Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Interview with John Appel, author of Assassin's Orbit

Please welcome John Appel to The Qwillery as part of the 2021 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Assassin's Orbit was published on July 20, 2021 by Solaris.

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

John:  Thinking back, I was about nine or ten when I started writing a story based on a book about kid spelunkers that I really enjoyed. But that story, like many others for years, never got finished. It took me quite a long time to find my writing discipline.

The first fiction I actually wrote all the way through to the end was a series of short pieces based on my World of Warcraft character, sometime in about 2006 or 2007. I was in my early 40s at the time, so you can see I had quite a long period of starting but not finishing.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

John:  The plotter vs. pantser concept is, to me, a false binary. In my experience, there’s really a number of factors which different people plan ahead of time vs. discover, and you’d need a radar plot to see where any given writer falls. In my case, though, I usually have a strong sense of the overall plot arc, and I tend to be a solid world builder before I start drafting. I also know a good bit about the characters, but not as much as other writers I know. In all of these cases, though, I frequently discover things while I’m writing, and this may lead to changes in plot events, some aspect of the world, or in an extreme case, a whole new POV character.

In ASSASSIN’S ORBIT, for example, Noo came into being because another character needed a mentor, and the character I’d intended to fill that role was otherwise occupied at that moment in the story. She started as a secondary character but her personality was so strong that she displaced the original POV character and took her spot in the roster. This didn’t change the overall arc of the book, just the perspective through which the reader sees it.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

John:  Sherwood Smith introduced me to the concept of “visual writers”, i.e. people who see the story playing out in their heads like a movie. I’m one of those, and one challenge I face is unpacking the visuals and sensations the characters are experiencing and getting that onto the page. I’ve found myself leaning hard on CL Polk’s “54321” technique, where you jot down five things the characters see, four they hear, three they feel, two they smell, and one they might taste in a scene. This gives me the sensory detail I need to help connect the reader to the action – when I remember to do it!

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

John:  So, so many writers! I grew up reading adventure thrillers by Alastair McClean (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE, WHERE EAGLES DARE, etc.) and I think my love for action-filled stories comes from there. Lois McMaster Bujold is a big source of inspiration for characters, and how to come up with challenges that are more than simple life and death. Current influences include Martha Wells’ Murderbot stories, Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London/Peter Grant series, and most importantly, the members of my local writing/critique group, the Maryland Space Opera Collective (MD SPOC).

TQDescribe Assassin's Orbit using only 5 words.

John:  Old women space competence porn.

TQTell us something about Assassin's Orbit that is not found in the book description.

John:  This is kind of hinted at, but one important aspect is that while the protagonists are key players in the action, they don’t solve the problems they’re faced with by themselves. In the real world, problems get solved by people working together, and portraying that is a theme that keeps showing up in my work.

TQWhat inspired you to write Assassin's Orbit? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

John:  I started ASSASSIN’S ORBIT in late 2016, though it got put aside for a while to work on a different project which didn’t pan out. There was no single point of inspiration for it, but I definitely drew from certain aspects of then-current events and where I thought they might go. Hard to say much more about that without giving away spoilers.

I’ve been a science fiction fan nearly my entire life, beginning with the Danny Dunn series of children’s books back in elementary school and going on from there. I think it’s the speculative element that appeals to me: “What if the world changed in these ways? What would that look like? How would people behave differently, or the same? What would a more just society look like?” But since I’m also hooked on the escapist aspect, I tend to approach it through the lens of action and adventure.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Assassin's Orbit?

John:  I’ve done a lot of reading over the years about space stations and mostly-realistic space combat. I also read a lot of work by West African writers, since many of the characters have origins from that part of Earth, both fiction and non-fiction, along with research into both Ife and Islam.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for Assassin's Orbit.

John:  The cover does loosely depict one of the space battles that occurs in the book, or part of it anyway.

TQIn Assassin's Orbit who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

John:  Of the three main protagonists, Noo’s voice was the loudest in my head, which hopefully comes through in the reading! As I mentioned earlier, she actually displaced another character to become a principal POV.

Toiwa began as someone easy to write but became more challenging as the book progressed. I know a lot of very competent professional women from my past career in corporate life, and it was easy to borrow aspects of those people and fold them into her character. Her journey, though was the one that most surprised me while writing; she has to face a number of tough choices, and making sure the way she acts when faced with those aligned with the moral code I’d built for her required some work.

TQDoes Assassin's Orbit touch on any social issues?

John:  It does, but not necessarily by conscious intent. I think any writer with a degree of empathy couldn’t help but be affected by the deliberate cruelty and kleptocratic government of the Trump administration, and there’s a certain faction in the book that I didn’t realize matched that crowd and their followers until one of my beta readers pointed it out to me. (And let’s be clear, they’re some of the bad guys.)

Buried within is also something I mentioned up above: that it’s not people acting alone who make change, but rather people acting together. I don’t think it’s ever explicitly called out in the book, but it’s a message I definitely want people to get.

TQWhich question about Assassin's Orbit do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!


Q. “How many people has Noo slept with, anyway?”
A. She’d have to check her djinn, she’s lost count.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Assassin's Orbit.

John:  “Noo shot him anyway, just to be sure.”

TQWhat's next?

John:  We’ll see! My agent and I are pitching a sequel to Rebellion, and if ASSASSIN’S ORBIT does well I hope to be writing that. I have another project that I’ve been working on in the meantime which we hope to be pitching later this year.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

John:  Thank you for having me!

Assassin's Orbit
Solaris, July 20, 2021
Trade Paperback and eBook, 448 pages
Murder makes unlikely allies.

On the eve of the planet Ileri’s historic vote to join the Commonwealth, the assassination of a government minister threatens to shatter everything. Private investigator Noo Okereke and spy Meiko Ogawa join forces with police chief Toiwa to investigate – and discover clues that point disturbingly toward a threat humanity thought they had escaped.
Amazon : Barnes and Noble : Bookshop : Books-A-Million : IndieBound : Powell's
Google Play : iBooks : Kobo

About John

John Appel volunteered to jump out of planes before he’d ever been in a plane; his friends and family say this sums up his approach to life pretty well. He writes science fiction and fantasy and the occasional tabletop RPG adventure. A lifelong Marylander, he lives in the Baltimore suburbs with his wife and children. He masquerades as a technology risk manager to pay the bills after two decades as an information security pro. When not writing, rolling dice, or keeping the bad guys at bay, he enjoys rum and swords, but not both at the same time. John is a graduate of the Viable Paradise writing workshop.

Website  ~  Twitter @oldscout


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