January 14, 2009: Scalzi and Stargate, Together At Last

Universe Creative Consultant John Scalzi
Stargate: Universe Creative Consultant John Scalzi
Carl and James
Carl and James
Brad and John
Brad and John
Where Destiny will be docked.
Where Destiny will be docked.
Foie gras
Foie gras
Sweeeet scallops
Sweeeet scallops
Le Crispy Canard presented...
Le Crispy Canard presented...
...and served.
...and served.
John's first duck
John's first duck
Les mignards
Les mignards

Back in 2006, I read a novel that totally blew me away and single-handedly revived my passion for literary SF: Old Man’s War by author John Scalzi. It was smart, humorous, and unbelievably entertaining. So entertaining, in fact, that I ended up recommending it to anyone and everyone – friends, fans, and family alike. And their responses were equally enthusiastic. I picked up the second and third book in the series, The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony, and enjoyed them so much that I made another Scalzi novel, The Android’s Dream, a Book of the Month Club selection on this very blog (for this stragglers who’d yet to discover the man). And today, it gives me great pleasure to (finally) welcome John Scalzi to the Stargate: Universe production as its new Creative Consultant.

Now what, you may ask, does a Creative Consultant do? Well, allow me to inform, clarify, and put some rumors to rest…

1. Does a Creative Consultant provide commentary on scripts in development?

Yes, the Creative Consultant reads outlines and scripts, helping to creatively shape a future episode by providing insightful input along the lines of “The color of alien plant life is dependent upon things like atmospheric chemistry, and the proximity and brightness of the star the planet happens to be orbiting!” or “Uh, James can’t be the one who saves Young. You killed her off back in episode three.”

2. Does a Creative Consultant write scripts?

It’s theoretically possible, yes. If he’s got the time, a good idea, and the inclination – why the hell not? So long as it’s understood that I’ve already called dibs on any potential future storylines involving smart-aleck robots, telepathic dogs (the beauty is that, from a visual effects standpoint, their lips never have to move), or ending with the audience realization that the episode they just watched was actually a story being read to Jelly (the ship’s telepathic canine mascot) by Anne D. Roid (the Destiny’s sassy robot caretaker).

3. If a Creative Consultant has a problem with the script, is he/she allowed to physically punish the writer?

Alas, gone are the days when studio executives could march into the production offices unannounced and kick a writer for such transgressions as contrived plotting, wooden dialogue, or liberal use of the Canadian spelling of color (“colour“). Today, as unfair as it sounds, you must have a pretty good reason to kick a writer. A weak third act break or the shoddy job he did waxing your car just won‘t cut it anymore. State labor laws and the inroads made by the WGA in recent years have all but eliminated the physical abuse of writers, except under the following circumstances:

Writer misses a script deadline = A warning for the first offense and pinky twist for the second offense (note: while the bestowing of extreme discomfort or the eliciting of plaintive cries and tears is permissible, fractures and dislocation are not. Note: Sprains are a bit of grey area open to debate.).

Writer’s script is short = Unlike a long script which can be sent back for editing, any work the writer does to a short script will amount to either the padding out of existing material or the addition of superfluous scenes. On such occasions, it is permissible for the producer to administer one paper cut to any area of the writer’s body (excluding the eye and genital area.  Note: This particular clause being an annoying antiquated holdover from the old Geneva Convention.) for every page the writer is short (assuming the average page count).

Writer fails to bring back everyone’s lunch order in a timely manner = Another area open to debate: What constitutes “a timely manner”? Well, a recent agreement between the WGA and the AMPTP defines “a timely manner” as: “An interval of time up to general grumbling but not to exceed the moment at which a producer must trek to the kitchen in search of a handful of nuts to tide him over”. In this instant, it IS permissible to strike the writer BUT ONLY WITH AN OPEN FIST (closed-fist strikes are reserved for actual screw-ups with the lunch orders – ie. A failure to ensure there is, in fact, mayo on your burger.).

Writer produces a script that necessitates a full rewrite on the part of the producer = Punishable by one kick, a head butt, or two swirlies to take place at a mutually agreed upon toilet. (On the bright side, should the rewrite succeed, the fact that the writer’s name remains on the finished product will undoubtedly win him/her the accolades of many a fan who simply don’t know any better.).

4. Does the Creative Consultant get an office and a parking space?

Since Creative Consultants tend to be involved in a more infrequent manner, contributing whenever a script or outline is delivered as opposed to being a part of a production’s day-to-day operations, they are generally not afforded the luxury of their own office. Nor are they given their own parking space although, on occasions they do visit the offices, their on-screen credit ensures they must submit to only the most minimal of cavity searches prior to gaining admittance to the lot.

5. How much does a Creative Consultant get paid?

Numerous factors come into play here: background, experience, size of the production, workload. These factors are carefully weighed and, after some discussion, both the production and Creative Consultant agree on a reasonable rate – to be paid in World of Warcraft currency (note: John, please check the fine print in your contract).

Hope that answers some of your questions.

Anyway, John came by the production offices yesterday. We sat all sat around and discussed the show and the Air three-parter, took a stroll down to Stages 4 and 5 to tour the in-progress Universe sets, discussed John’s involvement in the production and, finally, moved on to the most important part of his visit: Dinner at Fuel.

We sat down to a five-course menu and, for my very first time, as a customer I actually gave them specifics as to what I could not eat: sugar, fruit, and starches. “What are you going to have for dessert?”owner Tom Doughty wondered aloud. But, twenty minutes later, returning to serve us our first course, he was all smiles. “We’ve got the perfect dessert for you,”he assured me.

Well, to all of you particular about your food, head on over to Fuel because the gang loves a good challenge. I started with a delicious brodo with sliced wild game sausage, followed by a mouth-meltingly good seared foie gras on salsify and creamed Jerusalem Artichokes, then some sweet and tender grilled scallops, and, finally, the house crispy duck for my main. It was John’s first time having duck and he was, as expected, wowed by Fuel’s version. In fact, John seemed to really enjoy all five courses, particularly his dessert: a chocolate terrine that he luxuriated over, polishing off one leisurely bite at a time. As for me, my dessert was a dry-aged Alberta prime rib steak with beet salad. I kid you not. Even though I was close to tapped out, there’s always room for dessert, right? I ate half and brought the other half home for Fondy (who didn’t eat it fast enough so I had it for breakfast this morning). To complete the meal, we were served a tray of little bite-sized sweets: nougats, gelees, sables, and, for me, celery sticks with all natural peanut butter. All in all, a meal most creative AND delicious. My compliments to Ted who called the shots in the kitchen.

As for the company – well, what can I say – Scalzi is as hugely entertaining one on one as he is on the page (If you don’t believe me, have dinner with him.). We talked about books, film, television, writing, family life, travel, food, and, oh yeah, Ohio sushi restaurants. Lotsa fun. Looking forward to working with him.

Finally – I was walking by the kitchen yesterday and ran into actor Mike Dopud who played Colonel Chernovshev in SG-1’s Full Alert, Odai Ventrell in SG-1’s Bounty, and Kiryk in Atlantis’s Tracker (see last season, editor). He was in the office, awaiting a copy of Tracker, so I seized the opportunity to invite him to do a fan Q&A on this blog (ie. “Hey, Mike, I’m not sure if you’re aware but the terms of your contract require you to do an online question and answer session on a blog of the producer’s choosing…”). Anyway, Mike contacted me this morning to tell me he’d be happy to swing by. So, if you’ve got questions for this former pro athlete turned stuntman turned talented actor, start posting.

September 25, 2008: A First Contact Sneak Peek, Underrated Authors, and the Mailbag

If there are two things Martin Gero loves, it’s show tunes and heist movies. So, very early on in his Stargate career, he was presented with an irresistible challenge: How to combine these two greatest passions into one hugely awesome episode of Atlantis? “Impossible!”you say? Well then, I would have to agree with you. But how about going with one or the other? Say an episode in which the team travels to a planet with a civilization built upon the worship of Broadway musicals? Or an episode in which the city of Atlantis is the target of an SF-style heist? Okay, let’s go with the latter.

Martin had wanted to do this story for a while. As far back as season 2, I remember him pitching it out only, in the original version, Atlantis was compromised by a crazed Aiden Ford (and equally crazed cohorts) who had taken the city in order to get their hands on something special. Something very special. Something so special that, at the time, none of us could think of what it could be. So the story was tabled.

Flashforward to earlier this season. Martin is still spinning this heist story, but this time as the possible mid-season two-parter. I had pitched out the idea that given the wraith’s weakened position in the Pegasus Galaxy as a result of the heavy losses they had suffered over the past year, it would make sense for advanced civilizations that had been in hiding for hundreds of years might seize the opportunity presented by the shift in the galactic status quo to make themselves known. We went back and forth on who these aliens might be until Rob came up with a clever spin on a familiar notion. So we had our villains and we had their backstory. All we needed now was a motive. And it came compliments of Alan McCullough who pitched out an idea about the team discovering a secret lab on Atlantis that was once the workplace of the enigmatic Ancient Janus.

With all of the major pieces in place, Marty G. took the week to spin it in his head, we all gathered and broke the two parter, then he wrote the script. That was easy part. Then, it came time to design the look of these new interstellar baddies. Well, we knew what we wanted. Something cool-looking. And we knew what we didn’t want: lycra, shiny plastic bits, and enormous cod-pieces (q.v. SG-1 super soldier). After much discussion between Mary G. and Production Designer James Robbins, the villains were given their look: sleek, nefarious, body armor chic. Check ‘em out in the posted pics. And in tomorrow night’s episode, First Contact, the first part of our spectacular mid-season two-parter.

Hey, you may have noticed I host a little book of the month club here on this blog, the purpose of which is to introduce readers to new authors and offer a forum for discussion on literary works in the fields of SF, fantasy, and horror. With our October/November selections set, I was looking ahead to January 2009 and started thinking it might be nice to consider some underrated or underappreciated authors, authors who, for whatever reason, aren’t getting the recognition they deserve. So who, in your opinion, should we be considering? Pitch me your Top 5 Underrated Authors.

Today’s entry is dedicated to birthday gals Narelle from Aus and Rachel. And an extra special dedication to regular Becky L. who is undoubtedly going through a very tough time right now.

Today’s video: Bam Bam shows off the suit.

Today’s mailbag:

Missy writes: “Has there ever been a story idea that you really wanted to write for Stargate Atlantis but never got the chance??”

Answer: In the coming days, I’ll post a rundown of certain episodes that did not make the cut (a.k.a. story ideas that got shelved that we would have inevitably reconsidered had we done another season).

Sector24 writes: “So when the network decided to end the series and make a movie, did they tell you “hey guys, give us ideas about a SGA movie”, or they have a starting point and it’s like “hey guys, we have an idea about SGA movie about…” and you go from there?”

Answer: We’ve only discussed the story for the SGA movie internally.

Cat1 writes: “I enjoyed the vid very much – it’s fun watching everyone having a good time at work!
But – and it’s a very small but – didn’t Marty G go (not quoting accurately here): there are two cups of tap water (pointing to two of them) and two cups of bottled water (pointing to the other two. With the camera, that is. Pointing. Subtly. Argh. You know what I mean!)”

Answer: Marty G. was just doing some general pointing. No one in the room knew which cups contained what with the exception of Paul who set up the taste test.

AnneTeldy writes: “Mr. M wrote: Carl got to work on his beat sheetBeat sheet for what? A Universe episode? An SG-1 movie? A second Atlantis movie?”

Answer: I was wondering whether anyone would notice that. No, Carl is presently working on neither a beat sheet for an episode of Stargate Universe nor a beat sheet for the second Atlantis movie.

Terry writes: “On another note, does Paul always seem that grumpy?”

Answer: Oh, yeah. It’s one of his most endearing qualities.

September 9, 2008: John Twelve Hawks Makes Contact, David Anthony Durham Accepts Our Invitation, Brian Lumley Is In, CERN Destroys the Planet (Eventually), and the FX Stage Tour Part II.

Not long after posting yesterday’s blog entry announcing next month’s Book of the Month Club selections, I was contacted by writer John Twelve Hawks via a third party. I have to admit that, given the mystery, speculation, and wild internet rumors surrounding the author (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Twelve_Hawks), I was surprised to hear from him. And even more surprised to have him accept my invitation to join us for a Q&A on The Traveler when discussion on the book begins the week of October 27th. Well, his identity may be shrouded in secrecy but, judging from his website and the message he sent me, one thing is clear: JXIIH is an extremely well-informed, intellectually provocative man/woman/automated response unit. He offered up the following link, www.Kiasworld.co.uk as an example of a website inspired by some of the ideas expressed in The Traveler. Along similar lines, you can check out JXIIH’s official website over at: http://www.randomhouse.com/features/johntwelvehawks/. Interesting, no? Pick up The Traveler and prepare for what should be a very interesting discussion.

I also heard back from author David Anthony Durham who kindly agreed to make time for us when his book, Acacia, comes up for discussion the week of Novemer 3rd. The fact that he built his reputation on the strength of his historical novels makes Acacia, his foray into epic fantasy, particularly intriguing. And, just as a side note, the feedback I’ve heard from people who have met and talked with him at his various convention appearances indicate he’s an extremely affable guy. You can check out David’s blog here: http://www.davidanthonydurham.com/blog/

Finally, one of the most celebrated and prolific authors of the horror genre, Brian Lumley, will also be stopping by to field reader questions and queries when his book, Necroscope, comes up for discussion the week of November 10th. For an overview of the author, his work, and updated news, head on over to: http://www.brianlumley.com/. And be sure to check out the Frequently Asked Questions for some interesting reading.

For those of you who may have missed it, the world did not end today as some had feared. To the disappointment of more than a few, our planet was not swallowed up by a black hole when CERN flipped the switch on its Large Hadron Collider. Or, I assume it didn’t because, as my friend Lawren pointed out, we could well have been sucked up and transported to an alternate but near identical universe and we’d be none the wiser. To be honest, I was reminded it was happening today and I momentarily feared the worst when it appeared as though physical objects had begun to pop out of existence – but it turned out I’d simply forgotten my camera and laptop in the trunk of my car. Intrigued by the doomsayers who predicted the galactic apocalypse (not so much their theories but their post-much-ado-about-nothing takes on the big non-event), I did a little research and was disappointed to discover that some have not so much changed their tune as, oh, slightly altered it. Apparently, according to them, the end of days will not be immediate. Some “experts” claim it may take up to four years for Earth to experience the planet-killing repercussions of this most heinous of scientific experiments. Four years! That should put the apocalypse sometime in 2012…which just so happens to be the end of the Ancient Mayan calendar! Coincidence? Maybe. Until you factor in Nostradamus!

Nostradamus was a 16th century astronomer/astrologer whose astonishingly accurate prophecies have astounded septics and skeptics alike. Among his famous fulfilled prophecies:

The blood of the just will be demanded of London,
Burnt by the fire in the year 66

 – Predicted the fire of London on September 2, 1666.

Before the war comes,
the great wall will fall,
The King will be executed, his death coming too soon will be lamented.
(The guards) will swim in blood,
Near the River Seine the soil will be bloodied.

– Predicted the storming of the Bastille and the French Revolution.

The year 1999 seven month,
From the sky will come a great King of terror:
To bring back to life the great King of Angolmois, (the Mongols),
Before after Mars to reign by good luck

– Predicted the 1999 MTV premiere of the Tom Green Show that launched the career of the execrable comedian.

The Eastern kings shall carry out the Divine Justice.
Turkey shall be devastated.

– Predicted the Boston Red Sox capturing the 2007 NL East pennant and then devastating perennial MLB turkeys The Cleveland Indians enroute to winning the World Series.

And here’s what Nostradamus had to say about what sounds suspiciously like the Hadron Collider:

Every night in my dreams
I see you, I feel you,
That is how I know you go on

Far across the distance
And spaces between us
You have come to show you go on

Near, far, wherever you are
I believe that the heart does go on
Once more you open the door
And you’re here in my heart
And my heart will go on and on


Scary, no?

Today’s pic: Hey, check out the uplifting signage a secret admirer left for us last week.

Today’s video: Let’s continue our tour of the FX Stage with our host, Carl Binder. 

September 8, 2008: Author Stephen Dobyns Discusses The Church of Dead Girls, Next Month’s BOTMC Selections, and Take a Tour of the FX Stage I

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.