Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Q&A with Collin Piprell, author of MOM

Now available from Common Deer Press is the science fiction novel MOM, book one in the Magic Circles series, by Collin Piprell.

The author has taken a few minutes out of his busy schedule for a Q&A about his novel. 

When did you become interested in storytelling?

I’ve loved reading ever since I learned how. By the time I was a teenager, I found myself favoring novels with anti-heroes for protagonists, many of these fictional characters themselves being writers. In my mid-teens I left my village home in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains and moved to Montreal, where I encountered ample opportunity to slip into my anti-hero persona, which often had me imagining I was a writer on the road to perdition.

I managed to get a fair way down the road to perdition, but I didn’t write any fiction till many years later. But the idea lurked there in the back of my mind the whole time.

What was your first book/story published?

I moved to Southeast Asia because the whole region stimulated me, and I thought that if I couldn’t write fiction here I couldn’t write it anywhere and I’d have to think about learning a trade. While I girded my literary loins, I taught writing in a Bangkok university, traveled, partied, scuba dived, and whatnot till one day a Thai colleague asked whether I’d ever considered modeling. A friend of hers ran a modeling agency and was looking for a Western male about my age to play a businessman in a series of ads for a hotel chain. Later, as I tried to describe this very interesting adventure in a letter to my parents, it got so long and, I believed, so amusing that I ended it by saying they could read the rest of it in the newspaper story to follow. And sure enough the Bangkok Post Sunday magazine section ran it over a full page or two as “My Career as a Model.”

That gave me a real buzz, and I was inspired to write more, mostly humorous articles and then a few short stories under the penname Ham Fiske. I imagined my readership as Western ex-pats needing diversion from their Sunday morning hangovers. Soon these pieces became regular features, and friends were encouraging me to find someone to publish a collection. But there weren’t enough good ones to fill a book, plus I believed Ham Fiske could do better work than this. So I wrote a number of longer and meatier short stories to punctuate those I’d already had published. The result was Bangkok Knights, a collection of stories described instead as a novel by Asia Books, its last publisher, since the stories are linked by overlapping characters and an implicit plot development involving, surprisingly enough, the nameless narrator who hovers above all the farce and tragedy, the ironic old hand who himself comes to feature more and more in the stories till in the end he’s revealed to be as great a blunderer as any other in the story.

Over the years quite a number of people told me they thought these were merely a collection of anecdotes — that they were all “real” stories that “really” happened to me. Not so. It’s fiction. But I’m flattered that many chose to believe they came so freighted with verisimilitude. (I couldn’t resist that phrase. Sorry.)

Two of the longer stories I wrote to flesh out that book were too different in voice from the others, and I held them back. These gave birth to Kicking Dogs, my first proper novel and in some ways the most successful one, which had three different publishers over the years and is currently available on Amazon in digital and print-on-demand self-published versions. ... covers and ...

What inspired you to write MOM?

I had read about the “gray goo scenario,” something that might well follow the escape into the wild of just a single self-replicating nanobot. I couldn’t help wondering how anyone could survive a disaster than would turn the surface of the planet into a sea of microscopic robots within a matter of hours. The problem niggled at me till the outlines of a story started to emerge. I’d actually begun to draft the story before I realized I was writing a science fiction novel, something it hadn’t occurred to me I wanted to do.

What character in MOM is the most/least like you? And which is your favorite part?

None of the characters are based on me, at least not in any way I understand myself to be. And all are either considerably younger than I am or considerably older. If I were to identify with any one of them, it would be Cisco Smith, who is 22 years old. The one I most admire is Leary, who is 113 years old; and my favorite character is Brian Finister, the villain, who is about the same age as Leary. But you’ll have to read the book to see why.

What was the hardest part to write?

Probably that of MOM herself — the mall operations manager.

What would your ideal career be, if you couldn't be an author?

As I’ve revealed elsewhere, my first dream was that of being a garbage man. (See “How to write a novel that flies.”)

Later in life I decided I’d rather be an archaeologist, but my dedication to playing out the role of anti-hero on the road to perdition interfered with those plans. If I had it all to over again, I’d probably shoot for archaeologist or maybe marine biologist, tropical variety.

Do you read reviews of your books? If so, do you pay any attention to them, or let them influence your writing?

I read the good ones, and generally choose to agree with much of what they say, though I don’t let it go to my head. The bad ones I try to forget, retaining nothing but a sense of compassion for the reviewers and their muddy thinking.😀

What well-known writers do you admire most?

From the great number of literary writers I admire, I’ll mention V.S. Naipaul, Elena Ferrante (I’ve just read the Neapolitan Tetralogy), Kazuo Ishiguro, Flann O’Brien, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, and David Foster Wallace. The last three of these have also written great science fiction: The Road, The Hand Maid’s Tale, and Infinite Jest, which I’ve never seen described as science fiction, though much of it appears to be set in a near-adjacent parallel universe, not quite the reality we consensually inhabit, but close, at the same time it’s different enough to really grab the reader’s attention. And Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman and At Swim-Two-Birds may not be science fiction, but they are wonderfully imaginative excursions into alternate realities, as are some of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels, notably The Unconsoled.

Among science fiction writers per se, I like Neal Stephenson, China Mieville, and Philip K. Dick. I also much enjoyed the Black Mirror TV series.

Right now, I’m reading a novel by Ivan Vladislavic, The Restless Supermarket; it’s both very well written and hilarious.

Do you have any other books/stories in the works?

I’d like to find a publisher for a 50,000-word work of magic realism I have in hand. Beyond that, I had set out on a series of metaphysical thrillers before Common Deer Press offered the contract for Magic Circles and asked me to write the third in that series for an October 2018 launch. I’d like to get back to the others at some point. It would also be nice to find someone to republish three novels that were in print some years ago.

Oh, and I have an ambitious science fiction novella that doesn’t bear talking about just yet for fear people with nets come to take me away.

About the Author: Collin Piprell is a Canadian writer and editor resident in Thailand. He is the author of four previous novels and a collection of humorous stories, now out of print, as well as four books on national parks, diving, and coral reefs, which are also out of print. *MOM* is the first novel of Magic Circles, a science-fiction trilogy in progress.

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