Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Interview with Robert Repino, author of Mort(e) - January 20, 2015

Please welcome Robert Repino to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Mort(e) is published by Soho Press on January 20, 2015. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Robert a Happy Publication Day.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Robert:  I started writing for fun in grade school. Often I would take English class assignments and expand on them. Some of the plotlines included a superhero in the Middle Ages, a turkey uprising on the eve of Thanksgiving (I was mad when South Park did the same thing), a UFO abduction, a kid transforming into an ape, and a smuggling ring on a lunar colony. I also kept a journal, chronicling every day for over four years at one point. But then I stopped both the journaling and the fiction writing, and I really have no idea why. I genuinely liked writing, but perhaps I thought it was one of many uncool things I had to give up on the road to adulthood.

About halfway through college, I got the idea for a novel, and in the summer of 1998 I began plodding through it. I don’t recommend using the novel as a means of teaching yourself to write. Short stories are better for that, as evidenced by the fact that I made it 50,000 words into my novel and quit. I estimated I had completed only part one of a five-part book! But from then on, I knew I could write a novel if I planned it better and stuck to it. When I was in the Peace Corps, I finished a book that eventually became my MFA thesis. I wrote two more before Mort(e), and they both went through the literary agent runaround before I shelved them. Still, after all of that, I had learned the basics of the craft.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Robert:  A plotter, and even more so after revising Mort(e) for several years. At the very least, I always have a list of the forthcoming chapters along with what needs to happen in each. That’s usually enough, and it makes it so that I at least know what I have to accomplish in a sitting, even if I don’t yet know how I’ll do it.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Robert:  It’s always character development, especially since I write stories that have a plot. I thus have to make some hard choices and compromises in order to keep things moving, and I get very paranoid about leaving something out. And really, it’s finding the right balance between exposition versus action, and staying in a person’s head versus letting the plot unfold. I always feel I’m summarizing when I should be exploring, or that I’m giving backstory when it’s time to get on with the main story. I never feel I’m getting it right.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Robert:  I wish I had a more exciting and less predictable answer, but Margaret Atwood, Ursula Le Guin, George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, and Cormac McCarthy all come to mind. Orwell is especially important to me, not simply because he wrote about talking animals, but also because I identify with his philosophy of writing, which emphasized clarity over all else. There are other authors I encountered at just the right time in my life. I came across The Dark Tower during a terrible blizzard and spent the next few days in near total isolation reading it. I read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart as part of a history class on European imperialism. I read The Plague by Camus in college, and I find its discussion of the problem of evil to be among the most profound I have ever encountered.

TQ:  Describe Mort(e) in 140 characters or less.

Robert:  After the war between animals and humans, a sentient warrior cat searches for a lost friend, with the future of all life in the balance.

TQ:  Tell us something about Mort(e) that is not in the book description.

Robert:  There’s a giant, solar-powered zeppelin that looks a little like that metallic bean sculpture in Chicago.

TQ:  What inspired you to write Mort(e)? What appealed to you about writing a post-apocalyptic novel?

Robert:  The idea came to me in a dream, in which I saw animals walking on two feet and hunting humans. Over the next few months, I refined the idea, putting a vengeful ant queen in charge of the uprising. Eventually, I added other themes that had been brewing in my mind for years, from the long-term effects of war to interspecies relations to the births and deaths of religions.

Really, I’ve always wanted to write a post-apocalyptic story. I realize they are having a moment in both literature and film. For me, that moment has been going on for the last thirty years. All stories involve some change to the status quo that sets the events in motion; with this genre, the status quo gets completely overturned, and peoples lives are overturned with it.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Mort(e)?

Robert:  I just wrote an extended essay for Necessary Fiction (http://necessaryfiction.com/blog/?c=researchnotes) that discusses this in far more detail than I can go into here. The short version is that I had to learn quickly about ant colony behavior, dog fighting techniques, and military lingo. I also read a lot of fiction and watched movies that had sympathetic monsters in them. In my story, even the rebellious ant queen is worthy of our respect.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Robert:  Culdesac, a bobcat who fights for the Queen, was perhaps the easiest to write because he is the most driven and focused. His motivation is clear, and he does not waver. In a way, Culdesac is the most admirable character in the book, someone who stands by his principles no matter what. And because of that, the few times he breaks character and shows tenderness or mercy were fun to write. They provide a convincing way to reveal Culdesac as a person who has suffered a great deal, and who believes that the war is the only way to right the wrongs of the past. He is a victim of the war even as he revels in it.

The most difficult character to write was the pit bull Wawa, Culdesac’s second in command. Wawa also has a traumatic past, having grown up in a dog-fighting ring before the animal uprising. Unlike Culdesac, Wawa transforms a great deal in the story. She not only shifts her allegiance, but also lets her guard down. The challenge was to construct a coherent arc for her, so that she was not simply a means to help the main character to continue on the journey. In other words, I needed to give Wawa a throughline that could be lifted out of the book and given its own novella of sorts. Wawa’s sections were among the last to be written and revised, but the effort turned out to be worth it. To develop her more fully, I gave her some hard choices to make, and then forced her to act on them.

TQ:  Which question about Mort(e) do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Robert:  I like it when people ask me something along the lines of: “What are you trying to say about religious belief with this book?”

Answer: A lot of stuff. I am fascinated by religious belief and practices, as well as their impact on culture and politics. In Mort(e), the animals believe that the human understanding of the gods, the afterlife, and their place in the universe makes them evil. And certainly, from the animals’ perspective, finding out that most humans regard themselves as the chosen species would breed fierce resentment. In that sense, both the protagonist Mort(e) and the Queen can be called atheists, although that word is never used in the book. But even though Mort(e) cannot share the beliefs of the humans he encounters, he recognizes the power of belief to unite people, and to help them make sense of tragedy. Right or wrong, Mort(e)’s rejection of the supernatural comes with a cost.

TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Mort(e).


“You will avenge our people,
by the light of your wisdom
and the darkness of your heart.”

TQ:  What's next?

Robert:  Things are up in the air, but I am in the early stages of a sequel to Mort(e). In addition, I have a novella coming out with Amazon Kindle Singles in the spring titled Leap High Yahoo. I’m calling it an Occupy Wall Street science fiction story, and it centers around a guy hunting a runaway horse in an abandoned city.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Soho Press, January 20, 2015
Hardcover and eBook, 368 pages

The “war with no name” has begun, with human extinction as its goal. The instigator of this war is the Colony, a race of intelligent ants who, for thousands of years, have been silently building an army that would forever eradicate the destructive, oppressive humans. Under the Colony's watchful eye, this utopia will be free of the humans' penchant for violence, exploitation and religious superstition. The final step in the Colony's war effort is transforming the surface animals into high-functioning two-legged beings who rise up to kill their masters.

Former housecat turned war hero, Mort(e) is famous for taking on the most dangerous missions and fighting the dreaded human bio-weapon EMSAH. But the true motivation behind his recklessness is his ongoing search for a pre-transformation friend—a dog named Sheba. When he receives a mysterious message from the dwindling human resistance claiming Sheba is alive, he begins a journey that will take him from the remaining human strongholds to the heart of the Colony, where he will discover the source of EMSAH and the ultimate fate of all of earth's creatures.

About Robert

Robert Repino grew up in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. After serving in the Peace Corps (Grenada 2000–2002), he earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Emerson College. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize among other awards, and has appeared in The Literary Review, Night Train, Hobart, Juked, Word Riot, The Furnace Review, The Coachella Review, JMWW, and the anthology Brevity and Echo (Rose Metal Press). Repino is the pitcher for the Oxford University Press softball team and quarterback for the flag football team, but his business card says that he’s an Editor. His debut novel Mort(e), a science fiction story about a war between animals and humans, is forthcoming from Soho Press in 2015.

Website  ~   Facebook  ~  Twitter @Repino1

1 comment:

  1. Definitely purchasing this for my Kindle after discovering it here.