Jeremy Szal (04.11.2020)

Interview with Jeremy Szal

(die deutsche Übersetzung findet ihr im PHANTAST #24 "Hoffnung")

jeremy szal2020Literatopia: Could you quickly introduce yourself to our readers?

Jeremy Szal: Sure! My name is Jeremy Szal and I’m a science-fiction writer from Sydney, Australia. I love boutique gins, weird movies and spicy food. I spent my childhood exploring bookstores, beaches, and the limits of other people’s patience, which should explain a lot. I’ve always loved science-fiction, and that I get to now write it for a living is a dream come true.

Literatopia: A while ago, your debut novel “Stormblood” came out – how would you pitch the story to someone who hasn’t heard of it yet?

Jeremy Szal: It’s Mass Effect meets Blade Runner 2049! Or if you wanted a more organic pitch, it’s about alien DNA that’s used as a drug, making users permanently addicted to adrenaline and aggression. It’s also about brotherhood, trauma, loss, families both familial and found, and a whole lot of sticky and weird things going on.

Literatopia: “Stormblood” has an interesting setting. If you could visit Compass – what areas would you most like to visit?

Jeremy Szal: If I had to choose, I’d definitely pull on an environmental suit and head over to the floors reserved for all the aliens and hang out with them, trying their food and experiencing their culture.

Failing that, I’d probably spend a lot of time exploring at the Upper Markets and seeing what illegal alien tech I could purchase on the sly.

Literatopia: I first heard about the book in the “Grimdark Fiction Readers and Writers Group” and therefore expected the grittier aspects of the novel. The friendship, hope and forgiveness that are also recurring themes came as a surprise – but were also very much appreciated. Did you set out to write a novel with those themes or did they arise naturally?

Jeremy Szal: Thank you! I’m very glad those themes came across for you! I was certainly attempting to combine the gritty moments with little nuggets of beauty and wonder. The brutal and harsh setpieces with elements of kindness and empathy and compassion. I don’t believe in fiction that’s totally one or the other. So I set out to have a balance, as seen in both the characters and world, but their prevalence in the narrative definitely evolved organically as I wrote the book. The more that Vakov’s relationship with his friends – both in the past and present – gelled, the more I realised this was a hidden strength and had to lean into it.

The book more or less started with Vak being a loner, with the exception of Grim. That was definitely intentional. I wanted him to change, but when those changes evolved into his developing relationships, I picked that direction and ran with it.

Literatopia: Are there bits of information about the world or the characters that you really like but that didn’t make it into the book?

Jeremy Szal: The original draft had a bit more about New Vladivostok. How nonsexualized nudity is not an issue (in the same way that many European countries have very loose nudity laws compared to how us Anglophone countries lose their minds at the mere suggestion of a woman breastfeeding in public). There was a little more about the mischief Vak and Grim got up to, but otherwise almost I wrote made it into the page.

Literatopia: Sorry, but I have to ask: Does Vakov keep a tally about how often he gets captured?

Jeremy Szal: He doesn’t dare. Grim might find out and start to form the idea that Vakov enjoys being captured and bashed around. If that happens, the poor guy will never get a moments rest for all the pranks Grim’s going to pull. It’s not Vakov’s fault, though, it’s the alien DNA inside him. I mean, you never know what those Shenoi got up to in all those millennia.

Literatopia: If I recall correctly, you’re currently working on part two. Is the process of writing a sequel different from writing the first book in a series? How do you deal with reader expectations?

Jeremy Szal: Absolutely. With Book 1, I rocked up to my writing spot each other and pounded away, telling the story I wanted to tell without too much thought. Now, the raw clay has been formed and the rules are more rigid. I’ve got narrative arcs I’ve got to stick by, character personalities I need to work with and evolve, and plot threads that need to be answered. And with all that, you’ve got to keep in mind the consequences that’ll be rippled out in the third and final book. It’s a very different and much trickier beast.

Literatopia: What are your favourite science-fiction books?

Jeremy Szal: "The Red Rising" series by Pierce Brown. "The Culture" series by Iain M. Banks. Anything by Alastair Reynolds and Lauren Beukes. "Altered Carbon" by Richard K. Morgan.

Literatopia: You studied creative writing – as someone who pretty much learned it (or rather, is still learning it) by trial and error I’m curious as to how it helped or didn’t help you in developing your writing skills.

Jeremy Szal: The university I went to frowned upon writing science-fiction and fantasy. But didn’t outright ban in, so I found ways to wriggle it in. I’d say Film Studies certainly helped much more, since screenwriting studies tends to align much closer to delivering narrative gut-punches and blending character with world-building. Much more so than what most prose classes wanted me to write.

Literatopia: When imagining the future, are you rather optimistic or pessimistic? Which developments in the present are worrying you and which are giving you hope?

Jeremy Szal: Well, I don’t think anyone isn’t concerned about the old COVID-19 right about now. But I do have hope, ultimately. The human spirit endures and all that.

Literatopia: Do you think fiction has the power to influence the future?

Jeremy Szal: Absolutely. Fingers crossed we get a future a la "The Culture" series.

Literatopia: Talking about the power of fiction and the tools for coping with the present it provides: Is there a canon recipe for the “Reaper’s Bane”?

Jeremy Szal: There is! Three measures of chilled gin (ten botanical minimum), berry liqueur, a good dose of lemon, a little splash of blue curaçao (not too much, or it’ll be too sweet). Frozen berries optional. Depending on how badly your day’s going, add copious quantities of gin. Cheers!

Autorenfoto: © privat

Rezension zu "Stormblood"

This interview was conducted by Swantje Niemann. @ Literatopia 2020.