Today, we are joined by author Stephen Dobyns who has kindly taken the time to answer some of your reader questions about his novel The Church of Dead Girls. To those of you who didn’t take part in last month’s book of the month club discussion – I strongly urge you to pick up the book and read it before checking out the Q&A. Trust me, it’s a very quick read. Once you start, you’ll be hardpressed to set the book aside and could well finish it in one sitting (maybe two if, on your first night of reading, your wife yells at you to turn off the freakin’ light because it’s almost 3:00 a.m.).
With this month’s discussions fast-approaching, I’ve decided to pull the trigger on next month’s BOTMC selections…
In the SF category, it’ll be The Traveler, by John Twelve Hawks. Okay, this one is interesting for two big reasons. One is the book itself. The second is the mysterious author (Twelve Hawks isn’t his real name) who, apparently, lives “off the grid” and has never even met his American publisher. My initial reaction was to dismiss this as a slick PR stunt but, in looking over the author’s official website, I have to admit that Twelve Hawks, whoever he is, offers up some smart, oft-times scary food for thought. Would the enigmatic Mr. Twelve Hawks be willing to come out of hiding to field some reader questions on his work? Doubtful buy, hey, it wouldn’t hurt to ask.
From Publisher’s Weekly: “Twelve Hawks’s much anticipated novel is powerful, mainstream fiction built on a foundation of cutting-edge technology laced with fantasy and the chilling specter of an all-too-possible social and political reality. The time is roughly the present, and the U.S. is part of the Vast Machine, a society overseen by the Tabula, a secret organization bent on establishing a perfectly controlled populace. Allied against the Tabula are the Travelers and their sword-carrying protectors, the Harlequins. The Travelers, now almost extinct, can project their spirit into other worlds where they receive wisdom to bring back to earth—wisdom that threatens the Tabula’s power. Maya, a reluctant Harlequin, finds herself compelled to protect two naïve Travelers, Michael and Gabriel Corrigan. Michael dabbles in shady real estate deals, while Gabriel prefers to live “off the Grid,” eschewing any documentation—credit cards, bank accounts—that the Vast Machine could use to track him. Because the Tabula has engineered a way to use the Travelers for its own purposes, Maya must not only keep the brothers alive, but out of the hands of these evil puppet-masters.”
Discussion on The Traveler will begin the week of Monday, October 27th.
In the fantasy category, it’ll be Acacia, by David Anthony Durham. This is one I’ve been dying to get around to for quite some time but I held off on because I wanted to make it a BOTMC selection. Well, it’s finally been released as a mass market paperback, so no one has an excuse not to pick it up. Author David Anthony Durham is a celebrated historical novelist, multiple award winner, with three novels in development as big screen adaptations (including, yes, Acacia).
From Publisher’s Weekly: “In this sprawling and vividly imagined fantasy, historical novelist Durham (Pride of Carthage) chronicles the downfall and reinvention of the Akaran Dynasty, whose empire, called Acacia, was built on conquest, slaving and drug trade. The Acacian empire, encompassing “The Known World,” is hated by its subjugated peoples, especially the Mein, who 22 generations earlier were exiled to the icy northland. Having sent an assassin to kill the Acacian king, Leodan, the rebel chieftain, Hanish Mein, declares war on the empire. As Acacia falls, Leodan’s treasonous but conflicted chancellor, Thaddeus Clegg, spirits the king’s four children to safety. When the Mein’s rule proves even more tyrannical than the old, the former chancellor seeks to reunite the now adult Akaran heirs—the oldest son Aliver (once heir to the throne), the beautiful elder daughter Corinn, their younger sister, Mena, and youngest brother, Dariel—to lead a war to regain the empire. Durham has created a richly detailed alternate reality leavened with a dollop of magic and populated by complicated personalities grappling with issues of freedom and oppression.”
Discussion on Acacia will begin the week of Monday, November 3rd.
And, finally, in the horror category, it’ll be Necroscope by Brian Lumley. This one is a classic, the first in an immensely popular series by famed horror master Brian Lumley.
From the publisher: “Harry Keogh is the man who can talk to the dead, the man for whom every grave willingly gives up its secrets, the one man who knows how to travel effortlessly through time and space to destroy the vampires that threaten all humanity.
In Necroscope, Harry is startled to discover that he is not the only person with unusual mental powers–Britain and the Soviet Union both maintain super-secret, psychically-powered espionage organizations. But Harry is the only person who knows about Thibor Ferenczy, a vampire long buriedin the mountains of Romania–still horribly alive, in undeath–and Thibor’s insane “offspring,” Boris Dragosani, who rips information from the souls of the dead in a terrible, ever-lasting form of torture…”
Discussion on Necroscope will begin the week of Monday, November 10th.
Congratulations to Antisocialbutterflie and Cat4444, the random winners of last month’s BOTMC discussions. You’ve won a year’s subscription to Fantasy & Science Fiction. I’ll be pestering you in the coming days for your mailing information.
I’d like to thank everyone who submitted questions for director Will Waring. He is furiously working away on them as we speak. Atlantis Production Designer James Robbins, meanwhile, has his hands full with an upcoming series, but I’m sure he can make time for a few questions. So, if you have questions for James, start posting them.
And, finally, scroll down to the bottom of this entry for the first part of our tour of the FX Stage.
Over to author Stephen Dobyns…
Antisocialbutterflie writes: “1) How did you come to the decision to keep the audience disconnected from the narrator for most of the story? Why did you decide to change that in part 3?
2) Was there some historical event in particular that provided inspiration for the stepwise breakdown of the community?
3) How did you come to the decision to make the narrator gay? Was it to make him a target of “the Friends” or was there another reason.
Thanks so much for giving us a wonderful book and answering our questions.”
Dobyns: The narrator remains “disconnected”, as you say, partly for reasons of suspense and partly because he sees himself as an outsider because he is gay. In a larger town or city being gay is usually accepted, but in small towns it can create problems. When I taught at Syracuse University in the 80’s and 90’s, a young woman, Sarah Ann Wood, disappeared from a town resembling Aurelius. The culprit was not identified for a number of years, if at all, and I imagined how, in a small town, such a horrible crime might cause the townspeople to begin to look at one another with increasing suspicion. In such cases, historically, attention becomes focused on people who seem somewhat different.
CTim writes: “I really enjoyed the novel but was left very confused at the end. Why, in your mind, did the guilt party commit these murders? Was he just crazy? And why so much time between the first murder and the later abductions of young girls?”
Dobyns: The murderer’s confused sexuality led him to be attracted to the first girl and to be appalled that he was attracted. Usually, a man who feels this way then blames the woman, or girl, for attracting him. It is easier to blame her than to blame himself. Seeing her as guilty of corrupting him, he then has to punish her in order to save her from herself; the saving part is in his church in the attic. Having killed once without getting caught, he does it again and again. He takes a hideous pleasure in the killing, which he sees as purification, yet he also has a wish to be stopped, to be caught. And in the end, after he has been shot, he punishes himself by cutting off the offending hand. There is that line in the Bible: “If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out.” That’s what I was thinking of.
Thornyrose writes: “For Mr. Dobyns. Which of your works would you recommend to someone not familiar with your works, as a first, second, and third choice? Which is more satisfying, teaching, writing poetry, or writing fictional prose? In Church of Dead Girls, we were presented with what I’d call a psychological horror thriller. Have you done any more “traditional” horror stories? What do you think of the genre in general? Finally, what aspect of getting a book published is the most rewarding, and the most frustrating? Thank you very much for your participation in this forum. While I was not a fan of “Church of Dead Girls”, I netherless appreciate the craftsmenship and imagination that went into writing it.”
Dobyns: I have a lot of different types of books. The poetry is most important to me, and the selected poems, Velocities, would be a good introduction. My best novels, I think, are The Two Deaths of Senora Puccini and The Wrestler’s Cruel Study. No, I have no “traditional” horror stories. M.R. James wrote “traditional” horror stories, but you probably mean someone more recent. Any genre novel is limited by its genre, meaning that it serves up melodramatic answers, or conclusions, for moral questions. I’ve written ten mystery novels in my Saratoga series, and although I take great pleasure in them, they are still limited by the genre. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov are both mysteries, but their greatness is due in part to the fact that they transcend the mysteries to something more important. As for publishing, what is rewarding is the writing of the book. Then the publishing, if it happens, is all gravy.
GateTech writes: “What challenges did you face in making use of the first-person narrator? Did you sometimes find yourself hamstrung by the details in writing scenes in which the narrator doesn’t appear? What made you decide to tell the story this way? Was it to lend it an air of familiarity for the small town setting?”
Dobyns: A major difficulty of a first person narrator is that the action must happen in front of him or her. My character cheats a little by imagining scenes that others have told him about. However, a number of great writers have violated first person narrator taboos. My story was influenced, in a small way, by Dostoevsky’s The Devils, in which the first person narrator constantly describes stuff that he could never have known. But despite this, the novel is still credible. I wrote it in first person because I wanted the narrator to be a participant and to feel the pressure—real or imagined—of being watched.
Kellyk writes: “Question for Mr. Dobyns. I loved the small town setting of your novel. I was wondering if you drew on any childhood memories or experiences growing up to help paint a very realistic portrait of the people and places. And were you influenced by any other writers?”
Dobyns: As I say, I was influenced in part by Dostoevsky’s The Devils. Also I was familiar with towns like this when I taught at Syracuse University. In addition, my mother was from a very small town 40 miles north of Utica, NY, and growing up I often went there to visit my grandparents, aunts and cousins. In writing about Aurelius, I kept thinking of those small New York State towns.
A Honshuu writes: “This was a wicked good read. Actually took me a couple of days because I didn’t want to miss anything. Now that I’ve had a taste, I’m now hungry for more & will be hitting the local library for all they have. Thank you!”
Dobyns: Thanks for reading and enjoying the book. A writer can’t ask for anything more.