22 August 2014 ~ 1 Comment

Interview: David Edison

interviewed by Carl Slaughter

David EdisonSome stories are so crossed genred and so distinctive, they defy category. Try David Edison‘s richly imaginative debut novel: “Welcome to the City Unspoken, where Gods and Mortals come to die. Contrary to popular wisdom, death is not the end, nor is it a passage to some transcendent afterlife. Those who die merely awake as themselves on one of a million worlds, where they are fated to live until they die again, and wake up somewhere new. All are born only once, but die many times . . . until they come at last to the City Unspoken, where the gateway to True Death can be found. Wayfarers and pilgrims are drawn to the City, which is home to murderous aristocrats, disguised gods and goddesses, a sadistic faerie princess, immortal prostitutes and queens, a captive angel, gangs of feral Death Boys and Charnel Girls . . . and one very confused New Yorker. Late of Manhattan, Cooper finds himself in a City that is not what it once was. The gateway to True Death is failing, so that the City is becoming overrun by the Dying, who clot its byzantine streets and alleys . . . and a spreading madness threatens to engulf the entire metaverse.” The Waking Engine, the first in a series of 4, published by Tor, is not only richly imaginative, it is richly descriptive and richly detail. Edison shares his vision for the story.

 

CARL SLAUGHTER: WHY DEATH AS A THEME?

DAVID EDISON: I’ve always been disappointed with how little attention we pay to the end of our lives: we’re all born, and we all die. Birth gets so much celebration, but for most of our lives we live in collective denial, pretending that death happens to other people, and is not something we’re encouraged to talk about, let alone confront. I was raised in a pleasantly travel- and death-obsessed family, and so it was a taboo I’ve always been interested in transgressing.

 

CARL: WHY REINCARNATION AS A PREMISE? OR IS REINCARNATION THE CORRECT TERM?

DAVID: Following on the previous question, I’ve also always been disappointed with humanity’s overly-simplistic views of the afterlife,as I perceive them. Angels and harps and clouds? Bring a book. Lakes of fire? Hardly energy efficient. Reincarnation as a cockroach? No thanks. I wanted to imagine an afterlife that was as rich and complex and full of possibilities as life,or more so. Reincarnation is a fine term,but reincarnation as oneself, which gives one more time to explore and develop one’s identity than our short span on Earth.

 

CS: WHY SO MUCH ATTENTION TO THE INHABITANTS AND GEOGRAPHY AND ARCHITECTURE OF THE CITY?

DE: The City Unspoken is the biggest character in the series, and fleshing it out was a joy. Worldbuilding, character development, and immersion are all important and, ultimately, what’s the point of imagining a bizarre, baroque, filthy-beautiful city-at-the-end-of-all-worlds without exploring it? When you find yourself writing a story about a city, you best write about the city!

 

CS: WHY A HAPLESS EARTHLING AS A PROTAGONIST?

DE: I am a hapless Earthling, as are my readers! The story was always about Cooper finding the city, and coming to terms with the nature of the metaverse. From the beginning, this was a story about adulthood, about Cooper coming into his own in a world bigger and scarier than anything he’s ever known. I very much wanted our universe to be a part of this larger multiverse, which I call the metaverse,I knew from the outset that it would be a much stranger place than a traditional secondary universe.

 

CS: WHY A NEW YORKER?

DE: In many ways the City Unspoken is the spiritual antithesis of New York,if New York is the city where you can make it big, the City Unspoken is the place where you go to cease to be, in a big way. There are threads of my own experience as a New Yorker, and of New York during and after 9/11, so New York was as baked-in to the story as Earth and Earthlings. Lastly, if anyone has the skills to navigate and survive a strange new city while still remaining essentially hapless,at least at the outset,I imagine it’s a New Yorker.

 

CS: WHY SUCH A LARGE CAST OF CHARACTERS?

DE: This is the first book in a series of four,I knew that with a world this big and a palette so varied, the story would demand more depth of character development and breadth of action than I could fit into a single volume. I didn’t know it, but I was essentially writing “Epic Weird,” and the world needed to populate itself to support that arc. Take George RR Martin, for example: we’ll probably never get a huge amount of detail on the green-apple-Fossoway vs red-apple-Fossoway split, but that level of world-building makes the story so much richer.

 

CS: WHY SO MANY EARTHLINGS AMONG BEINGS THAT HAVE ASSEMBLED FROM THE VAST UNIVERSE?

DE: Well, there are only a handful, but when you’re writing about a city at the end of all worlds, and Earth is one of those worlds, then having Earthlings present is a gun that needs to go off,having set up such rich possibilities, some of them have to be fulfilled in what are, hopefully, interesting ways. I won’t go into too much detail for fear of spoilers, but Earthlings are also the ones that Cooper notices: the same way I can go to Stockholm and my eyes will find the one person wearing a Brown University sweatshirt. Sure, there are more Swedes around than Rhode Islanders, but I’ll still go home and talk about the guy wearing the sweatshirt I recognized.

 

CS: WHY AMERICAN HISTORICAL FIGURES?

DE: Following the threads of New York in general and post-9/11 New York in particular, this story shaped up to be something of an American fairytale, or nightmare. America plays a role in the story throughout the books. We read so much European-inspired secondary-world fantasy, and there is plenty of primary-world fantasy set in America, but I wanted to play with the idea of America in a semi-secondary world. Without spoilers, the narrative of America has changed and morphed and corrupted itself in some ways over the course of history, and American historical figures can speak to that directly.

 

CS: RICHARD NIXON IS THE MOST NOTORIOUS FIGURE IN AMERICAN HISTORY. WHAT’S HIS ROLE IN THIS STORY?

DE: Without spoilers, he shows the possibilities that await us in our future lives. Some other familiar faces have stayed the same, but Nixon has taken the idea of starting over and ran with it. And milked it. Once I got the image of Nixon-as-occasionally-adorable-street-urchin into my head, I couldn’t resist writing it. Who could?

 

CS: WHY THE POV OF A ROOKIE WHO IS LOOKING FOR ANSWERS RATHER THAN A VETERAN WHO IS LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS?

DE: The Waking Engine is very much a story of adulthood and finding-one’s-way, and while I do enjoy stories with super-competent protagonists, I don’t think that would have worked here, in a world that needed so much boot-strapping and relied less on established tropes. As the first book in a series, a super-competent protagonist would have less room to grow, whereas our boy Cooper has nowhere to go but up. It’s probably not coincidental that this was my first novel, and having only published a single short story before writing The Waking Engine, I was likely more aligned with a rookie looking for answers!

 

CS: IS COOPER A CHOSEN ONE CHARACTER WHO IS DISCOVERING HE’S THE CHOSEN ONE, DECIDING WHETHER HE WANTS TO BE A CHOSEN ONE, AND FIGURING OUT HOW TO BE A CHOSEN ONE, OR IS THERE MORE TO HIM THAN THAT? FOR MOST OF THE STORY, HIS EXPLORATION OF THE CITY AND HIS PURSUIT OF ANSWERS IS PASSIVE. WHY IS HE SUCH A SLOW BREWING HERO?

DE: Cooper is figuring himself out at the same time as he’s figuring out the world into which he’s been dropped. I think the pace of his development is pretty realistic,if I were dropped into another universe, it would probably take me a few days to adjust. Given the range of time the book covers, Cooper’s development is ahead of the curve. And with any multi-book story, character development is a bit of a long con. A bonus from that decision is that the reader gets to adjust to the world more naturally, alongside Cooper.

 

CS: I CAN EASILY SEE THIS BOOK ADAPTED TO THE BIG SCREEN. IT HAS TIM BURTON WRITTEN ALL OVER IT. WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE PLAY COOPER? SESSTRI AND ASHER? LALLOWE THYU AND PURITY KLOO? SOME OF THE OTHER MORE INTERESTING SPECIES?

DE: Thank you! I certainly won’t disagree! My dream cast: Tilda Swinton as the Cicatrix, Kerry Washington as LallowÃ’ Thyu, Emily Blunt as Sesstri and Alexander Skarsgard as Asher, Oliver Platt as Oxnard Terenz-de-Guises, Kristen Bell as Purity Kloo, Tori Amos as Alouette, and Chris Pratt or John Krazinsky as Cooper.

 

CS: ANY SEQUELS? ANY OTHER FICTION PROJECTS IN THE WORKS?

DE: Yes! The Waking Engine is the first in a series of four books. The sequel, for which the working title is The Noonday Plague, is scheduled to be published in May of 2015.

 

CS: A FREQUENT COMPLAINT AMONG GOOD READS/AMAZON READERS IS DESCRIPTION OVER PLOTTING, TOO MANY SUBPLOTS, AND TOO MANY CHARACTERS. SIMILAR EARLY COMPLAINTS ABOUT ANOTHER AMBITIOUS NOVEL. HERE’S A SAMPLE: “The author started out with a chess board, and he started moving a few of the pieces. You were hooked on to the story thinking that a winner was going to emerge through some breathtaking gameplay or at least, sleight of hand. What has happened is that the chess board has started falling off the table. All the pieces are moving uncontrollably and at random as they fall towards the ground. The author may contrive to have the board land flat on the floor with one of the kings standing all alone on the board while all the other pieces scatter and break when they hit the ground. I only wish the chessboard had fallen off a short table instead of falling off the edge of the grand canyon!” THE TITLE WAS “GAME OF THRONES.” SO YOU’RE IN GOOD COMPANY.

DE: Two things I love: good company and weddings. 😉

 

Check out what Library Journal and Booklist have to say about David Edison’s “The Waking Engine”.

 

Carl_eagleCarl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.

One Response to “Interview: David Edison”

  1. Carl Slaughter 22 August 2014 at 10:10 am Permalink

    Minor correction. The name of the series is “City Unspoken.” The title of the first novel is “Waking Engine.” Carl


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