Happy Friday, everyone!
The next interview in my author interview series is with Joshua Harding, a member of my Indie Eden Book Club on Facebook and author of Red Lakes. Red Lakes is a biopunk dystopia novel (read on to find out more about that genre) that takes place in a world in which meat is artificially made and grown in labs, and a clone of a man who looks a lot like a certain beloved fast food clown is the leader of Soviet Russia. The main character, another clone, is thrust into a position of power, but then must decide how best to use it.
Let’s find out more about Joshua Harding, and about this surprisingly timely novel!
Hi Joshua! First things first: What is the one question that you wish people would ask you about your latest book?
Whether I want fries with that…(kidding). Every day it seems like my latest book, Red Lakes, which is a dystopia, should be required reading under our current president. I wish more people asked about the political commentary of my novel, both what originally influenced it and how it can be viewed in context with current events. Red Lakes is about a fast food totalitarian regime, ruled over by the clone of a clown. I wrote it years before the 2016 election, but it seems to have been chillingly prescient.
If only everyone would have read your book sooner! On the flip side, which typical author interview question do you hate the most?
Not so much in interviews, but a question invariably comes up if I’m introduced to someone as an author. They ask what publishing company I went through, with the added question: “You’re not one of those self-published authors, are you?” (Always with a sneer, too.) I think there will be a disdain for self-publishing for some time to come. Sort of like the way the aristocracy of a century ago looked down their noses at the Nouveau Riche—they weren’t really “part of the club.” The stigma against self-published authors certainly has come a long way over the past decade, but it may be a while before a writer who pounded out his own manuscript with no advancement or deadline, ponied up cash for an editor and cover artist, formatted, promoted, and hustled his work all by himself is held in the same regard as a writer who happened to catch a slush pile reader’s eye.
That is a refreshingly honest way of putting it, and something I can definitely relate to as a self-published author myself. A lot of people don’t realize just how much hard work and effort goes into self-publishing a book!
Transitioning to your work now, can you give us a short description of your book or books?
My debut novel, Red Lakes, is a biopunk dystopia set in a fictional Soviet Russia. Biopunk is a subgenre of Science Fiction that explores the consequences of biotechnology, in this case, human cloning. Following a nuclear holocaust, a new Soviet totalitarian state rises out of the ashes and bears a chilling resemblance to a major fast food chain. Everyone eats burgers and the savior of the state-approved religion has red hair, white skin, and enormous feet. Sergei, a meat farmer in the Ukraine, learns that he is actually a clone of the State’s founder and destined to become its Premier. The secret police whisk him away to Moscow where he is prepared for absolute power. Sergei is then kidnapped by a group of terrorists who are bent on overthrowing the State. They open Sergei’s eyes to the atrocities meted out by the State on its people: torture, human cloning, and dietary oppression. Sergei escapes his captors and returns to Moscow but to what end? Does he assume the Premiership or follow the terrorists in their desperate struggle?
My next novel, Catch-23, will be a semiautobiographical account of my time working with nuclear missiles in the Air Force.
I hope you come back for another interview about Catch-23; I have a lot of questions after reading that you worked with nuclear missiles!
Your book is in the science fiction genre. What drew you to this genre? Do you also like to read books in this genre?
I have to say, seeing Star Wars in the theater in 1977 was what started it for me. Then all the other Lucas, Spielberg, and Henson masterpieces that came out soon afterwards solidified my love of all things geeky and Sci-Fi. Man, what an awesome time to be a kid! I think that’s why people say my stories read like movies or could be adapted into movies. I read a ton of Sci-Fi. I cut my teeth on the works of Frank Herbert, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ray Bradbury. Lately I’m into my contemporaries like my good friend Ian Tregillis, biopunk author Paolo Bacigalupi, and self-published sensation Hugh Howey.
Is there any famous author in particular that inspires you, or that you admire?
T. C. Boyle is probably the author who has most influenced my work. He is a master of the short story and has a mercilessly satirical style. His stories are usually surreal and contain a sharp social commentary. My favorite first line of his goes, “I was living with a woman who suddenly began to stink.” I remember crashing on a friend’s couch in New York City and finding a copy of his short story collection, The Descent of Man. I was blown away. I thought, Wow! This guy writes the way I think!
Who is your target audience for this book? What do you think will appeal to them about Red Lakes?
My Ideal Readers are politically savvy fans of sci-fi and socially conscious nerds: readers who enjoy a good yarn and a topic that challenges conventions and sparks controversy. Red Lakes lampoons the obesity epidemic, the war on terror, and the political hijacking of 9/11. But it will also appeal to fans of political satire. Fans of The Daily Show and Jello Biafra will enjoy its tongue-in-cheek humor against a frighteningly possible backdrop.
I’m reading Red Lakes now, and I can see how it would appeal to all of those groups. I don’t know whether to laugh or be afraid while I’m reading it, haha!
So when you write a book, do you plan out everything beforehand, or do you let the story follow its own course?
I’ve had a lot of success outlining everything before I start. Those outlines have taken several forms from Excel spreadsheets to Post-It notes stuck to a bulletin board to a hand-drawn timeline. It helps parse up the enormous task of writing a novel into smaller pieces (…the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time…). It’s also invaluable for ensuring the story arc hits all of the important plot points (Introduction, Narrative Hook, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution). That’s not to say that once I’m elbows-deep in the writing that I won’t change aspects of the outline because the story has taken a new and unforeseen direction.
That sounds like a great method! In that same vein, do you have any quirky writing habits?
I like to wear my fez while I write (much to my wife’s chagrin). I also make music playlists that fit the theme of what I’m writing. It really needs to be instrumentals or in a foreign language I can’t understand so the lyrics don’t intrude on the writing. So, if I’m writing some kind of noir piece, I’ll put on Miles Davis or Dave Brubeck. If it’s a period piece, I’ll listen to Mozart or Vivaldi. A creepy Sci-Fi, I’ll play Autechre or Aphex Twin. I listened to a whole bunch of old Soviet propaganda music while writing Red Lakes.
Do you have any writing tips for other writers? (Other than wearing a fez while they write?)
I’m asked this a lot and my answer is a bit cliché, but setting aside at least an hour every day to write is essential. The simple act of putting one letter in front of another on a consistent basis improves your writing, gets the creative juices flowing, and makes blank pages seem less daunting. I can’t say that I’m always consistent in that routine myself, but I can say it works. Read everything you can get your hands on. And, most importantly in today’s social media environment, seek out your fellow writers. Network with them, critique each other’s work, and celebrate each other’s successes. We’re in this together, not as competitors.
That is great advice. :) Maybe you have some more on marketing. What would you say is the best way to market your book? With which method have you had the most success so far?
There certainly isn’t one “best” way to market a book. So many factors come into play, whether it’s your book’s target audience and premise or your abilities with marketing and social media. Sci-Fi authors’ target audience includes a lot of people who regularly use social media; cozy, Regency-period mystery authors—maybe not so much. Adapting your marketing to your book and your readers is your best bet. Some people swear by doing in-person signings at fairs and conventions, others with speaking engagements. I’ve had the most success with promotion campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram like BookFunnel or a Multi-Author Spec-Fic Promotion.
How did your book come to be published? What was your journey to publication like? Did you get a lot of rejection letters before you finally saw your name in print?
I did–and still do–get quite a few rejection letters. I even used to pin them (when they were still sent out through the mail) to the wall above my desk as a macabre sort of motivation. I came to the realization one day that the premise of Red Lakes and the fact that it lampoons a major fast food chain (with a track record of libel suits) might make some publishers think twice about taking on a new, unproven author. So, I decided that self-publishing was the best route to maintain my vision for my work and be beholden to no one but myself as a writer.
I think Stephen King used to that with his rejection letters too! Maybe it’s good luck. ;)
Now for my final question: Is being a published author everything you dreamed it would be? If not, how is it different? Is there anything you would change about it?
Few things in life fit the picture we have of them beforehand. Sure, I dreamt I’d get signed with one of the big publishing houses then roll naked in my money while writing my next bestseller. But now, looking back on my choice to self-publish, I wouldn’t change a thing. I probably won’t even bother to send my next manuscript to publishers. I think what’s really at the core of your question is what’s my definition of success. If I can get the crazy thoughts out of my head and in front of other people, then I’m a success.
That is a great way to put it. Good luck with your next books, and thank you for sharing your thoughts and advice with us!
About the Author
Joshua Harding is an award-winning novelist and short story author. He’s worked as a nuclear missile mechanic, an environmental lobbyist, a cemetery restorer, freelance artist, puppet master, set designer, actor, carpenter, mortuary officer, and garbage man. The only thing he’s done longer than any of them is write. His fiction is currently featured on Writer’s Digest, QuarterReads, and Acidic Fiction. He lives in a four-person artists’ colony in the woods north of Chicago.
About the Book
No greatness was ever borne without pain… A nuclear holocaust has devastated humanity. Out of the ashes rises a new Soviet totalitarian state that bears a chilling resemblance to a major fast food chain. Everyone eats burgers and the savior of the state-approved religion has red hair, white skin, and enormous feet. Sergei, a meat farmer in the Ukraine, learns that he is actually a clone of the State’s founder and destined to become its Premier. The secret police whisk him away to Moscow where he is prepared for absolute power. Sergei is then kidnapped by a group of terrorists who are bent on overthrowing the State. They open Sergei’s eyes to the atrocities meted out by the State on its people: torture, human cloning, and dietary oppression. Sergei escapes his captors and returns to Moscow but to what end? Does he assume the Premiership or follow the terrorists in their desperate struggle?