Series: New Eden #1
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Dane, in line to become Southshaw's thirteenth Semper, knows of the nuclear war that devastated the Earth three hundred years ago. He understands the Book of Truth and has heard his father's sermons every Sunday since he could walk.
But as his sixteenth birthday approaches, he's faced with a choice he never expected to have to make: Should he obey his cruel, fundamentalist uncle and twelve generations of Southshaw Truth, and take his rightful place as Semper?
Or should he follow his heart, risking exile and death, to seek and unearth the real truth? An exotic huntress, a mythical ghost-man, and a tailor's daughter hold the keys to his answer. And to the survival of Southshaw itself.
Today I welcome Peter Dudley, author of the dystopian books Semper and Forsada. Check after the interview for your chance to win a signed paperbook of Semper.
Can you talk about what Semper is all about?
Fundamentally, Semper is about the discovery that something you’ve been taught since you were born is not true. Dane is on the verge of adulthood and is next in line to become the political and spiritual leader of his people. When he accidentally encounters a girl that proves a fundamental tenet of his people’s faith is wrong, it throws everything into question. Throw in a despotic uncle, a murderous tutor, and an entire culture that’s been hidden underground for centuries, and Dane has some serious decisions to make, all while just trying to keep himself and his friends alive. The issue of truth and its complex relationship to culture and religion, is played out through the other two books of the series (the second book, Forsada, is out now, but I’m still working on the third book).
Where did you get the idea for Semper?
I can’t point to any one thing that really created the story. It grew from many sources. The theme comes from a long and ambiguous personal relationship with spirituality, tinged with an innate appreciation for all faiths and a healthy skepticism of all religions. As a natural seeker of truth, I believe that as mere humans we can never understand the full complexity and wonder of the universe. As a lover of history, I understand much of the good and the bad done over the millennia in the name of Religion. And as a father, I struggle to help my sons understand these things while also forming their own opinions. These things all led me to wonder what might happen if different cultures evolved in semi isolation over hundreds of years after a world-destroying war. And then what might happen if they suddenly came together again. Thus, Semper was conceived, though it evolved a lot from the original seed of an idea.
Is there any kind of message you want people to get out of reading the series?
I can’t write Message (with a big “M”) stories. If I try to impart a Message, I find the story rarely feels natural, or interesting. I focus first on the story, and I hope the message comes through because the characters are real and behave in real manners. I suppose if there is a message, it’s that living too tightly by any single dogma is bad. People driven by dogma cause strife and miss possibilities.
How long did it take you to write the books?
Semper and Forsada each took about a year. I have a demanding full time job, two kids, and a house, and I have volunteered many hours as soccer coach and scout leader. So finding time to write is an ongoing challenge. Also, I think it was harder writing the sequel than the original; writing the third is even harder, so it’s taking longer. That’s something I didn’t anticipate since this is my first series. (Even though Semper is the first book I’ve published, it’s actually my sixth novel length manuscript. It’s the first I felt was actually good enough to put my name on.)
Which character is your favorite?
Ha, a “gotcha” question! I love all my characters, of course. They’re all different, with their good points and bad points. I think of all the characters, I like Tom best because he has a very strong integrity and, although he follows the rules, he makes allowances for circumstances. I also admire both Lupay and Freda, for different reasons. One of my favorite moments as an author was when a few readers had a short Team Freda vs Team Lupay debate on Facebook. That was unexpected for sure!
Did the books or characters take you in any unexpected directions?
I worked out the series plot before I began writing, and although things changed a little as I went along, the characters pretty much stuck to the overall script. Only at one point in Forsada did something happen that I completely did not foresee until I wrote it, but it was the perfect right thing that needed to happen for the rest of the plot to come together properly.
Can you talk a little about your writing method? Do you outline everything ahead of time? Do you try to think up the backstory, places, etc. before writing anything?
I start with an idea or concept. It could be a character in a setting, or a conflict, or a “what if” question. I write it all out longhand in my journal, just turning the ideas over and over, testing characters and situations and conflicts and resolutions. I do this several times until I know the characters reasonably well and the overall plot arc makes sense, without any holes. Then I start writing. As I write, I look ahead three or four scenes and map them out in more detail, making sure they still fit with the main plot and they still make sense given the situations and characters. Sometimes new characters pop up, or things take a turn I didn’t expect, but if they don’t fit with the original plot, I reimagine the scenes ahead or figure out how the future scenes take me back to the original plot. When I finish those few scenes I’ve mapped out, I spend some time figuring out the details of the next few scenes, and so on until the first draft is done. Then, of course, revisions.
If you had to do it over, is there anything you would change about either book?
I know it sounds arrogant, but… nope. Well, actually, there is something I did different–I originally designed my own cover for Semper, but it didn’t take long before I realized I needed professional help. So I re-released Semper with a new cover just before Forsada came out. Otherwise, could I change a sentence here or there, fill in some details or tighten up some of the writing? Sure. What book is actually perfect when it’s published? But I reached the point of diminishing returns–more revision was just wasted time, really, and my time was better spent writing the next book.
You have some cool covers. Can you talk about how you went about creating those?
Thank you! I promise I didn’t read this question before answering the previous one! I originally published Semper with a cover I designed myself, and although it wasn’t awful, it didn’t do the story justice. So I tried several other designs, settling on a silhouette theme. No matter how I tried, though, I just didn’t have the design skills to create a quality cover. So I mined my network of online writing friends and teamed up with Wendy Russ, who designed both Semper and Forsada covers at the same time based on my concepts and ideas. What she came up with was fifty times better than my own attempts, and it was well worth the expense.
What are you working on next?
I took a short break to write a middle grade book that I haven’t yet published or tried to shop around, but now I’m working on the third and final book in the Semper series. It’s slow going; I’ve found it much harder to write follow-on books than the first one. I have some ideas of what I want to do when the series is finished, but I’m setting all those aside until I finish this project.
What are your favorite books and authors?
I’ll probably give a different answer every time you ask this question based on my mood. Authors that come immediately to mind are Douglas Adams, Shel Silverstein, Tolkein, Krakauer, Twain. Of course I loved The Hunger Games and the Harry Potter series, and over the years I’ve enjoyed Tom Clancy, Robert Heinlein, Robert Ludlum, Roald Dahl, and many others. Books I’ve loved include Life of Pi, The Phantom Tollbooth, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Kite Runner, The Book Thief, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and A Wrinkle in Time. And Jenny Lawson’s memoir is maybe the funniest thing I’ve ever read. Just to name a few. And believe it or not, I actually do enjoy reading Shakespeare’s plays. (And if you liked Hamlet and haven’t read Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, then your life is not complete.)
Enter to win a signed paperback copy of Semper (U.S. residents only) or e-book copy of Forsada. Giveaway ends 10/4