Today, I posted a review for "The Least Envied" by Sean DeLauder. As part of the review process, I also had the opportunity to do a brief interview with the author that I wanted to share.
MTG: I posted a review for your book today; tell us something about the book that is not in the summary. (About the book, character you particularly enjoyed writing etc.)
DeLauder: The book tries to present itself as an adventure story tracing Joseph Campbell's tried-and-true monomyth arc (I love myth and I love adventure, so it makes sense I would follow, loosely, that plotline), but there are some more subtle themes traveling under the surface that pop their heads out like ground squirrels every so often. Some are obvious, such as the nature of heroes and the absence of absolutes in the world (shades of gray rather than pure Good and Evil), and some not so much.
The vast majority of stories involve the transformation of a character from one version of themselves into another, and this is the case for all of the main characters in this story. At the same time, the journey provides a mechanism for another form of transformation, that being the transformation from theism to humanism, or the reliance of people on supernatural beliefs to save them to reliance upon themselves. That's a big, big theme in the book, and it supposes that salvation can only come from one place--oneself. It's a much more proactive position than religion by itself, though that isn't to say the spiritual serves no purpose. On the contrary, I think it provides the impetus to believe something can happen (e.g., in this story, it is represented by the nebulous "Unless"), but it's up to individuals to make it happen.
MTG: I know this book is the second in a series. Will we see any of the same characters in other books in the series? Or are they just in the same setting?
DeLauder: Many of the characters in this story do appear in the other works, though you may not recognize them at first. Many have important agendas, and if their identities are known then those agendas are discovered or fall apart. The focus in the other books will not be the main characters you met in “The Least Envied”, though some will play a significant role, but they will be familiar characters and characters whose histories have been alluded to but not fully explored. One particular character arc remains unresolved and requires attention the first and last books.
MTG: Where do you find inspiration for your writing? There’s a lot of underlying philosophy in your book, was there a specific person that had a strong influence?
DeLauder: Philosophically speaking, much of that comes from the meanderings of my own mind. I was raised in a very religious family, so I spent a lot of time thinking about what is right and wrong, and that often branched out into other philosophical avenues, though it has been bolstered by my discovery of Carl Sagan. I share his incredulity that, in light of the galactic scope of our vision, people continue to focus on their petty, insignificant, and insipid disagreements. People are myopic and selfish, so much so they are unable to look past their own problems and inflated sense of importance. They need that, though, because human beings are a complainy sort of creature that would lose all sense of worth if they didn't think their neighbor being a fan of the wrong football team wasn't the biggest problem with world.
MTG: Each of the wogs sounded like they looked slightly different. What does an undamaged wog really look like?
DeLauder: Wogs are designed to be innocuous creatures, so they aren't very tall. Perhaps knee-high, with some variation above or below. They also require a covering to prevent the dust and debris of the world from gumming up their gears, so they usually have a protective layer of purple fur. They're bulky creatures, requiring them to have long, wide feet to keep them upright. Since they don't bend at the waist, they have disproportionately long, skinny arms, that allow them to reach objects on the ground without having to lean over. It's been a long while since they've received any maintenance, however, so they're all in various states of disrepair.
I remember watching “Despicable Me” for the first time and thinking the minions shared a lot of similarities with the wogs. I may have even chuckled to myself and muttered "plagiarism". Then, of course, I saw “Despicable Me 2”, in which the minions were transformed into knee-high, purple-furred monsters with long, gangly arms. That was mortifying, and clear evidence that someone from Universal Pictures has been rummaging through my stuff.
MTG: Do you have a favorite book(s) and why? I know it’s often impossible to narrow it down to one, so just pick one (or a few) that is a new favorite or consistent “go-to”.
DeLauder: Absolutely. No question. “The Once and Future King”, by T.H. White. White had extensive knowledge of medieval practices, Arthurian legend, a clever and subtle hand, and wonderfully tactful moral compass. I think he, before Carl Sagan, alerted me to the absurdity of human behavior and helped shape my philosophy. You can see echoes of his King Arthur in Billy-Bob--both are very hard, very persistent thinkers who know most problems are far beyond their ability to solve, but understand they are things that must be tackled for the good of humanity. In the end, Arthur dies to be reborn again. Perhaps Billy-Bob is Arthur returned.
White wrote a book that is powerful and beautiful and quirky. It's everything I could ever hope to write myself.
MTG: What books are you reading now?
DeLauder: There are a few books I'm reading at the moment, which is normal. I try to avoid books that I think are reminiscent of my own or might influence my prose, so I gravitate toward historical works. Right now I'm reading Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar. Every once in a while I need to indulge in some kind of fantasy to let my brain rattle out all the loose junk it accumulates from hard reads and heavy thinking, so I'm going to be starting The King of Elfland's Daughter, by Lord Dunsany, very soon. I might go back to something comfortably familiar as well. Asimov's Foundation series, maybe.
MTG: Where do you usually find yourself writing?
DeLauder: Writing is about as predictable as the weather. I can sit on the couch with a laptop and write, or in bed, or at work, or in the car. All part of a plan or a need to uncork the ideas that have been accumulating. Or it can be more sudden. I have been awakened in the middle of the night to scribble on a sheet of paper and I've interrupted conversations to take notes on my cell phone. The worst time is in the shower, because then I have to repeat my ideas to myself over and over and over again to ensure I remember them long enough to write them down. There's been many a time I've forgotten what I had in mind by the time I made it to my notes--only to have the memory triggered hours, days, or weeks later, which is both exasperating and a tremendous relief.
MTG: What has been the biggest reward to your writing so far?
DeLauder: I tend to write for myself, so it's gratifying when I find others who can engage in the stories I've written. Even so, when I write a well-crafted and evocative line or paragraph or scene, it's extremely fulfilling. The most gratifying moments are those where the most effort is concentrated on an infinitesimal location. I've spent hours staring at a word trying to improve it, trying to rebuild a sentence around it to make it more effective, and when that breakthrough finally comes, even though it's such a tiny component to the story that a reader will invariably overlook, like an imperceptible blot of paint that blends perfectly with the rest of the image, it's very comforting to me to know that, in my mind, I nailed it down just the way I want it.
MTG: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
DeLauder: This is a common question for which I have two answers. The first is, obviously, read and write. A lot. Reading will help program your brain to understand what good writing is (depending on what you read, I suppose). Then write. Carry something around with you to write on, to catalog observations. There are a lot of books out there that tell you how to write, and I suppose those can be helpful, but nothing is going to help more than doing it. You can read books on how to ride a bike, but you're not going to get good at it by reading about how to do it. Reading and writing should be part of your routine. Do it all the time. My book, for example. I strongly advise you to read my book. All the time. Buy yourself a new copy every few days. Your friends, too.
Just as important, you need to experience the world around you. New experiences are one of the best ways to trigger new avenues of thought, which you can use in your stories. This doesn't necessarily mean you need to paddle a canoe across the Atlantic, but expose yourself to new ideas. You'll be surprised by where your mind can take you if you nudge it off the tracks.
MTG: Give us three “Good to Know” facts. Be creative: first job, likes/dislikes, hobbies, favorite way to unwind – whatever comes to mind.
- I sneeze in threes. When I sneeze more or less, I wonder if maybe something in the world is out of kilter.
- I love anthropomorphism, as anyone who reads my books will know (particularly “The Least Envied”, in which many inanimate objects actually have voices). The idea that the world has something to say about its situation fascinates me and lends an interesting facet to storytelling, particularly because I envision the components of the world as being entitled, grumpy, very task oriented, and often frustrated (e.g., the sun is always chasing shadows around the curve of the planet, trying to shoot them full of sunny arrows).
- “The Least Envied” was 20 years or so in the making. I started writing it in high school, on a whim, because I had nothing better to do with myself. It has undergone many, many, many transformations, but I'm most pleased with this one. I may come back to it some day and release a new edition after whittling down some of the dialogue, but only if I think I can improve the story without disrupting the message.
MTG: Do you have any upcoming projects?
DeLauder: There are several ideas burning holes in my brain. Obviously, I'd like to work on the next book in this series, “A Hero”. At the same time I've had an idea to write an alternative story about Robin Hood, as well as forays into a quirky murder mystery and possibly an erotic 1940s spy satire (murder mystery and erotica are so obnoxiously popular, I find the urge to make fun of them hard to resist). As for which one will be finished first, it's hard for me to say. Whichever is fortunate enough to have the wind catch in its sails, I reckon.
About the Author:
This author has held several positions in recent years, including Content Writer, Grant Writer, Obituary Clerk, and Staff Writer, and is under the false impression that these experiences have added to his character since they have not contributed much to his finances. He was awarded a BFA in Creative Writing and Journalism and a BA in Technical Communication by Bowling Green State University because they are giving and eager to make friends. He has a few scattered publications with The Circle magazine, Wild Violet, Toasted Cheese, and Lovable Losers Literary Revue, and resides in the drab, northeastern region of Ohio because it makes everything else seem fascinating, exotic, and beautiful.