Monday, September 30, 2013

INTERVIEW with AUSTRALIAN AUTHOR - MICHAEL ADAMS - THE LAST GIRL - YA APOCALYPTIC THRILLER - ALLEN & UNWIN

INTERVIEW 
with
 AUSTRALIAN AUTHOR 
MICHAEL ADAMS


I would like to welcome Michael Adams to Novels On The Run for a Q & A session and thank him for taking the time to answer my questions.

His debut apocalyptic YA book, The Last Girl,  released 25th September 2013. This is quite a thought provoking read. What if?

My review will be following shortly.


My pleasure, Michelle – thanks for having me.


Michelle:  What five words describe Michael Adams the AUTHOR?

Michael:  Idea-catcher-feeder-breeder-freer

Michelle:  What five words describe Michael Adams the man behind the writer?

Michael: Write-a-holic needs a right-ol’-holiday

Michelle:  What ten words would you use to describe The Last Girl?

Michael: Action-packed cerebral near-future apocalyptic thriller with satiric touches.

Michelle:  The Last Girl is set in an apocalyptic Australia, where a 16-year-old girl Danby is fighting to keep her little brother Evan safe and get them both to her mother 100 km’s away. Where were you and what were you doing when you came up with the idea of communications and technology turning on the people who created them?

Michael:  It’s not so much communications technology turning on people as it is our minds instantaneously evolving to the point where we no longer need Facebook or Twitter or Instagram to know what other people are thinking and doing as they’re thinking and doing it.

The Last Girl is a riff on the fear that we’re very rapidly doing away with privacy and it imagines how horrible a world without privacy would be. But that thematic link didn’t come to me until long after the initial idea and well into the writing process.

The idea of instant global telepathy came while I was having dinner one night with my partner. It was 2008 and we were in the restaurant at The American Hotel in Sag Harbor in New York. We were having a great time, enjoying the food and wine and chatting to an interesting couple who’d survived the New Orleans floods. But I noticed a couple at another table literally hadn’t said a thing to each other all night. I wondered what on earth they’d each been thinking that whole time. Were they sad? Having affairs? Ready to divorce? Hiding terrible secrets? That made me wonder how they’d react if – bam! just like that! - they could each hear what the other was thinking and feeling. Then I imagined it spiralling out, the effect consuming the restaurant, Sag Harbor, New York, the United States, the world. Who has an inner self so pure that others wouldn’t be taken aback if every thought and feeling were laid bare? It’d lead to instant and irrevocable chaos.

I’ve been a fan of the apocalyptic genre since I was a kid, starting with movies like Night Of The Living Dead, The Omega Man, and Mad Max, and novels such as The Stand, Z for Zachariah and The White Plague – and I’d never seen or read a telepathic plague scenario before. So it seemed an original way to end the world. But it also appealed because it spoke to the idea that bad thoughts are the real source of our real-life problems because surely war, poverty, hunger, racism, sexism, injustice, pollution and everything else wrong with the world starts with negative thoughts - or could at least be solved by people thinking positively and then acting constructively.

Anyway, I loved the idea. The big problem was, how to write so many overlapping thoughts and still provide a narrative focus?

Michelle: Why it happened in the first place I am interested to understand.  A very unique idea.

Michael: The idea just sprang into mind – and it gripped me because it was hugely laden with possibilities and I was reasonably sure it’d never been done before.

As a lifetime horror and sci-fi fan, I know how difficult it is to come up with something new, whether it’s a monster or a scenario. I love zombies and vampires and werewolves and alien invasion and global cataclysm stories but they’ve all been done so many times and so well it’s hard to add much new.

So a global telepathic outbreak offered a similar outcome as a superflu virus or zombie outbreak or asteroid impact – rapid and widespread destruction – but with a whole new set of challenges for the characters and for me as a writer.

What I really liked about “The Snap”, which is what Danby comes to call it in the book, is that it’s instantaneous and global. It strikes those in power as quickly and surely as it does the average person. There is no government left to restore order, no scientific or media establishment left to explain things. In most apocalypse stories, you have those scenes where characters turn on the TV and sense is made of the problem and a possible solution is proposed, whether it’s a rag-tag fighter jet force facing down the ET mothership or a brave space shuttle crew trying to deflect the meteor.

I wanted to do away with that, make it a ground-up armageddon, which we experience minute-by-minute as it unfolds. We only know what Danby knows – and because the media’s destroyed within minutes, she only knows what she sees through her own eyes and through other characters’ minds. As a protagonist, she has to be proactive because no-one else is going to look after her or her little brother. As a writer, the telepathic premise afforded me a rare opportunity to have the book told in first person but also be able to write limited third-person scenes from other viewpoints as they’re channeled by Danby.

The Snap fits into Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s “Black Swan” theory, which basically has it that hugely significant events are often unexpected and unpredictable. We know all the potential real-life world-enders – asteroids, global warming, nuclear war, deadly viral outbreaks, supervolcanoes blowing apart continents – but what if what killed us off was totally beyond our comprehension? That’s the scariest prospect -- what that Donald Rumsfeld famously called the “unknown unknowns”.

As for what I think caused The Snap, my bet’s on the theory put forward by characters in the book. They reckon constant connectivity literally rewired our brains, manifested the collective mind, jump-started our telepathic evolution long before we were able to handle it. But whatever caused it, the destruction in the novel all originates in how people think.

How we think defines how we act towards each other and the world – so, quite literally, whether we live or die as a species will depend on what's in our heads. I’m pretty sure we could conquer any local or global problem if we put our minds to it. But history’s shown we’re only good at that half of the time. The other half of the time we’re thinking up ways to create new problems.

In the same period that humanity was wiping smallpox off the face of the earth, we were creating the massive stockpile of nuclear weapons that's still capable of wiping us off the face of the earth. We’re a funny bunch of mofos.

Michelle:  Why do you think the idea of humanity’s extinction appeals to readers?

Michael:  From global warming and asteroid impact to disease outbreak and alien invasion, there are plenty of real and imaginary Armageddon scenarios for us to place ourselves in. I think it’s natural to wonder what we’d do if we were faced with The End. What’s funny is that we all see ourselves as among the few survivors – not as one of the billions of people burned up in nuclear blasts or turned into ravenous zombies. That’s because we’re all the main characters in our real-life stories. We can’t die – because then the tale is over.

So when we read apocalyptic books or movies, we get to live that fantasy through the main characters while also assessing ourselves against those people. Would I do what they do? Would I take the car when the roads are jammed? What supplies do I take from my house? How long do I hang around trying to save my friends? They’re all questions we hope we’ll never have to answer in real life but they make for exciting fiction because the stakes are life-and-death minute-to-minute.

The other appealing part of apocalyptic stories is that they usually deal with what comes after The End. Is it best to retreat to the mountains and become a hermit? Hole up with other survivors and get some retail therapy in a shopping centre? Try to set up civil order in a small town and curb those who’d become dictators? I think we like the idea that’d we’d get to decide the shape of the new society and perhaps be called on to defend it from the mistakes of the past.

There’s also a fantastic sense of freedom in the apocalypse. All the little worries melt away. No-one has to worry about school or work or bills or diets or in-laws visiting when there’s an anti-zombie fortress to construct.

So, The End is the beginning of one huge series of do-or-die what ifs.

Michelle:  Danby is your 16-year-old survivor. She just keeps getting back up and doing what she needs to do. What ten words would you use to describe Danby?

Michael: Smart, determined, funny, resourceful, empathetic, brave, desperate and shit-scared.

Michelle:  The Last Shot is the next book in the series. How many books will be in this series and can you give me a non-spoiler quote from book 2, please?

Michael: The Last Shot is the second book and the third and final book will be called The Last Place.

Here’s a quote from The Last Shot, which is out in March 2014.

“I glance at my fellow fugitives in the glow of the fire: black-streaked, white-eyed, faces fierce and fearful. Whoever any of us were a week ago, we’ve now become people we could never have imagined.”

You can also read the first chapter of The Last Shot in the back of The Last Girl.

Michelle:  What would you personally pack in your backpack if you only had a few minutes to escape an impending apocalypse?

Michael:  I guess it depends on the apocalypse. Giant asteroid about to wipe out life on Earth? I wouldn’t pack anything. I’d pour a beer, put the Repo Man soundtrack on the stereo, turn the volume up to 11 and take a beanbag onto the lawn for a better view. Zombie outbreak? Well, I guess I’d pack a machete – they never need to be reloaded and they never jam – and ball bearings and marbles because I’ve always thought the undead could be toppled slapstick-style by rolling those at their feet. For your more generic apocalypses, I’d go with the sensible options - First Aid kit, flashlight, radio, cash… and tinned tuna because you’ve got to keep up your Omega-3s. I’ve got a few survival guidebooks so I’d pack them because it’d be good to know how to MacGyver a bazooka out of a Zippo lighter, a leaf blower and a cricket ball. Also: pens and paper. I’d want to be able to write it all down.

Michelle:  You have chosen New South Wales, Australia for your setting. You are an Australian author, and you chose not to set the book in the U.S. Apart from it being familiar, why else did you choose Australia?

Michael:  Australia doesn’t get nearly enough end-of-the-world action. So I wanted to rectify that. From a practical point of view, if the events depicted in the book were to take place, I imagine Australia would be one of the few places it’d be possible to survive. We have the benefit of a relatively small population living on a huge island land mass. It’s easier to run, hide, get lost and survive here than it would be in the United States or China or India. Some scenes feature big Australian landmarks but I wanted to set the book in areas I know well but that aren’t depicted that often in local film, TV shows and books. So, rather than go with Sydney, the inner city or eastern suburbs, I’ve gone with Parramatta, the western suburbs and the lower Blue Mountains. That said, I also made it a mix of real and fictional locations. Smaller places I’ve fictionalised because I didn’t want readers to say, “Hey, that’s my house – is that me dead on the lawn?”

Michelle:  What has been the most memorable book signing event for another author or a book event you have attended, and why?

Michael: I love David Sedaris’s books and was fortunate enough to interview him. Later that day I saw him read and talk to one thousand people at the State Theatre. He was as warm and funny and conversational on stage as he had been that afternoon. It’s quite the skill.

Michelle:  What has been the best advice you have picked up along the way when in regards to writing a novel?

Michael: Write to rewrite. This applies to all writing. You have to write something otherwise you’ve got nothing. D’uh. But do that with the realisation that what you write first will probably be a whole lot of terrible flecked with a few glimmers of goodness. That’s okay. It’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s warming up your brain. The real creativity comes when you begin rewriting. Embellishing ideas. Ditching clichés. Trying to make descriptions original. Upping the narrative stakes constantly with more conflict and more drama. Breathing life into characters who were just names and notions. Cutting the fancypants bits and pieces you’ve put in to make yourself sound clever. That’s all in the rewriting. It’s way beyond giving your first draft a spit and polish. You have to redraft over and over. Or, at least, I do. My first draft of The Last Girl was 111,000 words. The final book came in at about 87,000. If I counted every word written and deleted and rewritten, I reckon the final book emerged from maybe 500,000 words. On my very last edit, I spent two hours rewriting a five-paragraph sentence. A paragraph that had already been written and rewritten however many times over two years. I guess if it now has the precise effect I wanted, it was worthwhile. If not, well, it’s at least a better paragraph than when I first wrote it.

Michelle: What quote best describes you or means something important to you?

Michael:  “Wherever you go, there you are.” – Buckaroo Banzai.

Michelle: Thank you Michael for your time, and best wishes with your first novel.

Michael: Thank you, Michelle. A pleasure.




By: Michael Adams
Published by: Allen & Unwin
Released : 25th September 2013

Blurb: Goodreads

The end of the world happened quickly. The sun still shone, there was no explosion - just a tsunami-sized wave of human thought drowning the world in telepathic noise as everyone's inner-most secrets became audible. Everyone's thoughts, that is, except sixteen-year-old Danby.

Everyone looked like bad actors in a poorly dubbed movie. Their expressions didn't match their emotions and their lips didn't sync with what they were saying. But they were all so loud.

God-he-looks-hot-Can't-she's-my-best-friend-How'd-she-lose-that-weight-No-don't-you-dare-Oh-no-please-

The end of the world happens in the blink of an eye.

When The Snap sweeps the globe, everyone can instantly hear everything that everyone else is thinking. As secrets and lies are laid bare, suburbs and cities explode into insanity and violence. What might have been an evolutionary leap instead initiates the apocalypse.

Sixteen-year-old Danby Armstrong's telepathy works very differently. She can tune into other people but they can't tune into her. With only this slender defence, Danby must protect her little brother and reach the safety of her mother's mountain retreat. But it's 100 kilometres away and the highways are blocked by thousands of cars and surrounded by millions of people coming apart at the psychic seams.

Danby's escape is made even more dangerous by another cataclysm that threatens humanity's extinction. And her ability to survive this new world will be tested by a charismatic young man whose power to save lives may be worse than death itself.


About Author

Michael Adams has worked as writer and editor for newspapers, magazines, websites and television. He presently contributes to YEN, Rolling Stone, Empire and Men's Style

Michael is the author of two non-fiction books: Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astro Zombies, a memoir about a year spent watching bad movies, and Shining Lights, which profiled Australian Oscar winners. He lives in the Blue Mountains with his partner and their daughter.

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