Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Conversation with Joshua Bellin, Author of SURVIVAL COLONY NINE

Joshua Bellin, author of SURVIVAL COLONY NINE

Hi Josh! I'm so glad you could stop by in the days leading up to your release. So how's the debut whirlwind been? Highlights? Parts that were difficult?

Hi JRo! Thanks for inviting me to chat. The months leading up to my release have been totally crazy: working with my editor and publicist, planning my launch party, responding to interview requests--and all this while trying to live a halfway normal life with my wife and kids. Some of the best moments have been the radio interviews I did and the times I got emails from perfect strangers who'd heard about my book. The only tough part, in all honesty, has been the WAITING. I've known about my pub date for well over a year, and I want it to be here NOW!
Querry Genn is in trouble.

He can’t remember anything before the last six months. And Querry needs to remember. Otherwise he’s dead weight to the other members of Survival Colony 9, one of the groups formed after a brutal war ravaged the earth. And now the Skaldi have come to scavenge what is left of humanity. No one knows what the Skaldi are, or why they’re here, just that they can impersonate humans, taking their form before shedding the corpse like a skin.

Desperate to prove himself after the accident that stole his memory, Querry is both protected and tormented by the colony’s authoritarian commander, his father. The only person he can talk to is the beautiful Korah, but even with her, he can’t shake the feeling that something is desperately wrong. And that his missing memories are at the very center of it.

Yep, totally know that feeling. So, SURVIVAL COLONY NINE, is a science-fiction story set on earth some time after our current now. The world is dry and dusty and inhabited with these freaky, scary creatures called the Skaldi. What was your inspiration for them? And do you consider them to be the true antagonists of your story?

Great question! The Skaldi came to me in a flash of inspiration very early in the development of the story. I'd jotted down my main character's name, the setting, and a couple plot points, and then I wrote down the word "Skaldi" and knew I had my story's monsters. I didn't know yet what they were or what they could do, but the word--sort of like "scald," sort of like "skull"--just struck me as very otherworldly and menacing. As they developed, they became these terrifying body-snatchers (and I made them more terrifying with each revision, my agent and editor urging me along!). They're definitely what everyone in the story is most overtly afraid of, but as my protagonist learns, there are other threats to his colony--threats originating from inside--that may be just as monstrous.

That was one of the things I liked most about your book, is that it was not only a speculative fiction novel, but also a somewhat classic coming of age and finding self novel. Was this your intention or did this facet of the story grow as your novel did?

I'm glad you picked up on that, because it was definitely my intention from the start to have that dual focus: the epic story of humanity's struggle against the Skaldi, and the small-scale story of one teenage boy's growth toward manhood. My thinking was that even in the most terrible of circumstances, young people continue to live out the dramas of finding themselves, coming into conflict with the older generation, and so on. For example, in Anne Frank's diary, even against the context of the Holocaust, there's the story of Anne discovering who she is, fighting with her parents, and having her first crush. This isn't always the case: for instance, in Uzodinma Iweala's BEASTS OF NO NATION, a fictionalized account of orphan soldiers in Africa, the circumstances are so horrific they absolutely deny young people normal developmental milestones. But I wanted to write a book where coming of age was still possible despite--or because of--the severe challenges the post-apocalyptic world presents.

I haven't read BEASTS OF NO NATION. It sounds like one of those difficult reads that really makes an impact. So let's speak of environment. Your setting for SURVIVAL COLONY NINE is stark. What challenges did such a limited landscape provide as you were writing?

I was faced with two challenges: one, to make the desert interesting, and two, to give my narrator and the other characters a vocabulary appropriate to their experience. In the first case, there are only so many times you can describe sand and dirt and bare rock, so I tried to enliven the desert with other physical features: a nearby river, the occasional tree or valley, remnants from the built environment of the past, such as an abandoned compound, a destroyed road, a fractured pipeline. In the second case, I was limited in what characters could think or say, because so much of the old world was swept away so quickly they don't remember it. So no one would be likely to say that something is "as big as a horse" or "as tall as a skyscraper," because no one's ever seen those things, not even in photographs. The result is that my characters tend to talk and think in terms of their surroundings: the environment shapes not only what they can do but what they can imagine.

Fascinating. Yes, their world views would be very different than ours. 
So if there is one thing you want your readers to take away from Survival Colony Nine, what would it be? (or two or three :))

I'll go for three. First, I hope readers identify with my narrator's struggle to recover his past and discover his identity. Second, I hope they get drawn into my portrait of a world ravaged by war and climate change. And third, I hope they find the Skaldi as terrifying as I tried to make them.

And, okay, I'll add one more: I hope readers like SURVIVAL COLONY 9 enough that they'll ask for more!

Ah yes, there is a sequel? Title?

Well, I've written a sequel, titled SCAVENGER OF SOULS. But as I tell everyone, it doesn't have a publication date yet. I guess that'll depend a lot on how SURVIVAL COLONY 9 is received.

I will say this, though: it's a really cool sequel. It shows more of the world than is seen in SC9, has a bigger cast of characters, higher stakes, more monsters, and even more action than its predecessor (if that's possible). So here's hoping.

And final three questions! What's been playing on repeat lately? Best drink ever? and Next 3 books on your TBR pile?

Playing on repeat: that OneRepublic song I can never remember the title to. Best drink: something I invented called an Allegretto Gold. Books on TBR pile: SILVERN by Christina Farley, SALT & STORM by Kendall Kulper, and SWEET UNREST by Lisa Maxwell.

Thanks for having me, JRo! It's been fun!

Thanks so much for stopping by Josh and congratulations on SURVIVAL COLONY NINE, it's a brilliant debut!


  1. Great Interview!!! I love SC9 SOOO much! Looking forward to more!

  2. Thanks for the interview, JRo! I really enjoyed our chat!

  3. SC9 sounds like a fascinating read! Looking forward to it! Great interview!


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