Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Interview with Sarina Dahlan, author of Reset

Please welcome Sarina Dahlan to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Reset is published on May 25, 2021 by Blackstone Publishing.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Sarina a Happy Book Birthday!

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

Sarina:  Thank you! I’m happy to be here. The first fiction piece I wrote was a story set in the Indonesian immigrant neighborhood of Kampong Java in Bangkok, Thailand—a place where I spent the first twelve years of my life. I don’t remember exactly what it was about. I feel I’ve been writing a variation of this story forever. Kampong Java is a special, magical place and I don’t know if I can ever do it justice. I used it as a setting for a few stories in Shadow Play, a short story collection that I self-published, but I don’t think I’m done. One of these days…

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Sarina:  I’m a pantser for the first few chapters of the book. Then, once I have the story, I plot chapter by chapter in Excel, complete with timeline. The best analogy I can think of is to compare it to my trip to the Emerald Cave in Thailand. First, I swim in partial darkness through a tunnel. Then the tunnel opens up to a hidden lagoon of emerald water and a beach. There, I get to see the place, explore the topography, and examine everything inside it. The plot does change over time depending on new developments and characters that tend to show up unannounced and in the most surprising ways possible.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Sarina:  Oh god, finishing a story. It takes an incredible amount of tenacity and willpower to stay with the story and dig deeper until you hit the bottom. Life was designed to distract writers from writing. It’s a conspiracy.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Sarina:  Other books. Other authors. Mythologies. Philosophy. Masterclass. Writing conferences (which I adore and miss.)

TQDescribe Reset using only 5 words.

Sarina:  I had answered “dystopian love in a utopian society” in another interview, but I thought of another—“Lost lovers in post-apocalyptic utopia.” And yes, I’m counting post-apocalyptic as one word.

TQTell us something about Reset that is not found in the book description.

Sarina:  The two main character, Aris and Metis, are part-Asian. RESET is set in a world where race is a thing of the past because people are conceived by randomly mixing the DNA of the survivors of the Last War. Since race was a social construct of the Old World—used to differentiate and divide—it was eliminated as a threat to peace. So, I purposely did not mention race. Instead I used physical descriptions, and subtle ones.

TQWhat inspired you to write Reset? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

Sarina:  I’ve always gravitated toward “what if” scenarios, so speculative fiction is where I naturally fit as a writer. Fiction is the art of hiding truth in lies—of talking about things people would probably unfollow or unfriend you for in real life by wrapping it in a story far enough from reality to be palatable. Science Fiction is a great platform for that. Through it, we can travel the paths that humanity can potentially take if we are not careful. One such path is what RESET explores.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Reset?

Sarina:  I actually enjoy the research part of writing, sometimes so much so that I have to stop myself. I did a lot of reading on the brain, neuroscience, how we process memories, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. I don’t retain everything since it’s been four years. But what I learned, I put in the book.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Reset.

Sarina:  The cover was designed by Kurt Jones at Blackstone Publishing. Blue origami cranes feature prominently in the book as a way for the Dreamers to pass on secret information, and the Four Cities is a metropolis in the middle of the desert. Combining the two seems as natural as breathing to me. I also love the hopefulness that the crane represents. It’s the best cover I could have hoped for.

TQIn Reset who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Sarina:  The easiest character to write was probably Benja. He was quite incessant—his personality just leapt off the page. He has this fierce honesty and a confidence that I’m a bit envious of. The hardest character for me was Metis. I had to rewrite him a few times. He’s naturally quiet, but has this pensive complexity and a weighty seriousness. He was a bit intimidating to approach at first, but incredibly romantic once he lets you in. I’m not even sure if he had let me in fully.

TQDoes Reset touch on any social issues?

Sarina:  I created the Four Cities as a utopia that answers some of our current and prevalent social issues: racism, extreme capitalism, homelessness, warfare, climate crisis. I used the lyrics of “Imagine” as a template for that peaceful world, and Buddhist philosophy as a way to achieve it. Buddhism teaches that detachment is the path to nirvana. If memories are the seeds of all forms of attachment, erasing memories is then a logical shortcut to peace. In this world, racism is removed by randomly mixing survivors’ DNA. Capitalism by assigning jobs and equal “pay” via an entertainment points system. Homelessness by assigning housing. Climate crisis by controlling resource consumption. Warfare by deleting ownership, thus the desire to accumulate and create dynasties. Essentially eliminating human shortcomings by removing them from our hands. But every utopia is someone’s dystopia. And this world is a dystopia for those who wish to remember whom they loved and lost. Ultimately Reset is a love story that happens to be set in this utopian/dystopian world.

TQWhich question about Reset do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!


Q: How did you come up with the names of Aris and Metis, and for the Four Cities?

A: The Planner who created the Four Cities was a lover of Greek philosophy and mythology. I named Aris after Aristotle, the philosopher to whom the concept of “unscribed tablet” is attributed to. Metis is also a Greek name originally of a Titan goddess of wisdom—but I pronounce it differently. I like that the names of Aris and Metis are gender exchanged. The Four Cities was named after four of Jupiter’s moons. I picked them based on the way they look.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Reset.

Sarina:  I’m going to chance this and choose two quotes from non-main characters in Reset.

“You haven’t experienced agony until you stare into the eyes of someone you love and see no trace of recognition. I’ve witnessed what it can do to a person.” – the Crone

“With the mind a blank slate, everyone has the freedom to author their own soul. Tabula Rasa. It is the future. It is what will save humanity.” – the Planner

TQWhat's next?

Sarina:  I’ve been furiously writing a prequel to Reset, meant to be read after. It centers on the story of the two creators of the Four Cities right before the vote to enact Tabula Rasa. If Reset is a story about a marriage coming together, this story is about a marriage coming apart under the weight of the world.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Sarina:  It’s been great. Thank you so much for having me.

Blackstone Publishing, May 25, 2021
Hardcover and eBook, 340 pages
Can you love someone you don't remember?

After the Last War destroyed most of the world, survivors form a new society in four self-sustaining cities in the Mojave Desert. In the utopia of the Four Cities, inspired by the lyrics of "Imagine" and Buddhist philosophy, everything is carefully planned and controlled: the seasons, the weather-and the residents. To prevent mankind from destroying each other again, its citizens undergo a memory wipe every four years in a process called tabula rasa, a blank slate, to remove learned prejudices. With each new cycle, they begin again with new names, jobs, homes, and lives. No memories. No attachments. No wars.

Aris, a scientist who shuns love, embraces tabula rasa and the excitement of unknown futures. Walling herself off from emotional attachments, she only sees relationships as pointless and avoids deep connections. But she is haunted by a recurring dream that becomes more frequent and vivid as time passes. After meeting Benja, a handsome free-spirited writer who believes his dreams of a past lover are memories, her world is turned upside down. Obsessed with finding the Dreamers, a secret organization thought to have a way to recover memories, Benja draws her down a dangerous path toward the past. When Metis, the leader of the Dreamers, appears in Aris's life, everything she believes falls to pieces. With little time left before the next tabula rasa, they begin a bittersweet romance, navigating love in a world where names, lives, and moments are systematically destroyed.

Thought-provoking and emotionally resonant, Reset will make you consider the haunting reality of love and loss, and the indelible marks they leave behind.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound
Google Play : Kobo

Photo by David Dann
About Sarina

Sarina Dahlan was born into an Indonesian family in Thailand, and immigrated to the United States at the age of twelve. While children in the west grow up on fairy tales, she learned parables through ghost stories, mythologies, and Japanese manga.

A graduate of the University of California, San Diego, with degrees in psychology and visual arts, she has blended both disciplines in careers as an advertising producer, a corporate marketing strategist, and an award-winning writer. She lives in California with her family and is currently raising her three children on a healthy diet of history, Thai curry, and scientific thinking.

Reset is her first novel.

Website  ~  Twitter @SarinaDahlan


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