Today, in addition to a YA contemporary review of Backward Glass, we have the honor of hosting David Lomax on the blog.
Christine from The Bookish Daydreamer and I recently sat down to ask him some probing questions about writing, his debut novel, and life! He's also kindly posting a guest post!
Q: One of the most cliche questions in the history book is "what was your inspiration?" Well, this is such an interesting premise and quite a bit frightening, so tell us, what was your inspiration for Backward Glass?!
In the summer of 2007, just a few weeks after the birth of my youngest son, my wife and I were sitting on a Saturday morning reading the newspaper when she found and read to me the story of a renovator here in Toronto who had found the mummified corpse of a baby while tearing apart the wall of an old house.
The story shook us both, coming so soon after our own son's birth. Who had put that baby there? What horribly sad story had played out in that house so long ago? And the thing about being a long-time reader of imaginative fiction is that all kinds of real-life experiences make you go back that favourite question of science fiction writers: what if?
Though I didn't start on Backward Glass until a year later, the idea had formed in my head before I went to bed that night: what if you moved into a new house, made this gruesome discovery from long in the past, and then found the means perhaps to change that past?
Q: Since this is your debut novel, what have you learned from this experience that will help you write your next hit?
My tendency in first drafts is to just put down whatever I can at a kind of break-neck speed. The first draft of Backward Glass was almost twice as long as the final product. There were characters, scenes and even whole sub-plots that turned out to be unnecessary to the main story, the story I most wanted to tell. On my next novel (already in rough draft) I tried much more to keep the final goal in mind, and to make sure that the story I was telling was the one I wanted to end up with.
Q: What's your favorite line from Backward Glass?
In Backward Glass, Kenny and the friends he meets from different decades try to solve the mystery of that mummified baby that he and his father find in the first chapter. Along the way, they begin to uncover the story of a neighborhood urban legend named Prince Harming, a kind of boogeyman whose menace is featured in a series of skipping rhymes. Those were fun to write! I tried to embed a sense of peril and also to drop hints about mysteries to come. Here are a couple of variations that were especially fun to write:
Lover sweet, bloody feet,
running down the silver street. Leave tomorrow when you're called,
Truth and wisdom in the walls.
Crack your head, knock you dead,
Then Prince Harming's hunger's fed. Lover sweet, bloody feet
Loudly yelling down the street.
Holler loud, curtsey proud,
you shall wear a coffin shroud
Go to mass, go to class,
you'll go down the backward glass
Q: If you could travel back in time to any year, what would you choose and why?
It's fun to write, but I think I'd be far too scared to experience it personally, especially if I were traveling to the past. Many people have a kind of utopian vision of “the way things used to be” but for me, the past has less of everything that I like, and more of everything that I don't. Look what there's less of: minority rights, women's rights, workers' rights, access to justice, antibiotics, indoor plumbing, hygiene, electricity, Google. Then look what there's more of: violent crime and cigarette smoke. I'm not saying the world is perfect right now, but most measures suggest to me that if you're going to travel in time, you're best off going to the future.
That said, I'd really love to look at some dinosaurs. Through some really thick glass.
Q: Favorite book of all time?
Even by age fifteen, I had read too much to be able to answer this question. I've decided from now on that every time I answer this question, I'm going to use it as an opportunity to talk about a book that has had some great impact on me, a book that left an impression.
When I was fifteen, my older and thus much cooler cousin visited from Scotland. She could not believe that I hadn't read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams' novelization of his incredible BBC radio play. It blew my mind. Aside from being just about the funniest book I've ever read, H2G2 (as fans like to call it) is a wise and sardonic look at the human race through an existentialism that's both cynical and warm at the same time. It's the story of a man whose house is knocked down to make a highway bypass route on the same day as his planet is destroyed to make room for a hyperspace bypass route. It's the story of the search for the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.
It's also a really good explanation of why you should always have a towel with you. The sense of life as meaningless-until-you-make-it-meaningful that I got from that book has stayed with me ever since.
Q: In your interview with QueryTracker, you mentioned the extensive process that you went through to find your agent. As a writer, what quality is it about writers that you think make them so determined in the face of that uphill climb? Is it the innate desire to share a good story?
The key example on the post I read on youarenotsosmart.com was a problem given to the Applied Mathematics Panel by the U.S. Navy in the Second World War. The Navy saw a similar pattern of bullet-marks on bombers successfully making it back after their missions, and wondered if this meant that they should be arming bombers better in those places.
The AMP, headed by Abraham Wald, pointed out the error in this reasoning: if the bullet marks are in those places on the planes that survived, then those are probably the places you don't need to armor better. The weak points are the impacts you don't see, the ones on the planes that went down. The lesson is that if you only study success, it might not teach you how to be successful.
This is an extremely round-about way of saying that I don't know the answer to your question, though I think it really is a good question. The road to publication is certainly a long one for some of us. All sorts of talented people don't make it simply because they give up somewhere. I was lucky enough to have a wife who was just as interested in getting my story out there as I was.
Many was the night when, tired after work, I didn't want to bother. Just one more query letter, she would say – look, this one just wants the first chapter attached to an email. Let's send just this one. One of those just-one-mores turned out to be Katie Grimm, who told me in an email a couple of weeks ago that she found the Moleskine notebook on which she used to log submissions a few years ago, and saw the little star she had written beside Year of the Backward Glass – my working title.
Q: Why do you think the YA genre has experienced such a renaissance in the past couple of years?
I happen to love, love, love all of her books, the Potters and after, but even if you don't, I think you have to recognize the incredible change she has made in publishing. She's led more kids to books, and let's face it, publishers are in the game to make money. If more kids are visibly reading and audibly crying out for good stuff to read, then the publishers will try to provide it. About ten years ago, a good friend of mine opined that we are living in a golden age of literature. I think this is true, and because of the Harry Potter phenomenon, that golden age has been opened up to younger readers as well.
Q: All of the reviews I've seen for Backward Glass have been universally excellent. What is it about the book that you think appeals to readers of all ages, genders, genres, etc.?
In Backward Glass I made a determined effort to write a classic. I wanted to write the ultimate time travel mystery. I love reading about time travel; I love that shiver you get when you see an event or an object a second time and see new significance in it, that frisson of oddness and recognition. But so many time travel stories have logical flaws in them: the old grandfather paradox – if you travel back in time and kill your grandfather, then you would never be born and thus never travel back to kill your grandfather. In which case you would be born. I wanted to write a time travel story that would manage to have a kind of logical consistency, and yet would be full (as full as I could possibly make it) of those recognition shivers. I wanted to write a story that might still feel current when my youngest son is old enough to read it.
Q: What's one expectation you had about the publishing world before the publication process, which has changed substantially as you get closer to your release date?
This isn't a complaint exactly (especially not if my editor is listening!) -- but, man, it's been a shock. They'd like me to tweet, blog and Facebook with regularity. They want me active on Goodreads and guest-posting on the blogs of others. Again, I'm not complaining – when I can get to it, blogging and tweeting turns out to be fun, and I especially love it when I get to interact with people – it was just a bit of a shock at first. How naive am I?
I thought that all a writer did was write.
Q: A lot of writers were teachers who began their writing careers by writing stories which they felt would appeal to their students. Have your students influenced your writing in any way?
So in that sense, my students have been very influential. I notice the books they don't connect with, and try to figure out why. I notice where their attention flags and try to keep such passages from my own books. They're influential in a bigger sense, too – my students keep me connected to what it is to be young. To make mistakes, to feel hope, to suffer misunderstandings, to look with wonder at the universe, to need independence, to fear loneliness, to take joy in things experienced for the first time – all of these things, I am reminded of on a daily basis, are what it is to be young.
Q: Who's the character that you would most want to sit down and have a cup of coffee with from your book?
The one I would most like to meet is John Wald, a time-travelling peasant from the seventeenth-century whose life was ruined by the backward glass and who is journeying into the future to find out where it came from. It's funny about John Wald – the way I wrote him at first, his dialogue was almost completely incomprehensible, as would be the case with someone from so far in the past – and both my agent and my editor had suggested cutting him from the book. I had to really work to make him necessary to the story – because for me he was essential. He's the moral centre of Kenny's journey into the past, a deeply, quietly just-plain-good man who sees it as his job to keep the lives of other “mirror kids” from being destroyed as his was. I just love the guy, and I'm sure he's got a lot of stories to tell. If I ever get to write that book about Luka, I'm sure John Wald will turn up in it where I least expect him.
About the author:
David is the author of Backward Glass, a young-adult science fiction novel set in Toronto. It’s out this fall from Flux books, but is currently available for pre-order fromt Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and Chapters.