Published by Shannon Bozarth on 2-14-2014
Genres: Dystopia, Post-Apocalyptic
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"Do you want to ride the train?" Those words haunt Carla, whose son Jacob has just been diagnosed with the disease. The Party is coming to take him away to be cured, but long-standing rumors say there is no cure. There is only torment and torture before death at the hands of an uncaring government. The train offers hope, but will they survive long enough to escape the city? And what does the future hold in a country that is afraid of everyone that has the disease?
Winner can choose a signed copy or a Kindle edition of Ride the Train by Shannon Bozarth. Contest ends May 31, 2014.
There is also a Goodreads Giveaway for the anthology Happy Days, Sweetheart.
Interview With Shannon Bozarth
Can you talk a little about what the book is about?
In the future, the United States has been all but destroyed by nuclear bombs. In the aftermath, two factions arise. The Party rules using dogma and fear of the disease and its many aspects. Anyone who is diagnosed with the disease is sent to be cured. The Heth Alliance operates an organization called “the train.” Its purpose is to get people out of The Party’s mega-cities and to safety.
The story follows Alex—a conductor—Carla, and her son, Jacob, who has just been diagnosed with aspect two of the disease. Carla is hesitant to leave the city because she believes in a cure. When Party soldiers raid her apartment in the middle of the night and threaten to kill Jacob in front of her, she realizes things are far worse than she ever imagined. She knew they weren’t fully good, but she never realized how ruthless The Party could truly be.
Ultimately, it’s a story about human rights and allowing people to live their lives, as long as they aren’t causing harm to others. It illustrates the dangers that arise when anybody—a government, a religion, any majority faction—attempts to force people to live by specific standards.
What makes your book unique?
I attempted to balance things out and not take a strong or heavy handed approach to the themes in the book. I want people who identify with certain aspects or characters to realize that everyone has a responsibility to abide by their choices without forcing those choices onto others. I believe we all need to look at how other people want to live, but not be judgmental or attempt to coerce them into living the same lives. There is no one “right” or “perfect” way to live.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
When I was a child—around eleven or twelve—someone told me that a World War II Japanese internment camp had been in a small town near where I grew up. I’ve done some research, and while I can’t actually verify it, it put ideas into my head as a child. When you’re growing up gay in small-town Oklahoma in the 1980s, and you see and hear your own family being homophobic and saying certain things, you start to worry.
One recurring theme was that all gays should be rounded up and put somewhere. As a kid that put a huge fear into me that it would actually happen. I spent years dreading it. I took that remembered fear and decided to examine it against a possible future where things took a turn for the worst where gay, religious, and human rights are concerned.
Is there a message you want readers to get from reading the book?
This goes hand in hand with what I said above. Everyone needs to realize their way of life and how they’re living it isn’t necessarily the correct way. If it works for you and doesn’t hurt anyone else, who am I to judge? There are billions of people on this planet whose lifestyle is different from everyone else’s. We have to accept that and move on.
How long did it take to write the book?
Originally it was going to be a short story called Ride the Train. I wrote the rough draft in about two days and submitted it to my writers group. They loved the concept, and once I started focusing on editing, I realized there was more of the story running through my head. I wrote sections two and three over the next three weeks. That was between May and June of 2013. From June to December I worked on edits and rewrites, cutting it from almost 100,000 words to about 73,000 words.
Who is your favorite character, or what character was the most fun to write?
My favorite character, initially, was Alex. However, when Epiphany made herself known, she quickly took his place. She is an extremely strong female character, and she doesn’t let anyone or anything around her sway her or change her. She knows who she is, what she wants, and what she has to do. The metaphor she uses to describe herself—the swan—is extremely fitting, I think. She’s graceful, can appear fragile, but if you mess with her, she will make you regret it.
Can you talk about how you wrote it? Did you do any outlining? Did it take you in any unexpected directions?
I get my ideas from different things, but the most prevalent way is a flash of inspiration either immediately before going to sleep or after waking up. If it’s before, I can’t sleep. I have to get up and write or the story will not leave me alone. Characters generally form first—either a name or an image or a particular vocation—and then other things fill in from there.
I don’t outline. The only time I’ve ever done outlines was in high school English class, and that was after I’d written the piece. I am definitely a “pantser.” Once I have the kernel of an idea, I start writing, and let the story go where it wants to.
The unexpected directions for the story came during the rewrites. There are three scenes in particular that were extremely different in the rough draft. The hardest to write was a key scene between Esau and Alex. It took me to a place as a writer that I felt disgusting about. It was difficult to write, but it was necessary, I think.
If you could go back and change anything in the novel, what would it be?
I would probably go into more detail about the “blue stuff,” which is based on an actual medical procedure that is currently being tested in Australia. It’s fascinating! People have been resuscitated up to 45 minutes or an hour after being declared legally dead—without brain damage or adverse side-effects.
How did you come up with the cover?
The cover is a photo I took. It is a view from a railroad crossing on the outskirts of Jenks, OK. It came out kind of fuzzy, and the more I thought about the book and what people experienced, the more I liked the idea that the picture wasn’t crisp and clear. Life blurs around the edges, and I wanted to convey that through the photo. It also goes along with the train metaphor that I carry out throughout the novel, of course.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I knew when I was a child that I wanted to be a writer. I still remember the books I used to learn to read. The characters were a lion named Sam, a monkey named Sid, and a snake named Sis. As soon as I started to read and write, I knew I wanted to tell stories.
What was the first story that you ever wrote?
I honestly don’t remember. However, I did write a lot of plays as a kid. Given what I enjoyed reading, the characters were all woodland creatures. I was constantly trying to get my family to act in the plays.
My first novel was written between the ages of fifteen and seventeen. When I say written, I mean hand written on notebook paper, front and back. It was a one thousand page monster that I still have. It will never see the light of day. Only one person besides me has read it.
What is your favorite genre, and why?
I love sci-fi. It started when I was eight years old and saw my first episode of Star Trek—Shore Leave. It’s not the most spectacular episode, but it’s still one of my favorites. While there is a lot of sci-fi that shows a bleak future—and I’ll admit, I love dystopian future novels—the prospect of traveling among the stars and experiencing things that can only be seen from a great distance now is a source of fascination for me.
Are there any books you are absolutely inspired by?
For my writing, I’m inspired by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. I think they’re true geniuses where dystopian society is concerned. Animal Farm blew my mind when I read it the first time. I was in my early teens, and the concept of a society with rules that could change so quickly and arbitrarily to suit the needs of those in power felt bizarre. Of course, once I discovered the inspiration behind the novel, it led to want to read and know more.
What are you working on next?
I have three short stories that will be in an anthology called Happy Days, Sweetheart. It will be released on June 1, 2014. I’m currently working on four more short stories for another anthology that will release later in the year.
As for my next novel, I want it to be a YA novel set in a fantastical world I created a few years ago. Unfortunately, I having a difficult time finding the voice for the characters and the direction I want to take it. There have been several stops and starts over the past few weeks with it. I think I probably want it to happen too badly for it to be realized, but I’m not giving up.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Read and write constantly. It’s how you practice and develop your skills as a writer. Don’t be afraid to try new things and step out of your comfort zone. Above all, find a group of people you can trust to give you an honest opinion. Hearing that your work is good and enjoyed is what every author wants. Hearing that you could be better and that you should do better is what every author needs. My writers group, A Murder of Storytellers, is sometimes brutally honest, but it makes me a better writer.
How do you juggle writing with family time?
My fiancé, Brent, is incredibly supportive of my writing. He does nothing but encourage me. My writing time happens usually when he is involved in a computer game. While I’m sure he gets tired of hearing about new ideas or what my latest marketing item is, he still smiles and pushes me forward.
My four dogs—Howie, Sisko, Tobin, and Dax—are less understanding, especially when it comes time for attention or food. You’ve never been chastised until you’ve had a Chihuahua bouncing off your leg at the same time a Great Dane mix is rubbing his head against your arm so you can’t type.