You might remember that Melinda Snodgrass' The Edge of Reason (Canada, USA, Europe) was one of the books GRRM forced me to read for losing that NFL football wager. Since I enjoyed the novel, I wanted to interview the author last spring, but life got in the way. So I thought I'd give her the opportunity to introduce herself in this Q&A!
- Without giving anything away, can you give us a taste of the story that is THE EDGE OF REASON?
It's basically a story about the eons long battle between science and rationality and superstition and religion. A young police officer stumbles into this secret war and is recruited by a mysterious figure who turns out to have been the source of the Prometheus and Lucifer legends.
- Tell us a little more about yourself. What's the 411 on Melinda Snodgrass?
I'm a recovered lawyer who discovered that while I loved the law (particularly Constitutional law) I hated lawyers. My friends Vic Milan suggested I try writing, and here I am, years later, still writing. Thanks to encouragement from my friend George R.R. Martin I ended up working in Hollywood for a number of years. I'm still trying to be a writer with a foot in each camp -- Hollywood and publishing -- I'll let you know how that works out. On the more personal level -- I love to camp and hike, I was a classically trained opera singer and I still enjoy music though I don't sing any longer. Another hobby stole away my money and passion -- horses. I own a six year old Lusitano stallion named Vento da Broga, and he's going to be my new Grand Prix horse. I'm a dressage rider, and it's fun to train a young and very talented horse from the beginning.
- Can you tell us a little more about the road that saw this one go from manuscript form to finished novel?
I began writing this book with no idea or expectation it would sell. The idea came to me when I was sitting at El Pinto restaurant on December 31st, 1999 with Walter Jon Williams, Laura Mixon-Gould and Steve Gould. We were watching the celebrations going on around the world, and I suddenly said "It's the dawn of the 21st century. Where's my air car? Where's my Moon base." I was being a bit facetious, but I realized there was a serious component to the question. Why did people put so much credence in healing crystals and guardian angels and UFO abductions and Tarot Cards and Jesus appearing on a tortilla, rather then believing in chemistry, biology, physics, etc.? I thought, _maybe there's some reason, or some things that want us to believe in gibberish_. And that's where the idea began.
The next big hurdle was finding the right protagonist. I tried writing this first with a psychologist as the main character, but it just didn't work as well. I went back to my Hollywood training and looked at the three areas that always, reliably work for TV series -- cops, doctors and lawyers. I'd tried a doc. I had been a lawyer and really didn't want to use that world. I tried the cop, and it worked perfectly.
I also wanted to make sure that the underpinnings of my universe made sense so I really worked on the nuts and bolts of the "magic", and I found a surprising amount of support in the Bible to my premise.
- In your opinion, what makes THE EDGE OF REASON different from what's out there, and why should jaded readers give it a shot?
If people have felt uncomfortable with the power of the religious right in our political and daily lives, or if a reader is frustrated at how often the society wants to look back to some mythical "golden age", and wants a return to that better time rather than pushing forward into a exciting new future -- complete with air cars and Moon bases -- then I think this book is for them.
- What can readers expect from the upcoming sequel?
THE EDGE OF RUIN takes my protagonist into the halls of power as he, basically, tries to "pass the buck", but what he ultimately realizes is that he has to take command and make some very tough choices. I like to torture characters, and most of my stores grow out of a character in a particular situation rather than the situation.
- What's the progress report on the next volume? Any tentative release date yet?
The second book has been delivered to Tor and is scheduled for June 2009.
- Will you be touring to promote the book this summer? If so, are there any specific dates that have been confirmed as of yet?
I will attending a book seller's conference in Portland Oregon September 16th and 17th, and another book sellers conference Oct 4th in Oakland, CA. I don't have any information on the venues yet, but your friendly local bookstore might have the information. I'll also be at Worldcon in Denver and World Fantasy in Calgary.
- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
I think I create memorable characters, and I love to write dialogue. In fact I sometimes end up with my characters talking in a white room because I'm not great with description. It's a good thing I have my wonderful writer's group, Critical Mass, to help me with that. My other major strength is plot and structure. I really honed those skills in Hollywood where you've got to tell a story in a really economical way.
- Were there any perceived conventions of the genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write THE EDGE OF REASON and its sequel?
I can't really think of anything. I just wrote the story I wanted to read. I guess I did want to create a hero who was the antithesis of the "Omni Competent Heinlein Hero". But that's the only thing I can come up with.
- There is a fine balance between the more thought-provoking concepts, the humor, and the characterization in THE EDGE OF REASON? Was it difficult to find where you had to draw the line, because I feel that overdoing it in any of the aforementioned categories could have killed the story?
It was tough finding the balance. I had to use my homeless Jesus like a strong spice. Too much and it could get campy. I also had to remove the Prometheus figure because he was the 800 pound gorilla and I had to have my hero have to summon the strength and courage to lead. And he only gets part of the way. He doesn't really learn to lead until The Edge of Ruin.
- The fact that there is a website dedicated to your work is an indication that interaction with your readers is important to you as an author. How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with your fans?
I was actually terrified to launch the website and blog, but my wonderful editor, Patrick Nielsen-Hayden, patted me on the shoulder, told me it would be okay, and sent me out there to meet potential readers. I've been getting a lot of emails from folks who have read THE EDGE OF REASON, and said very kind things. Some of the most gratifying letters have been from people who said they didn't think there was anyone else who felt the way they did, and it was such a relief to find they weren't alone in this questions. I enjoy blogging and I talk about everything from politics, to movies (I give reviews), the craft of writing, training the dressage horse, what I'm reading, etc. It's become a lot of fun, and I'm very grateful to Patrick for encouraging me to jump in.
- How much of an impact does your old friend George R. R. Martin's "patronage" benefit you in terms of exposure for a new release like THE EDGE OF REASON?
I'm not really sure how much cross-over readership there might be. George was very, very kind to take the time from his own work to read my novel and give me a wonderful blurb. I think people have niches they like (I know I do) and they like to read within those parameters. I had a lot of people who admired my work on Star Trek:TNG, but I'm not sure how many of them have rushed out to buy a book I wrote. Certainly when George mentions my novel favorably on his website it sure can't hurt. But it's up to me to capture the interest of those people within the first couple of pages. Just like George gave me my opportunity in Hollywood, I still had to write the script that ultimately landed me my job on Star Trek:TNG.
- Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award/Hugo Award? Why, exactly?
Can't I have both? :) Okay, seriously. That's a hard question. I think I'd take the bestseller status over the award. And it's not because of the money. I think every writer really wants to speak to another person, to tell them a story, and give them hours where as a reader they are swept away into a new world. I know I love those books where I lose all track of time, and I don't want to put the book down. When you make the top ten list of the NY Times you are managing to tell your story to a lot of people, and it's that contact mind to mind that I find so intoxicating. It's one of the powers of television. When you realize that even a poorly performing show is going to be seen by 20 million people -- well, it's overwhelming.
- What authors make you shake your head in admiration? Many SFF authors don't read much inside the genre. Is it the case with you?
I still enjoy many science fiction writers. I guess most of my reading for pleasure is in the field and I especially love mysteries. Who do I admire? Okay, setting aside the Big Dog ie George let me run out some authors. I really like Lois McMaster Bujold and Robin Hobb. Daniel Abraham. Walter Jon Williams. John Scalzi. Dan Simmons Vernor Vinge. Terry Pratchett. Sheri Tepper. Okay, I'm going to stop inside the field. Outside the field I love Dorothy Dunnet's Nicolo series. Mysteries I really like Michael Connelly. This is a really hard question because I like so many authors.
- Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the cover that graces THE EDGE OF REASON?
I think cover art is critical. A interesting cover will make be pick up a book by an unknown author. I'm really very happy with my cover on THE EDGE OF REASON. It could have been so cheesy, and the terrific art department at Tor found a way to avoid any of those pitfalls.
- More and more, authors/editors/publicists/agents are discovering the potential of all the SFF blogs/websites/message boards on the internet. Do you keep an eye on what's being discussed out there, especially if it concerns you? Or is it too much of a distraction?
I enjoy reading discussion on the blogs and websites, but I never read them as they pertain to my book. It makes me feel kind of squiggy. Because of the curious circumstance that led to you reviewing my novel, I read your review, but mostly I avoid such discussions. Writers spend enough time navel gazing without running all over the internet in search of more conversations that are all about _Them_.
- Honestly, do you believe that the speculative fiction genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.
I think we won. Look at television and movies -- it's all speculative fiction that's driving the engine. I know we all get frustrated at being dismissed as "that kid stuff", but maybe we're safer that way. If we ever start being discussed in Literature Classes (imagine the pompous tone of voice) I'm afraid that we'll fall into that traps that afflict mainstream writers. They all seem to be writing for each other or for the critics instead of writing cracking good stories for real readers. We do have wonderful writers and wonderful books, but I never want to forget that I'm an entertainer. I want to sweep you out of your living room and into a new world, and have the reader forget about the leaky faucet of their day job.
- So what's the scoop on the forthcoming Wild Card novel, BUSTED FLUSH? Give us something to look forward to!
BUSTED FLUSH has a very complicated plot, and I'm still amazed that we pulled it off. But we did, and in some ways I think it's stronger than INSIDE STRAIGHT. The kids start to understand that the world is a very complicated place, and actions have consequences. (And here's that navel gazing writer thing again). My character, Noel, discovers he has a soul and maybe even a heart.
- Doesn't it make you feel a bit "dirty" that I was forced to read this due to a Dallas Cowboys loss at the hands of George R. R. Martin's New York Giants last January? Surely, it has to weigh on your conscience when you go to sleep at night. . .
Not in the least. Actually it's the only time in my life that I really cared about the outcome of a football game. :) I know the reach of your website, and while it was scary (you might have hated the novel), it was such a great opportunity to get the word out to a broad audience about THE EDGE OF REASON.
Also, I thought it was really funny that you sports guys got hoisted on petards of your own making.