Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Author J.P. Lantern talks about dystopia and 'Dust Bowl'

What was the inspiration behind this book?
I don’t know that there was one big “gotcha!” moment for me for this one. I think it was the culmination of a lot of things—I had been learning a lot about genocide at the time of writing the first draft, and I had unfortunately been doing a lot of first-hand research with alcoholism, and I’ve always been rather interested in dystopias.

I think the main plot element that brought it all together was imagining Ward, the main character, meeting Dummy, the girl in the third act. I think I outlined the general plot of leading up to that point on the back of a receipt from a Sears Outlet store where I was working at the time.
Will there be a follow-up book?
I think it’s possible—I think maybe every author envisions ways that the story can be picked up again—but I don’t have any specific plans for that right now. If it sells eighteen billion copies, though, I probably will not ever stop writing follow-ups.
What is it about dystopian books that is so appealing for readers? For authors?
For readers: I think that there’s a lot of cynicism that sort of pervades our culture. We see all the advances and all the work we’re trying to accomplish, and at the same time we have such an easy view of all the horrors and atrocities that we can commit on each other. So I think there’s this part of us that says, “Well, even if you do that good thing, which I don’t think you will, this’ll all still be screwed up over in this other place.” But at the same time, we have a lot of hope—we’re naturally, biologically really, pretty optimistic. If we didn’t think things would get better, we probably wouldn’t stick around. So when everything is completely ruined and terrible, but people can still find hope—that’s a powerful and compelling thing.

For authors, I don’t know. For me personally, it’s just because writing the exact nature of real life doesn’t let me make up as many concepts and scenarios. If I wrote about reality, I think I’d be compelled to write about, you know, real tax law and insurance and medical bills and traffic and all that sort of thing just for some verisimilitude. So writing speculative fiction is an easy way to get around that compulsion.
If you were one of the last humans on Earth, who would you want by your side?
Someone with more guns than the rest of the last humans, I suppose? Someone with more guns, who knew how to farm and to make rope and all that sort of thing, and who had a really killer voice to serenade me to sleep every night.
What would be your weapons of choice?
Oh god, that’s a grim question! I don’t know. Maybe a rattan fighting stick or something. A machine gun?
I mean, if it’s a choice at all, I would rather just be able to talk people into submission. If a lecture on the nature of the Transformers’ home planet of Cybertron could be a weapon? I would choose that.
What is your favorite dystopian novel that you have ever read?
The Parable Series (Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents) by Octavia Butler. They’re both brilliant books. Something I’ve stolen from them (or tried to) is the sense of decay that’s felt. When the books start, everything is still in place, just a little crappier. There are neighborhoods, but they’re boarded up. There are police, but you have to pay them regularly to patrol. There are highways, but nobody drives on them because they’re full of scavengers. I wrote a lot of Dustbowl imagining some of the same conditions, but more in the Southwest and y’know, done my way.
What makes yours stand out from the crowd?
I think it has a pretty honest portrayal of an alcoholic trying to make his life work by making a ton of bad decisions—except in a horribly dystopian world, so the kinds of bad decisions he can make are magnified all the more. Obviously there are tons of addicts in all kinds of fiction, but I think portrayals—when they're not two-dimensional or played up for laughs—are more often focused on kind of less-heavily-plotted character studies. Those kinds of books and stories are great, and I definitely can enjoy them, but I really enjoy writing high drama moments and involving lots of exciting, dangerous scenes. I think it’s also for anybody that’s fascinated with the way we become evil—the indoctrination it requires for people to commit hugely horrific crimes—and how we still sympathize and empathize with a character even so, this is a book for you.
Please tell us about your other published works.
I’ve recently published an extended series of stories taking place on a sort of frontierish Mars that has the technology to terraform the planet, but very little in the way of other technology. So there’s no real modern medicine, or travel, or construction. Everything is focused on survival against the horrible conditions that the terraforming creates—changing the way women give birth (unmedicated births create monsters) and instigating incredibly violent thunderstorms with rain drops that can obliterate people.

Around The Martian Fringe is a collection of five stories exploring the lives of different people in the harsh and often violent environment in this factional, patriarchal society. The Red Country Trilogy, just released as a collection a little bit ago, is a novel in three parts, each part focusing on a different member of an extended family dealing with various forms of abuse and trying to make sense of a world that seems designed to be against them. It’s kind of like the Old West except the “Indians” are all sort of monstrous Martian natives and the cowboys are amoral rangers with plasma guns.
On what other projects are you currently working?
I don’t have too much going on at the moment! It’s driving me a little nuts. I’m taking some time off to rest my mind and dig into a bunch of reading. I really, really want to write a sort of prison escape tale, though, along the lines of Fortress or No Escape.
What is something readers may be surprised to learn about you?
All the stories I’ve published so far have a lot of people with issues with their parents—and I’m always just so certain that readers will take that to mean that I’ve got all these horrible problems with my own. But we get along great.

I think that kind of characterization fascinates me because a lot of where my characters come from is myself, but with certain elements changed. I think if I had been raised poorly, I would have wound up as a fairly terrible person (I’m not saying this is true of everyone, just myself)—so like Ward in Dust Bowl, for example, is a lot like how I’m afraid I would have turned out if I didn’t have a loving family.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
For anybody that’s interested, you can read my blog here, where I do movie reviews and book reviews and just a lot of general thoughts, and you can follow my Facebook page here.

Also, read my book! It is good and you will like it. Thanks for having me here.
Thank you so much for your time!

By J.P. Lantern

With the world ending around him, Ward flounders for purpose and survival. Resources are gone, disease is rampant, and governments have all but dissolved. The only way off the broken planet is with the Order. Obsessed with technology, the Order is a cult that has developed the means for faster-than-light travel. They claim they can populate the galaxy and save humanity.

Ward joins the Order, inspired by sudden and irrational love for a mysterious beauty named Kansas who saves his life. But quickly, he finds out Kansas and the Order want him to kill adults and kidnap children from across the country. With impressionable youth filling their starships, the Order hopes for their tenets to be spread to all future generations of humanity.

The Order is Ward’s only chance for survival in the wreck the earth has become. Worse than that, those in the Order come to accept him and value his skills for their nightmarish quest across the dystopian landscape of America. But, somewhere inside of him, still, is the strength to strike out on his own and protect whatever good he can find left in the world.

Read an excerpt:
“Would you be willing to kill a thousand parents so that there might be a thousand million more in the future? Would you orphan a thousand children just so they could foster thousands of their own? That is not a name put to courage. That is not something you don’t understand. That is something very simple to understand, you just don’t have the will to do it yourself. That is a name put to strength. To resolve. That’s what a set is.”

There was a light in the office behind the booth, flickering every so often and casting strange, tentacled shadows into the room. Joe looked at Ward and his face was sagging with fear. Maybe understanding had not quite dawned in the liquored canals of his mind but it showed in his eyes, and Ward felt satisfied for the first time all day.

Joe shook his head. “Why you telling me this?”

“I thought you should know what’s going to happen here.”

“Just what exactly is that gonna be,” asked Joe. “Or have you told me already?

Ward looked at him for a moment and took his gun out of its holster. He laid it on to the table with his hand resting on it, just in case he needed it. In his imaginings, usually people tried to run.

“Every adult here is going to die. One by one, mostly. Some of this will be done by me.”

The eyes of Joe stayed fixated on the gun on the table.

Available on Amazon


J.P. Lantern lives in the Midwestern US, though his heart and probably some essential parts of his liver and pancreas and whatnot live metaphorically in Texas. He writes speculative science fiction short stories, novellas, and novels which he has deemed "rugged," though he would also be fine with "roughhewn" because that is a terrific and wonderfully apt word. Full of adventure and discovery, these stories examine complex people in situations fraught with conflict as they search for truth in increasingly violent and complicated worlds.

Relevant links:
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/J.P.-Lantern/e/B00E46H16C

J.P. will be awarding a grand prize of a $25 Amazon gift card to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour, and one commenter on each stop will receive a digital download of a backlist book. Follow the tour for more chances to win!


  1. Interesting questions/answers
    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

  2. The excerpt gave me the chills - good job!!!


  3. Great interview!
    Thanks for the chance to win!
    natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com


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