AUTHOR INTERVIEW: JOSHUA DAVID BELLIN, SURVIVAL COLONY 9
Happy Wednesday, everyone! Today, I am fortunate to have Joshua David Bellin, author of Survival Colony 9, on the blog with me to reveal some of his deep, dark writing secrets. He’s also going to talk with us about his newest book. Josh kindly provided me with a review copy of Survival Colony 9. I have to admit, this is one of the most compelling books I’ve read this year. I’ll have my review featured on Friday. Now, here’s Joshua David Bellin:
1. Please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m in my mid to late forties (oh, okay, I’m forty-nine!), and I teach English at a college in Pittsburgh, PA. I’m married with two children, a teenage girl and a pre-teen boy. I’ve published a number of academic books and articles, but Survival Colony 9 is my debut novel!
2. How did you get interested in writing? When did you first start writing?
I can’t really remember a time I didn’t love to write. I’ve kept some very old books I wrote (and illustrated) when I was around five years old, and I also have the first page of a novel I started (but couldn’t finish) when I was eight. I completed my first novel—a fantasy in the Tolkien tradition—when I was sixteen, and my next—a Young Adult story about friendship and death—when I was eighteen. So for forty-plus years, I’ve been a writer, even if it’s only now that I’ve become a published novelist.
3. Is there any particular genre that you love more than the others? Why is that?
I’ve always loved science fiction and fantasy the best. This goes way back to when I was a kid, watching films like Star Wars, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and reading books like The Hobbit. Probably my continued love for these genres reflects the fact that I’ve never grown up—I still collect action figures and build Lego models with my son. But at a deeper level, I suppose I love fantasy and science fiction because I’m a dreamer, someone who believes there’s always more to life than meets the eye. All literature is about wishes and dreams, but speculative fiction taps into the human desire for transcendence more than any other.
4. Where did you get the idea for Survival Colony 9? What was hardest about writing this book?
Years and years ago, when I was in my teens, I jotted down ideas for novels that I never ended up having the time or the perseverance to complete. In one of them, there was a teenage narrator who suffered from memory loss and who was pursued by some evil force. That was the germ of Survival Colony 9, but I didn’t realize it until several years ago, when I woke from a dream that involved a small group of people in camouflage uniforms—a survival colony—traveling across a desert wasteland. My brain put that character into that setting, and Survival Colony 9 was born. The hardest thing for me at that point was figuring out how the world had become the way I saw it in my dream, and how my protagonist’s memory loss connected to his experiences in that world.
5. How is this story original for the genre?
I’d say it’s original in a couple ways. For one, it mingles a variety of genres: you’ll find elements of sci-fi, mystery, thriller, family drama, and horror in Survival Colony 9. That probably comes out of the fact that as a reader, I’m never satisfied with books that stick too closely to genre conventions. Which brings me to the other utterly unique aspect of the story: the monsters. I created monstrous antagonists called the Skaldi, creatures that consume and mimic human hosts. They’re unlike anything you’ll ever read about, and (if I do say so myself) they’re scary as hell. But don’t take my word for it—lots of readers have said the same thing!
6. Tell about your favorite character in the book. What are his/her strengths and weaknesses?
I love my main character, Querry Genn, a fourteen-year-old who suffers from traumatic memory loss. He tries really hard to fit into his survival colony, which can be a strength in the sense that he’s loyal and reliable, but also a weakness in that he has to learn to think critically and act on his own. One of the adult characters who helps him develop is my other favorite, Aleka, the colony’s second-in-command. She’s a very reserved person, hard to get close to, but with incredible strength and concern for others. Some male authors struggle to do justice to female characters, but I feel that creating well-rounded, believable female characters has always been a strength of mine. In fact, when I was in college, one of my writing teachers commented that I was “good on women—I mean, on imagining them!”
7. Do you have a favorite quote from the book you’d like to share with us?
Survival Colony 9 has a lot to do with memory and forgetting: not only Querry’s personal memory loss, but the troubled memories people have of the past world, which was swept away by war and environmental catastrophe. So there’s one point where Korah, a sixteen-year-old girl in the colony, says to Querry, “You’re lucky. My mom always tells me I have to remember. But sometimes all I want to do is forget.” She’s talking about how hard it is to free yourself from traumatic events, how they can shape—or misshape—a person for years to come. I think that line’s at the heart of the book, emphasizing how complex and painful it can be to remember the past.
8. How do you keep minute character details such as eye color, height, and other small details straight? Do you keep a binder or is there some other writer’s secret you’d like to share with us?
I don’t know if this counts as a secret, but my trick for keeping these details straight is to use them in a way that matters. In other words, I don’t simply assign someone a particular eye or hair color for the heck of it—I make sure that physical features and other details are relevant to the character or to the plot. Aleka, for example, has gray eyes, which Querry often likens to the moon or to stone, and those comparisons tell us something about her as a person, both her distance and her strength. As long as character traits are pertinent to the story, it’s not a challenge to keep them straight.
9. Do you have a certain writing schedule that you try to follow?
I wish! Lots of writers will tell you it’s important to write every day, but I find that’s just not practical with a full-time job and a family. I used to feel guilty about not writing every day, but now I just relax and write when I can. Mostly that means Fridays (when I don’t teach), summers, and over winter break. And I’m usually best around mid-morning to early afternoon—before then, my brain hasn’t woken up yet, and after then, everyone’s home from school or work or camp and it’s family time!
10. What are your personal hobbies/interests (besides writing)?
I’m a huge movie buff (one of the books I wrote before I turned to fiction has to do with monster movies), and fortunately my children are too, so we watch a lot of movies together. I also love to read, mostly YA, sci-fi, and fantasy. And I’m deeply invested in the environment, both as a person who enjoys the outdoors and as an activist working to preserve the natural world for future generations.
11. What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
I’ve completed a sequel to Survival Colony 9 titled Scavenger of Souls. It takes Querry into different parts of his world, with new challenges and antagonists and stakes, and with lots of revelations about his own and his people’s past. I’m also wrapping up a final book in the series, with the working title Skaldi City. After that, though it’ll be hard to leave Querry behind, I’m planning a YA alt-history about John Brown and the events leading up to the Civil War. Lots of research, but also lots of room for my imagination to run wild!
12. Do you like hearing from your fans? If so, how can they reach you?
I love to hear from fans, and I make it a practice to respond to every one! The best way to reach me is via my website, www.joshudavidbellin.com. From there, you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, my blog, and other places around the web.
Quick fire round:
If you would, please answer these questions as quickly as possible, without giving them a lot of thought. I want the first thought that pops into your head. This is an 18+ site, so first thoughts really are okay.
1. Spring or fall? Definitely fall—it’s my favorite season!
2. Chocolate or vanilla? Vanilla
3. Favorite food? Pizza (from Aiello’s Pizzeria in Pittsburgh)
4. Favorite movie; or at least a favorite recently? King Kong (1933 original)
5. Favorite TV show; or at least recent favorite, if you don’t have an all-time favorite? Either Northern Exposure or Seinfeld
6. Champagne/beer/wine or other beverage? Just soda, thanks!
7. Cat or dog? Cat
8. Depending on your sex, pick one: boxer/brief or lace/silk? Boxer
9. Vampire or zombie? Vampire (as long as they’re scary and not sexy)
10. Coffee or tea? Neither—except the occasional cup of tea at a Chinese restaurant
If you’d like to follow Joshua David Bellin, here is his contact information:
Thank you, Joshua for visiting with us today! Readers, feel free to ask Joshua any questions you might have. Or, leave him some author love. Please check back on Friday for my review of Survival Colony 9.