Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Interview with Jay Hosking, author of Three Years with the Rat

Please welcome Jay Hosking to The Qwillery as part of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge interviews! Three Years with the Rat is published on January 24th by Thomas Dunne Books. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Jay a Happy Publication Day!

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Jay:  Thanks for having me! I started writing in 2011, when I was working toward my PhD in neuroscience. Being in the lab all the time was making me into a crazy person. I had always been a voracious reader of fiction, and always wanted to write, so I snuck into a writing workshop at my university.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Jay:  Both, but not at the same time. The Rat book has three years playing out at the same time, and thus required that the timeline was consistent and easy to understand, so plotting in advance was important. I had a spreadsheet that detailed what had to happen in each chapter of each year.

The new book I'm working on, however, requires a lot more "pantsing".

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Jay:  Finding the time to do it.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Jay:  Hoo boy. Just about everything! Other fiction, cities, nature, friends, loved ones, minutiae (like a scrap of paper on the ground) that get my mind spinning.

TQDescribe Three Years with the Rat in 140 characters or less.

Jay:  A young man's sister and friend go missing. The only clues: a box made of mirrors and a note that says, "This is the only way back for us."

TQTell us something about Three Years with the Rat that is not found in the book description.

Jay:  The Rat book is about what happens when the known brushes up against the unknown.

TQWhat inspired you to write Three Years with the Rat? How did your background in neuroscience influence the novel?

Jay:  I'm not sure what inspired me to write the Rat book. It started with the image of the box: wooden, big enough to fit a person but too small to stand up, covered with mirrors inside, reflections upon reflections to infinity. I thought about why someone would build that box, and I was sure it was a gift to someone lost, and a tool. And then the story unspooled from there.

As for my background in neuroscience, I'm not sure it directly influenced the novel. If anything, the Rat book deals with why we seek knowledge, the better and worse reasons to do science, rather than the science itself. The book was informed by the motivations of scientists and other knowledge-seekers, with a smattering of details from the lab/research life to add verisimilitude. Psychophysics (the field of science described in the book) certainly exists, but doesn't really resemble what I've written at all.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Three Years with the Rat?

Jay:  I kept three books on my desk as I wrote the Rat book: Flatland by E. A. Abbott, Nothing: A Very Short Introduction by Frank Close, and The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. Living in a multi-dimensional universe, defining nebulous concepts, and finding meaning in a purposeless existence: these were my research.

TQPlease tell us about Three Years with the Rat's cover?

Jay:  The cover is by C.S. Richardson, a Canadian gent who has made countless fantastic dust jackets (I'm fond of his cover for Sam Wiebe's Invisible Dead, how it works in different ways at different distances). One thing I like about the Rat book's cover is that it isn't too on the nose and doesn't depict anything from the novel. But its motif—the labyrinth—is a great metaphor for the journey of the main character in the book. Plus, lab rats and mazes, right?

TQIn Three Years with the Rat who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Jay:  Buddy the rat was definitely the easiest character to write. I feel for that little guy. Hardest character to write was probably the narrator, who I wanted to play his cards pretty close to his chest (a la Raymond Chandler's Marlowe) but also be strongly emotionally invested in the journey.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Three Years with the Rat?

Jay:  The social issues in my book are relatively subtle, and they are included because they are a part of life. We all know people who have struggled, and to not include these struggles when they are so common would be willfully distorting reality for the purposes of personal bias. Put another way, writing an apolitical book is a political act. But like I said, the issues are not the story, and not particularly featured in the book.

TQWhich question about Three Years with the Rat do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Jay:  Great question! And because I've never been asked it, I've never thought about it. Let me think now... hmm.

Still thinking...

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Three Years with the Rat.


"I can collect all the data in the universe, but at some point I won't be able to comprehend how all the parts form a whole. My brain, my biology, limits my ability to understand... There are just some things that are outside of comprehension, even if we can quantify them. At some point, science becomes magic."

TQWhat's next?

Jay:  I'm currently finishing up another novel, tentatively called "Chimera", and publishing short stories in a few literary magazines; feel free to check out some of my short fiction here and here!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Jay:  Thank you so much! It was really fun to be included. Please go read Three Years with the Rat!

Three Years with the Rat
Thomas Dunne Books, January 24, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 288 pages

Three Years with the Rat is a mind-warping thriller that will make you question reality as you conceive of it. One of the most assured and haunting debuts I’ve read in recent memory.” —Blake Crouch, author of Dark Matter

After several years of drifting between school and go-nowhere jobs, a young man is drawn back into the big city of his youth. The magnet is his beloved older sister, Grace: always smart and charismatic even when she was rebelling, and always his hero. Now she is a promising graduate student in psychophysics and the center of a group of friends who take “Little Brother” into their fold, where he finds camaraderie, romance, and even a decent job.

But it soon becomes clear that things are not well with Grace. Always acerbic, she now veers into sudden rages that are increasingly directed at her adoring boyfriend, John, who is also her fellow researcher. When Grace disappears, and John shortly thereafter, the narrator makes an astonishing discovery in their apartment: a box big enough to crawl inside, a lab rat, and a note that says This is the only way back for us. Soon he embarks on a mission to discover the truth, a pursuit that forces him to question time and space itself, and ultimately toward a perilous confrontation at the very limits of imagination.

This kinetic novel catapults the classic noir plot of a woman gone missing into the twenty-first-century city, where so-called reality crashes into speculative science in a novel reminiscent of Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Jay Hosking's Three Years with the Rat is simultaneously a mind-twisting mystery that plays with the very nature of time and the story of a young man who must face the dangerously destructive forces we all carry within ourselves.

About Jay

Photo by Zoë Miles
Jay Hosking obtained his neuroscience Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia, teaching rats how to gamble and studying the neurobiological basis of choice. At the same time, he also completed a creative writing MFA. His short stories have appeared in The Walrus and Hazlitt, been long-listed for the CBC Canada Writes short story competition, and received an editor’s special mention in the Pushcart Prize anthology. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, where he researches decision making and the human brain. He is the author of the novel Three Years with the Rat.

Website  ~  Twitter @DocHosking


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