My guest today is Andrew Peters a young man who has a number of very well received books in his backlist including a critically acclaimed series about feline shifters and two fascinating YA books based on the Atlantis myth. I’ve known Andrew for a while now and have been following his publishing career with glee, but I was surprised and touched when he suggested that we did a ‘read and interview ‘ swap in celebration of his latest release, Banished Sons of Poseidon, the second of his Atlantis books. Since this was on my ‘to read’ list anyway I was delighted to get an ARC. [Honestly if you haven’t yet tried the series give it a go. The first book is The Seventh Pleiade which can be found here.]
Anyway – here we go with the questions. Many thanks to Andrew for suggesting the format.
So first of all – subject matter. At first sight a YA treatment of the Greek myths and a contemporary paranormal series about shifter politics seem an odd mixture but I noticed a theme in both series of ordinary humans faced with something beyond their experience and having to come to terms both with it and their own response to it. Does that theme fascinate you or is that just the way the stories pan out?
That’s an interesting observation. It’s not something I’ve reflected on before in quite that way. I approached my Werecat series from a lost myth and mysticism point-of-view, so I usually talk about those things being a common thread in the two series.
I’m a diehard fan of underdogs, and perhaps that attitude touches on the theme you mention. One thing that led me into writing fantasy was the lack of gay heroes in commercial lit, and more generally, the tendency of fantasy heroes to be a bit too perfect for my taste. It’s not engaging for me to write or read about a hero who has all the tools and privileges to get the job done. I’m more interested in the hero’s flaws and his moral dilemmas and the possibility of someone who doesn’t fit the mold accomplishing feats that better the world.
In both series you have been faced with the problems inherent in keeping track of a large cast, their names, appearance, quirks and relationships. How on earth do you do this? I ask from the POV of a person who once found she had used the same name for three different bit part characters in the same novel.
I appreciate that confession. I spend a lot of time coming up with character and place names that don’t sound similar to something I’ve used before. I even go through the alphabet so that they don’t start with the same letter. That’s as much for my own benefit as the reader’s. 🙂
For The Seventh Pleiade, I made a character spreadsheet, and I also did some fun things like have each character answer a magazine-style quiz. Vanity Fair has a feature where they ask celebrities to respond to the famous Proust Questionnaire, and they do these great, satirical “intelligence reports” comparing the quirks and habits of political candidates or pop culture personae. I think it’s a great exercise for writers to put their characters through those tests. (Here’s a link to one of VF’s Proust Questionnaires: http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2014/11/amy-poehler-proust-questionnaire)[Note from Elin: I have no idea who Amy Poeler is but I would not trust this person to babysit]
Believe it or not, I trimmed the number of characters in The Seventh Pleiade during rewrites. I realize that my tendency to create a cast of thousands can be intimidating. Most of the time I can’t help myself. I love stories with epic casts of characters like Russian novels and fantasy works by Tolkien and George R.R. Martin.
In The Seventh Pleiade the hero is the well born youth Aerander but in the follow up, Banished Sons of Poseidon, you change the focus to Dam, his cousin, whose reputation was less than stellar in the first book. What is it about Dam that made you feel his story had to be told?
Dam grew on me as I was writing The Seventh Pleiade, and I was surprised by the intensity of the interaction between him and Aerander. I think what happened was that mysterious phenomenon of a character telling the author what was really going on in the story. In this case, it felt like Aerander told me that in the midst of the big disaster he’s trying to stop, his relationship with his cousin Dam was really central to him emotionally. Banished Sons of Poseidon allowed me to explore that relationship further and to iron out the unfinished business between the two boys.
I also felt that Dam deserved the opportunity to explain himself. It bothered me to hear that some readers responded to him negatively in the first book. He does start out as a dark, troubled character, but my hope was that my treatment of him opened up a more nuanced response to his actions.
In your Atlantis series I noticed many familiar names and terms but all had been treated in a unique way. How difficult was it to come up with new ways of handling the old concepts and were you ever tempted to cut corners and go along with Plato?
I was probably rather fanatical about that balance because the premise of the books is that Plato’s account is an authentic history, but relying on nine thousand years of oral histories, the story got stretched into a tale of Greek nationalism and left out some rather important bits.
Plato’s account is quite intriguing in that he gives us an unusually detailed description of the size, geography, and even the city plan for Atlantis. But with the exception of the inviolable Poseidon, he tells us very little about the histories of the people who inhabited the kingdom. He merely lists these wonderfully eccentric names for Poseidon’s wife and sons, which for me were too good not to use in the story. I invented Aerander and his contemporaries of course since they were dozens of generations removed from the country’s founding fathers. I also introduced the idea of people of different nationalities and cultures living in Atlantis because that seemed important to depict life in a kingdom that had conquered the globe.
In terms of the downfall of Atlantis, Plato invokes the familiar theme of hubris and Zeus’s retribution. That was something I wanted to portray with a little more light and shade. It seemed too neat to me, and in Plato’s account, he leaves the story unfinished at a critical moment. That made me think that maybe he was hiding the truth of what really happened, or maybe he was hiding that he didn’t really know. I happily filled in a conspiracy to explain the “true” story of Atlantis’s downfall. It’s a long way around your question, but I felt like I was on a bit of a mission to show what really happened to Atlantis so the creative liberties felt like opportunities more so than challenges.
Your Atlantis books are Young Adult and so are fairly chaste in their depiction of relationships. Your werecats have a more contemporary vibe. Are you able to maintain the mindset required to write one or the other or did you sometimes think “oh dear, I’d better tone this down/spice this up?”
I think I’m on sturdier ground with the “fairly chaste” approach. With me, sex scenes can get a little purple. One reviewer (from Kirkus) used the term “Chatterly-esque,” which I suppose could be flattering in some circles but not especially in the Young Adult universe.
I admire authors like you who can write intimate moments elegantly. I got a lot more practice writing sex in the Werecat series, and hopefully that shows. That story is more action/adventure than romance or certainly erotica, so I wrote sex on the page when it made sense for the story. It did take pushing myself a bit.
As a life long storyteller [*nods* yes I have read your FAQ on your website] is there one story you’ve been longing to tell for years but haven’t got round to yet?
I’m glad someone is visiting my website. I shelved a half dozen or so stories that I haven’t gotten around to. A lot of my early work was on the absurd side, and I left it behind when I took the dive into the more sober realm of fantasy.
Maybe we’ll look back at this interview in ten years and say: you heard it here first. I’ve had this silly idea of writing a horror spoof based on zombie squirrels. Or maybe the literary world will get lucky and never have to deal with that title. Aren’t you glad you asked? 🙂
I know that you work with LGBT youth. What advice would you give to young and aspiring writers? What advice did you find most useful to you when you were starting out? The two aren’t necessarily the same – the state of the publishing/marketing business changes yearly.
It’s interesting because some of the earliest advice and feedback I received was not especially encouraging, and I try to not continue that negative cycle when talking to writers who are starting out. I’m thinking about my college writing classes which were pretty brutal and competitive and the cynical attitude of older writers I came in contact with who basically told me: “Enjoy writing now. The fun ends when you get published.”
I kind of filtered through that, and I certainly did receive some great advice along the way with regard to staying disciplined as a writer, reading as much as you can, being experimental (for example, I can’t write poetry to save my life, but I do it as an exercise to strengthen my writing), and taking advantage of the opportunities that come your way. Regarding the latter, some simple, sage advice that stayed with me was: Just get your work out there. Doesn’t matter big or small the platform. Every publication is an opportunity to connect with readers.
Will there be a follow up to Poseidon? I really hope that there will be. I can’t really say any more without spoilers but you left me with some questions unanswered and that’s always a good sign.
Great to hear the story left you wanting more. I mention in my author’s note to Banished Sons that I hadn’t expected to write a follow up to The Seventh Pleiade, so I’m hesitant to give you an unequivocal no. But I’m afraid I don’t have immediate plans to return to those characters and that setting. I have a bunch of other things brewing on my writing stove right now. But who knows what the future holds?
What can we expect from you over the next couple of years? Also what are you working on at the moment?
I’m quite excited about 2016 because I have two books coming out. The first is Poseidon and Cleito, which takes the Atlantis legend from its pre-formative years. The second is The City of Seven Gods, which is a strange, gritty, sort of ancient world alternative history novel. They’re both openers in two different series so I’m going to have my hands full! Right now, I’m finishing the final installment in the Werecat series.
Many thanks, Andrew, for answering my questions so gallantly, and good luck with your releases next year.
Author Bio:Andrew J. Peters is the author of the Werecat series, The Seventh Pleiade and its forthcoming follow-up Banished Sons of Poseidon.
He grew up in Buffalo, New York, studied psychology at Cornell University, and has spent most of his career as a social worker and an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth. A lifelong writer, Andrew has been a contributing writer at The Good Men Project, YA Highway, Reading Teen, Dear Teen Me, La Bloga, and Layers of Thought among other media. Andrew lives in New York City with his partner Genaro and their cat Chloë.
After escaping from a flood that buried the aboveground in seawater, a fractured group of boys contend with the way ahead and their trust of an underground race of men who gives them shelter. For sixteen-year-old Dam, whose world was toppling before the tragedy, it’s a strange, new second chance. There are wonders in the underworld and a foreign warrior Hanhau who is eager for friendship despite Dam’s dishonorable past.
But a rift between his countrymen threatens to send their settlement into chaos. Peace between the evacuees and Hanhau’s tribe depends on sharing a precious relic that glows with arcane energy. When danger emerges from the shadowed backcountry, Dam must undertake a desperate mission. It’s the only hope to make it home to Atlantis. It’s the only way to save Hanhau and his people.