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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Interview With Author W. Clark Boutwell

1.      What inspired you to write your book?

I can place the inspiration of Outland Exile: Book 1 of Old Men and Infidels quite accurately, although much of it is still lost to me. A ten-year old Ghanaian boy had attached himself to me the first trip to the Malaprusi district of Northern Ghana, while I was working at a mission hospital there. I was dusting a camera (the hamarttan was blowing in from the Sahara) when he offered me a rendition of his nation’s national anthem. Like most of the ilk, it was full of admonitions to good behavior and condemnations for selfishness, all to grow a better nation. I reciprocated and while my young friend was trying to recover, I mentioned that the USA was only about 230 years old, rather younger than the Malapruli Empire’s near 600 years.
He was dumbfounded.
“Has not America always been?” he asked.
“No, actually both the US and Ghana were colonies of England,” I mentioned off hand.
“Ghana has never been a colony.” says he.
Amused and a bit dismayed that my friend’s education was lacking, I remembered that when I was his age, my Weekly Reader was full of news about Kwame Nkrumah’s leading the first British colony of Gold Coast into independence. I countered, “Then why is it you speak English and Cote D’Ivorie speaks French?”
He smirked a little.
“Because Ghana is an English speaking country,” says he.
I gave up.
My young friend’s father and grandfather were alive. The old man was an avid football fan. I watched the semi-finals of the Africa cup that year as a guest in his mud-walled hut, on a nice color television. My friend refused to translate for me the comments made by his grandfather when Ghana was defeated. Surely, this good man was capable of telling my friend the truth about Ghana’s origins. Perhaps he had.
It hadn’t taken.
Ghana had suffered terribly under Nkrumah’s eventual dictatorship, but Accra is still crammed with memorials to him.
If you have no past, how long can you have a future?
It started me thinking as to what America would look like without any of its past to leaven the narrative of our politicians.
The seed for Old Men and Infidels was planted.

2. What is it about?

Outland Exile is about people, countries, power, and time.
I imagined two countries: one with no one over the age of forty and another country with a life expectancy of 150 years or so. This is not so speculative. We are well on our way. The world is definitely getting younger. The average age of Americans has dropped to the lower thirties due to improved survival of children and lack of major wars. In most developing countries it is even more pronounced and for much the same reasons. Ghana, as an example, has an average age of twenty-two.
Simultaneously, the world is getting older. The life expectancy of Americans since the end of World War II has gone from the early sixties to the early eighties. In developing countries, again, this is more pronounced. Ghana, for comparison, has seen its life expectancy go from forty-eight to sixty-three in the same time.
I imagined a country, the Democratic Unity of America that enjoys full employment, free health-care, education and housing, computer-less surfing, frequent binding plebiscites, and recreational drugs at quite reasonable prices. The elderly, those forty and above, enjoy their own retirement facilities away from the bustle of urban life, so as not to contaminate with their error and fatigue, a society based on youth, vigor and innovation.
I imagined another, poorer, less well graced, country, the Restructured States of America, which, nevertheless, has a cheap medical treatment whereby one may reasonably expect to live a vigorous, healthy life well into their second century.
I separated these countries and let them incubate for a few generations before taking one individual from the young country and dropping her into the old country. I took copious notes.
Many authors talk about how a character “comes alive” to them and they merely transcribe their imagined character’s actions.
I was not blessed with one such character, but two. They both sprang forth fully conceived on the first day I started writing, down to the color of Malila’s eyes and Jesse’s off-and-on Glaswegian accent. Both of them are middle aged. Malila at seventeen, is in mid-career in the Unity’s military when she becomes an unknowing pawn to her superior’s ambitions. Jesse, as it happens, is also middle aged. As a frontiersman, poet, man-killer, colonist, and country doctor, Jesse has made good use of his first seventy-six years; he still has “a few careers” he wishes to explore. Then he captures Malila.
The basic arc of the Jesse-Malila story is already competed. Book One, Outland Exile, takes Malila through her enlightenment of her own homeland and her decision to leave it. Book Two, now in draft, takes her through a harrowing escape, only to be captured again once she leaves. He captor is green. Book Three weaves the story of the ten major characters, but especially Malila and Jesse, into a showdown in a freezing-cold basement in Atlanta during its invasion by Unity forces in August of 2129.

3. What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book?
I have, as a first-time author, great hopes for my baby, Outland Exile. I think it is a funny, serious, thoughtful, and at times, perhaps, a profound speculation on what the world may yet become. It is hard-science. With very few “necessary” fictional inventions, all the science it contains is here today. More importantly, the political and societal forces that create the Old Men and Infidels “world,” are already clearly evident.
The charge of bigotry has become a cudgel wielded by some for trivial gains in absurd crusades. Even as this crusade advances against the culture of tolerance of thought, the freedom of speech and the sanctity of the university, authentic bigotry is making huge strides in America that few thought possible forty years ago. The groups that can now be publically vilified and even righteously chastised in public now include the aged and those of faith. Threads on social media that propound opinions are ended, as often as not, by the loser claiming his opponent is old or a Christian and thus need not be argued against.
At the same time, the rather tenuous thesis that somehow a bureaucrat can make decisions for an entire country goes unchallenged. That these unelected, detached, isolated individuals, immunized from retribution for their poor decisions, can make better choices for our huge country than locally elected legislatures is absurd. It is the story of Babel all over again. We Americans speak with many voices and should. Malila talks about her distaste for glory and her new found appreciation for small things “the smile of a baby and how men and women live and get old together” as the real wealth of the savage outlands. She may be right.

4. What advice do you have for writers?
This is going to be short and probably rather trite. I only know what my life has become since I started writing what I imagined would be a short story in February 2013. I have had to unlearn much of the science/medial English that I learned during my forty odd (some would say peculiar) medical career. Moreover, as a Canadian-American, I started off with a few engrained peculiarities that have left more than one editor gasping. Please do not consider this sage advice but rather a hewn path into a thicket.
A)    Write! Every day, rain or shine, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer. Yes, your work is sort of a marriage. It takes time and attention to make it work. I started getting up at 0530. In over three years, I have missed less than a dozen times. If not time, try word count, or complete an outline division, but write!
B)    Don’t Edit! Editing has its own piquant attractions. Save it for later. Don’t work out inconsistencies, discontinuities or glaring errors even. Why? See rule A above.
C)    Change something! When you get stuck, as you surely will, it matters little what you change.
a.       Add a new character. You can murder him/her off later if you need to. But have him/her start talking. Dialogue is a great stimulant for plot jockeying.
b.      Write differently. Paper and pen. Outside rather than in. Bottom to top (imagine where your characters have to be and work backwards from that point.) See rule A.
c.       Go to a coffee shop, a dog park, a ball game, any place you can talk to random humans. On a whim I went to a local baseball game and sat down by a guy, my own age. By the bottom of the sixth, I knew his name, city, history and the disease that was killing him.
d.      Go to a library where you cannot talk to anyone. They have books there. Read some.
e.       Talk to your significant other. Listen to any suggestions about the book. Do the opposite. Unless they are similarly afflicted as you are with this “writing” thing, they are more interested with your mutual welfare than you may be. Writing is conflict.
5. Where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
It seems to be galloping off in all directions. The odds are getting worse and the size of the bet keeps escalating.
Ebooks, perfect bound paperbacks, mass-marketed paper books, hardbound books; the end products are diverse. The delivery systems seem to morph on a daily basis. Payments are easier than ever. Publicity is limited only by imagination. However, the consolidation of the publishers into such a very small number of Cinderellas and such an ever-increasing multitude of dwarfs cannot be good. My sympathy is with the entire industry, from us writers to those who try to get people to pay good money for our labors.
The end result depends on the public eventually funding the whole show. With the huge number of free downloads of stories, and books, unless the present chaos settles down a bit, it remains, for an independently-published author, like I am, very much a dart game in a wind storm. Any random hits have less to do with design or the quality of my novel and so much more to do with luck. I am NOT the impecunious garret-writing starving artist. I can pay for publicity, but it is like bailing with a colander: much effort for little return. For Outland Exile, it is worth it to me, however.

6. What challenges did you have in writing your book?
My last class in creative writing was with Mrs. Helwig at Upper Moreland High School in 1966. Since then, I have written only for my craft, medicine. That sort of wreaks you for writing fiction. Subjunctives galore, passive voice, peculiar verb use, arcane vocabulary and paragraph-long compound sentences, are just a few things I needed to unlearn. I was aided by being confident that I had something to say and the ability to say it. The “how” took some time.
I am still a full-time physician, with frequent night-calls and midnight trips to see sick babies, earning the money to publicize Outland Exile. The upside to this has been professional insomnia. I wake up fast. The down side is a rather messed up schedule, which is the proximate reason for my preferred 0530 writing gig.
I am not young. Within the month, I will be 68, with no plans to retire until my wife tells me I can. Unfortunately, I also have some of the diseases that flesh is heir to. Besides a few chronic diseases (we all need a hobby, after all), I learned, during this long writing process, that I have recurrent cancer. While I refuse to think this is anything too dramatic, it does change your outlook. I certainly do not want to slow down my writing. I feel I have at least four more books in the Old Men and Infidels series. Times a wastin’.
7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?
I am not a greatly sentimental man. Despite being surrounded by babies, I consider cute an occupational hazard. Pink ponies have been known to make me nauseated. Moreover, I have more grim stories and experiences to tell about the death of innocents than any three drill sergeants could stomach. Yet, I wrote parts of Outland Exile through tears. The words seemed to spill out, telling a story I was hearing for the first time. It made me weep.
Going back to do the numerous cycles of editing is meant to be a rational, judgmental even cerebral process. There are several passages in Outland Exile that made me weep with each reading, even after the book was published.
I doubt whether there are many readers who are “wired” the way I may be. Nevertheless, I think we all read for the emotional nourishment good fiction can provide. I think Outland Exile can provide that emotional feeding.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©.

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