Author Chat with Tommy Wallach (Strange Fire), Plus Giveaway!
Today we're excited to chat with Tommy Wallach, author of Strange Fire!
Read on for more about Tommy and his book, plus a giveaway!
Meet Tommy Wallach!
Tommy Wallach is a Los Angeles-based musician, novelist, and screenwriter. He is the author of Thanks for the Trouble and the New York Times bestselling We All Looked Up, which has been translated into more than a dozen languages. His newest book is Strange Fire, the first volume in a trilogy. Tommy's fiction and nonfiction have appeared in McSweeney’s, Tin House, Wired, Salon, and other magazines. As a musician, he has put out an EP with Decca Records, as well as two independent releases, including We All Looked Up: The Album, a companion record to his first novel.
Meet Strange Fire!
For teens who grew up reading and adoring The Giver and The City of Ember.
Oregon Trail meets Westworld in this epic new trilogy from the New York Times bestselling author of We All Looked Up, Tommy Wallach.
Knowledge has always been the enemy of faith.
They said that the first generation of man was brought low by its appetites: for knowledge, for power, for wealth. They said mankind’s voracity was so great, the Lord sent his own Daughter to bring fire and devastation to the world.
The survivors were few, but over the course of centuries they banded together to form a new civilization—the Descendancy—founded on the belief that the mistakes of the past must never be repeated.
Brothers Clive and Clover Hamill, the sons of a well-respected Descendant minister, have spent their lives spreading that gospel. But when their traveling ministry discovers a community intent on rediscovering the blasphemous technologies of the past, a chain of events will be set in motion that will pit city against city…and brother against brother.
Along with Gemma Poplin, Clive’s childhood sweetheart, and Paz Dedios, a revolutionary who dreams of overthrowing the Descendancy, Clive and Clover will each play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of this holy war, and the fate of humanity itself.
Interview with Christopher Schelling, Agent and Owner at Selectric Artists Literary & Talent Management
1. Your new novel, Strange Fire, kicks off an epic science fiction trilogy, which is a departure for you. We All Looked Up, your first novel, has an sf high-concept as a backdrop for a contemporary story, but this is an all-out post-apocalyptic thriller. What was different and what felt the same about the writing of Strange Fire?
A: I chose to switch tacks from standalone contemporary to genre series because I wasn't sure what stories I had left to tell in the contemporary space. I was seeking a fresh challenge. Both of my first two books are more about character and mood than plot, so I decided my next project would be primarily plot-driven. (There's a long and rewarding discussion to be had about whether or not the dichotomy is legitimate. One of my writing idols, Samuel R. Delany, argues in "On Writing" that plot doesn't exist, and many authors I look up to hold that character is plot. But to be honest, I've never found their arguments terribly convincing!) That being said, it turned out that the trials and tribulations of writing Strange Fire were mostly same as those I had experienced while writing both We All Looked Up and Thanks for the Trouble. The only significant difference was the way I had to design the narrative to expand outwards at the end, while still offering something by way of closure. I've never been a comprehensive outliner, and that certainly came back to haunt me more on this trilogy than it did for the standalone books.
2. The trilogy title, "The Anchor & Sophia," refers to cities in opposition in almost every way - in war, in religion, because of race and technology. What elements of the current world got thrown into the fictional mix? Did it help/hurt/matter that we're currently a deeply divided nation?
A: I certainly didn't predict the apocalypse-level mess we're in now, but I think we've been a deeply divided nation for a long time, and telling a story relevant to that division was certainly important to me. I'm a passionate (and perpetually proselytizing) atheist, and firmly of the belief that many (but not all) of the world's ills can be laid at the foot of organized religion. (Side Note: Regular churchgoers voted for Trump 56-40, while those who said they don't go to church at all voted for Clinton 62-32.) So Strange Fire is very much concerned with questions of faith as it relates to human goodness. That being said, I've worked very hard not to paint the issue as black and white, or to preach too directly to my readers. The two protagonists at the start of the series are the sons of a minister, and they're meant to be entirely sympathetic characters.
3. Your book takes place in the future, but for various reasons I won't spoil here, the world itself is more like something out of the Oregon Trail or Little House on the Prairie. What drew you to this "era" in history, particularly in a sci-fi novel?
A: I've always been a prodigious reader of science-fiction. When I was a kid, SF belonged squarely in the domain of the nerds, but over the past ten years or so, it's become completely mainstream. I knew if I was going to write a series, it would be SF, so then it just became a question of finding my way in. All of my books feature heightened realities that nevertheless read as “realistic” (an asteroid coming at the earth in We All Looked Up; an immortal teenage girl in Thanks for the Trouble), and I wanted to continue that streak. The world of Strange Fire appeals to me because it is science-fiction without beating you over the head with its science-fiction-ness. It takes place in the northwest corner of North America. People are riding around in horse-drawn carriages and using oil lanterns. Also, there is a complete lack of high-tech gadgetry, which was particularly important to me. As Arthur C. Clarke so famously said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." I've always agreed with that saying, which explains why the line between sci-fi and fantasy has always been so blurry. (Star Wars is considered sci-fi, but by most traditional definitions, it should be called fantasy; there's magic (the force), simplistic Manichaean ethics (ultimate good versus ultimate evil), and even little green elves (Yoda).) While I've read a ton of fantasy (Nemisin, Rothfuss, and Martin are all killing it at the moment), I've always preferred sci-fi myself, and so I've tried my best to "de-fantasize" this new series as much as possible.
4. It's not too much of a spoiler to say that one of the most vivid scenes for me involves a character being tested by running through a blackberry thicket, which is described in particularly thorny detail. Did you have an incident that prompted this? Or just a sick imagination?
A: Man, it sure is hot out today, huh? How about them Yankees? *whistles poorly*
5. As a musician, do you have a soundtrack/playlist for inspiration? Do you listen to music while you're writing? Regardless, what are you enjoying these days?
A: I don't know if it's because I'm a musician or just because I'm easily distracted, but I'm incapable of listening to music while I write (or at the very least, music with lyrics). I always do my writing in coffeeshops, and I've taken to wearing noise-cancelling headphones so I can focus. I'm jealous of those people who can work while listening to music, because I imagine it would be incredibly inspiring. As for who I'm enjoying right now, I'm on a Father John Misty kick. I went and saw him perform last week and it was wonderful. His new album is much less melodic and fun than the previous two, but once you dig into the lyrics, the songs reveal themselves as incredibly trenchant social commentary. I think he's our era's Dylan, but with a better voice.
6. Can you read for pleasure when you're writing? (Not, y'know, simultaneously.) Or does it get in the way? Regardless, any book recommendations?
A: Oh yeah. I read a lot while I'm writing--but never YA, because it gets me all confused in terms of what I'm working on. Let’s see…I've read so much good stuff lately. N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth world is incredibly unique and fascinating. Cixin Liu's trilogy that begins with The Three Body Problem also blew my mind. I just finished Rachel Cusk's "Outline" and found it deeply moving (looking forward to picking up the sequel). At the moment, I'm reading The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning, by Maggie Nelson, who I think is one of the most brilliant people writing art criticism at the moment. It’s given me a lot to think about in regards to my own work.
Author: Tommy Wallach
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published Date: October 3rd, 2017
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I love the cover; it fits in well with the aesthetic of the other two novels by Wallach, too. Thanks for this opportunity, Kara S
The Giver is my favorite book so I am excited to read this (the synopsis mentioned this)! Thanks for the heads up about it. The cover is catchy and I love the colors. I can't wait to read this!