Ready for a good dystopia? (I always am.) One of my favorite dystopian novels last year was the first in a new series by author James Jaros called Burn Down the Sky. It was dark, at times brutal, and definitely not a happy little read–but it also was riveting, with deep, complex characters I came to care about. I also learned that James Jaros is actually thriller author Mark Nykanen, a four-time Emmy-winning investigative reporter. So he knows a bit about the world we live in, and can write authoritatively about people and their motives. You can learn more about him at his website.
I’m thrilled to welcome James Jaros to Preternatura today to run the Q&A gauntlet and talk about the new book in the series, Carry the Flame, which comes out today! I just got my copy and can’t wait to dig into it. Want to win a copy of your own? Read on…
ABOUT CARRY THE FLAME: Tomorrow’s world is a wasteland, decimated by vengeful nature and disease . . .And those who rule the ruins worship a cruel and terrible god….
Having survived the terror of the Alliance and the single-minded fanaticism of its hideous religion, a caravan of survivors moves quickly into the Great American Desert, the wastes of what once was America’s heartland. With her daughters at her side—recently rescued Ananda and her daring older sister, Bliss—Jessie hopes to find sanctuary in the Arctic, now rumored to be temperate. But their enemies are powerful and relentless, and will not rest until they possess the caravan’s most precious treasures: their prepubescent female children, a stolen tanker filled with fuel . . . and a pair of frightened twins, whom the Army of God calls “demon.” But the danger in pursuit pales before the horror that lies ahead when Jessie, the marauder-turned-ally Burned Fingers, and the innocents in their care face the savagery, the madness, and the monsters that dwell in the terrifying City of Shade.
Now, welcome James!
Give us the “elevator pitch” for Carry the Flame. A small band of people who have survived the collapse of Earth’s climate in the latter part of this century struggle to cross the Great American Desert, the wastes of what once was America’s heartland. They’d like to make it to the Arctic, now rumored to be temperate, but face powerful religious opponents who want their female children, fuel, and a pair of unusual twins that the fanatics call “demon.” They also have to survive the City of Shade, a mad, monstrous enclave ruled by a complicated man.
What is your favorite scene in the book? I would love to have a direct answer to this question, but I don’t. Carry the Flame is a 130,000 word novel with dozens of characters, plots and subplots, and so many scenes that I can’t even estimate their number. I rewrite obsessively, and don’t stop rewriting until I feel that I have a scene wired. If I can branch off from the question slightly, I always love it when I’m surprised by the emergence of a major character, someone I didn’t anticipate taking on a big role. That certainly happens with Cassie, who’s quite young and her “take” on events in the book forms a striking contrast to the views of the adult characters. I was also immensely happy to discover the world that Cassie enters later in the novel. I don’t work from a synopsis or outline, so I was as surprised as anyone when the realm in question appeared.
Hardest scene you’ve ever written: That’s easy: any scene of child abuse. I’ve always tried to handle them elliptically, and believe that I have, but what I’m brush stroking for readers is sometimes a movie for me. At NBC News, I worked undercover extensively to reveal the underworld of child sexual abuse. This was back in the ‘80s when I wrote and reported the Emmy-winning documentary, The Silent Shame. I left network news not long after finishing work on a series about sexual tourism that targeted children. That’s the point I started writing fiction. My first published novel, Hush, was largely about the subject of child sexual abuse. Since then I’ve written a lot of child characters in my books, mostly girls, and really enjoyed how they’ve informed my work. And let me hasten to add, there’s been very little depiction of the abuse of those girls.
What’s on your nightstand or top of your TBR pile? Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, No More Dying Then by Ruth Rendell. I’m currently reading Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. So far, I’d have to say that it’s stunning.
Favorite book when you were a child: Probably Treasure Island. I also recall a biography of Audubon that I believe has had an enduring influence.
Your five favorite authors: Tough one. Different periods, different authors. I’ve loved Joyce Carol Oates, Ralph Ellison, Normal Mailer, Cormack McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, and Alice Munro.
Book you’re an evangelist for: Of late, The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall. My father-in-law passed it along to me. I loved it and passed it along to my wife. Now I’ve loaned it to another female friend. The trade paper edition has pages of enviable blurbs, and guess what? The book deserves them.
At other times I’ve pushed other books, including T.C. Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain and Drop City. I’ve always let my daughter read whatever she wants, but I have to say that when she started reading Drop City at age ten, I had to brace myself for the questions that I knew would follow. Sure enough, she looked up after a few pages and asked, “What’s an orgy, Dad?” She lost interest after about 150 pages. Kids self-censor with books very easily, I’ve found. Not so with films, which is why I’ve exerted considerably more control over what she may see on a screen.
Book you’ve bought for the cover: I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book simply for the cover, which is not to say that covers haven’t influenced a purchase. But I don’t impulse-buy books; I’m always reading the opening pages. Since becoming an ebook reader, I don’t even think about covers because I’ve yet to buy an ebook that I haven’t first sampled at length.
Book that changed your life: Books—plural—have changed my life, but no single book has turned that trick for me. A book that influenced me greatly as an author was A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman. After reading it, I felt my characters come more alive in the realm of senses. That was an important step for me.
Book you most want to read again for the first time: Maybe Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison. I’m sure I’ll reread The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. It was terrific. And definitely Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.
Most horrifying moment while reading a book: A prison rape scene in The Shrine at Altamira by John L’Heureux. I found most of that novel harrowing. I read it in a single session.
Favorite book about books or writing: If You Want to Write: a Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland. It was first published in 1938. I highly recommend it. It’s the only book about writing that I’ve read. I quit while I was ahead.
Thank you, James!
So…want to win Carry the Flame? (Yes, you really do!) Leave a comment to enter. You know the drill–extra entries for blog follow, Twitter follow @Suzanne_Johnson, and Tweeting the contest. Now…fly!