Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Joseph Picard – Resident of the lower mainland in BC, I’ve lived all over Canada, but I’ve been in this area since ’94 or so, and am unlikely to leave.
I’ve always been a creative sort, composing music on the computer (tracking Mods and related formats) drawing and graphic design, but in the last couple of decades, writing has come to the forefront- going from the occasional short story for fun that I’ve done all my life, to full-fledged novels.
In 2001, I was cycling to work, and got into a fight with a car, and the car won. Since then I’m been a paraplegic. When I’m rich and famous, I’ll buy a model of the car that hit me, and give it a solid whack every day.
I’m father to two insane lil punks, Catilin in 2007, and Lachlan in 2011. I’ve been predominantly a stay at home dad since then, but volunteer work at a local seniors’ activity centre recently led to a job with the organization. It’s an amazingly positive environment.
My rate of pumping out novels isn’t so fast, but the ideas are waiting. If the next Rubberman book ties up the series (it may or may not) I have a series in mind that serves as a spin-off of sorts from the Lifehack series.
Thanks so much, Joseph, for joining me!
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
JP: Well, they say to write for yourself, so I pretty much do. I can be influenced by feedback, certainly, but no one can accuse me of ‘writing to market’, or all my books after my first would be all about the characters from the first book screwing each others’ brains out. I fall into the sci-fi end of the pool because a lot of my books start with a “Wouldn’t it be cool IF…” My current series started as sci-fi, but then I realized I wasn’t using any fictional science; just unusual circumstances and environments. It still carries a somewhat sci-fi feel, as unwitting characters explore things that, in some cases, are common to us, but unheard of for them.
All in all, it often forces me into the ‘speculative fiction’ umbrella, although… the next book takes the Rubberman Series into definite sci-fi territory.Although I have been labelled ‘hard sci-fi’ from time to time because I don’t rely on unexplained/extreme technology like warp drive and transporters, (or heck, even space) the fact that my characters are focused on quite a lot on the personal side, makes the hard-sci-fi hat slip off, depending on who you ask. My first series leans on nanotechnology heavily, but I made efforts to make all of the uses plausible and understandable. I have one character who realizes she CAN turn into a mermaid. But it would take weeks, a lot of resources, and be entirely impractical.
Which reminds me, I include humour. I don’t go out of my way to crack jokes, but I’m a smartalec now and then, and my characters can be too, if it doesn’t mess up the situation.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
JP: I suppose, technically, it was a very short story I wrote in 5th grade, that the newspaper ran. It was a Christmas story about truckers who might have been elves, or elves that ran around like truckers, or something. It was terrible, and I have a copy of the newspaper somewhere. Then when I was .. 16? My dad printed an urban fantasy thing without my knowing, and made a 14 page hardcover of it to give me for Christmas. I have that, too. It is also terrible. And he got some of the pages out of order, somehow.
But my first ‘real’ publication was Lifehack. (Hey, what a coincidence! Giveaway time!) Set in a ‘near future’, the main storyline is about nanotechnology being used to make zombies, and our hero Regan losing her brother to it. The meat of the sub-plot begins about a quarter way in when our Regan meets/rescues/is rescued by Alisia. Regan falls for Alisia hard, and Alisia is straight. Laughs and pain for everyone! And rail cannons, monsters made of human flesh, and EMPs.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
JP: Absolutely. I’ve been lucky enough to get mainly positive ones, but even the bad ones can be help. If they elaborate a bit, good or bad, it’s feedback than can be used to better your writing. Even a bad one that you don’t agree with can shed some light. “I hated the Bob character” for example, is not so useful but it might make you look at your Bob again, maybe see a flaw you didn’t before. Of course, good to bad feedback, it’s up the writer to decide if it’s really right for them and their writing goals. A few people have expressed a desire for a little more gore, or a little more sex from my stories. Everyone has their tastes for how much of these kinds of things they want. My zombie books, for example, are not for the hardcore zombie fan. I don’t go quite that gory on a continuous basis. On the other hand, I’ve had non-zombie fans love it at the level I write it.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
JP: Neither? I get the idea, I plot out a basic idea, the key events, then I throw the characters in. Sometimes they take a left when I was expecting a right. Just a week or two ago, a character ‘revealed to me’ that she’s agoraphobic. This is going to be huge for the direction the book’s main arc is going, and it’s been a great way to show how much her partner loves her.
JSC: How did you deal with rejection letters?
JP: Never had one. Never had an acceptance letter either. When my first book was coming into being, I researched the (at the time) common wisdom that you find the 50 publishers that fit your book best, send them whatever form of the manuscript they want, (some down to paper colour, font, line spacing specifics, which chapters to send, etc, etc…) and if you don’t match their submission specs, BOOM, right into the roundfile.. so you send out 50 differently formatted submissions, and wait nearly a year to find out if any of them EVEN RECEIVED IT. So, yeah. No. I researched self-pub. You have to hold yourself to strict standards (even if they don’t match anyone else’s standards format exactly, but that’s a while ball of wax- long story short, other people’s standards exists for a reason, learn from them.)
JSC: What was one of the most surprising things you’ve learned in writing your books?
JP: Most of the water in a nuclear reactor’s cooling pool is perfectly safe. (Rubberman’s Cage spoilers: )I was going to use a short dip in one to kill off a character slowly and painfully, but upon looking up how strong the radiation would be, and what the process of dying would be like, I found out the character would be fine. It yanked the story in a different direction, and for the better, to boot!
JSC: What’s the funniest or creepiest thing you’ve come across while researching for one of your stories?
JP: Jenkem. There’s some question if this is a reality, but it would seem there’s people who ferment their own excrement and sniff the fumes to get high. Although they don’t use the word ‘jenkem’, the Citizens in the Rubberman series have been known to practice this. These ‘crap sniffers’ are not regarded that highly by the other Citizens, most fermenting alcohol out of food scraps instead.
This Book: Rubberman’s Citizens
JSC: What inspired you to write this particular story? What were the challenges in bringing it to life?
JP: The Rubberman series was set up as a framework for stories. The first book, Rubberman’s Cage, serves partly as a tour of the facility. One section, the Citizenry, seemed ripe to tell its own tale, so Rubberman’s Citizens was born. To put it bluntly, the Citizenry area has been ruled by rape gangs for generations. Dealing with that in a way that balanced showing the cruelty and brutality of it, while being respectful to the reader was a huge concern. I know rape can get over-used and abused as a plot-point, so dealing with it in a way that didn’t come off as trite or exploitative was a serious concern. It was stressful to write through, but thankfully for me (and the readers, I hope,) there’s a significant relief by the end.
JSC: Tell me about a unique or quirky habit of yours.
JP: When my cat Leela died in September, I had half a bag of catfood left over. I didn’t know anyone who could make use of it, so I started keeping a small container with catfood in it as I went about town. When I saw a crow, I’d feed it. They know me now, and will come to me when they notice me outside, hoping for catfood. I ran out of it, and now restock my little container from my dogs’ food supply.
JSC: What are you working on now?
JP: Rubberman’s Exodus. It will be the end of the Rubberman series, at least for the time being. It will change a lot about the Rubberman world, and bring so many changes that it there’s ever a fourth book in the series, it will have to have a drastically different premise from books 1-3. It would be different enough that a fouth might be a new series, following the characters’ lives after the changes brought about in Rubberman’s Exodus. The biggest change in Exodus will be from a fact I’ve been holding onto from before the first book in the series came out. I’m just now able to write scenes I’ve been looking forward to for years.
And now for Joseph’s latest book: Rubberman’s Citizens:
A story of oppression and loss, of uprising and joys. Rubberman’s Citizens pushes through grim tyranny with the courage, compassion, and humour of those forced to fight troubled times.
In Citizenry, Leena knew cruelty was normal.
Order was kept by Warren, through intimidation and abuse.
Normal meant deliveries from above, supplies from the great, unknowable, Actual.
Normal meant hating the lessers who live below.
Normal meant routine public degradation.
Normal meant hearing screams, and knowing no one dared help.
Normal was knowing that tomorrow, it could be your own screams being ignored.
Leena found a way to help.
Leena found a chance.
Leena discovered revolution.
Then, she saw a group of men, maybe half a dozen. They were still far off, making their way around some shacks. They were walking with purpose, not just idling about. She couldn’t make out who they were yet, but Leena got the feeling they were headed for their shack. She got the feeling they were Warren’s men.
She rushed to Jen’s side and shook her. “Wake up. I think we should clear out of here.”
Jen moved and gave a moan, but didn’t seem interested in what Leena was saying.
“Look at me!” Leena held Jen’s face, and gave it a little shake to encourage Jen to open her eyes.
Reluctantly, she did.
“World’s kinda spinny right now,” Jen mumbled.
“Well, that’s going to make it hard to run. Get up! Shake it off!” Leena dashed back to the doorway to peek at the group of men. She could now see that leading them were Mike and Warren. “Sack of stupid!” she hissed. Mike waved like an idiot, and Warren was carrying something.
Warren turned back to his four escorts, and presumably said something. They backed away, letting Warren and Mike get a bit of distance ahead. Leena watched the four men carefully, expecting them to split up and surround her shack, but no. They just maintained a distance several metres behind Warren and Mike.
As they got closer, Leena could see that Mike was wearing his “sorry” face. When they were a few metres in front of Leena, she looked back and forth at them both, suspiciously.
“Warren, if you’re here for Jen, don’t. Just don’t. She’s resting.”
Warren smirked. “You could have told me she wasn’t here. You could have played dumb!”
“Yes, I could have, and then what? My shack gets searched, you find her, and then it’s beatings for everyone.”
Warren smiled wide, and leaped up a little, stamping on the floor and pointing sharply at Leena. “Yes! You don’t play dumb, do you? You play smart! It fits, it fits!”
Warren tossed the bag he’d been carrying at Mike. “Here, food and things for your new little friend. Go inside and play with her. Leena and I have to talk.”
“What?” Mike blurted, fumbling with the bag, “I’m staying by Leena, and-”
“Ah! Ah! I forget, she’s your favourite. And well she should be!” Warren’s disposition was a little like after he ate some of that white powder. Not as intense, but similar. “Fine, Mark, I mean Mike. Stand there and keep an eye on us. We’ll go for a walk, and talk. Just over there. Nowhere near my men; just out of earshot of everyone.”
Mike shifted his weight awkwardly, glancing at Leena, Warren, and the four goons.
“No, no, it’s good, it’s good,” Warren said, “peace is good. It’s that, or I have the boys beat you while Leena and I have a private chat. Frankly, a nearby beating is just not a good mood setter!”
Leena huffed, and patted Mike’s arm. “It’s okay. Do as he says, don’t be stupid, and be good. Count what’s in the bag here if you’re bored.”
Mike nodded grimly, and watched as Leena and Warren walked away. Warren had noticeably more spring in his step.
“Where’d you find Mike?” Leena asked.
Warren waved his hand dismissively. “Oh, he was rummaging Jen and Don’s place.”
“Dan,” Leena corrected.
“Whatever. I asked Dan where I could find Jen, so–”
“So you could put her through another quick gathering?” Leena tried not to throw too much anger behind her voice, but it was terribly difficult.
Warren seemed to be in too good of a mood to take offence either way. “No, Leena, I wanted her to lead me to you.”
Leena came to an immediate halt. Warren turned to face her, and clued in. “Oh, no no, Leena, I’m not considering you as special guest at a gathering or anything. That’s absurd!”
Leena was silent, but resumed walking along.
Warren slowly turned on his heel, and held an open hand towards the apex of the common’s dome. “You know who lives up there, yes?”
“You mean the Actual?”
“Yesss.” Warren maintained his gaze upwards, but clasped his hands in front of his chest. “We know of the lesser ones from below, and obviously, Actual is better than the average Citizen, right?”
Warren’s stare snapped back down to look into Leena’s eyes. “But haven’t you noticed that some Citizens are just better than others?”
Leena held her tongue, and let Warren continue.
“Even ignoring the over-sniffers who do nothing, there’s a lot of useless people here. I don’t think they’re real.”
“Not… real? Hallucinations?”
“No, I mean they’re real, they exist, but they’re not as real as others, Leena. Not like us!”
Leena cocked back her head and raised an eyebrow. “Like us?”
“Leena, I had a feeling when I first saw you. When you saved most of my new powder jar, I knew, and the way you didn’t lie about where Jen was to me. So smart, I knew, it was confirmed! You’re like me! We’re real, we’re Actuals!”
It was insane ramblings, but Leena had little choice but to play along. She gestured to the rest of the Commons. “Everyone else is fake?”
Warren’s face turned serious, and he gave tiny, sharp nods. “Probably not all of them. There could be some Actuals I haven’t met yet, or noticed. But most of them? Yeah, no better than lofus. Want to know my theory?”
“Citizenry. Is where Actuals come from. We were all born from who? Other Citizens? But we know that now and then, a lofu comes to live here. What if we are all children of children of children of lofus?! And from us, sometimes one of us becomes an Actual. That’s what Citizenry is! From up there,” Warren pointed to the top of the Grand Elevator shaft, “Actual can see us! Judge us! See who has become like him!”
“Fine, fine, and then what?”
Warren became sombre once again. He held his jittery hands close to his chest, He faced the Grand Elevator’s loading centre. His voice became as soft as a parent wishing a drowsy child a good sleep.
“And then, those of us worthy need to wait, I suppose. Wait for our deaths in the Citizenry, so we can be taken by the Messenger to go up.”
Leena gave Warren a moment, in case more insanity was about to dribble out, but he seemed to be waiting for a reaction. “So, Warren, do you think maybe the Actual up there now- may have been a Citizen at some time in the past?”
Warren bounced away backwards, and outstretched his arms. “Who’s to say? Maybe our Actual has been eternal, and new Actuals are sent off to other places to do Actual things. Maybe they all become new parts of Actual’s being, like all in one and stuff. Maybe they sit around getting wasted on some unimaginable dizzy water and screw all day! I don’t know!”
Leena didn’t ever think Warren could be this entertaining. And friendly. Maybe the key to making a friendlier, safer Citizenry was keeping Warren on just the right amount of the white powder. Enough to make him happy- not so much as to make him a manic, spontaneous rapist and murderer. As stupid and overly optimistic the idea was, it was worth exploring.
“Warren, you’re on that white powder right now, aren’t you?”
His expression changed again, chin high, eyes wide. “See! Oh, you’re clever. You’re an Actual for sure!”
“That wasn’t too hard to guess. You’re not as crazy as last time.”
“Yes, yes, that turned unpleasant when it wore off. I’ve taken to smaller doses.”
Unpleasant when it wore off? For him, maybe, but Jen and Darling seemed to dislike it a lot when it was at its peak. Leena’s sense of pity for the women that Warren had abused and even killed over the years bubbled into a quiet anger, reminding her that the jovial fool in front of her was the same man who made abuse part of his regular activities.
“If you’re so eager to go be an Actual with Actual,” Leena said, “why not just kill yourself now? We all get sent up!”
Warren nodded and paced. “Yes, yes, I’ve considered this, but it sounds unpleasant. I’ve given this thought. But just so you know, I’ve been thinking about this whole thing for a long time, long before the white powder. It might be giving me clarity… and more motivation, however.”
“Motivation to kill yourself? If it’s a problem, Sledge could help, I’m sure.”
“And then I’m dead, and I go up, and it’s all good for me, but the Citizens learn nothing of the truth of it all! At least not with proof.”
“I didn’t think you cared so much about the education of the masses, Warren. So how will you teach us all?”
He held out his arms as if ready to embrace the entire Commons, or at least the ceiling of it. “I will not wait to die to go. I will go up without death because I am an Actual, and the Citizens will know. I’ll be a legend!”
Leena suppressed a snort. “So if I’m an Actual too, am I invited?”
Warren raised an eyebrow, but his expression didn’t say much. “Oh, oh, for now, go back to your man Mark over–”