One of my ambitions in life is to meet a writer. Now, thanks to Facebook, I have. I met Clay Gilbert when he joined Fans For Christ. I picked him out and friended him, and since then, I have enjoyed our conversations on Facebook. He and I share many interests and he asked if I would help him promote his book. I could not refuse after I read sample pages from it.
Here’s a synopsis of the book, which is the first in a trilogy:
Annah, a young female of a world on the Edge of the Sea of Stars named Evohe, feels there is no place for her among her people. She is seen as strange both for her appearance, which is different than that thought to be normal for an eighteen-cycle old seed-maiden, and for her dreams, not of finding a mate and making a homeplace and a family with him, but of exploring the Sea of Stars that she looks up
at every night and longs to see. Her parents lie at rest in the Elder Grove deep in the woods near her homeground, and, since the passing of Lilliane, the elder who had been her guardian since she was fourteen cycles old, Annah has lived alone; the ‘girl who walks with no one.’
She remains alone until the night she sees a great fire streak from the starry sky above her parents’ homeground and, following its path, finds the wreckage of what she knows from the shared Memories
of her people is a star-vessel of the sort her own people had once traveled in. Inside the ruined craft, she finds a human male, badly injured and close to death. Torn between the Memories that tell her
the people of Earth were responsible for the near-extinction of her own world and the voice of Spirit that insists all life is the same, she nurses him back to health, finding in the human Gary Holder a
mirror of her own search for belonging and desire for a larger purpose. Their growing connection, and the Evoetians’ sense of humans as enemies, sets in motion a chain of events that may either destroy Annah’s world a second time, or lead to a new future of understanding: a new age of the Shapers.
All right, below is an interview with my good friend and Annah, the heroine of his book.
These are Clay’s questions:
1) What was your childhood like?
I was an only child, and did most of my growing up—from age 5 to age 18—in an upper-middle-class, suburban neighborhood in Knoxville, Tennessee. I was always encouraged to read, and writing came along with that. I wrote my first story—and it was science-fiction—when I was four. I read everything from Shakespeare to Stephen King and, of course, lots of comic books—when I was a kid. My dad worked, and, in my teen years,
my mom worked as a day-care teacher for the Methodist church my parents and I attended. But my parents were always around for guidance and support. My mom used to compare our family to the Cleavers on “Leave it to Beaver”, and, while I think that’s a stretch—looking back, it was pretty idyllic.
2) I know you are not a Christian. What are some things about Christianity that you like? The simplest answer I have is that Jesus is my favorite part of Christianity. I like the idea of “Love one
another. Judge not, lest ye be judged.’ “Forgive other people, just like you’d want them to forgive you.” I like the ethics; the ways that Jesus taught that people should treat one another right here, right now. I know that he also said “I come not to bring peace, but a sword,” but to me, that’s a sword of division between the low standard of how the world wants people to be, versus the higher standard of how God wants people to live. And I like that, too. And I think the highest standard we can live by is to truly love each other.
3) Who are your favorite writers and books by these writers?
My favorite writer these days is Clive Barker, with Stephen King as a very close second. I think everyone who reads this ought to go
out and buy “Imajica” by Clive Barker, and the first book of his “Abarat” series. I also think people should read “The Stand” by Stephen King, and all of the “Dark Tower” series—really, these are just starting points. I think most of the works of both men are worth checking out. My favorite single book in the English language is “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville—for the story, and for the sound
of the language. Ray Bradbury is another favorite writer–”Dandelion Wine” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes” are my favorites of his. Dan Simmons’ “Hyperion” is one of the best things to be published in science fiction in my lifetime. Definitely read that. J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” is something I go back to every few years or so. Frank Herbert is another favorite. The whole “Dune”
series is good, but really, that first novel is a masterpiece; “Dune” itself. Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” books. Robert Heinlein is a favorite, particularly “Stranger in a Strange Land.” A little book by Roderick MacLeish; a fantasy novel called “Prince Ombra.” Go read that, because few other people will tell you to—but it’s wonderful. William Shakespeare is one of my eternal favorites—go read the
history plays, and “The Tempest”–and then read the rest of him.
4) How did this book come about?
Every now and then in a writer’s life, there are ideas that come to you, and you try to tackle them, and you just can’t, and they slip away—and if you’re lucky, like the people who slip away from you sometimes, they come back. When I was a teenager, I wrote a forty-page short story called “Anna”, about a man who crashed on an alien
planet and was nursed back to health by a female alien—being. The “Anna” of that story is not the “Annah” of this one—or if she is, she is a very, very old, future version of Annah as she appears in this book. We shall see. But that was very much a mother-child, or even mentor-student relationship, and not a romance at all—but there was a sense of two people being changed by the very idea of being open to one another’s differences. But the story didn’t work in that form, and to be honest, even the ideas were bigger than I was able to handle. So that story sort of went on the shelf, and I don’t even know where that forty-page manuscript is, although for years I did have it in a file box. Good stories come out of experiences, filtered through fiction—and in 2010, I’d had a run of several years of relationship conflicts, friendship conflicts, lots of rough—and some really good—experiences in my own life which led to the idea of a guy who just finds himself feeling like he’s on the outside. And he meets someone who feels like she’s on the outside. And they’re different from each other in very many ways, but they find a way around all of that, to arrive at a common core of understanding, all the while the whole world around them is busy not understanding itself. And that was the story—and Annah herself showed up, as good characters always do—ready to play her part in the story—a story that turned into a trilogy, and will likely be even longer. It’s also about this world we live in—a world where we distrust each other because of labels like religion, or skin color, or the languages we speak. The post 9/11 world doesn’t let us get away from those kinds of divisions, and I thought it was about time for a story about pushing past differences and remembering that, as the Beatles—and Jesus—said: “All you need is love.”
5. How did you get involved with PDMI?
In December of 2012, when I finished writing “Annah”, I was fed up with years of getting to the holidays, and then to New Years, and making the same resolution every year: THIS is going to be the year I get a novel published. I had a deadline in mind for Amazon/CreateSpace’s Breakthrough Novel Contest. I put off a plan to apply to grad school—the timeframe was roughly the same as that for the contest—and resolved to make SOMETHING happen on the book front. All the contest wanted was a synopsis for the first round, and they didn’t take a look at manuscripts at all. “Annah” got shot down in the first round, and I was bummed. So, figuring I had nothing to lose, I self-published an older manuscript of mine, a young-adult science fiction novel called “Eternity.” And the day those files were uploaded to Amazon, I found myself talking to a couple of old friends from Alabama, who knew a guy who knew a guy, as they say. This ended up being my introduction to Tc McKinney, co-founder and co-owner (with his wife, Nessa) of PDMI Publishing. After a short conversation, Tc expressed interest in seeing the manuscript of “Annah”. A couple of days later, I had a contract in my email. A couple of weeks after that, my contract was amended to include the two thus-far planned sequels to “Annah”, and two vampire novels, one of which, “Dark Road to Paradise”, was published in May. “Annah” is due out this month, and I expect sequels to both of those will follow next year. In addition, shortly after signing me as an author, Tc hired me onto PDMI’s editorial staff, drawing on my years of experience as a college English teacher. One thing led to another over time, and I am now the Chief Editor of PDMI Publishing, in addition to being one of the publishing house’s authors and a co-founder of Rara Avis, PDMI’s science fiction division, along with author and illustrator Virginia Lori Jennings, whose works are also published by PDMI.
6. What do you do in your spare time?
What is spare time? Hah. Seriously—my days are full of editing, writing, and currently, studying for the GRE, so I can go back for my PhD next year. I like to read, when I do have some time—I’m currently reading Stephen King’s sequel to “The Shining”, “Doctor Sleep.” I enjoy listening to music, but I do that all the time, particularly when I’m writing. I play keyboards, and I’d like to get back around to working on some music again. Maybe in 2014. I also enjoy science-fiction, fantasy and horror movies and TV shows.
7. What was the last good book you read?
Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.
8. What advice would you give to anyone who wishes to write a book? Read a lot. If you can’t read, you can’t write. Know what’s been done, but don’t be frozen in place by fear of plagiarism. If you’re true to yourself, what comes out of you will be yours. Trust your characters. Write for YOU, not for the market—if you love your story, eventually, someone else will, too. No one is going to love everything. WRITE REGULARLY. Writing is work; it’s not about waiting around for the muse. Above all—do it, don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t—and don’t YOU tell yourself that, either.
And now, let’s talk to Annah!
1. Who are the Shapers?
I think I should tell you, instead, what Shaping is. Shaping is the notion of using one’s actions to affect the world, to bring the natural energy of the world—including, and most importantly, its people—into Balance. It can be done through anything creative, for creativity is the nature of life, and of the First Ones, who created all life. Shapers—and truly, a Shaper is merely one who uses Shaping—can use music, written language, spoken language, building, planting, dancing and even that which you call sex—to bring Life and people into Balance. Shaping was once the foundation of our whole way of life on Evohe, but as our world fell out of balance, and people no longer sought to listen to the First Ones, or even to our own Elders who had gone before us, Shaping was feared, and its ways pushed into secrecy. That has changed now, to a large extent. My teacher, Serra, helped to begin that change—and I, and my Circle, have helped the change to grow. Hopefully, now, Shaping has returned to Evohe for good. But one thing about the Shadow is that it only recedes; it does not disappear. We must learn the Balance between light and shadow, for the good of ourselves, and for the good of all. That is what Shapers are meant to do: to practice that balance for themselves, and to help others who cannot find it so easily without aid. There are, though, always those who grow angry at the idea that they need anyone’s help.
2)Why do you feel left out?
(sound of merry laughter) Oh, I no longer do! But I did, for a long time. I do not look as most females of my world look, and this was even more true in the time told about in the first book you will read soon. It was completely unheard of, when I was born, for a female bloomling to have golden hair, like mine, or blue eyes. And although my Becoming began, and my first blood-time came and went, and many more since, and my body did change—I never grew as curved as nearly all the others did—and I grew quite a bit taller than they ever did. I am taller now than Serra was when I first met her—and she seemed as tall, to me, as one of the great trees in the Elder Grove! (laughter again) It was quite a relief, when I met Holder, to find someone whose eyes I could look up into. It was not a feeling I had had very often. I do believe the First Ones made me what I am, and who I am, to teach me how to find my place—and so I could teach others. That is what has happened—and it was no accident—nor was I.
Like the bent branches of a tree, or the darkened paths of a forest grove—we may not always be able to see the beauty in the Pattern—but it is always there.
3.What are your planet and people like?
One thing you must understand is that my people have what I have heard called ‘racial memory’–and for us, it is very literal. We are each born with the Memories of our entire race, although they get released into our consciousness a little at a time. So I live with at least three Evohes in my mind—the one of my people’s Memories, which was, at one point, destroyed by the humans, and no longer even exists—the one that existed when I was growing up, which was a young
world, newly re-Shaped by our people following the Breaking of our world by the humans, and had very few living things other than our people themselves, and a few varieties of plants and animals—and the Evohe of now, which is a living bridge between what our world once was, and what it can and will be in the future which the First Ones are still singing into being, like an evolving melody whose key
and pitch remains yet to be heard. But I suppose I have not really answered! (joyful laughter) Our people are as diverse as that of any
other world, but on the whole we are simple folk, who strive to move with the rhythms of life, and find our balance in its cycles. If I have done anything for our people, it is hopefully to remind them that all things have a place in Balance, however strange they seem, and that the worlds beyond ours have just as much harmony in the Song of All as does Evohe. And I, and my Circle, and the generation of new Shapers who are growing up now, will continue to help to remind them—for that is our place and purpose.
4. Are there any plants or animals unique to your world?
Not so many as the Memories tell me there were before the Breaking of our world, but they are slowly being restored. There are plants that are good to eat, as there are on Earth—the spicegrasses, which, Holder tells me, are like plants that grow there, but they would not grow easily in the too-changeable climate of Earth. Then there is the meatbark tree, and animals like what we call the–‘not-birds’ is a good term—they are furred animals and can both walk on the ground and fly for short distances through the air. We have fish like those of Earth, but the fish of Evohe can all stay for short periods on dry land if they must, for their skin, like my own, allows them to take nourishment from the rays of the sun, when no solid food is available, and take in water directly through their pores. New life is evolving on Evohe every day, as this world is still remembering what it used to be, and what it can be again.
5. Do you live on Earth now? If so, how are you adjusting?
No, Holder and I live on Evohe. Our friend, Kale Goodman, and his mate, Irie, who is also from my world, are living on Earth now, and we go to visit them from time to time. The humans’ “porthole” achines—no, that is the wrong word—PORTALS–make it very easy to travel from this world to that. Earth is too crowded, and, while it has become a friendlier place than I think it must have been when Holder first came to my world, and during the war which came after—there are simply still too many machines and things which are—not life. There are many things about it that I like, though, and it is fun to visit, to see new things, and to hear about all the changes from Kale and Irie who, it seems, like that pace of life better than Holder and I do. I like to explore—to steer a star-vessel from one point of light to another, and to see all the wonders that world offers me, in the time I have to see them. But I am enough like the other folk of my world that, when my exploring is done, I want the scents and sights that I am used to, and the hearth-fire to warm my body, and that of the one I love, so that he and I may warm one another, in the place that is ours to call home.
Well, that’s it. The book comes out this month and I will be purchasing it myself. When I do, I will post a review here!