TEN QUESTIONS ABOUT THE DARWIN ELEVATOR BY JASON M. HOUGH
This is one of those books that has what I believe to be known as “buzz.” Which means either it’s filled with wasps or people are talking about it. One or the other. Whatever the definition, I hear nothing but awesome about this book, so let’s sit in a circle and listen to what Jason has to say about it:
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
At the moment, an author and a father. It’s about as simple as that. My boys are 3.5 and 1.5, which means they aren’t shuffled off to school day-in-day-out yet, and thus require a lot of time. Which I gotta say, I love. They’re my life right now, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything with the possible exception of a 2013 Aston Martin Virage in British racing green with a tan interior.
But who the hell am I? What makes me me? I can think of a handful of moments that shaped Jason of today. Seeing Star Wars on the big screen when I was six gave me an early love of sci-fi and a paralyzing fear of being choked to death by telepathy. Winning five hours of free play at an arcade when I was eleven cemented my already gigantic obsession with video games. Inheriting a box of comic books when I was thirteen led me not only to discover that art form, but also caused me to meet the other comic book geeks at my school. They’re still friends of mine today, by the way. Seeing Pixar’s “Tin Toy” at an animation festival spurred an obsession with 3D graphics and animation that led to a career, years later, in the video game business. I like to credit MTV’s spiral into non-music programming for my sense of humor, since one of the first non-music things they aired was Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I was fifteen or so, and stayed up until midnight to watch that when I should have been doing homework, or, you know, sleeping.
I didn’t start writing with any seriousness until 2007 in an attempt to fill the creative void in my life caused by leaving the game business. So far so good, I guess!
GIVE US THE 140-CHARACTER STORY PITCH.
A ragtag group must unravel the mystery of failing alien space elevator that is the only thing keeping the remnants of the human race alive.
WHERE DOES THIS STORY COME FROM?
I became fascinated with space elevators since reading “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clarke. One thing I heard frequently afterwards was that such a device would never get built because the materials required were simply too difficult to conceive, much less manufacture. The contrarian in me thought, “Who says we’re the ones who will build it?”
As I started to think more about an alien-gifted space elevator, I came to really like the idea that some kind of apocalyptic event on the ground would turn it into a literal thread tying two very different societies together. Survival both on the ground and above would be impossible unless both sides learned to share and trade along this incredibly narrow trade route. Plus, the game designer in me saw great opportunity in the natural choke points such a situation would have. It all just seemed rife for politics, intrigue, and genuine terror, all piled on top of a first-contact story.
HOW IS THIS STORY ONLY YOU COULD’VE WRITTEN?
I’d love to be able to say I’m a space elevator scientist or an expert on pandemic diseases or, hell, someone who’s actually been to Darwin Australia where the story is set, but I’m none of those things. I’m just a guy who thought up a story to tell, and I think the only thing that separates me from others is that I put in the effort to do it. The research, the writing, the titanic battles with self-doubt.
I think it’s a mistake for new writers to walk away from a good idea because it doesn’t fall into the “write what you know” mantra. Someone once told me the full quote is really “write what you know to be emotionally true”. Everything else is research. I believe that.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING THE DARWIN ELEVATOR ?
Doing the work. The actual task of writing. It’s incredibly time consuming, and during the process I became a father twice in addition to carrying a full time job. I really do have to credit everything to my amazing wife. She supported this from day one and sacrificed sleeping in for years to give me the time I needed to write.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN WRITING THE DARWIN ELEVATOR ?
Where to start! My research for the book included a whole laundry list of things: Darwin (weather, geography, flora and fauna), tandem parachuting, firearms, explosives, Dutch air force, physics, sewer construction, water purification. I could go on. By the way, the first person excluding friends and family to tweet the word slipstream to me gets a signed copy of the book. Let’s see who read this far.
From a writing standpoint, I learned that I’m an outliner. I’m mortified of writing myself into a plot hole from which there is no escape except to delete chapter after chapter. I’d rather do that kind of thing when each chapter is only a sentence. I also learned that having a deadline, even a self-imposed one, really spurs creativity.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THE DARWIN ELEVATOR ?
Much to my editor’s chagrin, I love the setting. I say that because from very early on he was very focused on the characters. I love the characters, too, but I’ve always been rather proud of the world they run around in. I think it’s certainly the most unique aspect of the book. We battled (I use that word lightly) on the cover design in this regard. I wanted a scenery painting; they wanted the main character front and center. In the end I think they were right, but that doesn’t lessen my love for the setting.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME?
In the future I’ll probably spend more time up front fleshing out my characters. I let most of their personality and background details emerge from my brain as I wrote, and I think this ends up making some of them feel a bit more shallow than I’d like. That being said, I was going for a “Die Hard in space” vibe, accessible sci-fi in the same vain as my hero Scalzi, so I don’t think this does a terrible disservice to the book. It’s an area I hope to improve in, though.
GIVE US YOUR FAVORITE PARAGRAPH FROM THE STORY:
Almost five years after the Elevator arrived, the disease appeared and spread across the globe. Why the Elevator negated it, or even how, remained a mystery. The two were linked, that much was obvious, but in that time of worldwide panic only one thing mattered: Get to Darwin. Darwin is safe. The city as it was collapsed under the onslaught of refugees, Skyler among them. Memory of that journey made him shiver even now. Amazing what humans could do to one another when their survival instinct kicked in.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AS A STORYTELLER?
Wouldn’t I like to know! Much rides on how well these three books do. In an ideal world, I’ll sell another Dire Earth trilogy to Del Rey and start working on them as soon as possible.
Right now I’m writing short stories that will be used as companion pieces to the release of DARWIN and its sequels. After that, until there’s a clearer picture of what happens next, I’m going to start on a fantasy idea I’ve been anxious to write for over five years.