pakistan that my first four successful novels were bought and published.
Is there a connection, do you think, between your time living overseas and your success as a writer?
Oh yeah. I think living in another country for the first time, taking myself out of my comfort zone so to speak, was immensely important for me. The Gamble of the Godless is about a kid—he’s 17—who leaves the farm where he’s lived his whole life and goes off to find his brother, who has been duped into joining an army that’s going to war against an innocent population. So Avin—that’s the kid—crosses the mountains with some comrades and finds a whole world out there he never knew. There’s a canine society and a bear society, there’s a feline territory that’s run by “the sisterhood” and a snake community living entirely underground. He makes friends with an owl who can communicate telepathically and a cheetah who’s addicted to narcotics, and a whole slew of other characters. Through it all, though, he feels really out of place and disoriented, he makes mistakes and annoys people without realizing it and is given credit for stuff he never even thought about. It seems pretty clear that the Avin character is a stand in, to some degree, for me, as I strived to make my way through some societies that were fairly different from the one I grew up in. When I look back on it now, it seems pretty obvious, but at the time I didn’t think about it consciously at all.
Oh hell, I don’t know. Elves and dwarves seemed pretty played, even back in the mid-90s, before the LOTR movies. Plus, I must admit: I love animals. I would prefer their company to that of human beings, much of the time.
Are you particularly fond of cheetahs and owls and snakes?
You bet. And also praying mantises and raccoons, all kinds of stuff—it all shows up sooner or later.
So then, once you were done with he book, you set it aside for 15 years?
Well, that wasn’t the plan. But the book was a shambling mess at 475 pages; I didn’t know it was a mess though. I thought fantasy novels were supposed to be huge, you know?
Like The Wheel of Time.
Oy! Yes. So, I sent it to some agents, but nobody wanted it, and one guy finally told me, in essence, that it was too damn long. But I ignored that and wrote the sequel, which was even longer. Not in a good way either: sloppy writing, too much chatter, conversations that went nowhere, that sort of thing. Anyway I finished the sequel and nothing happened with that book either, so I quit the series and wrote some other stuff.
Would those be your Biblical novels?
Eventually, yeah. There were a couple things in between, but—so after a few years, this was 2002 or so, I wrote this novel about Noah’s ark called The Preservationist that turned out to be the first novel I ever sold. And then another called Fallen the next year. And then I was doing a third book and it was around this time that I remembered these old fantasy stories gathering dust in my drawer, so I took a look at them, fully expecting them to be great—and I was appalled at how loose and wordy and sloppy they were.
The good news was, the intervening few years had seen me become a better writer, so I could address the problems. I shaved that 475-page book by a good hundred pages and showed it to my agent, who loved it and wanted the sequel. So I fixed up the sequel too, and then in a flight of creativity wrote the third in the series. My agent liked them all but after a couple years of trying to place them with publishers he gave up.
Why wouldn’t the publishers bite?
No idea. Maybe they wanted vampires? Or something urban? Harry Potter was huge at the time, and my books weren’t quite like Harry Potter. My characters get several years older between each book—by the third, Avin’s pushing thirty—so maybe it wasn’t kid-friendly enough. But you know, a part of it may also have been, ironically, that I was somewhat successful as a literary fiction writer. The publishing industry likes writers who are good at something, but it’s a little suspicious of writers who try to be good at a lot of things. I had people telling me, “Just keep writing the Bible books, Dave, you’ve found your niche.” But you know, I’m not really wired like that.
So here you are releasing it independently.
Yeah! And that’s so cool. The amazing thing about the last ten years—really, the last five or six years—is that the whole e-reader thing has just obliterated the barricades to writers who want to publish their own work. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing publishers—I love publishers. They’ve published just about every book I’ve ever read and loved, including my own. St Martin’s published my first four books when I was unknown and bewildered, and Red Hen in California is publishing my next literary novel in 2012. So I love publishers. But—there are now alternatives to publishers for writers who are confident in their work and want to put it before readers. That’s a tremendous opportunity. Of course, much indie stuff will be awful in one way or another, just like there are awful indie movies and unlistenable indie music. But there will be good stuff too, stuff that would not have found a home otherwise, and that’s a terrific development.
One last question: anything you can tell us about the sequel?
The sequel to The Gamble of the Godless is called The Rime of the Remorseless. It contains many characters from the first book, plus some new ones—a heron named Elgar and variety of underwater critters, including some sassy seahorses. There’s a big threat to the entire known world, again, only this time emanating from beneath the sea. It’s batshit crazy and a wicked good time.
That’s all I need to know then. Thanks for stopping by today and good luck with the new book.
Everyone who is interested be sure to check back in the next week or two for my review of The Gamble of the Godless