TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery.
John: Thank you. That chair under the spotlight?
TQ: Yes, please.
TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
John: Hmm. Semi-chronic writer's block? I can't write with any background music? My first drafts contain more editorial comments and notes to myself than actual text?
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
John: Current favourites would be Terry Pratchett, John le Carré, Guy Gavriel Kay, and a lot of sf writers; if I have to pick a sample of them: Ursula Le Guin, Gene Wolfe, Peter Watts, Brian Aldiss, China Miéville, J. G. Ballard.
The biggest single influence is almost certainly William Golding, whose first five novels hit me in my late teens and early twenties. The effect of Pincher Martin and The Inheritors in particular was immense. I spent two or three years trying to imitate him and then five or ten trying not to. He may still be my model stylist.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
John: Somewhere in between: a groper maybe. It goes best if I have a good starting point and a sense of where the piece is heading and how it will end--but the middle is often vague, and things almost always change on the way, if only in the next draft. The middle of Janus changed a lot.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
John: Getting invention to flourish. Getting what feels like a promising idea to grow into a story. Writing is important to me, but usually difficult.
TQ: Describe Janus in 140 characters or less.
John: People on another planet dealing with identity problems, tortured romances, suspicious accidents and a possible conspiracy.
TQ: What inspired you to write Janus?
John: The most honest answer is, I don't know. It was triggered somehow by my reading Lester del Rey's story "Evensong" in Harlan Ellison's anthology Dangerous Visions, a long time ago. The result was a short story that almost wrote itself. It was very clumsy and overwrought, but it ultimately developed into the novel. Quite recently I re-read "Evensong" on the web, and it had no particular resonance for me, and little connection to anything I'd written; so the process that led to my first attempt at the Janus plot is a mystery. Motifs in Janus, such as lost memories, keep cropping up in my short stories, so the book clearly grew from something important, but so far I haven't figured out exactly what that is.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Janus?
John: As little as possible! I read up a bit about dam construction. I found that a piece of dirigible technology I'd cited had evidently died and I dropped it from the book. I checked some facts about about firearms--confirmed my impression about revolvers, and changed Ruger to Ingram. Most of the rest was stuff I felt I knew or could safely invent. The book is primarily a personal drama--it happens to need an extra-terrestrial setting, but I didn't want myself or the reader to get sidetracked by a mass of technological or exobiological detail.
TQ: Tell us something about Janus that is not in the book description.
John: It contains the only dirigible-hijacking using automatic weapons I've written.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
John: I don't have a good answer for that. Some scenes were notably easy or hard, but I don't think I had similar feelings about particular characters. It probably helped that my nastiest character, a spear-carrier, is seen only from the outside. The writing process is fundamentally mysterious, though. I remember writing one intense scene and congratulating myself on being very professional and analytical about it--visualising details, focusing on getting the words right, keeping the right balance between intensity and distance and so on--and then at the end, when I sat back, I found my hands were shaking.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Janus?
John: Depending on the mood I'm in: a first meeting by a moonlit stream, a light-hearted sex scene in the mountains, a confrontation between the two principals when he reveals what he's learned about himself, or the very last scene with the female lead alone at night.
TQ: What's next?
John: Not a sequel to Janus. I don't like open-ended series and much prefer self-contained works. I have bunch of short stories I'd like to work on and one or two things that might grow into books--possibly in more remote settings than Janus. And after several decades writing sf, I find I'm acquiring a slight tilt towards fantasy--though modern or urban rather than S&S.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
John: Thank you for your interest.
JanusChiZine Publications, September 15, 2012
Trade Paperback and eBook, 300 pages
In the near future, Jon Grebbel arrives on the colony world of Janus, and finds himself mysteriously without memory of his life on Earth. It seems that the journey has caused severe memory loss in many of Janus's colonists. While Grebbel wants to start his new life, he also wants his memory back, and starts treatments to restore his past. But they only leave him angry and disturbed and he begins to doubt the glimpses of the past the treatments reveal. Grebbel meets Elinda, an earlier arrival, whose lover, Barbara, vanished and then was found lying in the woods, apparently brain-damaged. Elinda has also lost her memories of Earth, but unlike him she has abandoned the effort to recover them. Now their meeting brings each of them a glimpse of an experience they shared back on Earth. Investigating Barbara's fate and their own, the two find their love and their search for justice turning toward bitter self-discovery and revenge, even as they begin to uncover the darkness at the heart of their world.