Published by America Star Books on 4-16-2007
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The terrorist Adam the Serious is in America, and his sights are on San Diego. Backed by a mysterious benefactor, he puts in motion a series of attacks aimed at bringing this beautiful city to its knees and world attention to his cause, and possibly even worse. Chasing him is a dedicated group of Homeland Security agents, who always appear to be two steps behind, and a mysterious organization that is always one step ahead. Can this mysterious group, with the help of a future-telling book and a businessman from the Midwest, defeat Adam the Serious? Or will they fall short, leaving the future of mankind to the DHS agents? Can Adam the Serious be stopped before his devious plan is fully put in motion?
Interview With Dan Levinson
Can you talk a little about what the book is about?
In a modern-day world where two nations—Calchis and the Orion Protectorate—are secretly recruiting a gifted few who’ve developed psionic powers, able to manipulate energy and reality itself, in order to further their covert conflict. We have these two fresh recruits, Aaron on the Calchan side, and Finn on Orion’s, thrown into this strange world of miraculous abilities, learning to reconcile their beliefs and the lies they’ve been told with this shocking new paradigm.
From there, the narrative expands to encompass a few other characters: the Calchan assassin Agent, also known as “John Black,” who abducts Aaron from his home; two officers for the Orion Psi Corps, Nyne Allen and Kay Barrett, who navigate the aftermath of a broken love affair, even as Kay looks for the truth behind what happened to her brother, who disappeared when she was young, and resurfaced working for Calchis; and Dr. Faith Santia, an archaeologist unearthing an ancient ruin in the frozen north, hinting at a deeper history behind psionic powers, and that the conflict between Calchis and Orion may be but the beginning of something far greater.
What makes your book unique?
I think the setting of Fires of Man is unlike anything else out there, both exceedingly familiar, and yet distinct from our own. Almost all of our cultures and locales have some sort of corollary in the world of the novel, though each with unmistakable differences, some small, some quite large. I wished to create the sense that this could be our world, somehow. Whether it actually is, well, that’s something I’m keeping close to the vest. For now.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
I actually came up with the idea for this story many years ago, when I was about thirteen. At the time I was a bit obsessed with anime, notably Dragonball Z, and Fatal Fury, as well as with the epic fantasy works of Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind. I wanted to create something that combined the sweeping scope of the books I loved with the trope of supercharged energy powers. I can’t help but smile when I think about that now, but I’d say it worked out in the end!
Is there any message you want readers to get from reading the book?
It’s funny, I’ve done a number of interviews now, and the first time this question came up was in the interview right before this one. It’s a wonderful question, though one I’m not sure I’ll provide a typical answer to. I’m going to respond with much the same answer I did last time, which involves one of my favorite quotes about writing, from Orson Scott Card (in the introduction to the definitive edition of Ender’s Game): “The story [isn’t] this book… The story is one that you and I will construct together in your memory.”
This, to me, was a profound concept, and I believe that, for the most part, the meaning any reader derives from the piece is every bit as valid as what I’ve intended. It’s a collaboration. While there are most certainly messages to be gleaned from Fires of Man, to define them, here and now, I think, would be to limit the readers in their interpretations. It would be a great pleasure for me to see Fires of Man, and the Psionic Earth series as a whole, provoke discussion, and therefore I’ll leave the question of the book’s “message,” open. I hope they’ll write to me with what they discover.
How long did it take to write the book?
From beginning the first draft, to completion of the draft for which I received my publishing contract, it took me approximately a year. Then another few months of work with my editor, later on.
Who is your favorite character, or what character was the most fun to write?
This is always a tough question for me, because, depending on the day, and my mood, I’ll give a completely different answer.
One of the most fun characters to write was Agent, the covert operative and assassin. It’s common, in my experience, to find in fantasy and science fiction a heroic, sympathetic, or otherwise “good” assassin character. Jaqen H’ghar, Vlad Taltos, Azoth, Ezio Auditore, Thane Krios, so many more. It was enjoyable for me to turn this on its head.
Agent is one of the story’s main characters, yet he is no protagonist, nor is he even an antihero. He is a psychopath. His traumatic upbringing as a child soldier has damaged him down to his very soul, and he has no sense of remorse. He has a skewed view of the world, thinking of those who (he feels) do not contribute to society in a meaningful way as no more than vermin, though he can’t be bothered to exterminate them unless ordered to.
The challenge (and the fun) of writing this character emerged from trying to, in some deep, dark way, actually make readers like him. Or like reading about him. To make him so compelling that, despite the fact he often works as an antagonist, there’s a part of you that wants him to win. I hope I’ve been able to pull this off.
Agent is, in a word, a “badass,” but that’s not enough. He had to be relatable somehow, and I think, because of the tragedies of his childhood, he actually is; his twisted outlook makes a perverse kind of sense, allows you to identify on some level. There’s also his intense nationalism for Calchis, his adoptive nation, which saved him as a boy. This is also why he’s abandoned his identity, his name, from that time, and instead accepted the mantle of “Agent,” not only seeing himself as no more than a tool, a weapon, for those that liberated him, but actually embracing it.
Can you talk about how you wrote it? Did you do any outlining? Did it take you in any unexpected directions?
I don’t outline in the traditional sense. My brain seems to have an endless filing cabinet, in which I store all my story ideas, all the twists and turns and various moments. So I keep a “mental blueprint,” as it were, because I find that as soon as I an “outline” on paper, I feel constrained, as if I’ve set it in stone. As long as it remains in my mind, it’s still malleable, and, more than that, somehow alive—breathing, gorging itself on everything I read and see, and growing, ever growing.
With Fires of Man, there was a certain element of ease, because I based it off of the very first chapter of the very first incarnation of the story, from when I was thirteen. It’s funny to think that the entire 400 page novel was, once, only about 30 pages of material. Of course, much has changed to necessitate the expansion. And the trajectory of the story is utterly different. I never knew where I wanted to go with it back then, and now, I do. From there, it was a matter of finding and exploring all these new moments that played into the story’s new direction. I was indeed taken to some unexpected places. For example, one character ends up traveling to a new locale mid-way through the book; this wasn’t in the original material, nor was it something I’d planned when I first started writing Fires of Man. However, it became a necessity as the story moved forward.
The subsequent novels of the Psionic Earth series are a greater challenge. With the exception of, perhaps, one character’s arc in the second book, Shadows Collide, the storylines ahead are completely fresh and unique to this iteration of the story. I have the ending of the series, as well as nearly all of the major events of every book, planned. But getting the characters to these incredible, bombastic moments proves more and more to be a process of discovery, as I write. I always proceed from a “character first” perspective, and so I let my characters tell me how they get from point A to point B, or Z, as it were.
If you could go back and change anything in the novel, what would it be?
There’s one section I’d erase, maybe about a page and a half of material, which is ultimately unimportant, and I feel slows down the narrative. Other than that, I’d be dishonest if I claimed there weren’t little things here and there, but overall I’m thrilled with the way it turned out.
How did you come up with the cover?
I gave my publisher’s design team some general ideas—the flag, the desert, the city in the background—and they ran with it. They’re quite amazing. I can’t wait to see what they come up with for the next cover.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I was very young. I can’t put my finger on exactly when, but it was by the time I was in 4th grade. I was an avid reader by then, eagerly devouring Brian Jacques’s Redwall books, among others, and I had a passion for fantasy, and for great stories in general.
What was the first story that you ever wrote?
The Final Fantasy II Chronicles. A piece of fan fiction based on the eponymous video game. I must have been about eight years old at the time. I’d finished the game and felt, quite simply, that there was more story to tell. So I told it myself. If only I could find the files somewhere, I’d love to see what I came up with.
What is your favorite genre, and why?
Fantasy has been my favorite for most of my life, though my tastes are ever-changing. These days, I’ll read nearly anything with excellent prose and compelling characters, regardless of genre.
Are there any books you are absolutely inspired by?
Stephen King’s On Writing was a powerful book for me. It validated a lot of my own feelings about the craft. I spent years reading the books of self-professed story “experts” and “gurus” who all had the perfect method to write that million dollar screenplay or bestselling novel, how to make the perfect outline, and then write a guaranteed success of a story, step-by-step. Unfortunately, all they really were, for me, were formulas for how to beat my creativity into the ground, break it with a sledgehammer, and then stomp on the pieces. On Writing helped me accept the conclusion I was just starting to come to: that it’s up to each writer to find his or her own process, and that process never comes in a bottle or can, sold on shelves for mass consumption. One’s creativity can’t be so easily defined. I’m no more qualified to tell anyone reading this how to write not just a great book, but their great book, than some random passerby on the street. I can convey what’s worked for me, and people can take from that what they will. But the second I profess that my way is the best way, the only way, and that everyone should listen to me, I’m just selling snake oil.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently rewriting my YA fantasy novel, The Ace of Kings, and working on the third book of the Psionic Earth series, Prophet Rising.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
I’ll begin with the standard advice: read a lot, and write a lot. This is common wisdom, but no less true because of it. I will say, however, that one should make the effort to read outside of one’s chosen genre. Read literary fiction. Something I had to learn about literary fiction was that it can’t be read the same way as commercial fiction. More time, patience, and care should be afforded to it, to dissect the layers of meaning. It will teach you how to infuse more depth into your writing.
Also, seek mentors. People who are smarter, better writers than you are; people who will force you to reexamine your own craft, and elevate it. This is often a process of trial and error—I’ve take many classes in which I’ve gained very little. But every now and then you will find a teacher, an editor, another writer, who speaks to your heart, and makes you not only want to be better than you are, but gives you methods which work for you. It’s worth persevering to find these people, because the rewards you reap are immeasurable.
How do you juggle writing with family time?
It’s important to be disciplined, not only in making sure one writes every day, but also in making sure one knows when to put the pen down. Unless it’s a crunch time, I have a quota of a thousand words a day, six days a week. I don’t always stop when I’ve written a thousand words, but I have permission to. I’m guilty of not only being a perfectionist, but also of being quite hard on myself in terms of producing enough. I had to teach myself that sometimes the reward of some much needed time with family and friends is every bit as important to maintaining a healthy writing life as anything else. Otherwise it’s easy to burn out. So, for me, at least, taking time off for loved ones is actually an imperative!
He ran toward the edge of the cliff.
The sun beat down upon him as his limbs pumped. Earth crunched beneath his feet, and a breeze blew across his black-stubbled scalp. His breathing was calm, meticulously measured.
When the ground slipped away, he felt only anticipation.
Plummeting, the man inhaled. Power flooded into him, thrilling, delicious. He reached out with that power, warping reality with an energy born from the depths of his being. Suddenly . . .
He winked out of existence . . .
And then reappeared at the base of the cliff.
Ahead lay a farmstead, awash in noontime light. Past its assorted buildings—barns and silos, stables and chicken coops—a field of wheat swayed like the hair of some sleeping giant.
It would burn soon.
Through his years of service, he’d been called many things: “raven;” “hellhound;” “black-hearted bastard.” There was but only one epithet that mattered—the one he’d earned with blood and devotion.
He was “Agent.”
A man with no name. A man who owed his nation everything.
Just then, he spotted his quarry—a teenage farmhand named Aaron Waverly. The boy had power—strong power, according to the readings.
Agent dashed toward the farm; dry winds kicked dirt and debris over his steel-toed boots. The expanse of greenery blurred past. He moved swift as a shooting star, his power saturating him with speed and strength.
When Waverly turned and saw, it was too late.
Agent teleported behind Waverly, and struck once, at the base of the farmhand’s skull. The young man collapsed, and Agent caught him, slung him over his shoulder.
A frown split the crags of Agent’s face.
Before him stood a girl, no more than sixteen, a pitchfork clutched in her fingers. She was a pretty thing, her blonde tresses tied back in a ponytail, her face darkened by hours in the field. She was an innocent. Agent did not relish the thought of ending her.
“Run,” he said.
“I’ll scream,” she said, her eyes flitting to the silenced pistol at his side. She hesitated.
He laid a hand on the gun. “Run,” he repeated.
He drew his weapon and shot her in the back of the head.
She pitched forward, hit the ground, dead. Blood spread in a widening pool around her. Waverly groaned, eyelids flickering. Agent holstered the gun and looked at the girl. Killing civilians was distasteful, but she had seen him. He’d had no choice.
Now, time to go.
Agent stepped toward the nearby barn, and pressed his palm against the red-painted planks. He sent his power into it, and a ripple spread through the wood, like a pebble striking the surface of a pond. Furrows of heat fanned out from his fingertips, crackling furiously.
He turned away and teleported to safety.
Back atop the cliff, he paused to watch his handiwork.
The barn exploded. Eruptive force flattened surrounding buildings and rocked the landscape. Screams broke out below, the sound carried on the wind. Again, Waverly stirred on Agent’s shoulder.
Agent smiled, and was gone.