Please welcome PJ Manney to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. (R)EVOLUTION was published on June 1st by 47North.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
PJ: I started writing in 1995, when I joined my husband in New Zealand while he was producing Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. I had been a movie executive who worked with writers developing material and selling to the studios in Los Angeles, but the cliche promoted back then was producers couldn't write and I honestly believed I couldn't. In addition, I have dyslexia and those silly psychometric tests I was given as a kid said, "Whatever you do, don't become a writer!" Originally, I wrote to stop going crazy from lack of work, since my visa forbade me getting a job in New Zealand. After pitching some ideas to the US showrunners and giving them a writing sample, I was hired as a US employee to write a couple of episodes of Hercules and an episode of Xena, all while I was pregnant with my first child. I had to hide that from the showrunners, since a couple of the producers had a bias against pregnant women. Unfortunately, I had to stop writing for the shows once my son was born, because he was a handful and we both had some health problems. I continued to work in TV/film until I started writing (R)EVOLUTION.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser? What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
PJ: I'm a plotter. That comes from my movie and TV training. Structure is everything in the 30 min, 60 min or 120 min formats. The most challenging thing is keeping my butt in my desk chair and getting to the flow state. I have a lot of distractions in my life!
TQ: You've written for TV and movies. How does this affect (or not) your novel writing?
PJ: As I said above, structure is everything. I see story as a virtual rollercoaster, so I can see if my ups and downs are calibrated well enough. However, I had to unlearn a dangerous tendency from the TV/film industry and stop making my characters so likable! It's SOP in a TV show, but death in a novel.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
PJ: Trevanian's Shibumi is the greatest genre parody-spy thriller ever. To pull off the trick of having fun with a genre while being so skilled all the genre's elements, as well as such deft wordsmithing is something I can only dream of doing. And Trevanian writes the best literary digressions and snide asides ever -- because they're so true and so un-PC. Alexandre Dumas is the great master storyteller and The Count of Monte Cristo is the best revenge story ever. Hamlet is a distant second. ;-) Also, Dumas had the ability to criticize French politics by placing it in a historical context and demonstrated how difficult it was for normal citizens to survive the political machinations waged by those at the top of the social pyramid. I wanted to put that kind of commentary into the near future to reflect upon our present.
TQ: Describe (R)EVOLUTION in 140 characters or less.
PJ: I'd like to try this twice for fun, if I may:
Powerful group steals bioengineer's tech, leaves him for dead. He becomes more than human to kick their asses, changing humanity forever.
Mass death. Nanobots. Brain-computer interfaces. Oligarchy. Conspiracy. Betrayal. Revenge. Homo excelsior. Kicks ass. Change happens.
TQ: Tell us something about (R)EVOLUTION that is not found in the book description.
PJ: The story and the protagonist were deeply inspired by popular music in a feedback loop of creative influence. If it wasn't for the music (which is all listed at the end and I recommend listening to it with the book if you are of a musical bent), I couldn't have written it.
TQ: Your author bio describes you as a “futurist”? What is a futurist and how did this influence (R)EVOLUTION?
PJ: A futurist like me (and yes, there are different types) considers different scenarios as possible futures and explains to others what might happen and why, so everyone is prepared. No one knows what the future will be, but we're willing to follow lines of influence (technological, societal, political, etc.) to find the levers of change and anticipate the consequences. I come to futurism through storytelling, because I feel stories make the future more relatable. I could show you a graph indicating the increased use of brain technologies and analyze the possible consequences, but instead, if I tell you a story about that change, you will empathize more and be more likely to internalize the message. I tell the story of cognitive technologies in (R)EVOLUTION to spur discussion as to the use of cognitive technologies and brain-computer interfaces. There are two things to understand: 1) these type of technologies will happen regardless of what you think of them and 2) in my story, my protagonist creates these technologies with little oversight and uses them before they're ready, to save himself and others. The real scientists developing these technologies will work out many of the problems I posit, because of the ethics and protocols in place to create healthy and positive technologies.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for (R)EVOLUTION?
PJ: The research was endless and still is! I researched all the medical science, technology (nanotechnology, brain computer interfaces, surveillance, etc.), life in Silicon Valley and Stanford, the languages, the history of secret societies in the US, politics, economics, you name it. I'm a generalist, so I knew a little about a lot to begin with, but I wanted to get specifics as correct as possible. Since the sequels are about the unintended consequences of what is wrought in (R)EVOLUTION and will include robotics and artificial intelligence, the research is ramped up to an even higher level, which I didn't think was possible.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
PJ: Ruth was the easiest character. She just jumped fully formed into my head. My only difficulty was picking the right Yiddish to use and getting her idiosyncratic vocal cadence right. And I learned from my Yiddish research that my grandmother had quite the potty mouth! It's not surprising though: Yiddish is a very scatological idiomatic language.
Peter was the hardest character. His transformation was complex and it was all too easy to make him too likable at the beginning. Everything hung on whether you bought him as a complex enough character at the start and still stayed with him as he changed into someone you might not like, but you respected and empathized with, regardless of the dark and not-so-human places he went.
TQ: Which question about (R)EVOLUTION do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Q: Even though it's considered SF, why did you write such a genre-mashup?
A: I love finding the links between things. Life is all about complexity and connections. To tell the story and only stick with the strict rules of a single genre would impede the story I wanted to tell. I couldn't make connections between politics, economics, history, technology, spirituality, and have fun with action adventure in a near future context without breaking a few genre-specific eggs.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from (R)EVOLUTION.
PJ: "If hell exists, it will have television news crews stationed in front of the fiery gates to broadcast your arrival."
"'I think we’re livin’ in an age of misplaced religious feelin’. And that’s very dangerous. Instead of bein’ humbled by the unknowable God Almighty, there are a frightenin’ number ’a people who think they’re the Lord’s gun-totin’ sidekick.'"
TQ: What's next?
PJ: I'm busy working on the two sequels, (ID)ENTITY and (CON)SCIENCE. They will cover the unintended consequences of Peter Bernhardt's actions. And there are some very big consequences.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
PJ: Thank you so much for allowing me to participate. Congratulations on a great website!
TQ: Thank you for your kind words.
Phoenix Horizon 1
47North, June 1, 2015
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 544 pages
Scientist Peter Bernhardt has dedicated his life to nanotechnology, the science of manipulating matter on the atomic scale. As the founder of Biogineers, he is on the cusp of revolutionizing brain therapies with microscopic nanorobots that will make certain degenerative diseases become a thing of the past. But after his research is stolen by an unknown enemy, seventy thousand people die in Las Vegas in one abominable moment. No one is more horrified than Peter, as this catastrophe sets in motion events that will forever change not only his life but also the course of human evolution.
Peter’s company is torn from his grasp as the public clamors for his blood. Desperate, he turns to an old friend, who introduces him to the Phoenix Club, a cabal of the most powerful people in the world. To make himself more valuable to his new colleagues, Peter infuses his brain with experimental technology, exponentially upgrading his mental prowess and transforming him irrevocably.
As he’s exposed to unimaginable wealth and influence, Peter’s sense of reality begins to unravel. Do the club members want to help him, or do they just want to claim his technology? What will they do to him once they have their prize? And while he’s already evolved beyond mere humanity, is he advanced enough to take on such formidable enemies and win?
PJ Manney is a former chairperson of Humanity+, the author of "Empathy in the Time of Technology: How Storytelling is the Key to Empathy," and a frequent guest host and guest on podcasts including FastForward Radio. She has worked in motion-picture PR at Walt Disney/Touchstone Pictures, story development and production for independent film production companies (Hook, Universal Soldier, It Could Happen to You), and writing for television (Hercules--The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess). She also cofounded Uncharted Entertainment, writing and creating pilot scripts for television. Manney is a culture vulture and SF geek, and the daughter and mother of them, too. When not contemplating the future of humanity, she is a mother, wife, PTA volunteer and education activist in California.