Alan Averill Turns Time Travel into Pancakes
By Diane Slocum
If time travel really takes you to different time lines instead of backwards and forwards in time and unscrupulous people try to take one “pancake” in the stack and trade it for another, can a geeky adventurer and his shell-shocked Iranian sort-of girlfriend make things right? And what are those black-feathered things that seem to have more in common with zombies than avian nestlings? Alan Averill puts the world on the brink of destruction in his award-winning debut novel, The Beautiful Land.
"There’s almost nothing worse for me than reading a book where the protagonist never makes a mistake. " |
AUTHORLINK: Both of your main characters carry a lot of emotional baggage. How did they develop?
AVERILL: I really like flawed characters. There’s almost nothing worse for me than reading a book where the protagonist never makes a mistake. People are flawed and messy and gross, and I don’t see why fictional people – even ones inside a rollicking SF adventure – should be any different.
Tak (the male lead) pretty much came out of my head fully-formed, and my vision of him changed very little from the beginning of the book to the end. But Samira (the female lead) took a bit longer. Actually, the very first time I wrote her, she was a white Army medic from South Dakota named Clara. But once the book started rolling, I realized Clara wasn’t going to work.
I heard a story on the radio about a military translator who had been serving in Iraq, and suddenly Samira popped into my mind. I decided to make her Iranian-American because one of my best friends in high school was Iranian-American, and I spent a lot of time with his family and thought I might be able to pull off the backstory. In retrospect, this was the best decision I could have ever made, because I think the book is a lot stronger for having two somewhat non-traditional folks as its protagonists.
"I spent a lot of time reading other books to see how they handled the multiple POV thing. . ."|
AUTHORLINK: Most of the story is told through Takahiro and Samira’s POV. How did you decide to go briefly into the thoughts of others?
AVERILL: So before I wrote The Beautiful Land, I wrote another book that was pretty darn terrible. And one of the things that made it so bad was that I had no idea about how to make POV work – viewpoints would switch halfway through chapters, narrative voices came and went, and the whole thing was a gigantic, unreadable mess. After that, I spent a lot of time reading other books to see how they handled the multiple POV thing, so that when I wrote my next book I wouldn’t make the same mistakes. I tried very consciously to make sure each chapter had a set POV, and due to the nature of the story, those mostly ended up being Tak and Samira. However, there were a few times where I wanted to show what was going on in other places or otherwise advance the plot in ways Tak and Samira couldn’t know about, and for those portions I used either Judith or Yates. I guess that’s a very long-winded way of saying that the plot drove the POV, and not the other way around.
AUTHORLINK: What makes The Beautiful Land more than a story about world destruction?
AVERILL: I’ve always thought of The Beautiful Land as a love story. All the other stuff – the time travel, the monsters, the end of the world – is secondary to Tak and Samira and their feelings for each other. But I’m not a guy who would (or could?) ever write a traditional love story where, like, they’re in college the whole time and then one of them gets cancer or whatever. My stories always end up taking these weird left turns where crazy things start to happen, and I’ve learned not to fight that instinct.
So yeah, time is screwed up and the world is ending and it’s all pretty horrifying, but that was never the point of the book for me. That was more of the background against which the story of Tak and Samira plays out.
AUTHORLINK: Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about how you came up with the strange feathered entities?
AVERILL: I’m scared of baby birds. Like, totally, irrationally terrified in the same way some people are afraid of heights or the water or clowns. And when I was younger, I used to have nightmares about giant birds that would chase me around, and these dreams were so vivid that I still recall them to this day. So the idea of a ‘feathered entity’ has been in my life for a very long time, and I finally decided to just put it down on paper and see if maybe doing so would somehow heal my irrational phobia. It totally didn’t.
AUTHORLINK: More likely to instill it in the rest of us, I’d say. Apocalyptic novels paint a bleak picture. What do you think we can learn from them?
AVERILL: There was an author once who said something to the effect of ‘If you aren’t writing about death, you’re missing the point of writing.’ And while I think such a mindset would probably drive me to drink, I also understand where it’s coming from. There’s no bigger question out there, and I think nearly everything we say or do or create spirals back to that in one way or the other. What is death? What happens to us? What happens to what we leave behind?
I’m not saying that any of this is directly addressed in my book – and I’m probably not the guy who’s going to write something that does address it in any kind of life-changing or meaningful way. But I think that apocalyptic novels in general are asking that question, and that’s what makes them so fascinating.
AUTHORLINK: How did you feel about winning the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award?
AVERILL: Thrilled and confused and scared all at the same time. I’ve wanted to be a published author my whole life, and I’d been trying and failing to get published (or hell, even find an agent) since I was in high school. So the idea that I’d done it – and done it through some kind of contest where they just GAVE me a publishing contract – seemed too good to be true. I expected the floor to drop out from under me at any moment, or Penguin to say “Good job! We’re gonna publish one copy of your book and then give it to your mom so she can be proud of you” or something.
"The experience has been extraordinary, and I have nothing but positive things to say about it."|
But it wasn’t like that. The experience has been extraordinary, and I have nothing but positive things to say about it. Also, a year later, it’s starting to feel a little bit more real, which is a good thing. Maybe by the time I’m 60 I’ll have convinced myself it actually happened.
|About Alan Averill:|
Averill has his next manuscript with his new agent so he’s hoping he will find someone who will “bite in a fashion that doesn’t involve me winning a contest.” He’s also working on a video game project and doesn’t want to risk getting his “pants sued off” by saying too much about it.
About Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.