Thursday, 6 August 2015

Interview with Martin Berman-Gorvine

Interview with Martin Berman-Gorvine author of Heroes of the Earth

If alien beings had conquered the Earth, would you feel justified in using terrorism to drive them out? This is the question confronting the teenage heroes of science fiction novel, Heroes of Earth
Close to half a century after starfish-like creatures from a star 20 light-years away short-circuited Apollo 11's mission to the Moon, Alison Grossbard, her brother Arnold, his girlfriend Kayleigh Scott, and their friend Jo Purnell struggle with this impossible moral dilemma and the trials of growing up in coastal Virginia. Their actions will change their world forever.

You can get in touch with the author, by visiting www.martinbermangorvine.com

What inspired you to write the book?

Having seen with my own eyes a city bus full of passengers destroyed by a suicide bomber when I lived in Israel twenty years ago, I have long wondered about the mentality of people who engage in terrorism. The people who actually commit such crimes, as opposed to the shadowy figures who plan and direct them, are usually angry and confused teenagers or young adults driven by a mixture of real and imagined grievances that leave them open to manipulation. So I felt the subject naturally lends itself to young adult fiction. In short, my goal in writing Heroes of Earth (Wildside Press, May 2015) was imaginative understanding, which of course shouldn’t be confused with justifying or explaining away terrorist murders. 

When did you realise that you want to write a book?

Answer: Having a germ of an idea in my mind for a novel isn’t enough, of course, especially an abstract one like examining the mentality of people who engage in terrorism. The characters and plot have to grow organically, so the germinal idea may lie fallow in my mind for many years. Heroes of Earth finally sent up green shoots as a semi-sequel to my novel Save the Dragons! (Wildside Press, 2013), which is about a teenage girl named Teresa from our world and a boy named Tom she meets from a world where Napoleon conquered Britain and his descendants rule Europe to this day, but the British Empire endures in eastern North America—which is also home to endangered telepathic dragons.
The main characters in Heroes of Earth, teenage brother and sister Arnold and Alison Grossbard, and Arnold’s girlfriend Kayleigh, hail from a third timeline, one where starfish-like “echinodermoids,” who call themselves “the High Ones,” came from their home world twenty light years away and took over the Earth back in 1969, swooping in just as the first American astronauts were setting foot on the Moon. Arnold and Alison visit Tom’s British America world and befriend his little sister Jo, a math genius who communes telepathically with the dragons. The link between all these characters is Gloria, an eleven-dimensional being who is sometimes a woman who runs a mysterious bookstore and sometimes a cat, and who can move the other characters between the various worlds at will. She opposes the High Ones’ rule but is horrified when Arnold turns terrorist, setting up the central conflict of the novel.

Who helped you in writing the book and please say about their contributions?

My most important contributor was my younger son Daniel, who offered advice and critiques when I read him parts of Heroes of Earth. Not bad for age sixteen!

How is your book going to inspire the readers?

I feel that Heroes of Earth is my most ambitious novel to date, in that I am challenging my readers to get inside the heads of people who commit terrorist acts—again, to understand, not to excuse—and to think hard about the ambiguities of “freedom struggles” that have to choose between Gandhian satyagraha and bloodshed—when even nonviolent resistance results in people getting hurt and killed—and the ambiguities of their opponents, which are often empires that do good inextricably mixed with evil. I’m a great admirer of Albert Camus, who saw clearly the impossible moral dilemmas that arise in these kinds of situations and yet never stopped demanding human decency from both the colonizers and the colonized. In my novel, the colonizers may be starfish from another star, but the demands of humanity apply to them as well!

If you are given the chance to change one thing in your book what would it be?

Answer: Heroes of Earth is perfect as it is! No, I’m kidding of course. It would have been interesting to explore in more depth the mentality and history of the High Ones. It’s a truism of science fiction that it’s very difficult to write truly alien aliens, and the High Ones could be seen as not much more than British Raj officials in starfish suits. I have one alien character named “Sh’onk” who is disillusioned with the empire, but the way he’s presented is broadly satirical verging on farcical. It would have been better if I’d developed him more fully as a character and traced the evolution of his views.

How do you find time to write and which part of the day is best for writing for you?

Answer: I do most of my writing on the subway to and from my day job, at the dining room table, or any other (in)convenient place and time. My Muse is perverse. I have a horrible process. It's like watching those notorious Democracy-brand Sausages being made. All that tripe and backroom dealing. (The vegan version uses TVP saturated with blood substitute.) I'll write a couple of sentences or a paragraph, check my word count so far that day, get frustrated or distracted and switch over to read some news on the Internet that makes my blood boil. Then I might balance my checkbook before writing another paragraph and repeating the cycle. Somehow this results in 1,000 words being written. Unless I really get into the characters' heads and my fingers start flying, in which case I might write more than twice that. I'm compulsive about the damn word counts on the days that I actually do write something, as opposed to the far greater number of days when I don't.

Which books have inspired you the most, in the journey of writing this book?

Answer: The spare, philosophical, romantically violent short stories of Argentinas Jorge Luis Borges (in English translation) were an early influence on me, and I must thank Johns Hopkins Universitys Center for Talented Youth summer programs for introducing me to him the summer before I turned thirteen. Borgess short story The Garden of Forking Paths may have been my first exposure to the concept of alternate history that has come to dominate my fiction.
George Orwell is another important influence. His essay Reflections on Gandhi stands for me as a model of what political writing should be, and it influenced how I depicted Glorias arguments for nonviolence, and the other characters reactions to them, in Heroes of Earth.
When it comes to science fiction novelists, Robert Charles Wilson stands for me head and shoulders above many of the rest due to the complex humanity of his characters. I fell head over heels for Mysterium, an underrated 1994 classic of Wilsons with an alternate history setting and deep meditations on religious and philosophical questions, as well as his Hugo Award-winning 2005 novel The Spin.
But probably the biggest influence on my young adult novels is Madeleine LEngles A Wrinkle in TimeGloria has more than a little of Mrs. Whatsit & Co. about her, and LEngles vision of a cosmic struggle between good and the Dark Thing finds a strong echo in Glorias fight with a shadowy force called the Gray Ones. In Heroes of Earth, Teresa actually gives Tom a copy of A Wrinkle in Time.  

What is the best advice, you would give for writers who are trying to write a book?

Answer: The only way you will ever produce a finished first draft is to turn off your “internal censor” and write as your subconscious mind pleases. An excellent tool for that is “National Novel Writing Month,” online at nanowrimo.org, which is a self-challenge to write 50,000 words of a brand new novel, starting from zero on November 1 and ending on November 30. That’s how I started my next novel, All Souls Day, which is due out from Silver Leaf Books in February 2016. Once you have the first draft, of course, you must wake the internal censor up and let her edit your work ruthlessly—in one yet-to-be-published novel, I had given the poor father of one of the main characters no fewer than four different names through sheer forgetfulness! Also, have others read and critique your work, whether it’s family, friends or a writing group. Then polish and proofread the manuscript again before sending it around. If any of this sounds like too much work, you’re simply not cut out to be a writer.

What are your hobbies?

Answer: Reading, mostly history or speculative fiction. Swimming. Cleaning up excretia from our five cats and one dog.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Answer: In deepest, darkest February, await with dread the release of my new horror novel All Souls Day by Silver Leaf Books, the first of a four-book series. If a demon and its servants ruled your ordinary town, demanding an annual virgin sacrifice, would you have the courage to stop them—and at what price? This question confronts Amos Ross, Suzie Mitchell and Vickie Riordan, high school seniors in a version of the 1980’s that never was, twenty years after the Cuban Missile Crisis triggered World War III and left the United States a devastated wasteland. The ancient, demonic god Moloch, whose worship was forbidden by the Old Testament, exercises absolute control over Amos, Suzie and Vickie’s hometown, the fictional Philadelphia suburb of Chatham’s Forge. The town is an oasis of prosperity that the nuclear war hardly touched, but its comfort comes at a fearful cost: at the high school prom every year, the prettiest and most popular senior girl is chosen by Moloch and his servant, the evil Pastor Justin Bello, to be spirited away to a former National Guard armory known as the Castle, where she is imprisoned alone for five months only to be beheaded and eaten alive by the demon on All Souls Day, the Second of November, the anniversary of the war. And this year, 1985, it's Suzie's turn... 

And can read the book review here