My guest today is Chuck Grossart, author of THE GEMINI EFFECT, a thriller that came out in early March and was the Winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror category for 2014. Please scroll down to enjoy his interview.
1. Mr. Grossart, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. THE GEMINI EFFECT, your newest novel, comes out on April 1. Tell us a bit more about this book.
First of all, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers. As an unknown author, being able to reach out to potential readers is an important opportunity that I really appreciate. Now, as for THE GEMINI EFFECT, I began writing this book in 2003—originally titled, THE MENGELE EFFECT—after I’d finished my very first novel, THE COMING. The horrific terrorist attacks of 9-11, which were still very fresh then, definitely shaped my thinking about this book. For many of us in the military (I was an active duty USAF Major at the time), the 9-11 attacks represented the first shoe to drop—in the weeks and months following 9-11, we were all on pins and needles waiting for that second shoe to drop; luckily, it never really did. I thought, though, what would our country be like if that second shoe had dropped, and it was followed by other attacks, each similarly as terrible and mind-numbing as those we all witnessed/lived through on that sunny September morning in 2001? THE GEMINI EFFECT is set against that alternate backdrop—that second shoe did drop, the attacks never cease, and our country becomes a very different place because of it.
The central premise of the story revolves around genetic research conducted by Dr. Joseph Mengele during World War Two. He was, for reasons I don’t believe are fully explained, fixated with twins. The Soviets run across his research, and attempt to build upon it, with varying results. It’s smuggled out of the Soviet Union by one of their researchers, who is convinced the US needs to know what they might be facing. The US also attempts to work with Mengele’s research, and a living example of its horrific potential escapes a clean room. Decades later, a single raindrop unleashes a mutated form of what the Soviets had nick-named “Gemini” upon an unsuspecting populace in Kansas City, Missouri. The mutations quickly transform living tissue into something horrible and unstoppable, and THE GEMINI EFFECT is off and running.
An important aspect of any novel is how well the author convinces his/her reader to suspend disbelief—could something as described in THE GEMINI EFFECT actually happen? I surely hope not, but who’s to say it couldn’t?
2. Who is Carolyn Ridenour, and how did you come up with her character?
Carolyn Ridenour’s life is also shaped by 9-11 and the alternate backdrop in THE GEMINI EFFECT. As the father of two daughters, I tend to have strong female characters; having a female character slip into the “weak, helpless woman” cliché of “I’m so scared, hold me” is something that I, quite simply, can’t stand. As such, Carolyn is not weak.
What follows is a description of Carolyn Ridenour I provided to the editors at 47North during the developmental edit for THE GEMINI EFFECT—it sums up her character rather well:
“Carolyn Ridenour: Works at super-secret government biological research facility (BSL-4 Vanguard) located on the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah (85 miles SW of Salt Lake City.) Facility serves as an immediate response for biological attacks, and also serves as an analysis center for any kind of suspected biological/chemical attacks. Carolyn is a civilian working with both military and civilian scientists. Description from the book: Having been born and raised in the green surroundings of Kentucky, Carolyn found the desert landscape surrounding Dugway quite difficult to warm to. It wasn’t green and lush like home, but in its own way, it was just as wondrous. Out on the desert at night when the sky was clear, she felt as if she were staring directly into the far reaches of the universe. It was the most beautiful night time sky she’d ever seen. After a while, she’d begun to look forward to making the 85-mile trip from Salt Lake City, where she and most of her coworkers lived on the weekends, to the nearly 800,000-acre Dugway complex. The work was tough, demanding, and incredibly meticulous, but the reward was more than enough to make it all worthwhile. She, and the other members of the ultra-classified Vanguard organization, were making a real difference. Through their hard work, they could save innocent lives. Nothing was more rewarding than that. As she took another sip of her beloved light brown fluid of life, she saw her reflection in the window staring back at her. Here she was, thirty two years old, single, and by her own estimation a very attractive woman, sitting in the middle of the Utah desert doing a job she couldn’t talk about. Not what she’d expected to be doing at this point in her life. She’d graduated near the top of her class at Bowling Green University, took a job at a pharmaceutical research company, and even tinkered with the idea of buying her own house. Life was definitely good. But then came September 11th, and the horror unfolded before her eyes on the television screen, as it did for millions upon millions of people across the globe. She watched as the second plane slammed into the doomed tower, watched as valiant firefighters and police heroically ran headlong towards their deaths, watched as people made the unconscionable decision to leap to their deaths hundreds of feet below rather than be burned alive inside the upper floors of the towers. She saw the Pentagon in flames. She saw the crater in a Pennsylvania field. And when the towers fell, she knew the world had changed. Her world had changed. All of the sudden, her personal comfort didn’t seem as important anymore. Her country had been attacked by people to whom life held no apparent value—and chances were, they were going to do it again. She wanted to do something—but she didn’t know how she could help. The day she received the phone call, however, was the day she knew she would be able to help. One month later, she was in Utah.”
Carolyn is strong, she’s capable, and she’s driven. Most of all, you won’t ever hear her say, “Hold me . . . ”
3. THE GEMINI EFFECT is the Winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror category for 2014. Congratulations. What was it like to win this award?
I was excited, shocked, happy, relieved…it was definitely a mixed bag of emotions that I still find difficult to describe. This is how I found out: On 2 July, I came home from work, plopped down in my comfy recliner, fired up my laptop & checked my email…nada, zip, zippo. According to the contest rules, I knew Amazon would contact the finalists “on or about July 2nd”. So, with no email or phone call during the day (we found out later that they DID call, and we missed it!), I figured my book’s run in this year’s contest was over. I was extremely honored to have my silly story make it into the top 5 entries in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror category, and if it didn’t make the Finals cut, I would still be happy. Then, I remembered the email I received form Amazon prior to the Semi-Finals announcement, informing me my silly story was a potential semi-finalist due to the judging scores it received. I dug through my inbox, found it, and noticed it’d come in at about 5:50 PM (Amazon is HQ’ed in Seattle, two hours behind Central time). I looked up at the clock…and it was ~5:10 PM. “Well,” I thought, “I guess I still have forty minutes or so until–” Ding. Email notification. And there it was, an email from Ms. Sarah Funk, Senior Product Manager for Amazon Publishing. I read the first line, and almost fell out of said comfy recliner: “We’re excited to let you know that The Mengele Effect [the book’s original title] is our Semifinalist judges’ pick for the ABNA Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror title for 2014!”
It took a while to sink in, let me tell you. I’ve been grinning like a silly kid ever since.
4. How much of what you cover in THE GEMINI EFFECT is real and how much is science fiction?
Well, let’s hope none of it is real! Seriously, though, as I said before, could something as described in THE GEMINI EFFECT actually happen? I surely hope not, but who’s to say it couldn’t?
5. How did you go from a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel to a science fiction writer?
Well, I wouldn’t exactly classify my genre as pure science fiction—I think people who read THE GEMINI EFFECT will find a mix of different genres; military, thriller, horror, and a little sci-fi. Those who read my short stories & flash fiction will also find a little crime fiction floating about as well.
As for your question, I always tinkered with the idea of writing fiction while growing up, but never formally put pen to paper until my late 30’s (I just hit the Big Five-Oh this past December). I still remember the moment I decided to start writing…it was April 2001, and I was on a remote assignment for the Air Force in Alaska, sitting in my dorm room & counting down the days until I could return home to my wife & kids in California. I’d finished reading an absolutely terrible horror novel—don’t remember the author or the title—and thought to myself, “If this clown can write a book, I certainly can!” So, that night, I started the draft of what would become my first self-published novel, THE COMING. I soon discovered that writing a novel was more difficult than I thought, and realized finding an agent and/or publisher willing to take on a new writer was even more frustrating than I’d imagined. The rejection letters I received never stopped me, though (about 100 for THE COMING alone)…I truly enjoy telling stories, and I haven’t quit writing since. After I retired from the USAF in 2008, I decided to spend more time writing; I self-published THE COMING and THE MENGELE EFFECT (the original version of what’s now THE GEMINI EFFECT) through Smashwords and Amazon’s Create Space, and also wrote quite a few short and flash fiction stories.
6. What is the best aspect you enjoy about writing? What is the worst?
What I enjoy the most about writing is crafting a story that someone will enjoy, and remember. If I can take my reader into the world that I’ve created for them, surround them with things that touch on their emotions—happiness, fear, excitement, dread—and leave them wanting more when they’re finished, then I’ve done my job. For the most part, I feel my stories have been very well received, and for that, I’m grateful.
The worst aspect about writing is T-I-M-E, that finite commodity we all seem to have too little of. For me personally, I find my writing time falls at about the same time everyone else in the house has headed off to bed. Definitely makes for some late nights &some very EARLY mornings!
7. What draws you to writing about horror mixed with sci-fi?
Hmmm…that’s a tough one. I guess the best way to answer this question is to list a few of my favorite authors: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul, Tom Clancy, Brad Thor, James Patterson, Lisa Gardner, Alex Kava, Dan Wells, Anne McCaffrey, and Robert McCammon, to name a few. Hand me a book by any one of these authors, and I’ll eat it up. My favorite books might help answer this question as well: Stephen King’s THE STAND, Tom Clancy’s RED STORM RISING, and Anne McCaffrey’s DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN series. Three very different genres by three very different authors.
So, why do I write what I do? See above! 😉
8. What were some of the hardest struggles when starting off and how did you overcome them?
For me personally, it was the realization that I still had a lot to learn, especially after I’d finished that first novel—THE COMING. I think a lot of first-time writers believe what they’ve written is really, really good…when in reality, it just might be really, really bad. THE COMING, in its original form, was really, really bad (which is one reason you won’t find it anywhere!). Even with THE GEMINI EFFECT, I learned a TON while I went through the developmental and copyedit process with my editor at Amazon’s 47North, Jason Kirk. I have a post on my blog which describes in detail how Jason and I worked together to take my self-published novel THE MENGELE EFFECT—which had just won a nation-wide contest—and transform it into what it was striving to become; THE GEMINI EFFECT. If your readers are interested, they can find it here:
Two other ways I improved my writing skills were to join a local writers’ group (The Nebraska Writers Workshop), and trying my hand at writing flash fiction.
Joining a writers group was really eye-opening; I was exposed to a number of different genes and skill levels, and found it very rewarding. The most important thing about joining a writers group is to be thick-skinned—be able to accept criticism, and use it to improve your skills.
Writing flash fiction paid quite a few dividends. While perusing the titles at Smashwords.com, I ran across a short, flash fiction horror story. I read it, enjoyed it, and did a little research. Flash fiction—stories with word counts anywhere between 300 and 1,000 words—seemed like a perfect way for me to put pen (fingers) to paper (keyboard) and give birth to some of the ideas bouncing around inside my misshapen noggin. They wanted out. So, I obliged.
My initial venture into flash fiction was titled “Ripple”. I wrote in on a Saturday afternoon, and published it on Smashwords the next day. For me, the magic of crafting short stories began a few hours later, when “Ripple” received its first review. Two little words. One was “Definitely”, the other, “disturbing”. With that, I knew I’d hit the exact mark I was aiming for. I highly recommend new writers try writing some flash fiction, as it teaches tight structure, tight plots, and helps a writer learn to cut all the unnecessary chaff to keep it within a certain word count.
9. What are your thoughts on the latest publishing industry developments, mainly the rise of self-publishing?
There’s no question that having a book sitting on a shelf at a library or book store, published by a major house, lends credence to the author as being a writer with a capital “W”. That’s a fact. There’s no doubt, though, that the “traditional” publishing business is changing, and changing fast. The rise of eBooks and eReaders is exploding, and the major houses are playing catch-up. The number of web sites available for electronic self-publishing is also exploding, and many are free (for example, Smashwords.com, which I’ve used). What this presents, quite honestly, is a problem for the reader. A traditionally-published book has gone through an editing process, been shaped to fit a particular market, and hopefully will provide a return on the publishing house’s investment. eBooks, however, especially those available at free publishing sites, are usually only self-edited by the writer, and can be pretty bad. Scrolling through the titles at Smashwords, and reading some of the descriptions, quickly highlight those titles to stay away from. If the description is full of spelling & grammar mistakes, spending money on it may not be such a bright idea. The reader/buyer has to be careful.
Why did I self-publish? Easy…trying the traditional route was driving me nuts, and I wanted to get my stories out there. Smashwords allowed me to do just that. I will say I’m very careful to not put anything out there that has spelling or grammar mistakes, but it happens (and as soon as I find a mistake, or someone points one out to me, I’ll immediately fix it and re-publish a new version). If someone is willing to spend their hard-earned money on something I wrote—even if it’s $0.99—they should expect to read a story that has NO spelling or grammar mistakes, and that’s an expectation I strive to meet.
10. What is your next book going to be about?
A few weeks ago, I signed a contract with 47North for my next novel, titled, THE PHOENIX DESCENT (available in early 2016). Winning the 2014 ABNA for Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror was a dream come true, but in a way this is even better—the team at 47North is willing to take another chance on my writing even before THE GEMINI EFFECT’s launch date. Here’s a draft blurb for THE PHOENIX DESCENT, and your readers are the first to see it:
“The final war begins at 1:23 A.M. on April 26, 1986. In the conflict’s opening stages, there will be no battles, no armies clashing under national banners, just decades of eerie silence clad in impenetrable darkness, wherein mankind’s ultimate enemy slowly begins to grow.
Southeast of the small town of Pripyat, deep within a ruined Soviet reactor where no life could possibly survive, nature finds a way to endure, adapt . . . and become the stuff of nightmares.”
When THE GEMINI EFFECT launches on April 1, 2015, THE PHOENIX DESCENT will be available for pre-order.
In closing, I’d like to thank you once again for providing me with the opportunity to speak directly with your readers & spread the word about THE GEMINI EFFECT! I can be reached through my website (www.chuckgrossart.com), on Facebook, and on Twitter.