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Monday, May 18, 2015

INTERVIEW with Justin Lee Anderson (author of Carpet Diem)

Good morning, all! Joining us today is Justin Lee Anderson. As one of those unfortunate authors who were left in a tough spot when Thorstruck press closed down, he persevered and ended up being picked up by Wild Wolf press instead. He joins us today to talk about Carpet Diem: Or...How to Save the World by Accident, which (as you'll see in the blurb below) sounds like a ton of quirky fun.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Justin. For those who haven't yet had a chance to enjoy your work, please tell us a little about yourself and what we can expect.

I've been writing and editing professionally for over 15 years, but Carpet Diem is my first novel. It’s an urban fantasy comedy about a hermit whose living room carpet turns out to be the deciding factor in a bet between God and Satan. Then it’s stolen, and it’s up to him to get it back – or else! It’s a witty, sexy, sweary, fantastical thriller.

Q: And it sounds like a ton of fun! The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing - as you found out when Thorstruck folded at just the wrong time. When did you begin writing, and what has the journey to publication been like?

I started this book over ten years ago, and it’s been a long evolution. That’s had a lot to do with life getting in the way of writing, but I’ve also been guilty of some industrial grade procrastination at times. I think part of the problem was believing in myself and that the book would ever be published. Luckily, I had family and friends to do that for me. I’m also a bit of a perfectionist. I think if I read the book 1000 times, I’d change something every time. The trick was in knowing when to let go!

Q: In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?

I think the ideas come easiest. You just have to be open to them and paying attention.  Things like the synopsis and summary are more difficult. Having written almost 100,000 words, it’s so difficult to sum it up briefly in a way that gives enough to make someone interested without giving away plot points that work so much better when they come as a surprise. That’s hard.

Q: Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when developing a series that touches on multiple genres. Were there any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans for the story?

I’m not a plotter. Well, I haven’t been, anyway. With Carpet Diem, I had a premise, some core characters, some clear ideas for climactic moments and major emotional beats, and with that, I set off to see where it would take me. So yes, a lot came as I was writing, including characters becoming much bigger than I had intended them to be at the start. I find it easier and more natural to have a notion of where I’m going and let the characters and events flow. Having said that, I have loosely plotted a sequel and I will be trying to use that as at least a framework – but there’s every chance the final book will look nothing like the scribbled pages of A4 I’m starting with!

Q: When it comes to writing, nothing ever turns out like we imagined, does it? On that note, when writing, do you ever consider how a reader or reviewer will react, or do you write solely for your own satisfaction?

I tried to write a book that I’d want to read. I like books that surprise me. If I see a plot twist coming a mile off because the author has foreshadowed it too heavily, I get bored. I want to not know everything. I want some mystery and I’m happy for things to come completely out of the blue. So while I definitely wrote some moments I hoped would particularly resonate with the audience, the audience I was aiming for was really just me. So I hope there are a lot of other readers out there who share my taste!

Q: Sounds like the right approach. In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?

There’s an absolute stand out that was a surprise, but of which I’m actually incredibly proud. I've been surprised by the number of women who have raved about how much they love my female characters. I consider myself a feminist, but I certainly didn't consciously set out to write good female characters – I just wanted to create strong characters. But I was genuinely shocked by the reaction. It made me very happy.

Q: To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?

Loads. Jasper FForde, Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett, Joe Abercrombie, Jo Nesbo and Carlos Ruiz Zafon have all influenced different parts of Carpet Diem. But if I have to pick just one, it’s Neil Gaiman. The breadth and depth of his imagination is just stunning. I've been a fan since I read Dream of 1000 Cats when I was 17, and I still get that same feeling of excitement every time I pick up something new of his.

Q: Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles, were your work to be optioned for the big screen?

Ooh! Good question. Incredibly, I haven’t actually thought about it before. Idris Elba would make an ideal Priest. Simon would fit Martin Freeman well, but there’s a reason that would become problematic (that’s one of those plot points I don’t want to give away!) Maggie Smith would be a great Harriet (though with the same problem as Simon). Faunt is hard. I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head who has the right kind of wiry, bohemian look. Daniel and Lily, my angel and demon, are easier. Daniel has to be David Bowie and Lily would be perfect for Evangeline Lilly (no relation).

Q: Now that's a cast I'd pay to see! Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there another story yet to be told in your latest world, or perhaps something completely different on the horizon?

As I mentioned, I've plotted a sequel to Carpet Diem. But I’ve also started a totally different project, with the working title of Eidyn. It’s a more traditional fantasy set in a world that is based on the historical origins of the different areas of Edinburgh. I started it as a YA novel, but discovered that not swearing doesn't come naturally (and feels a bit unnatural in the context), so instead it’s a little more in the vein of Joe Abercrombie crossed with a kind of role-playing feel. In fact, the main characters are based on characters that friends and I have been playing for years.  Whether I finish that first or write the sequel probably depends on how well Carpet Diem does!

Sounds promising! Thanks again for joining us in the Ruins.

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About the Author

Born in Edinburgh, Justin Lee Anderson spent a decade of his childhood bouncing around the US, following his dad’s professional football (soccer) career. He returned to the Scottish capital in his teens and, after a few brief sojourns to Dundee (for an English degree) and the South of France (for his family), settled back in the city that’s always been ‘home’.

In over 15 years of writing and editing for a living, he’s done everything from restaurant, theatre and comedy reviews to training manuals and magazines, including four years as the writer, editor and photographer for an Edinburgh guidebook. Currently working as a Content Editor, he lives with his Brady Bunch family in a permanent state of happy chaos.

He has the same initials as the Justice League of America, and his favourite writers are Neil Gaiman, Aaron Sorkin, Joe Abercrombie and Joss Whedon, in no particular order.

He misses Firefly.

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About the Book

Carpet Diem: Or...How to Save the World by Accident
by Justin Lee Anderson

Fifteen years after losing most of his family to a devastating, pudding-related tragedy, Simon Debovar has settled into a life of self-imposed exile from the stinking, selfish morass of humanity. Content that his daily highlights will include hazelnut coffee, a long bath and the occasional jar of olives, his life is completely upturned by the discovery that his ornate living room carpet is the deciding factor in a bet between God and Satan.

When mysteriously well-timed carpet thieves deprive him of the crucial heirloom, Simon is forced to leave his hermit's existence behind for a world of angels, demons, witches and immortals.

And then it gets complicated.

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