Colin Dodds - A Mesmerizingly Fascinating and Addictive Story
Colin Dodds is the author of several acclaimed books, including Pharoni, Ms. Never and Windfall. He grew up in Massachusetts and lived in California briefly, before finishing his education in New York City. Since then, he’s made his living as a journalist, editor, copywriter and video producer. His work has appeared in Gothamist, The Washington Post and more than three hundred other publications, and been praised by luminaries such as David Berman and Norman Mailer. A retired poet, Colin’s collection Spokes of an Uneven Wheel was published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company. His short films have been selected by festivals around the world and he once built a twelve-foot-high pyramid out of PVC pipe, plywood and zip ties. Forget This Good Thing I Just Said, a first-of-its-kind literary and philosophical experience (the book form of which was named a finalist for the Big Other Book Prize for Nonfiction), is now available as an app for the iPhone. He lives in New York City, with his wife and children. As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about his book, Windfall.
Please give us a short introduction to what Windfall is about.
An assassin tries to avenge his dead girlfriend and avert a civil war. But first, he must exorcize the demon that possesses him.
What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this? Why did you make a white-collar assassin your main protagonist?
The inspiration for it is the same question that inspires a lot of books – how is someone like myself supposed to live in this world? WINDFALL the book is a hard-edged, intricately plotted thriller. But personally, it’s an attempt to imagine some form of reconciliation between the sophisticated, professional world around me and something grandiose, bestial and altogether unpleasant I felt within myself at the time.
The protagonist is a lawyer by trade, on the surface. But that’s just not getting it done. And he finds this other profession, which pays, and which indulges that terrible interior voice. The blank surface of an Acela-corridor lawyer makes him the last person anyone would ever suspect. The idea that someone would submit to four years of college, another two years of law school, the tests, the ritual indignities of early-career work, and still be capable of cold-blooded murder is so far-fetched, that he can move through the world effortlessly. But more than that, it’s also the contradiction that propels the story.
You also worked as a video producer. How different is this from writing stories?
It’s not that different. It’s the same impulse - to make a series of sensations add up to something that’s comprehensible and makes emotional sense.
With videos, you work with people, places, situations and real limitations, and have to constantly adapt. In fiction, you get to make it all up, but you also have to make it all up.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’ve coached girls’ softball. I’ve built a twelve-foot-high pyramid out of plywood, zip ties and pvc pipe. I can read a company’s annual report. I make a good Manhattan.
In which way, would you say, is Windfall different from other political thrillers?
The supernatural aspect of demonic possession is unique. It’s a way of tying together history, political adventurism, the psychology of seeking power, and the brassy spiritual tenor of trying to change the world in one single, unsettling package. But aren’t politics always a little unsettling? And didn’t The Exorcist take place in Washington DC (or Georgetown at least)? Setting the action of the book within a demonic context – albeit not one explicitly Catholic – lends a tone to the action and the characters that doesn’t exist in any of my other books.
There is also some conspiracy weaved into the story. Tell us more about this.
More than an element, conspiracy is the setting for much of the book. Conspiracy theories can be fascinating – they’re like fiction that has to also solve for everything we see in consensus reality. James Ellroy did a great job turning conspiracy theories into great characters and action in his American Tabloid series.
What I admired about those books was how he attempted to answer one of the big mysteries about conspiracies, namely – who actually does all the nefarious stuff? I get wanting power and plotting and secret meetings. But who are you going to get to actually intimidate witnesses, send a bomb in the mail, or poison someone with a heart-attack pill? Who’s going to expose themselves to legal and mortal peril for a scheme they don’t even necessarily understand?
In this book, Seth is that guy, until he isn’t anymore. The book is about how he became that guy, how he lived that way, and what changed.
How much research did Windfall require from you?
A fair amount. I read a lot about possession and exorcisms, about oil shale and the Teapot Dome scandal, about Aaron Burr and conspiracy theories, a lot of things.
At the time I was writing it, there wasn’t anything in the news about foreign plots to subvert the functioning of our electoral politics, or the integrity of the federal government in the United States, so I was free to make that much up from scratch.
What was your greatest challenge when writing this book?
The exorcism. It was hard, because it was so far outside my experience, and because I had an idea of what it should be that was completely different from the materials I was reading.
For the character, it’s personal and solitary, which can be difficult to express dramatically, especially from a third-person perspective. It's also perhaps the most original part of the book.
What are you working on right now?
The first is a new version of Forget This Good Thing I Just Said, an oracle in print and on the iPhone. The (free) app combines a random-number-generator with original aphorisms to help users answer their most pressing questions. The new version will have a bunch of features to make it a more effective oracle. And there will be a new book, containing the next 600 aphorisms, scheduled to launch along with the updated app this year.
I’m also doing some promotion around my newest novel Pharoni, which was just named a Notable 100 Book in Shelf Unbound’s Best Books of the Year List, a Finalist in Reader Views’ Annual Fiction Award, and Quarterfinalist in ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Competition. I’ve also had some luck with festival selections and awards for a short film I wrote, and for a feature-length screenplay of mine. I’m trying to see if I can make some of that small success open a door or two.
And I’m working on a novel about the illegitimate sons of Santa Claus.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
They can buy my books. The second-best place to find more work is at thecolindodds.com and if they want to hire me they can reach out at [email protected].