Monday, October 1, 2012

Q & A interview with Jeff Gonsalves, author of "Fork in the road to Apocalypse"

I sat down with Jeff Gonsalves recently for some informal Q&A regarding his latest novel, "Fork in the road to Apocalypse", and an assortment of other topics. Hope you enjoy learning more about this extremely talented author.

·         Which character do you identify the most with? Charlie or Elliott? What do you have in common with each?
o   I can relate more to Charlie, since he is a caring uncle to Elliott. As an uncle myself, I’ve learned to accept the quirks in my nephews/niece’s personalities, and come to cherish them for their uniqueness. But as an authority figure, I must also try to guide them so they can function within their peer group. That’s Charlie’s most difficult task: to help Elliott fit in without compromising his inherent uniqueness. His task is extremely difficult because Elliott’s repressed anger manifests itself in a frightening psychic ability that can distort even what Charlie thinks is real.

·         Who is your favorite author all-time? Why? Who are some of your current favorites?
o   My favorite author is James Lee Burke, a Southern mystery writer. He is very skilled at writing detailed descriptions and vivid characters. As for other authors, I read a ton of non-fiction focusing on true-life experiences, such as Doctors Without Borders, Child Soldiers, prison camps in Russia and North Korea, and the juvenile justice system.

·         How long did it take you to write The Subnorms and Fork in the Road to Apocalypse? What was the hardest part for you? Do you start out with a detailed outline or use more of a free flowing style?
o   It took me about a year to write each book. The hardest part is always making sure I don’t repeat what I’ve seen in movies or read in other books. I try to create fascinating characters, relentless action, and bizarre landscapes. I never write an outline, but rather create scenes in a linear fashion. It’s important to me to have an ending that is both satisfying for the reader, as well as logical.

·         I’ve found that everyone’s path to getting their first novel published is quite unique. What was your experience like overall? What were some of the highlights (and lowlights)?
o   My first novel was published by Bainbridge Books, an imprint of Trans-Atlantic out of Philadelphia. I was thrilled when I got the phone call from an editor there, but after I signed the contract I was contacted by an editor from Simon and Schuster, a much large and formidable publishing house. I was grateful to find a publisher, but a little dismayed that I could have sold my book to one of the “big guns”.
o   The experience was great--the staff at Bainbridge were very patient and supportive. Unfortunately, they didn’t like the ending, so it was changed to what I believe is a much more generic conclusion. I also am embarrassed by some profanity in the book that attempts to make it “edgy”, but doesn’t really jibe with my “squeaky-clean” ethics. Haha

·         The devastating, sometimes fatal treatment of “agendas” in your novel seems to parallel what cancer patients face with radiation in some ways, where the cure sometimes seems worse than the disease. Did your work as an RN play into these scenes at all? 
o   Absolutely. Your analysis is very insightful. I work with children on an oncology ward, so I see amputations, altered skin pigmentation, flesh burns from radiation, and surgical scars. Not to mention vomiting, pink urine, and kidney failure from chemotherapy. To me, many mutations happen for a reason, so I tried to make the “subnorms” in my book develop mutations that help them survive. For example, a girl with leukemia forms a second skeleton to provide functional bone marrow. And the psychic abilities aren’t random--they’re linked to the host’s fears and insecurities. So in a nutshell, I can appreciate the torment associated with a treatment that might cure someone, but can have delayed effects that are just as damaging as the initial disease. I wanted to stay true to what I see kids suffer through in the hospital.

·         Where did the idea for the subnorm series come from? How are things coming on the third installment?
o   I’ve always enjoyed sci-fi, and wanted to create an interesting twist on the theme of mutations and psychic talents. Basically I wanted to make the victims of subnorm racism human, not superheroes. They don’t band together but try to cope with their stressors as individuals. My newest book is finished. It begins when mutations are just surfacing in society. Jaden, the protagonist, is a fourteen year-old boy who can age his surroundings when stressed. He gets captured and thrown into a detention facility with a group of other dangerous mutant children. This leads to a powder keg situation in which Jaden must fight for survival, like Ralph in Lord of the Flies.

·         Knowing firsthand the challenges of trying to write steadily while maintaining a full-time day job, I’m curious how you manage the conflicting demands for your time. Any tips or stories you’d like to share?
o   Nothing too profound; simply allocate time for writing and stay consistent. Sometimes it’s hard to sit down and write, but once you’re finished, you’ll be glad you did. And when momentum builds and the plotting becomes easier, everything falls into place and the process becomes satisfying. Then the writing doesn’t seem like such a chore.

·         I thought that the way you presented the supernatural abilities was really unique, where they serve a purpose for the genetically altered person but are still viewed as anything but a gift (given the work of the Genetics Bureau). Any clues as to how this conflict may play out as the series progresses? I could see the mutants rallying together to fight their oppression or the government realizing that their abnormalities could serve a greater purpose.
o   I still like the concept of the subnorms fighting to survive as confused, terrified individuals, so I don’t know if there will be a mutant uprising. The government will start finding ways to “use” the subnorms’ psychic abilities, however, at great cost to the subnorms’ collective conscience. This will happen in part two of my next book. The protagonist will have to decide whether he will use his psychic talent to harm others or refuse and suffer the grueling “cure”.

·         I know your hobbies include playing basketball and other sports as well as weight-lifting, volunteering in the Big Brothers program, playing the electric guitar, and writing. Did you play any sports in college? Any stories about bands you’ve been in you’d like to share?
o   I am a basketball junkie. I play at least three times a week, but wasn’t good enough to play in college. I actually improved just playing one-on-one with friends who were better than me. I learned from them. I also enjoy tennis, golf, and listening to progressive rock music. I played electric guitar when I was younger, and would like to create an album of instrumental music when I can actually hold a note!

Author Bio:
     Jeff Gonsalves was born in Dublin, California under the watchful eyes of his parents. Strange premonitions (such as an ultrasound image of the umbilical cord snaking up his left nostril) foretold that he might be born with warped DNA, or at the very least, a wacked-out brain. They expected a third eyeball or a second gibbering mouth, but were relieved when he was born semi-normal.
     Over the past twenty years, Jeff has lived in California, Colorado, and the eerie caverns of his own imagination, but he would be perfectly content pitching a tent and residing permanently on a basketball court. His hobbies include sports, weight-lifting, volunteering in the Big Brothers program, mangling electric guitars, and writing. Fork in the Road to Apocalypse is the second novel in a science fiction series that currently includes five additional books. His first novel, The Subnorms, was published in 2001 and earned a favorable review from Kirkus, who called it “graphic, energetic, and packing a dizzying emotional wallop”.
     When he isn’t writing, Jeff works on a pediatric floor at a large metropolitan hospital. Jeff also enjoys progressive rock music and attributes his irreparable brain damage to listening to too many Top 40 bands when he was younger. He still has nightmares of hearing “Bluebird” by Anne Murray blasting from the speakers of his parents’ neon-orange Scirocco as a child. Maybe full frontal lobotomy will help.
     Currently, Jeff is writing a new novel to follow Fork in the Road to Apocalypse, which SciFi Books called, “fast, brutal, and darkly rewarding”. A concurrent project is Diary of a Disturbed Psych Aide, in which Jeff details true stories from his five years working in a mental ward. Here’s the link:

     Elliott Andersson is a disturbed young boy with a dangerous psychic talent. His mother believes that he can make a victim’s worst fears materialize in times of stress, so she keeps him locked in her house for days at a time. In a fit of desperation, Elliott transforms her home into a fiery vision from Hell, drawing the government’s attention. A frantic chase results in the crippling of federal agents and detainment of Elliott in a maximum-security seclusion tank.
     Elliott’s uncle Chuck is an operative working for the Genetics Bureau, the agency that has subdued his nephew. His job is to interrogate mutants to see if they possess lethal psychic abilities. When Elliott is imprisoned, Chuck embarks on a moral roller-coaster ride, uncertain whether to protect his nephew or society. His nonchalant attitude masks an innate desire to save Elliott at all costs–even if it means leaving casualties in their wake.
     An interrogation proves that he can alter reality, and the government decides to evaluate Elliott for use in military combat. Frightened, but with a strong will to survive, he resists the hands twisting him into a weapon. He is reeling on the brink of despair when his uncle forms a band of renegade soldiers to smuggle Elliott out of the Genetics Bureau.
     After this daring escape attempt, Chuck and a group of aberrants board a skim-cruiser headed into an uncharted wasteland. Pursued by the military, an android stalker, and a vengeful government agent, their only hope is to reach a leper colony that may not exist.
Shadowing every victory is the suspicion that Elliott cannot control his psychic ability, and is unconsciously using it against the people he loves most.
     Chuck must determine whether Elliott can be saved, or whether his psychic ability must result in his own termination. But at whose hands?

Book Excerpt:
I arrived at my sister’s duplex in ten minutes. Elliott’s agenda had detonated like a nuclear warhead, laying everything to waste. The lawn had been replaced by a volcanic ulcer of lava, neon orange and rippling sideways. Steam sprayed out of the fire hydrant, hovering in a scalding fog over the magma. The driveway was scorched black, paved with charred cinderblocks. His illusions seemed so realistic I found myself stumbling back even after a sludgy wave of lava failed to scorch my shoe.
Ash coated the roof, as if dozens of corpses had been cremated there. Withered trees trailed smoke into the sky. Flowers in the garden became hands clutching fistfuls of air, their wrists submerged in mud. Scarlet light spilled out the windows as though the duplex had been converted into a forge.
Perhaps the most striking feature was a monstrous, forked tongue protruding beneath the garage door, flailing like a bullwhip.
Elliott’s doomed, I thought, reeling on the threshold of Hades.
The air around the house was hazy, singed by heat. The odor reminded me of
burnt waffles, which is what Velma had told Elliott “Hell smelled like”. Amazingly, my nephew was now capable of olfactory hallucinations. He could produce scents to accompany his illusions.
Defying his horrific mirage, I tiptoed across the lava, greasy fumes puffing up to liquefy my vision. Tortured banshees wailed in my ears, hinting at condemned souls torn apart in the netherworld. With each step, chunks of scree belched up and became stepping stones so I wouldn’t plunge into the inferno. On the other side, a sooty beach washed up to the front door. The sand was littered with razored shells waiting to mutilate my feet. A raven perched on the duplex's gutter, a lock of Elliott’s hair pinched in its beak. Beside it rested a nest made of bones, its pink, squalling bird fetuses eaten alive by maggots.
The living room, too, had been warped by Elliott’s raging psyche. Contrasting the childish panorama of Hell, it was transformed into a mortuary. The windows were colorful stained glass, fashioned with images you would see inside a church. The brown carpet was now a plush purple, the sour odor replaced by incense. A flickering TV flashed images of veiled widows mourning the deceased. Watching them turn to face the screen, their faces were identical. Each bore the stern countenance of Ms Horner, a schoolteacher who disliked Elliott because he was an “aberration”. Organ music groaned from a radio, casting a pall over everything.
In the center of the living room sat a coffin on an oval dais, a red satin cloth drawn over the casket. Massive holes had been gouged in the lid, the way Elliott might render a plastic box containing his pet lizard.
Chilled, I stepped forward and heaved open the lid. Inside, Velma lay cloaked in her wedding gown, a frilly, white, moth-eaten dress. Shovelfuls of dirt smudged the gown, as though gravediggers had tried to bury her with the coffin unsealed.
Velma’s hands were crossed over her chest, clutching a vidpager. She gazed up at me through jittery eyelids. Her face looked grisly, powdered with mortician’s attar.
“I can’t move,” she sobbed.
“Shhh, take it easy.” Tears crept down her cheeks. “What happened?”
“Elliott got mad because I wouldn’t let him play with a neighbor boy. He created the burning bush, and I told him to stop. He threw a tantrum, screaming that he was a bad boy and was going to Hell.”
“Where’s Elliott now?”
“A military patrol came by and saw my lawn on fire, so they smashed down the door. Elliott slipped out the back. He jumped on his bike and tore off down the road.”
“He’ll be okay, sis.”
“The guards had rifles.”
“They won’t hurt him. They’re instructed to contain a juvenile, not gun him down.”
“I’m afraid I’ll never see him again, Chuck.”
“You did your best. Calling me took incredible courage. Elliott can’t be allowed to alter reality every time he gets frustrated.”
Velma tried to smile. “Does all this look familiar to you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Remember when mom died? It was an open casket, and Elliott got to view the body.”
Suddenly I remembered. Elliott had grown so distraught he made the corpse’s eyes flip open and its mouth wheeze. I had to usher him out of the parlor before he made his grandmother clamber out of the coffin and lecture us on how poorly she had been groomed. In his rage, Elliott had molded the living room into an exact replica of the funeral chapel.
“Can you get up?”
“No. I’m paralyzed.”
“Are you feeling pain anywhere?”
“Just my chest. Sharp stabs like angina. But I can’t reach over to see what’s wrong.”
Fear gripped me. I wanted to hurl the radio across the room and hush the dreary organ music.
“I’m lifting you out, okay?”
“Don’t hurt your back.”
I pulled her from the casket, laying her gently on the floor. She was stiff as a board.
“May I?” I motioned to her bosom.
“Go ahead. There isn’t much to see, anyway.”
I lifted Velma’s gown and studied her abdomen, seeing nothing abnormal. But when I tugged the hem up, dread filled me. Dimpling Velma’s breasts were cancerous lumps the size of golf balls.
Snatching my vidpager, I requested an ambulance.
“What the hell are those?” she exclaimed.
“They’re not real. It’s an illusion created by Elliott’s fear of losing you. They’ll go away once he calms down.” I replaced the gown and smoothed the wrinkles with trembling fingers.
“Then why did you call an ambulance?”
“Precautionary. Just stay here and wait for the medics.”
“You’re going after Elliott?”
“Yes. I’m going to find him and bring him home.”
“Tell him I love him,” she whispered.
I hurried away. Looking back, I saw her eyes beginning to close, acting out a charade concocted by a master magician.

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