Friday, 14 October 2011

Interview: Stephen Wallenfels

I'm so excited to have Stephen Wallenfels, author of the amazing survival thriller POD, on my blog today. POD won my September 2011 Best of the Bunch Award, so it is officially the best book I read in September and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to dig a little deeper...

You can read my full review of POD here.

How would you describe POD in a tweet (140 characters)?

When alien ships invade the greatest danger is not from the skies.

Where did the idea for POD come from?

Where most of my ideas come from — a dream. Only this one was different than most because it felt so real I had to get up and make sure it didn't actually happen. The dream started with me wandering downstairs in the gray of early dawn, looking out the living room window, and seeing a giant sphere sitting in the middle of the road. A scan of the backyard revealed many more extending to the horizon. After waking up, and making sure there is no alien invasion underway, I started to play the "what if" game. That led to the concept of POD, which started out as a short story titled, Pearls of Death.

How did the characters of Megs and Josh come to you?

POD (aka Pearls of Death) was a 12,000 word short story told from Josh's POV. I wanted to tell the story in real-time, and from the POV of a teenager because their worldview is changing and they have a great potential for an interesting character arc. Megs was added when my beta readers wanted the story to be longer. At 12k words it is getting long for a short story, so I added another character in a different setting. I chose LA (same timezone), a parking garage (cover, but room to move around and hide and be scared). So I sat down to write and Megs is the one that spoke to me first. After three pages I was in love.

I've read on your website that you also have a "regular" job, how do you juggle writing with working?

It's tough. No doubt about that. Although I really like my job, in a perfect world I would be writing full-time. So I get up at 3:45am every day except Sunday, boil a mug of tea, and write until 6am, have a quick breakfast with my wife, then write again until heading off to work at 8:30am. Sometimes, if I have the energy, I will edit the work I did in the morning. Otherwise I just read and relax. Go to bed by 9:30 and do it all over again the next day. An important thing to note is that if I'm not writing, I'm typically thinking about writing. When my characters want to talk, I have no choice but to listen.

POD is your debut novel, what was the process of getting published like? Did you always plan to publish POD?

Getting published is tough, and the way things happened for me is the way things happen for most. Lots of luck, mixed with equal amounts of unrelenting determination and persistent self-doubt. Ultimately I believed so much in POD that I applied to a week-long writer's workshop, was accepted and learned how to do things right. It was incredibly helpful, and at the workshop is where I met the man that eventually accepted my manuscript and became my publisher, Stephen Roxburgh. Yeah, I was lucky. But sometimes you have to put yourself in the way of luck, otherwise it will miss you by inches and you will never know.

Megs and Josh both have really strong voices that make them so engaging as characters. How do you go about creating voices like these?

I listen to them, challenge them, and allow them to surprise me. I resist outlining because in my chaotic world that limits the realities of life—which is really a chain of surprises linked by periods of tension where we wonder, what next? Good writers are good listeners.

What do you think of the cover design?

The UK design is amazing. Lots of mystery with an ominous, other-worldly look. Plus, the feel of the book, the texture, is different and does a great job representing what I wanted to express inside the pages. I also like the Aussi design for different reasons - very...cinematic. It helps me see where I would love POD to go - the big silver screen. But not in 3D, please!

If you had room on your shelf for only 3 books, what would they be?

This is a very, very tough question. It is essentially Sophies Choice only with books. And if you ask me this same question next week, my answer would probably change. But for now, here they are the chosen three: The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein (the cycle of life and the heartbeat of human nature) The Road, by Cormac McCarthy (the best father-son love story ever written) The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell (dramatic story, stunning prose, epic).

Apart from POD, what is your top teen fiction recommendation from 2011?

For sheer "can't put it down" adventure with an intriguing plot and a heroic, conflicted protagonist, I'll have to jump on The Hunger Games band wagon. Suzanne Collins wrote a terrific book. I read it in two days while I was in LA, supposedly jumpstarting the second half of my sequel to POD. But I got so wrapped up in The Hunger Games that I stayed up way too late reading. I'll have to admit I struggled through the second book, Catching Fire. It took me three months to finish. Another fine YA book that is not on a lot of popular reading lists but won a "boatload" of critical acclaim is Ship Breaker by Paolo Bagcigalupi. In terms of sheer brilliance of writing and an unforgettable female antagonist, read Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell. Rea Dolly is the real deal. That book may be 2010, but I just had to fit it in.

Do you have any hints for what we can expect from the next book?

Earth is fundamentally changed. Josh and Megs must survive in this new world while humanity ponders these nagging questions: why did the PODs come here, why did they leave, and are they really gone?

A huge thanks to Stephen for stopping by, I hope everyone has enjoyed the interview. I cannot urge you enough to get your hands on a copy of POD, it is just brilliant!

Find out more about Stephen Wallenfels on his website and find out more about POD on Goodreads.

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