Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Interview: John Birmingham

Hi John, thanks for your time! Let's start with an easy one, what are you reading at the moment?
As always I have a coupla books on the go at the moment. Walter Isaacson's bio of Steve Jobs, which I decided to get in iBooks because it seemed appropriate, Mira Grant's zombie thriller Deadline, the excellent sequel to the awesome Feed, and George RR Martin's A Storm of Swords.

Can you tell us about Angels of Vengeance?
Angels brings together all the threads of the stories I plucked apart in Without Warning and After America, bringing vengeance to those in need of it, and closure to those who survive. It's a much more intimate novel than the previous two. Still violent and accelerated, of course, but at a much more personal level. A lot of characters die. Some good, some bad. 

How do you approach writing a trilogy? Is there lots of forward planning involved or does it unfold as you write it?
I like to know in general terms where I'm going to end up when I set out on these long journeys. If you don't have any clue, you're likely to get horribly lost. But apart from setting the broad outlines and themes I want to follow, I prefer to let the characters decide where they're going to take us. I learned in my earlier series that if the story is to really come alive you have to let it tell itself.

The trilogy envisions a parallel reality where a mysterious energy wave wipes out the American population just before the Iraq war of 2003. What inspired this idea and how did it turn into the story that you're now concluding?
Haha. It grew out of an argument I had with a campus idiot over twenty years ago. He was one of these characters who blames every evil in the world on America. We were arguing about the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, which he blamed on George Bush, and at some point he became so enraged that he screamed at me, "We'd all be much better off if we woke up one morning and America was gone, just gone!"

That crazy thought came back to me decades later when I was trying to think of a new idea for a series after finishing the Axis of Time novels.

Considering the events of the first book, can you lay claim to having killed more people on paper than almost any other writer?
I can probably lay claim to running up a megadeath body count faster than anyone else. Four hundred million in the first few pages.

Of the many characters in the series, was there someone you preferred to write for? And will you miss them now that the series is over?

I will really miss Caitlin and Milosz. Between them they were far and away my two faves. Enormous fun to write and the sort of characters I'd love to count among my friends in real life. Because you really wouldn't want them as enemies. I started to miss them within minutes of finishing the final draft.

What sort of research was involved for the series?
Weapons and maps. If you get the guns and the scenery wrong people get right up in your face about it. There's always lots of incidental research to do, like the rate at which a human body decays when hung from from a lamppost for example. That was a special one from After America. But getting the geography and the weapons right takes up huge amounts of time. Luckily so much of that stuff is online now I can do the research on the fly.

Have you had a reaction from the American audience?
Yeah, you'd think they'd be put out, but no. Most of my US readers really enjoyed the way the world went to hell when they weren't around to set it to rights anymore.

When you were writing Angels of Vengeance you kept your fans in the loop via twitter, teasing them with plot points, getting them to join you in the 'pomodoro method', how important do you find social media for yourself as a writer?
It's a two edged sword. On one hand it can be hugely helpful for doing research, and of course for letting readers know what's coming up, but of course if you're an addictive type, like me, when it comes to human contact, it can also be very dangerous. There's a lot of time just waiting to be wasted on Twitter in particular.

Speaking of social media and technology, what's your take on the impact that technology will have on books and reading?
I'm very bullish on the future of books and on independent booksellers in particular. I think in the future a lot more people will do a lot more reading, thanks to ubiquitous ereading programs and apps, not just on dedicated readers but on phones. But I don't think the market for hard copy books will disappear. It'll be less important, in a comparative sense, but there will always be people who want to collect the physical artifact of a book. In future I think we'll distinguish as readers between disposable titles and what I call 'shelf worthy' books.

What are you working on next? Is there another action/adventure trilogy waiting to be written?
I'm writing some novellas set on the Weapons of Choice story world, and will start a new long form series in a couple of weeks. But I'm still nailing down the final details of the latter so can't really talk about it.

Thanks for your time!
Angels of Vengeance is available here.

Without Warning is currently available at the special price of $14.95. After America is also available.
You can visit John Birmingham at www.cheeseburgergothic.com

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