Brian Blose is a software developer and army veteran who enjoys reading and writing fiction that contains flawed heroes, unreliable narrators and moral dilemmas. His book, The Participants, is no exception and had readers glued to the story until the very last page. As our author of the day, Blose chats about the Heinsenberg uncertainty principle, how TV shows from the 90s inspired this book and gives us some behind-the-scenes insights in the creation of The Participants.
Please give us a short introduction to The Participants
Zack Vernon commits suicide by armed robber to escape the pain of his life. Unfortunately, he doesn't stay dead, being immortal. The media circus caused by his resurrection draws other Observers to him. They think he's the reincarnation of someone named Hess and intend to make him regret whatever that guy did. It's this weird mix of paranormal, thriller, and sci-fi.
What inspired the story of the Observers?
There were many ideas that sort of gelled in a weird combination, and I immediately knew I had to write this story. The first idea was inspired by the 90's era shows about angels. My mother loved those things, but as a young Stephen King reader, I always thought it would be more interesting if the angels were a tad more sinister. And logically, the individual creating these less-than-cuddly angels couldn't be a loving deity. The second idea was inspired by Last Thursdayism - a troll belief system that states the world was created last Thursday with a complete backstory so no one knows any better. It was too odd of an idea to not write about. And the third inspiration were movies like The Bourne Identity. I can't explain why these types of films were an inspiration without spoiling a major plot point.
How has your experience in the Army influenced your writing?
After 9/11, I spent a year pulling base security in Hohenfels, Germany. Between searching incoming vehicles and conducting roving patrols, there was a lot of time to think about things. As a young man tasked with guarding a military base, a lot of my thinking tended to be about ways that I, knowing what I know, would sneak onto the base. My understanding of security procedures and the psychology of someone on guard duty has been a great asset to me when crafting realistic action scenes. (For anyone curious about what guards really do at o'dark thirty, it's pretty much a guarantee that a film, a B.S. session, or a cosmo magazine quiz are involved.)
Why are you such a fan of unreliable narration and flawed characters?
I've never met a flawless person in real life, which makes all those flawless characters running around in fiction ring hollow to me. Flaws are a key part of who we are as people. There's a reason why no one likes a perfect Mary Sue / Gary Stu character - they're shallow wish-fulfillment vehicles. So I think everyone likes flawed characters, whether or not they realize it.
As far as my love of unreliable narration goes, that's directly related to my compulsion to solve puzzles. When the viewpoint you're reading is tinted by the personality and opinions of the character, you have a puzzle to solve: what is really happening in the story. Before you can answer that question, you have to figure out where the character is coming from and what they want. If a writer intertwines the plot progression with clues hidden in the truths behind the lies, things become interesting. I love writing these types of characters almost as much as I love reading them.
The Participants is a real page turner. What are some tricks you like to use to keep readers fascinated until the very end?
Thanks! One of the things I enjoy as a reader, and strive to provide as a writer, is variety. I do my best to balance narrative, dialog, exposition, and all of the elements that make up a story. Too much of the same is boring. And because I have the great gift of being easily bored, it's obvious to me when a scene of mine needs to be trimmed or spiced up.
I also put a lot of effort into streamlining the narrative. While "show, don't tell" is great advice, sometimes a one paragraph summary of mundane events gets the job done better than two pages of vivid (and unnecessary) description. My preference is to tell the mundane sections in as few words as possible to better focus on the parts of the story that really matter.
Your characters are very relatable - readers can really feel the fear and tension in Zack that drives him to desperation. How did you pull this off?
Zack lives a mostly normal existence, immortality notwithstanding, and then his life goes to Hell when vindictive Observers get their hands on him. He doesn't deserve the whirlwind of violence that disrupts his life -- very often in modern fiction, characters seem so intent on earning a Darwin award that it's hard to be sympathetic. I think readers are able to feel for my characters because the mistakes they make are understandable. As for the tension, I think that comes across because I am a bit more explicit with violence than is typical. And fundamentally, Zack is a good guy. A bit emo at times, sure, but he really wants other people to be happy.
The book contains quite a couple of twists. Did you plan them all out before you started writing or did they just "happen" as you went along?
I am very much an outliner. I wrote the entire plot out on a single page with a sentence or two for each chapter; then I turned that single page outline into a 10-page outline; then I turned the outline into a complete manuscript. It's very important to me that any plot twist be appropriately foreshadowed. When my readers get to a plot twist, I want their reaction to be "whoa, that is surprising yet inevitable", not "that came out of nowhere" or "I saw that coming a mile away." The larger of the two outlines actually included directions like "include hints about event X this chapter." Long story short, everything was planned to death.
The Participants brings up the moral dilemma about simply being an observer or actually becoming a participant. What inspired you to write about this theme?
When I first learned about the Heinsenberg uncertainty principle, I did exactly what any respectable speculative fiction writer would do and imagined it to be literally true. That thought experiment didn't get very far, but I really liked the fact that all observation necessarily involves some level of participation. It broke the dichotomy in my mind between those two antonyms. The idea lurked in the back of my mind for a decade and a half before I realized it would be a good fit with a story idea about non-angels. It became more important to the story over time because it provided so much material for me to work with.
Why did you make Hess and Elza different from the other observers?
All of the Observers are distinct in their own way. Due to the viewpoints used in The Participants, there isn't a lot of opportunity to appreciate the unique traits of anyone other than our two leads. All of them share a weariness with existence. These Observers have been alive for hundreds of thousands of years. Probably the one thing that sets Hess and Elza apart from the others more than anything is the fact that they haven't faced all those years alone.
Tell us a bit about your writing habits - do you work best during the day or night? How do you stay productive?
Due to my job being of the day variety, I am by default a night writer. I try to write at least an hour a night after the kids go to bed. Unfortunately, this is also the only time it is safe to watch non-PG television. Netflix is without a doubt my biggest hurdle to productivity. When I do manage to get away from all the distractions, I still have the problem of being a slow and deliberative writer. I am one of those cantankerous individuals who has to put down the exact right word the first time. I sometimes waste fifteen minutes on a single word. The benefit of this is that I don't have as much work to do in revisions.
Did you plan from the start to make this into a series? How do the other books in the series tie in with The Participants?
Extending the book into a trilogy was always my hope, depending on how readers responded to the first one. I tried to craft an ending that could satisfy but still leave the door open for future books. The rest of the series explores the cost of immortality and delves further into the history of all of the Observers. Their experiences -- those chronicled in the first book and others -- have left lasting scars. Many of the best elements of the first book were reproduced in the next two. There are thriller elements, plot twists, lots of action, and meaningful developments.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
The best place to keep up to date with my work or contact me is on my author website http://brianblose.com