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Opening Pandora’s Jar with Alex Adams

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White Horse cover
White Horse
by Alex Adams

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An Exclusive Authorlink Interview
with Alex Adams, Author of White Horse

By Diane Slocum
April 2012

In Alex Adams’ debut, apocalyptic novel, White Horse, death does ride a pale horse, but in this case, it is the name of a disease manufactured and loosed on the world by an unscrupulous pharmaceutical company. Zoe, a lowly employee who cleans their lab, becomes a pawn in this plan when a mysterious jar shows up in her apartment. As disease, deformity and death spread across the globe, Zoe ponders the meaning of the jar, and takes off on a journey of survival through devastated lands, determined to maintain her humanity and to reach her destination.

“I keep it close and personal: one woman with one huge problem and one major do-or-die goal.”
—ADAMS

AUTHORLINK: What makes White Horse more than a story about a destroyed world?

ADAMS: Well, from its opening I keep it close and personal: one woman with one huge problem and one major do-or-die goal. Zoe's story isn't about the world ending-—it's about how she deals with her particular problems within that new, terrifying environment. We get glimpses on the larger world, and how it's affected, but it's all filtered through Zoe's experiences.

AUTHORLINK: How did you come up with a disease like white horse?

ADAMS: Like all great and terrible diseases, white horse evolved as its environment (the story) changed. I needed something lab-born, easily transmittable—like a cold–and unlike anything else out there. And I needed not just widespread death, but actual physical changes in some of the survivors. The result was white horse, a disease that transmits like a virus and acts like a strange form of cancer, flipping our genetic switches willy-nilly. Everyone can rest easier knowing that I'm just a writer and not a mad scientist.

“. . . there's no denying my writing style changed after I began writing poetry.”
—ADAMS

AUTHORLINK: Many of your phrases are poetic, describing things obliquely, such as “despair folds us in her arms” or “hope is a four-letter word rotting in an antique dictionary”. Do your write poetry? Did people you submitted to appreciate that style?

ADAMS: I do, but it's mostly a near relative to garbage. However there's no denying my writing style changed after I began writing poetry. Even if you're not a poetry fan, it's a fantastic skill to try and cultivate. It taught me to be more concise, to form pictures with words, rather than simply trying to report on events. When I went agent-hunting I looked (wherever possible) at books the agents themselves enjoyed reading and made my list accordingly, choosing those who veered towards slightly more literary prose.

AUTHORLINK: How did you decide to do alternating segments between “then” and “now”? How well was that received when you pitched your book?

ADAMS: It was one of those things that arose naturally in the writing process, starting with the first two scenes. First came the initial dialogue between Zoe and Nick in the past, then the next piece to pop into my head was Zoe in Italy, after the world had ended. At the time, I thought I was writing a short story and knew something had to fit between the two scenes, but I didn't have clue one what. As it turned out the "then" and "now" format is how the book wanted to be written (believe me, I tried a more linear style, but it just wasn't the same) so I ran with that. Nobody has really commented on the alternating timelines. I think books like The Time Traveler's Wife have helped open audiences up to less linear stories.

AUTHORLINK: Post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels paint a bleak picture of our future – do you think we can learn something from them?

ADAMS: We can, but will we? I hope so. We're a species who need to be told not to use hairdryers in the bathtub, and we're not terribly good at looking at history, seeing what went wrong, and applying change to our current paths. But I'm an optimist, so I believe we're capable of smartening up before it's too late. I like the idea of a Star Trek future, where we've all learned to get along and work together.

“Instead of deflating me, the rejections fueled my desire to write something salable.”
—ADAMS

AUTHORLINK: What did you have to go through to get your first novel published?

ADAMS: First came the long, dry years when the word I heard most often was "no." Instead of deflating me, the rejections fueled my desire to write something salable. Eventually "no" became "no, but…," which was definitely encouraging and told me I wasn't just wasting my time.

I think a little bit of rejection sorts out the long-distance writers from the wanna-have-writtens, like some kind of torturous endurance test. Anyway, I spent a lot of time writing the wrong things the right way, the right things the wrong way, and finally all the pieces came together. I signed on with my agent, Alexandra Machinist, about six weeks after I began querying White Horse. She was at home sick when she picked my manuscript out of the pile and devoured it in a single morning. Four weeks later, we were wrapping up an auction and I had a three-book deal with Emily Bestler Books/Atria. My head barely had time to spin. Things can drag on for years in publishing, but when they move quickly, watch out!

AUTHORLINK: This is the first book of a trilogy. What can you tell us about the second? How is it coming and when will it be out?

ADAMS: The events in Red Horse, book two, take place a handful of years after White Horse. A dystopian society has risen out of the rubble. You'll meet a new heroine, with her own journey to take, but some of the faces will still be familiar. It's in the tweaking stage right now, so (as far as I know) it will be out next spring.

About Alex Adams: A native of New Zealand, Adams received her BA in Australia and now lives in Oregon. She hopes to hike around the world someday, but not under the circumstances that led to Zoe’s travels.
Diane Slocum
About
Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum

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.