Please welcome Jason LaPier to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Unexpected Rain was published by on May 7th by Harper Voyager (UK).
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Jason: Despite being a professional computer geek by trade, I've always sought a creative outlet. For a long time this was making music (first metal, then electronic), then it became game design. I'd dabbled with writing on and off but when I was writing quests for an RPG that I'd been developing in my spare time, I found I really enjoyed it. It was in 2005 that I started working on a couple of novels (neither of which ever got finished) and some short stories. I had the bug, and within a few years I was attending workshops and devouring books on writing and just getting more serious about it in general.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Jason: I used to do a kind of partial plot and then just start writing by the seat of my pants. This is what led to two dead-end, unfinished novels. I discovered that for me to be successful, I need to plot from beginning to end. Now, let me clarify: my outlines always have a beginning, middle, and end, but they usually have a _lot_ of wiggle room in between. I understand the value of pantsing, the freedom to allow the story to evolve on its own. Personally, I need a minimum amount of structure to keep my momentum going, but I appreciate a level of flexibility.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Jason: Time, time, time, there's never enough time, especially with a demanding day job. Related to that is the challenge of staying focused: I have so many grand plans, so many projects I'd love to work on that sometimes I get sidetracked. And I think there's nothing wrong with that, but when you're strapped for time, you really need to be able to focus once in a while to take a single project to the next level.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Jason: Douglas Adams is still probably my favorite all-time sci-fi author. I like to think I'm influenced by his humor a little here and there. Followed closely by Philip K. Dick, whose dark and mind-bending stories rock my world. I really love Margaret Atwood and her ability to make such a strong emotional connection to her characters come through. More directly related to Unexpected Rain, I think influence-wise there is definitely some Isaac Asimov, Neal Stephenson, and William Gibson.
TQ: Describe Unexpected Rain in 140 characters or less.
Jason: Mass murder in a dome on a distant planet. The case seems easy - too easy. A rogue cop teams up with a fugitive to seek the truth.
TQ: Tell us something about Unexpected Rain that is not in the book description.
Jason: Jax and Runstom are the two central characters, but a third point-of-view character is an assassin called Dava. She's a significant character, but her arc is tangential to the murder plot that drives the novel. As a child, she was "rescued" from the deteriorating Earth, only to find herself dropped into a dome on another planet and orphaned. As a teen, she was recruited by the criminal outfit known as Space Waste. Her role will increase dramatically in Unexpected Rain's sequel.
TQ: What inspired you to write Unexpected Rain? How did you end up writing a genre bending "space age noir murder mystery"?
Jason: I love all manner of sci-fi, including epic space opera stuff. However, I'm also the type who wants to know about the lives of the so-called ordinary people: the bartenders, the construction workers, the security guards, the administrators, the janitors, etc. Of course, I couldn't build a whole story around "day" jobs, but I could take one example and turn it upside down with a murder. And as a bonus, it allows me to flex my dark-side muscles, and get nice and gritty in the noir style.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Unexpected Rain?
The setting of Unexpected Rain is several hundred years into the future, and high-speed travel has allowed the human race to visit and populate star systems nearest to our solar system. I try to keep techno/science-babble under control in the narrative, but as this is sci-fi, it's in there. Most of the research I've done is around exoplanets (planets around stars outside of our solar system) and the properties of various moons, especially those in orbit around gas giants. In the last several years, real-world expeditions with space probes such as Galileo and Cassini have revealed all kinds of interesting discoveries about the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
Additionally, I'm a software engineer by trade, and so a lot of my day-to-day observations inform some of the underpinnings of my future world. I love to play with the disconnect between the designs of engineers and the real-world usage of their efforts by consumers.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Jason: I suppose Jax, the life-support operator accused of murder, was easiest to write. He's a bit lost in his late 20s, stuck in neutral, and not living up to his potential. He's always had a hard time following through on anything - jobs, relationships - and it takes a catastrophic event to spurn him into action. I've been there, and I've seen friends who've been there (fortunately it didn't take a murder investigation to snap us out of our funks).
If I'm going to be honest, Dava was the most challenging for me to write. She's a cold-blooded assassin on the surface, but underneath, she's denying herself her true feelings. Her Earth heritage is obvious by her skin color - which contrasts with the paling effect that dome technology has on most pigments - and she grew up an outcast. What she is really looking for is a family, a place to call home.
TQ: Which question about Unexpected Rain do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Q: What's with the title?
A: Thanks so much for asking, me! The title refers to an example of operator programming that Jax uses when he's trying to explain the systems inside a dome. In order to maintain the environment, the operators have to periodically create rain inside each dome, and since domers are sheltered folk and don't like getting wet, they get a warning when it happens. Jax comes to realize how much his example represents dome life in general, and how much he'd put up with getting all wet in exchange for the thrill of spontaneity and unpredictability. I talked about how I apply this same idea to the rocky ride to publication in this blog post: http://jasonwlapier.com/2014/12/2014-wrap-up-riding-the-unexpected/
Side note: it was years after I chose this title that I discovered there's a song called "An Unexpected Rain".
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Unexpected Rain.
(this, from Dava's point of view, while combing the underground of the domes):
There was perfection above in neat little packages, but it seemed that no matter how perfect things were, it was impossible for the human race to avoid stepping in shit eventually. She watched the sad souls that sought refuge from the transcendence of dome life looking over their shoulders, skittering from vice to vice.
(when Jax meets his cellmate):
Johnny Eyeball winked again. It was a mildly angry wink.
TQ: What's next?
Jason: I'm currently working on the sequel to Unexpected Rain, which will be followed by the conclusion of the trilogy. Aside from that, I've been working on an unrelated book: a modern day private-eye thriller with some mind-bending sci-fi twists.
In a domed city on a planet orbiting Barnard's Star, a recently hired maintenance man named Kane has just committed murder.
Minutes later, the airlocks on the neighbourhood block are opened and the murderer is asphyxiated along with thirty-one innocent residents.
Jax, the lowly dome operator on duty at the time, is accused of mass homicide and faced with a mound of impossible evidence against him.
His only ally is Runstom, the rogue police officer charged with transporting him to a secure off-world facility. The pair must risk everything to prove Jax didn’t commit the atrocity and uncover the truth before they both wind up dead.
Born and raised in upstate New York, Jason LaPier lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and his dachshund. In past lives he has been a guitar player for a metal band, a drum-n-bass DJ, a record store owner, a game developer, and an IT consultant. These days he divides his time between writing fiction and developing software, and doing Oregonian things like gardening, hiking, and drinking microbrew.