Jennifer is not one for heights—apparently, if she gets more than four feet off the ground her hands lock and she can’t let go of whatever she’s hanging on to—so, I offered to transport us to my ship via my crystal beam device, even though its annoying transit squeal makes you a little queasy. Despite this, Jennifer insisted on us using it...She must be a Taurus...So, I made the calculations and we set off. I remember glancing at her between gritting my teeth to the screaming crystal beam as she blithely popped a chocolate-covered marshmallow with toasted coconut she'd gotten from Picard’s into her mouth (I had no idea she knew Jean-Luc that well! All he ever gave me was red wine—albeit, a wonderful Merlot from his own vineyard...).
Anyway, once onboard, we settle in the aft lounge with two Labbatts Blues (she’s a Canadian, after all, eh?) and I let her glance in curious wonder at the view of the Earth below as I prepare my onslaught of questions by skimming the blurb of her book on her awesome publisher’s site, Dragon Moon Press, that I cued on my handheld:
Apprenticed to the Graduate Supervisor from Hell . . .
Deformed by the Desert he had been born in, Antronos had fought hard to overcome the stigma of being a surface dweller and make his place in the underground civilization of the Temlochti State. Finally accepted in academia, he graduates with a degree in medicine and accepts a position as a graduate student in the laboratory of Sen Vernus, a Professor Emeritus who demonstrates an extensive and arcane knowledge of longevity.
The weak-willed Lord Jait possesses psychic power he has no idea how to use—power that Vernus can use to possess others. The 'longevity' studies progress from stealing body parts to control over entire beings. Can Antronos resist the mind invasions of Vernus or will he destroy Lord Jait, the very man he has vowed to save?
Mid-way through Jennifer's appreciative swig of her beer, I sock it between her eyes with my first question:
SF Girl: “Being an ecologist alien, I was both curious and entranced with the setting of your book, Longevity Thesis. You mentioned that Temlocht (one of five regions of this world) is a Desert wasteland, where magnetic forces (actually magical forces) cause the Desert to rearrange itself constantly so that travelers get lost and the landscape is always changing with the undead appearing and disappearing; people who live on the Desert surface are considered freaks or barbarians by the ‘civilized’ population who live underground. What inspired you to create these incredible settings and did you draw from any personal experiences?”
JR: “Hmm...” She purses her lips in thought. “It seems I can’t answer this question without revealing what a nerd I am—”
SF Girl: “Nerd? What’s a nerd?”
JR: She ignores my interruption with a few dismissive blinks—another Taurus trait, I think—and doggedly proceeds to explain, like she would to a child, “They were inspired [partly] by the Rutherford Library on the U of Alberta Campus, which is the most amazing library I’ve ever been in...with several levels and ancient books...”
SF Girl: “You’ve described Longevity Thesis as dark fantasy. What do you mean by that?”
JR: Her eyes sparkle with the challenge of my brilliant question. “Well, the story is a bit macabre in places. Hard science is unnecessary for explaining the overall plot, and it is also extremely far-fetched. Ergo, dark fantasy.”
SF Girl: “How long did it take to research and write Longevity Thesis?”
JR: She gives me a slanted smile. “I think I wrote a really awful version of it when I was twelve—there were spaceships and dimensional crossovers in it back then—and then seriously started trying to write it properly when I was twenty. I first tried to get it published sometime between the ages of 26 to 28, and then realized that it needed some serious reworking. I was in the Critters Workshop for about three years and ran the novel through 3 or 4 times. The final rewrite took 8 months (all spaceships deleted) and was finished in December of 2003. So, in total, [it took me] twenty-one years.”
WOW! Maybe that’s why she called it the Longevity Thesis.
SF Girl: “What makes you write?”
JR: “I suppose the desire to remain somewhat sane. I need an outlet and this is it. I get a lot of satisfaction and peace from having a story come together.”
SF Girl: “How did you get started writing?”
JR: “Uh...I think it was when my Mum first gave me a pencil [when] I was two...”
SF Girl: I curb a frown at the brazen cleverness of her response and scramble for an equally clever comeback as Jennifer pops back another mouthful of Blue and lets her gaze stray to the window facing the breathtaking view of the Earth. “Earlier, you told me that you’re currently working as a post doc in the cancer research field. In a prior post on your blog, you mentioned how you had to put to rest the question that some of your academic characters (e.g., Jait and Vernus) in no way resembled your previous PhD or MSc supervisors...So where DID they come from?”
JR: I catch her shifting in her chair and let a predatory smile tug my lips. “[Some] are complete fabrications, [others] are all seeded from slivers of my own personality, which were greatly exaggerated for entertainment purposes. Atronos [arose] from a weird dream I had...I decided to include him in the novel because I needed a ‘glue’ character to string all the sequences together—”
SF Girl: “But didn’t your PhD supervisor say—” I catch her glancing around in search of a screen...I’d promised her anime, after all. Calling my bluff, Jennifer surges to her feet with a pointed glance at her watch.
JR: “Oh, I’m late for a lab session with my two trainees. Thanks, SF Girl.” She claps the beer down on the table and adds, “I really must go!”
Then she activates the crystal beam without me showing her how (another Taurus trait, I guess) and disappears. Lab session...Sure...I know better...She’s probably off manga shopping.
...I leave you with an excerpt of Longevity Thesis, Chapter One:
Chapter 1: Awakening
Antronos was being swallowed by the Desert. He stood petrified, watching a great wall of sand heave upwards and seethe past him overhead, covering his world in red gloom. Turning to look back towards his mother's hovel, praying it hadn't disappeared, he found he was somewhere else entirely—in an instant, all had changed. The sky churned and a vortex of wind stretched down from the red, sooty clouds to touch the ground and tease the sand into a great column that tipped sideways, and slowly writhed towards him, like a great, opened maw. At his feet, stones were sliding towards that opening, becoming caught up in the spiralling wind and tumbling out of sight. He called out to his mother, his trembling, skinny hands clutching the few dried brambles he had found, as he continued to turn in a circle looking for what he knew would not be there. Hell had returned.
Longevity Thesis will be on sale this September at Amazon.com. You can pre-order it now.
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.