An intense need to protect the mind of a loved one, along with society's increasing paranoia regarding privacy inspired Andrei Cherascu to write Mindguard. This sci-fi thriller is his debut work and has been very well recieved. As our Author of the Day, Cherascu tells us all about the inspiration behind Mindguard and also talks about the other books in the series.
Please give us a short introduction to what Mindguard is about.
Mindguard is about what would happen if people went to even greater lengths to hide their true thoughts and feelings.
I’m only partially kidding. The core conflict of the story hinges on the concept of isolation as the foundation of personal identity. It was inspired partly by society’s increasing paranoia regarding privacy and the extent to which we go to protect certain aspects of our lives while completely overexposing others. It’s about the walls we build around ourselves and why we feel the need to build them in the first place. I’m a very private person, though I might not seem that way most of the time, so I had a lot of behavioral “material” to study. I think the things you choose to hide about yourself say a lot more about you than the things you choose to reveal.
In a way, the story is a metaphor for going through life with the belief that you need to protect your innermost self. It’s also a metaphor for the responsibility we have for each other’s well-being. We are all the guardians of our loved ones, whether we realize it or not.
In Mindguard, a powerful telepath is hired to protect an important information package hidden inside a young woman’s mind. His mission is to help her cross this information package through a wild and dangerous territory.
How did the concepts of information packages and mind guarding originate in your mind?
I came up with the concept of a Mindguard when my wife was going through a difficult time professionally and was feeling really sad. I felt that just cheering her up wasn’t enough and found myself wishing I had the power to somehow interpose myself between her mind and whatever was troubling her. This way, everything that could hurt her would just shatter against the protective barrier of my mind. Almost instantly, the character of Sheldon Ayers appeared inside my head, fully developed. The whole Mind Malignancy universe expanded from this character. I thought to myself, “What kind of world would have to exist for a character like Sheldon Ayers to become who he is?” I love all my characters equally but Sheldon, to me, is more than a fictional character. He is an icon, an intellectual paragon in an unreasonable world. The most interesting part of writing the character was the conflict that arose from his superhuman abilities clashing with his human condition.
Mindguard was your debut novel - what was the experience like?
Panoramic. I learned everything along the way. When I started Mindguard I just knew I wanted to tell this story. I had no concept of the publishing process, much less about the self-publishing industry. By the time I had the book published I’d learned so much about this industry that it really feels like writing Mindguard was a coming-of-age of sorts. I think that also reflects in the story. I was less aware of who I am as a writer while working on it which makes it, at the same time, flawed and daring.
After receiving such positive feedback for Mindguard, have you found the expectations that came with the subsequent books difficult to deal with?
I don’t really think about expectations when I write a book. Of course, I want the readers to be happy and I do actually read reviews to find out what I can improve about my craft. However, when it comes to the actual story, I just go with what feels right to me. I generally have little regard for what makes conventional (read: financial) sense. I grew up heavily influenced by experimental music and for years my biggest creative influence was Tom Waits. I actually take a lot of storytelling cues from avant-garde music (especially in the jazz genre) and I always try to push the boundaries of the storytelling form, such as the structure of a story and its pacing. I basically write primarily to entertain myself and I’m just grateful that I have the privilege of entertaining others in the process.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block and what do you do to combat it?
I went through a very difficult stage phase writing my third book, Ayers. It lasted for months and drove me to depression and desperation. At one point, I thought I might not finish it and would have to rethink the entire series. It was the first time I’d dealt with something like this and hopefully I’ve learned enough from it to avoid ever having to deal with it again. The cause of it was that I just couldn’t commit to what sort of story I wanted to tell. I was caught up in the details of this one book until everything about the story became overwhelming and I got a headache every time I even attempted to think about it.
I now think the best way to combat something like this is to not let yourself be overwhelmed by the story you’re trying to tell. For me, what helped was taking a step back from this book and trying to look at my career as a whole, beyond this one novel. I thought about what I was trying to achieve in my life. Where was I going? Where did I see myself five years from now? Ten years from now? It made this one single story feel small by comparison and helped me get over the fear I’d developed, which I call a fear of “creative commitment”.
Do you have a favorite line from the book, and can you explain what that line means to you?
It’s a bit hard for me to think of the story in that way because I’ve spun every single line around in my head so many times it’s hard to pick a favorite. But I can tell you what my wife’s favorite line is. It’s a quote from the beginning of a chapter, spoken by a character named Isabel Mensah. It goes like this:
“When another being offers you its entire trust, whether it is an animal, a child or an adult, the care with which you handle that trust and the way in which you repay it, define your value as a human being.”
Ioana loves this line. I remember coming up with it after one of the many times I almost accidentally stepped on our Netherland dwarf bunny. Before Jazzie, we had a darling Netherland dwarf bunny that lived to be seven years old. She’d follow me around the house like a puppy and would always zig-zag around causing me to trip, completely oblivious to the fact that if I fell on top of her I would completely crush her. So, one day, I pretended to slowly step on her to see if she’d get out of the way. All she did was lie down and wait to get petted. I found that incredibly enlightening and it made me stop to think about how much she trusted me to never harm her. It’s often the case that the most profound lines come from the most mundane activities.
Why Sci-Fi? What is it about the genre that you enjoy?
I’ve always loved sci-fi for its larger-than-life nature. I think speculative fiction in general is the equivalent of fairy tales for adults. It’s comforting. It allows you to dream of greater things, for yourself, for the world. That’s what attracted me to this genre as a reader.
As a writer, it’s a bit different. I write character-driven stories. I’ve always been fascinated with the human condition, the complexities of the human psychology, why we do the things we do. The very permissive nature of speculative fiction allows me to place my characters in extraordinary situations, facing unique moral dilemmas.
Where do you like to go for inspiration?
Inspiration is a bit of a tricky term. When most people (sometimes even those who aren’t involved in creative ventures) speak of inspiration, it has the undertone of something almost mystical, as though the artist’s mind were touched by some sort of divine potency. I disagree with this point of view, so I avoid the term.
To me, creativity boils down to having good ideas and then working hard to bring them to fruition. That’s all. There’s nothing mystical or magical about it. It’s work. I love what I do so I dedicate a lot of my cognitive activity to it. When you dedicate a lot of your time and energy to something you’re bound to have some good ideas. But there are good ideas in any line of work and we don’t tend to think of them as “inspiration”. Creative professions are no different than any other type of work in this respect.
That being said, my wife and I love traveling and I spend a lot of time thinking about my work when we do. So I get some good ideas from that. But I have to admit that most of the so-called inspiration comes right after finishing a workout. Physical activity is a spectacular catalyst for good ideas for reasons that make perfect biological sense. Most of the time I work out at my local gym, where I’m usually distracted by music and people, but if I’m looking for a good “brainstorming” session I train alone in my home gym (like Batman!). That’s almost guaranteed to get me out of a rut.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
None whatsoever. I have no idea what I would do with my life if I weren’t a writer. I mean, I learn pretty quickly, if you can call that a secret skill. I can teach myself stuff to an acceptable level. I learned photo editing a few years ago and I’ve taught myself Italian to the point where I can have extended coherent conversations and make friends who don’t speak any other languages. I’m currently learning to repair wristwatches. When I’m interested in a topic I generally study it and can pick it up pretty quickly, which is useful. So there you go – I just discovered a secret skill: teaching myself stuff. I did very poorly in school but I can learn pretty quickly if left to my own devices. I also have a good singing voice. I can do jumping push-ups. I can play the theme to MASH on harmonica. Wow, now that I think about it, I might actually have more skills than I realized.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book? Does it contain an underlying message?
My greatest hope when I write something is that readers will be able to find their own underlying message. I aim to write in such a way that the story leaves enough space within to contain the reader’s experience as well as my own. I try to keep the stories as emotionally neutral as possible and do my best to keep my personal opinions out of sight, to the extent to which that is possible. That’s why I don’t generally prefer the traditional hero-villain dynamic and would much rather explore morally ambiguous characters. I try to put the characters on equal moral ground, so to speak, and encourage the reader to choose whom they want to root for, the character they relate to the most.
Did you plan from the start for this to become a series?
No, I didn’t. In fact, I wrote Mindguard thinking it might be the only book I’ll ever get to write, so I conceived it with this in mind. I threw in there everything I ever wanted to express in a science fiction book, which made the plot quite complicated. That ended up complicating my life, since I had to write four more books in the same vein. I could have made it far easier on myself and written fifteen simpler books by now and made a lot of money. I definitely didn’t “publish to market”, as they say.
But it was all for the best. The readers seem to enjoy the unorthodox style and complex plot and I got to write the book I always wanted to read, which is why I started writing in the first place (way before I suspected that making money out of this was even an option).
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on the final two books in the series, which I plan on releasing almost simultaneously. I’m also working on a novel that will be part of a multi-author project of stories set in a joint universe. That should be a ton of fun. It’s different from what I’ve written so far and I hope the readers will enjoy reading it as much as I’ve loved writing it.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
As I always stress, I love interacting with my readers. I work from home and it’s just me and my Bichon, Jazzie for most of the day, so I’m online a lot and love getting e-mails and messages. It makes the day less lonely. The easiest ways to reach me are via my e-mail address [email protected] or through my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AndreiCherascuAuthor/. I usually reply within 24 hours.
I’m also in the process of updating my website andreicherascu.com where I’ll be a lot more active in the coming months as I prepare to close the Mind Malignancy series.