I was very lucky to get in on this tour. Stalking a publisher on facebook pays off let me tell you. After initially discovering ChiZine and all their awesome authors with covers that make this cover whore swoon I begged, pleased and got an interview with David. He’s back again to tell us about his new book Rasputin’s Bastards which I think should be on every TBR list. Add it now.
- What was the inspiration behind Rasputin’s Bastards?
Rasputin’s Bastards is a big book, so there’s not just one inspiration. I started out, I guess, wanting to do something on the broad canvas of the Cold War. In the late ’90s, I’d published a collaborative novel with Karl Schroeder, The Claus Effect, that in its way fooled around with the former Soviet Union. But it was an unabashedly comic novel—Santa Claus was the villain—and it was quite short. I felt that there was a bit more to be said.
I had also spent a great many years of my childhood embroiled in the 1970s world of the New Age, bopping around psychic fairs and Transcendental Meditation retreats with my mom. And I wanted to explore some of the ideas and experiences that came out of that. So that drew me to the idea of psychic spies who are actually adept at remote viewing, mind control and out-and-out telepathy.
And of course, I have always had an unhealthy fascination with giant squid. I’ve written about them in short form (a novella called Wylde’s Kingdom, which appeared in Claude Lalumière‘s Tesseracts 12 anthology).
- Did you do any research for the books?
I did some research, but not as much as you might think. I spent a fair bit of time learning about the biology of giant squid (thanks to my friend, sf author and marine biologist Peter Watts for all the help). Part of the book took place in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, and I looked into that. I boned up on Cold-War era spycraft from various sources.
But Rasputin’s Bastards is a fanciful book, and a lot of the research I drew from my own experience. There’s a hotel in Manhattan that I stayed in during my first visit there that I used as a basis for the Emissary Hotel that serves as one of the bases for the Russian expat psychics. The psychic abilities themselves—or rather, their application, stemmed from various things that people my mother knew were into in the 1970s. I’ve never spent time in Labrador, where much of the book takes place, but I have spent time in remote spots in northern Ontario; I drew the sense of isolation, the beauty of a short summer, from that.
- Did this story just flow for you or did you have moment where it was hard to get out?
A bit of both. The book was a long, slow process, and it was my own fault. I decided with this one, I wouldn’t work from a detailed outline; I was enamoured of the idea of letting the story flow from its own often bizarre logic, and felt that an outline would constrain that.
That meant that there were some wonderful moments where the tale would just tell itself, spinning out in surprising directions that entertained me as much, I hope, as it will at least a few readers.
But that meant that there were also points where I completely stumped myself. Young writers take note: outlines are generally a very good idea for authors on a deadline.
- What do you do during those moments when the muse will not cooperate?
I did some of the above. Also, I would talk it out. In the later stages of the writing, Peter Watts and I were beginning a habit of early-morning runs along Toronto’s waterfront, or up into the river valley of the Don River. We called these the Girly-Man runs; which is to say that if one of us jammed on the run because he was too sleepy, or hung-over, or just wanted to drink coffee and eat croissants, that one was a “girly man.” It worked for that; also for hashing out difficulties each of us were having making our stories come together. Past year or so, that’s fallen off. I should give Peter a call and go out now.
- What is the next story we can look forward to from you?
Right now I’m at work on a new novel, working title The ‘Geisters. It is a ghost story, sort-of, about poltergeists, the modern marriage and inconstant husbands. If I can keep on schedule, I should have it delivered to ChiZine by November; then, with luck, we’ll see it out in 2013.
And now to wet your appetite for Rasputin’s Bastards. Here is an excerpt that I have to share. Enjoy
The face looming over his own could have belonged to God: an old, tired, and infinitely pissed-off God.
Well, thought Alexei Kilodovich as he gazed up into His heavenly glare, He has every right to be. God must have better places to be than here out in the rain on the deck of a boat in the middle of an Atlantic night, pulling an undeserving wretch like Alexei Kilodovich out of the drink. One small eye squinted as a rivulet of water ran into a tiny pink tear duct from the broad slope of His forehead.
“What the fuck happened to you?” He demanded.
Alexei looked back at the face and considered the question, and the unspoken questions that cascaded from that one.
How did you get that bruise on your own forehead, all yellow and blue and soft? How did you wind up in that little dingy, here in the Atlantic? How could you let Mrs. Kontos-Wu down? Leave her to the Romanians?
How could you be so stupid?
Alexei opened his mouth to answer. But the truth stuck in his throat like a bone.
“I remember nothing,” he lied, and with that lie he settled into a new role: the amnesiac castaway, confused and grateful and frightened—but most of all confused—as much a mystery to himself as he is to his benefactors.
“Ah,” said God, “should have let you drown.” And He pulled away and vanished in the dark.
“Did your boat sink?” It was a new face this time—a long one, with a little van Dyke beard and a head shaved bald. His breath smelled funny—like burning sugar, and something beyond. The smell came and went as a sea breeze.
“I do not—” Alexei paused, to frown and think on the question, or at least give the appearance of honest thought “—I do not remember.”
“What about its name?” asked a young woman who sounded American—possibly from the southern States, maybe Georgia. “Your boat’s name.”
“It was—” Alexei made a show of snapping his fingers, as if the noise alone would summon up the name like a well-trained dog.
“No,” he said. “I am sorry.”
“What are you doing off Maine?” said the bald man. “You sound Russian or something.”
“Maine?” said Alexei. The woman was pulling up the rope ladder from their own boat. This one was at least as large as the Romanians’ big cabin cruiser—from the brief glimpse of it he’d gotten as it approached his raft, he’d guessed it might be even larger, and more opulent. From inside the main cabin, Alexei could hear faint music—although he couldn’t tell what kind, against the noise of the ocean. Yellow light shone warm as a fire through the curtains of a nearby porthole. It all should have conspired to give him comfort. . . .
Comfort is the torturer’s first tool. Succumb to that, and you’ve failed already. Who had said that? Alexei frowned, and shivered. Maybe the amnesia trick wasn’t such a lie after all.
“You can’t not know where Maine is,” said the woman. She had the hood of her raincoat up, so he couldn’t see much of her. But the skin on her face shone like a seal pelt in the misting rain, and her eyes, small and suspicious, flashed at him. “You can’t,” she repeated.
“It is in the United States,” replied Alexei. He let a sliver of uncertainty creep into the trailing sentence for effect. “Sure.”
“So you haven’t forgotten everything,” said the woman. “What year is it? You know that?”
“1997,” he said, and she said, “See?”
She threw her hood back, damp hair falling to her shoulders in faux-Rasta Medusa-snakes. She was younger than he’d thought—not more than twenty-five, certainly, with an oval face, scorched eyebrows and small dark eyes—and in the act of pulling back the hood, the accusation in her eyes had changed to a kind of triumph.
Alexei let his hand flutter up to the cut on his forehead. “Ah,” he said, and loosened his knees. Take me to a bunk, he willed, as he let his eyes turn up into his skull and relaxed his shoulders before he hit the hard wood slats of the deck.Take me inside, make me warm and well, and save your questions for the morning.
“Take him inside,” shouted the bald man. “Get him warmed up, and lay off the questions—plenty of time for that later. Okay, Heather?”
Alexei had to fight to keep his mouth slack, suppress the smile. His mother would have said he’d had the power. The strength of a Koldun, a lodge wizard, going through him. She had believed in that kind of thing.
Heather grunted something and took hold of an arm. Another crewmember took Alexei’s other arm, and together they hefted him off the deck. Alexei was a big man—no fat on him, but like they used to say back at school, he had lead in his muscles. He let them drag him under the canopy and inside, down some stairs to the warm lower deck where the cabins were. Long before the crew selected a bunk for him, gotten him out of his sodden clothes and wrapped him in thick woolen blankets, Alexei slipped into genuine unconsciousness—a blank, dreamless oblivion that erased Mrs. Kontos-Wu, the Romanians, and the kids. Especially them: the little bastard kids that put him in this predicament to begin with.