Author Jack Conner has written many books filled imaginative worlds and unique characters. For our first Science Fiction month, he graciously agreed to an interview to talk about his epic Steampunk Science Fiction adventure series, the Atomic Sea.
Kayla Perisho-Denley: The Atomic Sea is an amazing, unique, epic Science Fiction journey; can you tell us a little bit about this series?
Jack Conner: Imagine an epic fantasy structure and feel with a more steampunkish / sci-fi aesthetic, featuring fish-people, zeppelins, world war, Lovecraftian gods and more creepy monstrosities than you can shake a stick at, and you’ll have some idea of the nature of The Atomic Sea.
To give you more specifics about the setting and plot . . .
In the world the series takes place in, the oceans have almost completed a transformation begun, mysteriously, a thousand years ago. No one knows why the seas began to change, but the change has spread from one salty body of water to another. All the creatures in the waters have become mutated and strange, and to eat seafood from the sea or to have contact with it will infect a person with the taint of the so-called Atomic Sea. The person will sicken, and if they survive will be transformed–into a fish-person, a lobster-person, a shrimp-person or what-have-you. There are infinite varieties of mutation.
The main character is Dr. Francis Avery, a widower who lost his wife and child at the hands of the sinister Empire of Octung, which is now trying to take over the world–and succeeding. Dr. Avery is serving his country of Ghenisa aboard a military whaling ship far out at sea when a mysterious woman is drawn from the toxic waters. For some inexplicable reason, she’s alive and unaltered by the sea. As Avery nurses her back to health, he learns that she holds the key to stopping Octung–if she can survive that long. She’ll need Avery’s help to do it, along with the ragtag band he assembles. Thus begins an epic adventure spanning many continents and countries, as well as an exploration of the strange, mad world wrought by the Atomic Sea . . . and the forces that made it.
Perisho-Denley: The Atomic Sea also features a uniquely intricate world. What inspired you to create this world and story?
Conner: That’s a great question, and it was certainly inspired by a range of things. From Mike Mignola to Lovecraft, and from Tolkien to Robert E. Howard, just to name a few. The Atomic Sea series actually grew out of my novels Nightmare City and City of Shadows. I had been writing traditional epic fantasy for years (see War of the Black Tower and Lord of the Black Land) and was in the mood to write something different. At this point, I had never read any steampunk and I didn’t know the genre existed (this was a few years ago). Nor had I heard of the New Weird movement. I was inspired by the old weird movement–Lovecraft, Howard, Smith, etc.
I wanted to write something more modern and without wizards, and ultimately I created the dystopian city of Lavorgna, the setting of Nightmare City and City of Shadows. It’s a city populated by mad scientists, fiendish cultists, undead servants, homunculi and other oddities, including Lovecraftian horrors waiting in the abyss beneath the city. I had a great time writing the stories set there. Only later did my critique group bring up things like steampunk and China Mieville, and I came to realize I had independently created the New Weird movement. Since then, I’ve become a fan of Mieville’s Bas-Lag stories and would love to get his take on The Atomic Sea.
In writing the Lavorgna novels, I often eluded to a great war that had just recently taken place and from which the nations of that part of the world were still recovering. I was always very intrigued by what that world war would have looked like, and what the story would be. This notion simmered in my brain for years until finally it burst forth in The Atomic Sea.
Perisho-Denley: What is your favorite place in the world of the Atomic Sea?
Conner: Oooo, that’s a tough one. My favorite place is probably the city of Salanth, which readers haven’t seen yet, since it’s in an upcoming volume. It rains all the time there–a strange, toxic rain, and large (well, giant) crustaceans have learned to thrive in the region, since their shells protect them from the rain. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Salanth is a very cool and weird city, and some big plot things go down there.
As for places readers have seen, that’s still a toughie. I have to admit to having a great fondness for Lusterqal, the Atomic City, capital of Octung. I always wanted to spend more time there, but the plot just didn’t support it. I hope to set more adventures there at some time in the future, since there is so much to explore there. I mean come on! It’s got octopi with the brains of human psychics implanted in them that spy on people–and giant squids with human brains that prowl the waterways. It has buildings powered by the Atomic River and growths from the water that overgrow entire skyscrapers. It has pre-human monstrosities and the Great Temple to the Collossum itself. Lusterqal rocks.
Perisho-Denley: How long have you been a writer?
Conner: I started my first novel when I was eleven.
Perisho-Denley: Who or what inspired you to write?
Conner: My extreme laziness. When I realized my parents expected me to get a job when I graduated college (a day far in the future at that point but still too close for my liking), I knew I had to come up with something–quick!–to forestall the inevitable horror. I loved to tell stories, so it was a natural progression to start setting them down.
Perisho-Denley: Can you tell us a little about your creative process?
Conner: I read a lot, and often what I read will inspire me, if not directly than indirectly. Sometimes it’s a movie or a TV show, or even a dream that sparks my imagination.
Perisho-Denley: Is there a specific place or time you prefer to write?
Conner: I usually write mid-morning after I’ve had my coffee (I drink a lot of coffee), read my book for a bit and answered my emails.
Perisho-Denley: How do you keep track of such detailed worlds and plotlines?
Conner: It can be tricky, I admit, since I’m a terrible organizer and refuse to use flow charts or spread sheets. For me that kills the creative urge. So I just keep track of it mentally. If I see that I’ve made a mistake, I can normally catch it during the editing phase. I’ve never had it be a problem.
Perisho-Denley: How many books have you written, and which one is your favorite?
Conner: If we’re talking full-size books and not “parts” or “episodes”, then probably about fifteen or sixteen. Keep in mind that a full-sized book to me is about 150,000 words. I’ve been releasing The Atomic Sea in 50,000 – 65,000 word installments with the option to collect the omnibuses, which is the two or three-volume set I originally intended the novel to be before Amazon’s algorithm changes forced me to reconsider how I release books. That’s a different and much less interesting story.
Perisho-Denley: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to become a better writer?
Conner: Nothing original, I’m afraid. Write write write. Submit submit submit. If you get tired of submitting, you might consider going the indie route, but I would certainly recommend attempting the traditional way first. It’s harder to get movies made of your stuff if you’re an indie. Which is frustrating, because The Atomic Sea would make an amazing movie series.
One piece of advice I will give: get feedback on your writing. I suggest finding a writers group near you and attending its sessions regularly. It wasn’t until I started going to a writers group and getting my work critiqued that my stuff began to improve and become somewhat readable. You can’t improve in a vacuum. In my case, I had the wonderful writers of Austin’s own Slug Tribe to (painfully) steer me on the right path. Thank you, guys!
Perisho-Denley: Who is your favorite author? Favorite genre? What drew you to them?
Conner: I’m a geek, and so I love fantasy, horror and sci-fi. I’m a huge fan of both H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. They’ve inspired me a lot, as has J. R. R. Tolkien, but so have more modern writers like George R. R. Martin and Dan Simmons. I really couldn’t pick between them. What drew me to them was writing prowess and atmosphere. Each of those writers is a master at evoking a dense and unique atmosphere, as well as creating wholly original worlds (or altering our own to be wholly original).
Perisho-Denley: What do you like to do when you’re not working on your books?
Conner: Not . . . working . . . on books?
Kidding! I love movies. I’ve got a film degree, and I watch and talk about movies more than is probably healthy. I also create fan edits of movies that I think could be improved upon (I’m looking at you, Hobbit trilogy). Because, yes, I am that much of a nerd. Fortunately I live in Austin, Texas, and there’s enough to do in this town that I’m compelled from my cave periodically to enjoy live music, walks in the Hill Country, Mexican food and social activities.
Perisho-Denley: Is there anything new happening in the Atomic world, or one of your other series? What do readers have to look forward to?
Conner: Glad you asked! Actually, I’m just releasing a spinoff to the main Atomic Sea series called Atomic Underworld, and it goes on sale May 1. It’s a tale of sewer mutants, mobsters, cultists and horrors from another dimension, and I think you’ll have a good time with it. Look for it on Amazon in May.
We want to thank Jack again for joining us for this interview. The Atomic Underworld is available on Amazon now! If you love Sci-Fi, Steampunk, and Lovecraftian horrors, be sure to check out all of Jack Conner’s Atomic Sea series!
Jack Conner on Facebook: https://goo.gl/HGqpp4
Atomic Underworld: Part One on Amazon: http://goo.gl/28LHfq