Please welcome Gerald Brandt to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Courier was published on March 1st by DAW.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Gerald: Thanks for having me! I remember writing when I was in Junior High, but not so much before that. I still have a notebook from those days, though I really should burn it before someone actually sees it. I was introduced to computers in High School, and dropped writing. Just over ten years ago, I decided to start again, and to take it seriously, and here I am. As for the why... if I could explain it, I would. It's just what I want to do.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Gerald: I'd say I'm a bit of a hybrid plotter. I start every novel with a big white board a multi-colored Post-It notes. I use one note per scene, and layout the novel on the whiteboard. Each Post-It contains a sentence, or sometimes even a single word summary of that scene. Each POV character gets a different color Post-It. Once I think I have enough scenes (usually over 65) I analyse what I have on the board, rearranging notes as necessary to get good POV distribution and good story flow. I continue to add scenes as needed. I also take some time to add detail to some of the scenes. Once I reach about 80 scenes, I move to an Excel spreadsheet. I transfer my Post-It notes to the spreadsheet and starting adding in details... who else is in the scene, where is it taking place, what time of day is, etc. Once the spreadsheet is done, I start writing, sequentially, until done. That sounds like a 100% plotter, but my spreadsheet isn't written in stone. As I go along, I'll still add or removes scenes, change their order, and even the POV character. So, hybrid.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Gerald: All of it. But seriously, I'd have to say details and description. I always end up short on word count, and I can always add way more description and detail without changing the pacing of the story. Some of my first draft scenes can be 1000 words of talking heads. By the time I flesh the scene out with description and other details, it could easily double.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing? You are "an IT professional and coding guru." How has that influenced (or not) your own writing?
Gerald: The short answer is 'everything'. Every life experience, every setback, every joy, every pain, affects what I put on the page. How can it be any other way? That doesn't mean that every character on the page is me, or even a version of me. It means I can take my experiences, distill them, and kind of know what it's like to be a cold hearted killer, and never actually be one. THE COURIER's main character is a sixteen year old girl. I've never been one, but I can take my experiences and research, and make it work.
I think my background in computers gave me the need (the want?) to have most everything plotted before I begin writing. The part where I change things on the fly is just like the end-user changing program requirements, but I'm the end-user.
One thing I've learned recently is that, for me, writing and programming draw from the same well. I find it extremely difficult to do both, and if I have to, they both suffer. Luckily for me, most of my work now is in IT, so I don't have to code a lot.
TQ: Describe The Courier in 140 characters or less.
Gerald: A couriers life is destroyed when she witnesses a murder, and becomes the hunted.
(This one is from the front of the book)
Is there anyplace for a courier to run when she's targeted for termination?
TQ: Tell us something about The Courier that is not found in the book description.
Gerald: Kris hates Christmas, but she has a pretty darn good reason!
TQ: What inspired you to write The Courier? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?
Gerald: The main character, Kris Ballard, popped into my head pretty much fully formed. I knew what kind of life she had, and how she was dealing with. What I didn't have was a story to fit her into. That took another couple of years. I'm going to have to say she was the inspiration for the story. Certainly to the reason the story even exists.
What appeals to me about Science Fiction are the possibilities. The possibility of creating new technology by building on what we already have. The possibility of taking a unique view of the problems in the world today, and mapping them into a different reality. Not necessarily to find solutions, but maybe make the reader look at things a different way.
TQ: The Courier has been described Cyberpunk. Do you agree? What is Cyberpunk?
Gerald: I didn't write THE COURIER as cyberpunk, but it certainly has that feeling to it. Traditionally, cyberpunk is all about code jockeys jacking into virtual worlds to do things (bad or good). THE COURIER doesn't have that, but it does have certain aspects of the world cyberpunk traditionally encapsulates. There are the massive corporations, the hyper-surveillance, weak governments, fast computers, and well defined class structures. So, is THE COURIER cyberpunk as defined by NUEROMANCER or SNOW CRASH? I'd have to say no. But you can't really get away with that kind of cyberpunk anymore. Computers have become such a commodity in today's world, that I don't think readers would believe it if you could just slip on a head band and interface with your computer.
So what, to me, is cyberpunk today? Is it still cyberpunk if the computers don't control everything, if there is no artificial intelligence? I'm not sure I'm the one to answer that.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Courier?
Gerald: Actually very little. I did a bit of research on Los Angeles, since that's where the story takes place (Los Angeles is a neighborhood or ward of San Angeles). When Kris is on Level 1, I wanted to make sure I had enough of the current Los Angeles in there so people might recognize it. I also have a character with Asperger's, so I did a fair amount of research in that area. I wanted to make sure I got the small details right for that, and not just gloss over it as a quirky character trait.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Gerald: The easiest character to write would have to be Kris. Yes, she's a 16 year old girl runaway, and I most definitely am not, but she lived in my head for so long, I knew her. She's as tough as nails (you'd have to be after you went through what she did), but very kind hearted. Getting that balance right was fun.
The most difficult would have to have been Jeremy Adams. He's very single minded and goal oriented. How do I portray him as a human being and not just a caricature? I had to get the reader inside his head, to make them understand why he is the person they see. To make him human.
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Courier?
Gerald: I never actually come out and start talking about social issues, but the city itself is a statement. San Angeles is made up of seven levels, and each level reflects the social status of the person living there. If a denizen of Level 1 went up to Level 3, they would be looked down on and ostracized. Kris's status of a courier gets her past those kind of things, but what happens if she loses that anonymity?
TQ: Which question about The Courier do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Gerald: How did the world end up the way it is, where cities are multi-level megalopolis' (megalopoli?) and corporations even choose who is going to be the next president? The answer is, of course, right around you. I took the power of the lobby groups and the huge corporations, the ignoring of global warming, the military actions of the world and who is gaining from them, and simply extrapolated it out to its logical conclusion.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Courier.
Gerald: I crouched lower in the shadows and slid behind two green dumpsters used to hold the Fish Markets cast off garbage. A huge rat ran between my feet into the alley, dragging its fleshy tail through years of built up fish guts, scales, and oil, scared by the intruder into its domain.
I understood it.
TQ: What's next?
Gerald: THE COURIER will be out in March, 2016 in hard cover and ebook. An audio book will be available a short time later. I just handed in THE OPERATIVE, the sequel to THE COURIER, and am waiting for editorial comments. I believe that book is scheduled for November, 2016. Currently I spend my time standing in front of my white board with colored Post-It notes for THE REBEL, and I should start some actual writing on it shortly. I have a small book tour coming up, and am visiting a few conventions. (http://geraldbrandt.com/calendar)
After that, it's not quite clear. I have an alternate world fantasy almost finished, but there are a lot of stories in San Angeles -- not all of them Kris Ballard's.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Gerald: This was fun! Thank-you for having me.
A San Angeles Novel 1
DAW, March 1, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages
Kris Ballard is a motorcycle courier. A nobody. Level 2 trash in a multi-level city that stretches from San Francisco to the Mexican border—a land where corporations make all the rules. A runaway since the age of fourteen, Kris struggled to set up her life, barely scraping by, working hard to make it without anyone’s help.
But a late day delivery changes everything when she walks in on the murder of one of her clients. Now she’s stuck with a mysterious package that everyone wants. It looks like the corporations want Kris gone, and are willing to go to almost any length to make it happen.
Hunted, scared, and alone, she retreats to the only place she knows she can hide: the Level 1 streets. Fleeing from people that seem to know her every move, she is rescued by Miller—a member of an underground resistance group—only to be pulled deeper into a world she doesn’t understand.
Together Kris and Miller barely manage to stay one step ahead of the corporate killers, but it’s only a matter of time until Miller’s resources and their luck run out….
Gerald Brandt’s short story “Storm” appeared in the 2013 Prix Aurora Award-winning anthology Blood & Water. By day, he’s an IT professional and coding guru. In his limited spare time, he enjoys riding his motorcycle, rock climbing, camping, and spending time with his family. He lives in Winnipeg with his wife and two sons.