I got given the opportunity to do this interview on behalf of Penguin, so thank you very much for that.
I really enjoyed the book and thought it was a brilliant, unique story, written beautifully with a gripping plot and very lovable (and not so lovable) characters.
I emailed my 5 questions (and do be aware there is a few spoilers in there, I do apologize but I needed answers!) and I now have my replies. First of all, here is the blurb to the book, so you have a brief idea of what the book is about.
A missing God.
A library with the secrets to the universe.
A woman too busy to notice her heart slipping away.
Carolyn’s not so different from the other people around her. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. Clothes are a bit tricky, but everyone says nice things about her outfit with the Christmas sweater over the gold bicycle shorts.
After all, she was a normal American herself once.
That was a long time ago, of course. Before her parents died. Before she and the others were taken in by the man they called Father.
In the years since then, Carolyn hasn’t had a chance to get out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father’s ancient customs. They’ve studied the books in his Library and learned some of the secrets of his power. And sometimes, they’ve wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.
Now, Father is missing—perhaps even dead—and the Library that holds his secrets stands unguarded. And with it, control over all of creation.
As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her, all of them with powers that far exceed her own.
But Carolyn has accounted for this.
And Carolyn has a plan.
The only trouble is that in the war to make a new God, she’s forgotten to protect the things that make her human.
Populated by an unforgettable cast of characters and propelled by a plot that will shock you again and again, The Library at Mount Char is at once horrifying and hilarious, mind-blowingly alien and heartbreakingly human, sweepingly visionary and nail-bitingly thrilling—and signals the arrival of a major new voice in fantasy
And now to commence with the interview.
- Why did Father choose those specific children to be his librarians and apprentices?
I read somewhere that genetic analysis has determined something like 60% of the people in Asia are descended to a greater or lesser degree from a single guy. The presumption is that this one guy is Genghis Khan. I thought of Father in similar terms—after so much time, just about everybody in the world was a descendant of his. He picked out the ones who he felt like were representative of his bloodline.
I imagine he started prepping for Garrison Oaks early—maybe in the 1700s or thereabouts. He did a certain amount of selective breeding for traits he found desirable, not just in America, but all over the world. Then around 1920 or so he identified the descendants who had traits he was interested in—fierceness, nobility, courage, good with animals, whatever. He started arranging things so that they got funneled towards this one neighborhood in Virginia. Maybe one kid’s father got a great job offer, or that one came into an inheritance just as their dream house went on the market.
- What was behind the inspiration for this book?
Well, it wasn’t any one thing. Probably the earliest spark came from a little quirk of my upbringing. There was a guy who lived in the neighborhood where I grew up, a buddy of my Mom’s. He had this huge collection of science fiction books and he was really generous about letting me borrow them.
By the time he and I connected, I had pretty much finished the science fiction and fantasy section at our public library. So I waded into his stash with a vengeance. It was glorious. It was the friggin mother lode. Every couple of weeks I’d walk over to his place and pick up a two-foot stack of SF books, old copies of Analog and Asimov’s, tons of stuff. This went on for years, through the early eighties. .
At the time I didn’t think much of the fact that most of this stuff was from the guy’s young adulthood—the late 1950s through early 1970s. But when I got to college and found other people with similar taste in reading, I was twenty years behind the times. This was 1988, and I was like “who’s this William Gibson guy? Never heard of him. Alan Moore? Who’s that?”
It eventually occurred to me that I had more in common with people who had come up in the silver age of SF than people my own age. So I sort of extrapolated that. What if instead of being twenty years out of date, there was a neighborhood where the kids were two thousand years out of date? Or twenty thousand?
I was also studying artificial intelligence at the time, and focusing on ‘natural language’—English, Russian, stuff people speak as opposed to computer languages. There’s this thing called the Sapir Worf hypothesis that says to a large extent the language you think in determines what you are able to thinkabout.
So it occurred to me that maybe, in this neighborhood where the kids are living in a 20,000 year old culture, the language that they speak gives them the ability to think about reality in some ways that are fundamentally different from the modern world. They don’t get cell phones at all—it’s “the great sky spirit delivers a message” or something—but they understand how to fly. Or whatever.
That mutated a lot as I was writing it, but that was the core of the story.
- Are any of the characters based around any of those you know in your daily life?
Not directly, but there were a couple of strong influences. I once saw a doctor moving through an ER to attend to a heart patient. The look on her face made an impression me—it was seriously badass. Not Hollywood badass, the real thing. That was something I thought about a lot when I was working on Carolyn. I don’t really know the doctor in question at all. It was just that look, you know? It stuck with me.
Erwin is very, very loosely descended from a guy I went to school with, a buddy of mine. This guy is brilliant. He’s a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, who got a Ph.D. He’s good at everything. I wrote a character based more directly on him in my first novel, which will never ever be published because it is terrible. Erwin is more descended from the first novel character than he is from the real life Coloner, but if you squint you can still kind of see a resemblance. In my mind Erwin physically looks like this guy.
(Erwin is a homeland security agent, who is looking for Carolyn after an unusual crime is committed involving her. He becomes somewhat involved with Carolyn and her mission to find father and grows to be a brilliant asset to her a mission and an equally amazing character.)
WARNING SPOILERS UP AHEAD!
- Is there going to be a second book where Carolyn and Michael’s adventures of running the Library continue?
Possibly, but it’s not a slam dunk. I’d like to, but there are a couple of problems to be worked out first. I’ll be a little vague here to avoid spoilers, but at the end of the book the main character’s arc had come to a fairly tidy conclusion. I’d hate to break that. Also, there are some reasons why it might be tough to think up a worthy antagonist for a sequel. And it would be tricky to keep unwrapping layers of surprises the way the first book did.
If I can figure out ways to solve those problems, I’d like to write another one. I miss those guys. That book was a lot of fun to write.
- Why did you choose to bring Michael back?
I just didn’t want Carolyn to be all by herself at the end of the book. It was too sad. Plus Michael is such a nice guy I felt terrible about killing him off. I was originally thinking that there might be some sort of romance kindling between Michael and Carolyn, but now I’m not so sure. I’m pretty sure Michael is in love with a tiger. I wrote a scene about that at one point, but it didn’t make the final draft. The scene is kind of sweet when read in context, but as a first-time novelist you want to think long and hard about including a bestiality subplot.
I was, and still am, extremely pleased with these answers. Michael was by far one of my favourite characters in the book and was very happy to hear about his almost-romance with Carolyn, which I think would have been a great idea, and I always like to think of them two being together. They’d make a brilliant power couple!
If you haven’t already read this incredible book, then I really suggest you go get a copy. It is the perfect book for someone who loves a mixture of adventure, mystery and fantasy. There is never a dull moment when reading this book and is jam-packed with surprises and plot twists that you would never expect! All the characters, even the strange and slightly deranged ones, are relatable in so many ways and you just can’t help yourself to not feel a connection with them all in their own little way. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and being taken on the adventure with Carolyn and her strange friends and siblings and wouldn’t hesitate to buy the next book if it is ever released.