Carl Winston awakens to find his son, Liam, screaming with fear. Trying to understand why, Carl tries to soothe him. Neighbors gather in front of Carl’s apartment to help – until they see him. The crowd cowers back, afraid of this monster. Carl runs. His life of luxury is ripped away. Forced beyond the city limits, Carl sees a land bereft of life. Traveling in search of answers, his quest comes to a sudden halt when he collapses. As darkness shrouds him, a figure hovers from above.
To find the man behind the monster I’ve been joined by Dylan Callens, author of the dystopian exploration of hope and happiness in ‘Interpretation’. Dylan thanks for joining me today to chat about the sudden challenges that have appeared in Carl’s life. Where did the seeds of these bleak conditions in Carl’s life originate?
I was on a bus when I overheard a few kids talking about their favorite science fiction scenes from movies. While they did that, my imagination started running until I found myself staring at this novel idea.
After you found yourself staring at this novel idea I would expect that you might have more questions to answer than answers themselves. Did you start on a path of research to extend upon your ideas?
Yes, I had to do some pretty extensive research. Most of my research was finding important psychological experiments. These pieces help to ‘inspire’ the artificial intelligence in my novel.
So, the central aspect of artificial intelligence was largely underpinned by psychology research. Were there other aspects of the novel that were informed more by your own life to bring different colors and tones into the mix?
Not life experiences, but I found myself imagining what certain moments would be like for me, if I were to experience them. In those moments, it felt like I was experiencing what the main character was feeling.
*Laughs* So you’ve taken some walks around in the shoes of your main characters! As you’re so well acquainted with them, can you introduce us?
The main character, Carl Winston is partly mistake, partly a tribute to Nineteen Eighty-Four. I wanted to associate him and his situation with Winston Smith, so I borrowed the name. Carl is a mistake, though. I wanted to name him after neurobiologist, Dr. Jose Delgado. When I started writing the first chapter, Jose turned into Carlos, in my mind. I guess I was thinking about baseball, perhaps. Anyhow, after writing the first chapter, I realized that I made a mistake but decided it was too late — Carl already had a life and so I kept his name.
I’m thinking Carl’s name stuck because it was his time in spotlight. Jose’s time is still yet to come. Carl obviously has a strong personality in your mind as he’s already displaced Jose. Was his personality so strong that it also changed where you expected the story to go, or did the plot persuade his actions?
I think both were informed by theme. I knew what the book was about and had an idea of how the story would go. I knew that the theme meant that the ending would be dictated by the antagonist. What I didn’t know, exactly, was how Carl would react to what happened as the story unfolded. For me, this is a tough question because I think that all three of these things presented themselves together.
What do you feel you learn from this mix of plot, personality and theme?
That I can, in fact, focus on completing a book in a reasonable time frame.
*Laughs* That’s a fantastic thing to learn! If you could take what you now know and apply it to the development of this novel, do you think that much would change in the story or time frame in which it came to life?
There is nothing that I would change about this one. It went smoothly and I had a great time with it.
I’m really happy to hear that you had fun with it. There’s nothing worse than hearing that the journey wasn’t enjoyable for the author. What do you hope readers take away from this journey?
Through the sadness in the book, I wanted people to embrace the best of what we have today — each other.
Did you get to embrace the best of what you have today within these words?
Yes, at the top of each chapter there is an inkblot image that my kids and I made together. Having them take part in the book was the most rewarding part.
Awwww, that is fantastic idea. I hope to hear about more books that bring their family members into the journey through personal touches like the inkblots. Now that you’ve finished this journey, have you started planning the next one? Perhaps one where we meet Jose?
I am toying with three different options. I have an idea for part two of Interpretation. Or I may write a very personal, sad story, about writing. Or I may write a science fiction story about how death never actually happens. I’m going to outline all three before I decide which one to go with next.
All three of those ideas sound like heaps of fun with the possibility to explore many interesting points of view. I’m not sure how you’ll choose! What keeps drawing you back to writing down these ideas? Surely you could explore all of these directions without being encumbered by how fast your fingers can type if you simply decided not to write them down. What pushes you to tap them out and share them with the world?
I write because I have stories to tell. I always need to be creating something and writing is my best outlet.
Do you find note taking is essential to the capture ideas to fuel your next creative outlet?
No, I haven’t. Ideas come and go. The best ones stick and I start to develop them.
Can you take us through how a sticky idea turns into a novel? Do you find sticky ideas come with known endings?
In my first novel, Operation Cosmic Teapot, I had no clue how it would end. I think the fact that I didn’t know where the story was headed from the start weakened it. I knew pretty early how Interpretation would end and, as a result, I think that the overall result was better.
What other techniques on top of starting with the in mind has helped you make Interpretation a better novel?
I typically write every day, as long as I’m not launching a book, as is the case right now. I like to do early draft work early in the morning, from about 4AM – 6:30AM. I do most of my editing in the evening. The bulk of my work happens on a couch in the basement. It’s getting pretty ratty and uncomfortable but it’s where I like to write.
Do you switch on some music to make the basement environment a little more comfortable?
I prefer silence. Calm, beautiful silence.
You’re not painting the most comfortable and relaxing working environment. Do you find that there are days where the silence and couch just distract you from getting words on the page?
I have been fortunate to never encounter writer’s block. I mean, there are days when things aren’t working quite right but those days I just start to outline a chapter and drop in a line or two that I will flush out later.
I find it interesting that editing isn’t mentioned as one of the tasks that you end up doing on a slow workday. If it isn’t a slow day task, how does the editing evolve?
I usually write the first draft from start to finish and don’t worry about what it looks like at first. Then I go through it again for a major re-shuffling and re-working. After that, I’ll go through the book a third time to edit. If I like where it’s at, it goes to my editor for the first time. Then, I complete her corrections and suggestions. I look it over again, then back to the editor. I go through her corrections again, and then I make my way through the novel one more time. After that, it’s a last read-through. And then — publication! It’s a lot of re-reading but I make a lot of mistakes.
But after that many times re-reading I’m sure you’re consciously writing fewer errors than you were at the start. Have you also turned your consciousness to the author brand side of your book publishing adventure?
As part of my strategy, I have started a small press, at the insistence of Mehreen Ahmed, an author that I work with. I’ve published a few books for other authors and have a few more on the way. In this way, I have created a brand. I haven’t been doing it for very long but I’m making progress. Right now, I think the most important strategy that has had a positive impact is networking with other authors for support. It’s a great community of people will to help out wherever they can. I can’t thank them enough.
Wow, creating your own press is impressive and will no doubt improve your own process by showing your each of the different steps of the end-to-end process. From writing, to editing, publishing and marketing, where do you feel other members of the self-publishing community should invest their time?
It’s been said a thousand times over — take time to create your author platform. It’s years of development and pain and suffering but will pay off in the long run. And never give up, that’s the only way to ensure failure.
Well, I would hope that most the development doesn’t lead to pain and suffering, instead I’d like to think that an author could have fun while building their author platform. And I think that we should have a little more fun too today, so let’s move on from the serious writing side to the silly side of interview where random questions have been not so strategically selected to incite smiles. Let’s start with what is your favourite quote?
“Existence precedes essence” by Jean Paul Sartre. The idea that we are only what we are doing ring true to me. We can change ourselves and become better at any moment we choose.
Do you have any philosophies that you live by?
My degree is philosophy, so that is a dangerous question for me. The one that I try to keep in mind is the earlier Jean Paul Sartre. But in trying to be existential, it’s impossible to be defined by a specific philosophy.
Awesome, I’m very happy to hear that your degree is in philosophy. That means I will ask you all of the random thought inspiring questions to see if we can unearth multitudes of your philosophy views! Let’s start with your view on who decides what morality is?
I do. For myself, at least.
That’s a good start. Where is the line between insanity and creativity?
Is there one?
Perhaps, but it’s one of those highly contentious questions like what came first, the chicken or the egg?
The egg. I always choose them for breakfast.
*Laughs* They do make good breakfasts! Why doesn’t glue stick to the inside of the bottle?
It’s sealed, so it can’t bond?
Have you tangoed in the snow?
I prefer to lay in the snow.
As much fun as the snow is, lying down sounds very wet. On the topic of water, what is your favourite ocean?
The Indian Ocean.
If you invented a monster what would it look like and what would you call it?
I’d call him Herman. He would look like a wart.
*Laughs* I’m not sure what his monstrous powers would be shaped as a wart, but I’m so intrigued about this idea now! I think you should write about it next! Maybe Herman doesn’t have any powers, but what happens to Batman and his powers if he gets bitten by a vampire?
The vampire turns into a kind-of-meh super hero.
Oh, so Batman infects the vampire. I hadn’t thought about what would happen to the vampire before! What is your favourite Jellybean flavour/ colour?
Dystopian flavored. They are black.
Yep, I think some of the black jellybeans I’ve had were dystopian flavored. They could have been old, but I like your reason why they tasted so nasty! In keeping with the sugar theme what is your favourite flavor of ice-cream?
Maple bacon. It’s magic.
What happens when you get scared half to death twice?
You get to clearly see the different dimensions of the multiverse.
It’s wrong that I’m tempted to get myself scared half to death to see those different dimensions right? Are you left or right handed?
Does your occupation influence your writing?
I am an English / media arts teacher. I get to read and practice writing all the time, which I think might help. If I wasn’t teaching, I would write full time. Or perhaps farming. I do enjoy physical labor as well.
If all of the world is a stage, where does the audience sit?
In the play itself.
In the world of stages, if they made a movie from your book who would you choose to play the main characters?
I think someone like the ‘Cast Away’ version of Tom Hanks for Carl Winston. Kiera Knightley would probably do a good job with Eva Thompson. And perhaps Michael Fassbender for Chris.
Nice choices there! What is your zodiac sign?
What is your best tip for authors?
Never stop writing.
And if you keep writing you need a favourite word to try and slot into your work at random times. What favourite word would you pick to do this with?
If you could breed two animals together to defy the laws of nature what new animal would you create?
Hippos and mice. I want a tiny hippo!
*Laughs* Well who doesn’t want a tiny hippo? I’d totally sign up for one! Finally to close out today’s interview can you leave us with a your favourite line from ‘Interpretation’ that you think will entice readers.
Freedom is slavery.
Ooohh, that’s interesting. I’m enticed! Dylan thanks for sharing insights behind ‘Interpretation’ with the readers and I, and I hope you are able to decide on your next writing project soon!
Excited to read the book we discussed today? Find it here on Amazon: ‘Interpretation ( ASIN: B073V7LSRV )‘.
Want to find out more about Dylan Callens? Connect here!