I had the privilege of reading an advance copy of George Wright Padgett’s latest novel, Cruel Devices. I was pleased to share a cover reveal earlier in the season here on my blog; and now, I’m proud to post my latest interview with an author I’ve grown to respect and adore.
AW:I’ve done an interview with you before and I don’t want to ask all the same questions as last time…
Yet, Cruel Devices is so different from your previous novel, Spindown, that old questions apply to your new work. Never mind that you added the pressure of the two of us conducting the best interview ever! I’m not sure I can fill those shoes. 😉
Cruel Devices feels like the story just rolled out of bed completely wonderful and polished without effort. Maybe it fell from the sky like a dream; maybe it didn’t – but was its inception as easy for you as it feels? What drove you to write something so unique from what fans thought they could expect from you?
That you say the writing feels effortless is a high compliment. I assure you that it wasn’t the case (just ask my editor and beta readers). It’s said that gold is refined by putting it through the fire seven times; Cruel Devices went through the ‘refinement process’ a lot more than that.
As for the differences between this novel and the last: Let me begin by saying that I love science fiction and I’m so very grateful that Spindown has been well received by the sci-fi community, but I felt it important to avoid being cast as only a writer of that genre. I know it can be risky to genre hop, but I want to establish early on to any readers that may follow me I intend to do stuff that may or may not involve outer space or robots.
I’m hopeful that someone that enjoys reading George Wright Padgett novels are reading them because the stories are well crafted and require them to think about aspects of life while going on an adventure. So after Spindown, I chose a story topic and setting that was as far removed from it as I could get. Cruel Devices takes place on modern day Connecticut on Earth (no alternate universe or anything like that). Just a semi-normal guy around normal people, but exposed to extraordinary circumstances.
I’ve always enjoyed how an author like Michael Crichton would write something like Andromeda Strain (which is a hard sci-fi story if there ever was one) and then he’d jump the fence to do something like Jurassic Park, or Rising Sun, or tackle time travel with a story like Timeline. Or look at H.G. Wells, he delivered The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, The Island of Dr. Moreau and all those other great tales. They’re wonderfully different stories (BTW he didn’t write any sequels to these), but they can’t be confined to a single genre other that than they’re all speculative fiction – to use a modern term for it.
Hopefully Cruel Devices (and the steampunk detective novel to follow it) won’t alienate my hard sci-fi readers. I’ll return to the genre in a few more books.
Stephen King is without a doubt one of the grandmasters of horror, and Yes, I’ve read him. What’s interesting is the reason that I began reading his work was not for horror at all. My colleagues kept going on about how wonderfully developed his characters were. I realized that I had to check their claims out, and discovered that he is a master of the craft and has a remarkable ability to create characters that seem as real as your next neighbor. It’s worth noting that the main character in Cruel Devices is also a master horror writer on the level as King and even mentions him as a contemporary.
AW: The main character is an author who starts the book out dreading his book signings, finding his fame a nuisance. I love having you out for book signings, please tell me that this particular aspect of your character’s development was not drawn from your own feelings or experience. 😉
*Smiles* No, I love meeting my readers in person. Please come see me Dec. 13th at Half Price Books in Humble and I’ll prove it.
I suspect that the character of Gavin Curtis did enjoy his readers at one time, but soured that’s over time. The reason he’s become embittered towards fans is he feels that they’ve trapped him artistically. He views himself as victim of his own success held captive by his creation. He wants to move on from writing pulp vampire detective stories, but his audience won’t let him. A major theme of the book is control, and his readers control him by forcing him to write what he doesn’t want. So he naturally rebels and resents them and the vampire detective character of his stories.
Many years ago I heard something about abstract expressionist artist Mark Rothco. The story goes that when is ex-wife hooked up with his agent, Rothco attempted to sabotage his painting work so the couple wouldn’t financially benefit from him. The more he tried to offer sub-par work the more his popularity and fame increased. I don’t know how true any of that is, but the idea intrigued me enough to include my version of that concept in the novel. Gavin’s fan base grows exponentially the more he mockingly offers worn out tropes in hopes that the readers will stop reading so he may pursue ‘serious literary writing’.
AW: Every author, like Gavin, has those questions they get bored with people asking about their book and their writing process – but also like Gavin, every author has those questions and comments that grab their attention, the questions they wish they were asked. What do you wish people would ask you about Cruel Devices? Why?
Again, I’m not jaded like the character of Gavin Curtis, I love answering questions. I think it’s amazing that I get paid to lie (on the page) to people. I especially like questions surrounding themes and concepts of my stories. Some readers simply read for plot and action, which is fine, but I enjoy talking to people about how the work made them think and possibly examine their own opinions on things.
AW: If a book club were to read your book, what would you hope they would talk about? (If a book club were to read your book, would you make a guest appearance?)
The protagonist is a spoiled, egotistical, prima donna who at first seems as unlikeable as Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces with a mix of Billy Halleck from Thinner. As the story unfolds, the complex layers of Gavin’s personality are revealed one by one until we see at his core he’s actually (do I dare say it?) a hero, or maybe it’s better to call him a reluctant hero. I enjoyed the reactions of my beta/critique group when presented with a seemingly unredeemable main character. Early on in the critique process one of the other novelists in my group took me aside and sheepishly asked “Should I like this guy? He really seems like a jerk.” I informed him that the character’s off-putting manner is deliberate, but he’d be rooting for him by the end of the book.
As far as participating in a book club:
I’d consider it a privilege to attend a book club reading Cruel Devices (or Spindown) though I think it’d be more fun to appear anonymously and at some point during the discussion dramatically tip over the coffee table exclaiming “That’s not what the author meant by using that metaphor!” When the other readers gathered there would challenge this, I’d reveal who I was and storm out of the meeting. Talk about making an impression!
AW: How was writing Cruel Devices different from writing your previous work, Spindown? I understand that asking an author to pick their favorite out of their own work can be a little like asking a parent to choose a favorite child – but really, which one do you enjoy more? Which one did you enjoy writing more?
The question is easier to answer than you might think because I enjoyed them both for different reasons. First of all, the stories are structured completely different from each other. Spindown is more of a quest adventure in which the characters are attempting to gain their freedom by reaching the superintendent station before they expire. Though a lot of introspection takes place along the way, the goal to make it to the end of the moon base is as destination driven as Dorothy finding Oz or Joseph Conrad’s Marlow character in Heart of Darkness going up the river to find Kurtz.
Cruel Devices on the other hand is more of a mystery. Gavin spends much of the book trying to understand what is going on and why things are happening to him.
The second thing I want to mention is since Spindown and Cruel Devices are books in two very different genres (sci-fi and horror) it didn’t feel like I was writing a second novel at all. The storytelling rhythms are noticeably different for the rise and falls of horror opposed to sci-fi. I think I’d actually convinced myself on a subconscious level that I was writing a second 1st novel (which in fact, I sorta was).
AW: Do you feel like you’ve grown as a writer between the two books? In the last few years as a published author, what have you learned about books, publishing, and the writing process that you didn’t know before publication? What do you wish you had known prior to your book deals?
My experiences from Spindown helped me know what to pack for the journey of writing this book. Having gone through the process before, I knew to expect there would be times when things would get tough, but I had the confidence to get through because eventually you come out the other side.
I also learned to trust my instincts more on this book – to recognize and allow ideas in that maybe were not in the original blueprint outline for the story. Permitting that flexibility resulted in a much more ‘organic’ story than if I’d remained rigid to concepts that snuck aboard later in revisions. I think this may be how that ‘fall out of bed’ natural feel that you mentioned above was achieved.
As for the publishing business questions, I am grateful to have met up with a small publisher called Grey Gecko Press. I tip my hat to anyone who self-publishes; I understand that to be a tremendous amount of work that I’m just too lazy to do myself. My publisher takes care of all the non-writing behind the scenes details that are necessary to make and format my books. This allows me to focus on writing without getting bogged down in the machinery.
AW: I can’t help but long for a replica of the deadly typewriter to be present at your future events. Any chance of that happening?
Unlikely – It’s at the bottom of the river *wink*
AW: If you were to select a soundtrack for people to listen to while they read Cruel Devices, what songs would make the list?
I love this question. It’s funny you ask because the book originally had a number of songs embedded into it. In the first draft of the novel a lot of attention was paid to the grand re-opening of the bridge near the resort. Radio station WHCN, The River 105.9 (which is a real Connecticut station) was heard in the elevators, restaurant, cab rides, etc. The station contest played songs about bridges and rivers so I had the music constantly in the background of whatever was happening to Gavin.
I used Bridge Over Troubled Water-Simon & Garfunkel, The River– Bruce Springsteen, Take Me to the River – Al Green, etc. to name a few. The only reference to survive the editing process was Bobbi Gentry’s 1967 hit Ode to Billie Joe in which the lyrics describe someone throwing something off the Tallahatchie Bridge. As of yet, I have not attempted to listen to these songs while reading the book. If you try doing this, let me know how it turns out.
A final note: I appreciate all that your blog does to support Indie authors, mainstream writers, and everyone in between. Thanks for featuring Cruel Devices.