Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Author Spotlight: Ian Tregillis

Give a man a chance to earn some University of Minnesota degrees and write a doctoral dissertation drenched in computational astrophysics, and what does he do with it? If he’s Ian Tregillis, our guest today at the Gazalapalooza Author Spotlight, he'll get repurposed to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Then, when not grappling with matters nuclear at LANL, he’ll at least write the acclaimed Milkweed Triptych trilogy, contribute meaningfully to the wildly popular and long-lived George R.R. Martin Wild Cards series, and thereafter publish his new and remarkable novel Something More Than Night, featuring among countless wonders the very Voice of God.

That’s an impressive authorial resume for anybody, including (or perhaps especially) a guy who spent a whole bunch of his younger years fixated on something called "radio galaxies." Yeah, we don’t know what they are, either.

In conjunction with the release today of Something More Than Night, Gazalapalooza decided to track Tregillis down and encourage him to embrace the challenge of our toasty Author Spotlight. To his enduring credit, it wasn’t difficult to convince Tregillis to give the Spotlight a go. Rather, it seemed he relished the opportunity to plant himself on our austere wooden chair, under our rows of white hot klieg lights, and get interrogated. A brave physicist, indeed. So without further ado, let’s see where Tregillis’ bravery gets him.

Gazala:    In my omnipotence, I've sentenced you to be stranded alone on a desert island for offenses best left unnamed. In my beneficence, I've decided to allow you a limited amount of reading material to make your stay a little less bleak than it would otherwise be. I'll spot you your religious text of preference, and the collected works of William Shakespeare. In addition to those, name the one fiction book, and the one nonfiction book, you'd choose to take with you, and tell why you choose them.

Tregillis:    When I imagine myself stranded on a desert island for the rest of my life, I wonder how I could keep myself from going mad with loneliness and boredom. So I'd try to choose reading that would comfort my troubled soul.

My nonfiction book would be, well, not strictly a book per se, but you could think of it as a real-life epistolary novel. Last Christmas, my girlfriend (now fiancée) gave me a collection of all of our correspondence stretching over the decades. (We've known each other for over 20 years.) I would probably read it over and over until the binding fell apart and I knew every word by heart.

I have two fiction series that I reread every so often. Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber (Corwin's Chronicles: Nine Princes in Amber, The Guns of Avalon, Sign of the Unicorn, The Hand of Oberon, and The Courts of Chaos), and Steven Gould's Jumper books: Jumper, Reflex, and the new Impulse. If I could score an omnibus of either one of those series, that would be my choice for my fiction book. (Particularly if the Gould omnibus contained the forthcoming Exo, which I am dying to read.)

A bit of a cheat, perhaps, but either omnibus would serve me well and stave off the exile-induced madness just a bit longer.

Gazala:    Your new novel is an excellent and gripping thriller, titled Something More Than Night. Inspired by the work of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, Something More Than Night is a noir detective story starring fallen angels, the heavenly choir, nightclub stigmatics, dirty priests, swell dames, femmes fatales, and the Voice of God. I've read it. I enjoyed it immensely, and recommend it highly. Shockingly enough, however, from time to time my bare recommendation doesn't always motivate a book's potential reader to become a book's actual reader. Tell us a bit about Something More Than Night, and why its potential reader should make the leap and become its actual reader.

Tregillis:    Thank you for the kind words about Something More Than Night. It's a book that I wrote entirely for myself, purely for the fun of it, and I hope that fun comes across to readers. The project was something that I had wanted to tackle for years and years (since before I started writing), and it kept itching at the back of my mind throughout the course of writing my previous trilogy. I decided that if I was going to write something for my own enjoyment, I should try to stretch and challenge myself with it. I'm a big believer in writing against obstacles, because it makes me a better writer, and sometimes the result is something I couldn't predict. Something More Than Night was one of those projects.

Also, as a minor footnote, it explains the meaning and purpose of the universe. So there's that, too.

Gazala:    What are books for?

Tregillis:    When asked why she never parted with the books she had read, a friend of mine said something very wise. "I like having large bookshelves," she said, "because they show me where my mind has been."

That was about 15 years ago, and it has always stuck with me. And I think it gets right to the heart of your question. Books are magical objects that turn us into different people by taking our minds on paths we couldn't find on our own. This is true of fiction and nonfiction, of poetry and prose. Sometimes the change wrought upon us is small but worthwhile (we know more than we did about the history of salt, we suddenly understand just how unpleasant the life of a Victorian servant could be), sometimes it's profound (the first time we read Raymond Chandler or Roger Zelazny and realize, holy cow, that is how you write a sentence), sometimes it's sheer joy (when we visit Terry Pratchett's Discworld).

Gazala:    W. Somerset Maugham said, "There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are." Do you agree, or disagree, and why?

Tregillis:    Well, far be it from me to disagree with Somerset Maugham on a question of writing. But the truth is that I tend to agree. I've discovered that even though my approach to writing each novel is the same, the experience and process of writing differs each and every time. And, worse yet, I've learned (to my everlasting dismay) that having written one book doesn't actually teach me how to write the next book. What I like to tell people is that writing a book teaches me how not to write that particular book.

Actually, you know what? I do disagree a little bit. Because we do know one of those three universal rules for writing a novel. The first rule of writing a novel is this, and it holds for everybody: Sit down and do the damn work, because that novel won't write itself.

The other two rules are up for grabs. Everybody writes differently, so what might be a rule for me ("The purpose of the first draft is to put words on paper so that the real writing, the rewriting, can happen."), might not be a rule for you.

Gazala:    Some disgruntled malcontent keeps beating on my door, bellowing nonsense about unfathomable heavenly crises and a missing ram's horn. I best go humor her until the cops arrive. Ask yourself a question, and answer it.

Tregillis: Q: Ian, do you ever feel the need to pinch yourself?

A:    Why yes, Other Ian, as a matter of fact I certainly do. When a box of author's copies arrives on my doorstep, or when I receive an email from a reader, or when I see something I wrote on a bookstore shelf, or when I'm asked to sign one of my books, or when I find myself casually referring to "one of my books." I took up writing because it was something I enjoyed, but only in my most secret dreams did I imagine that I might someday become a published novelist. I have been incredibly lucky, and I won't let myself forget it.

No need to get so mushy about it, Ian.

Shut up, Other Ian. I can get to you when you're asleep.

Our guest’s estimable erudition is not just entertaining. It’s enlightening. And that’s not to mention the irresistible breadcrumb about his new book Tregillis so casually drops. Did you pay attention? Tregillis says Something More Than Night "explains the meaning and purpose of the universe." Wow. Clearly, this is critical information all of us must know. Each of us can obtain it via Amazon.com, with a mere click right here.