Sunday, July 21, 2013

Interview with Robert Poulin

Can you tell readers a little bit about yourself and what inspired to write in this particular genre?

I'll be 44 on July 15th and I'm the Executive Director of a nonprofit disability rights and advocacy agency in upstate New York. I've been legally blind since infancy but as the dedication to Wail of the Banshees says, my mom taught me to dream and work hard to accomplish my goals. I've been an avid reader since second grade, mostly using audible programs but today's tablet technology makes it possible for me to read more easily on my own. I started out reading epic fantasy then in the mid 90's I read my first urban fantasy, Guilty Pleasures by Laurel K. Hamilton, from there the genre quickly became my favorite. Like most readers, I have aspired to be a writer for a long time. When inspiration truly hit me, it was naturally in the paranormal/urban fantasy genre.

What is it about the paranormal that fascinates you so much?

Paranormal stories are modern myth, they are fantasy in a setting that we all live in. The idea of mixing fantasy into the real world appeals to me like it does to so many. I like vampires for the same reason; they look human, they have many of our habits and mannerism, indeed, depending on the mythos used, they were once human. At this point I could get into the metaphors that they represent, but the truth is that I like vampires because they are sexy, they're dangerous, and they have all kinds of cool powers. Most of them are also very tortured beings, which makes for interesting characters, they have layers of complexity to them. 

What inspired you to write this book?

I wanted to write something different, something that was less common. I wanted the usual preternatural beings to exist; the vampires, werewolves, and fae, but I wanted my protagonist to be of a less common variety of paranormal being. I chose the ghost. Once I'd made this choice inspiration for the story came quickly. How did the protagonist become a ghost was the first question for me to answer. Once I'd answered how, I had to answer why and what. This led to world building for the ghostly realm of Limbo, which exists as a shadow copy of the living world. The why provides us with the conflict. Another important inspiration besides the decision to make the protagonist a ghost was the choice of Philadelphia as the setting. This choice added a whole new layer to the story. The first part of the book is about survival in a new reality and the consequences of vengeance as a primary motivator. The second part of the book is thematically about finding purpose and revolution. For movie and tv inspiration I would say Buffy the Vampire Slayer (tv show), and the Matrix.

Please tell us about your latest release.

Wail of the Banshees is the first book in the Ghost Wars Saga. It tells the story of college student Veronika Kane who is murdered in the first scene of the book. Veronika lives on as a ghost and soon discovers that there is a whole world of ghosts. This world is run by evil beings who are manipulating events in the living world and were responsible for her murder. Veronika must learn how this new world works while staving off the corrupting influence of the powers that be. Aside from survival and learning the ropes of Limbo, Veronika decides to help the Philadelphia Police Department capture her killer. Veronika's efforts don't go the way she'd planned and as a result very bad things happen to her. She manages to survive though and sets out on a quest to lead a rebellion against Shadow Philadelphia's Masters. The novel is filled with action and tension and there are a few twists along the way. 

Do you have a special formula for creating characters' names? Do you try to match a name with a certain meaning to attributes of the character or do you search for names popular in certain time periods or regions?

That is a great question because it's one of the things that surprised me the most about writing. I can't believe how much time and energy I spend on names. I use the exact techniques that you mentioned, I'll research period names, ethnic names, and sometimes names with specific meanings. The latter mostly happens with a very special preternatural characters. In the end however, I settle for what feels and sounds right, its very subjective and I agonize over it quite a bit but so far I've never regretted a choice that I've made.

Was one of your characters more challenging to write than another?

Veronika Kane, the protagonist was definitely the most challenging to write. Since the novel is written in first person, I had to get the emotions right. My first draft was like a summer action movie, lots of bang but little emotion. Thank god for my editor, Jaimee Finnegan. She made me work hard on the emotion, the internal turmoil, the pain, the fear. The emotion was hard for me to write the first time through but it was so rewarding, it opened up whole new avenues to go with the character and the story has real soul as a result.

Is there a character that you enjoyed writing more than any of the others?

I'd have to say Frank Cooper. He's one of the detectives investigating Veronika's murder. He's fun because he's a crusader who is driven by stopping the bad guys at all costs. he hates the department politics and will ignore regs if they get in the way of saving lives. He's got a very foul mouth, a big gun, and a mission. Another character that was fun to write is Sebastian the ghost owl familiar. He kind of fills the role that Oberon in the Iron Druid Chronicles fills. 

Do you have a formula for developing characters? Like do you create a character sketch or list of attributes before you start writing or do you just let the character develop as you write?

I didn't have a formula for Wail of the Banshees, I just let them develop. Book 2, Death Toll, is already written and in revision right now. For Death Toll, I started using more formal processes, part of it is that things start getting a lot more complicated as you write further into a series, you don't want to contradict yourself, nor do you want new materials to not really fit in with what you've done before. Basically I started tracking goals and motivations of every character. For main characters I also started tracking things like habits, flaws, merits, and demeanors. It also became very necessary to track the physical characteristics of all characters. 

What is your favorite scene from the book? Could you share a little bit of it, without spoilers of course?

That's a tough one because there are so many cool and pivotal scenes, but here is one that won't ruin anything. There's a place in North East Pennsylvania called Centralia. It was the location of a massive anthracite coal mine complex. The mine caught fire in 1962 and still burns today. Centralia is a true modern ghost town. In Limbo the site is controlled by a Shadow Reaper named Black Maria and Veronika is leading a small force of free souls to free slave souls while Black Maria is away on business. 

Veronika quickly learns that something called the Devil's Forge is located in Centralia, apparently placed there in 1962, and she decides to investigate further. Veronika makes friends with a shadow hound in this scene and also fights a reaper called The Forgemaster. She does discover the secrets of the Devil's Forge and ultimately must face Black Maria who shows up on the scene. Its a scene with lots of action, revelations, and heartbreaking loss. This is a perfect example of what I love about paranormal/urban fantasy, you can take amazing real life facts and give them a supernatural twist. Its a lot of fun. There's also a cool train heist scene.

Did you find anything really interesting while researching this or another book?

Aside from Centralia, which I mentioned in the previous question, Penn's Curse is an interesting legend that figures prominently in Wail of the Banshees. On the book cover, the central tower with the statue at its apex is Philadelphia's City Hall. The statue is of William Penn, founder of the city and the state, it stands 37 feet tall. Legend says that no other structure in the city was to be built taller than City Hall and the Penn statue or Penn's Curse would be invoked. It's not known who or why this gentleman's agreement was made but for decades it was part of city building regulations. In 1986, the first skyscraper to overtop City Hall was completed. 

Ever since, every ill in the city is placed at the feet of Penn's Curse. All kinds of fun supernatural stuff can explain why this stricture was put in place, you'll have to read the book to find out more. Also in book two, Death Toll, I did a lot of research into the history of mental health treatment and especially of Byberry Asylum, it was incredibly fascinating. 

What is the most interesting thing you have physically done for book related research purposes?

I can't think of anything physical that I did for this book but my cover designer, Hannah Carr, did use a live model for her rendering of Veronika.

Can you tell readers a little bit about the world building in the book/series? How does this world differ from our normal world?

Wail of the Banshees takes place in both the living world and in Limbo. The two worlds are separated by a veil that only some ghosts can translate through. Limbo is a reflection of the living world, but it looks older and shabbier. The presence of structures in Limbo is affected by the memories of the population, the more ghosts that believe a structure should exist, the more likely it is to exist. There are two substances in Limbo that have a material presence and both can destroy ghosts. 

These are celestial steel and devil's iron. In the living world these metals are called blood iron and spirit steel and most objects of power are made of one or the other. Weapons and armor are made of these elements in Limbo as are other objects such as trains and boats. For world building I had to create Limbo from the ground up, its society, its laws (both social and natural), and its history. For the living world I just had to create rules for how ghosts could interact with the material world. I didn't start off with an exhaustive bible of rules, just a few to start things off and I let the story's need for the rules guide me. 

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? How do you deal with it?

I've encountered this problem, but only when I'm not sure where the story should go next. When this happens, I stop that part of the book and write something else, maybe even a different project. I don't go back to the original until I'm ready with an idea on how to proceed, I don't force the story. This has led to several weeks long pauses. I think that this is ok and natural, the important thing is to not stop writing, just write something else. For me something like a tv show, a book, or maybe a newspaper article will trigger the inspiration that I need to continue. I prefer to be patient rather than to force my way through it.

Do you have any weird writing quirks or rituals?

I listen to music while writing. I know that this isn't weird but it is for me. I've never been able to do homework or anything else that involves concentration with music in the background, so this is quite new for me.

Do you write in different genres? 

Not yet, but in the future I'd love to do something that melds paranormal with science fiction. Something like vampires in a gritty Mars city, that sounds like fun.

When did you consider yourself a writer?

I considered myself a writer after completing the first draft of Wail of the Banshees. I didn't consider myself an author until completing the final revisions of the book. Writing the original draft was easy, the work was the revision.

What are your guilty pleasures in life?

Coffee in the AM (iced in summer), Chocolate, and eating at my favorite Italian Restaurant. 

Other than writing, what are some of your interests, hobbies or passions in life?

I play in a couple of weekly tabletop role-playing games and I enjoy video games.

What was the last amazing book you read?

The best book I've read this year is surprising not paranormal. The Gods of of Gotham was truly a masterpiece that brought 1840's New York City alive in ways that blew my mind.

Where is your favorite place to read? Do you have a cozy corner or special reading spot?

My office is where I pretty much do everything.

What can readers expect next from you?

Death Toll is book 2 in the Ghost Wars Saga. It will have new supporting characters and features elements of Lovecraft's mythos. Vampires also make a true appearance in Death Toll. I am also about 15% through book 3, Echoes of Madness, which will feature the Fae and a plague in Philly.

Where can readers find you on the web?

my website is . Portals to my social network sites and to where Wail of the Banshees can be purchased are easily accessible on the site. There's also a link to the map of Philly that I use, and a sample of the first three chapters.

Would you like to leave readers with a little teaser or excerpt from the book?

Visit my website to access the first three chapters. I will also tell you that all versions of Wail of the Banshees have a sample chapter from Death Toll in the back. 

Thanks for reading and feel free to visit me on Goodreads. 

Wail of the Banshees 
Ghost Wars Saga
Robert Poulin 

My name is Veronika Kane and dying, dying was just the beginning. 

How was I supposed to know that getting smashed on my 21st birthday would lead me to becoming the 9th victim of a serial killer that’s been stalking Philadelphia’s streets for months? Now I’m a ghost and unlife is pretty scary. Reapers, wraiths, ghouls, gargoyles: all of the monsters that I thought were storybook characters are real! On top of it all, the powers that be in the ghost world want to enslave me and use me in their own diabolical plot to manipulate the people of the living world. Too bad I didn’t turn out to be the kind of ghost they wanted me to be, and I’m not about to let them turn me into one of their puppets. These ghosts are responsible for my murder and the murders of eight other women. 

A rebellion is coming, and the ghosts that run this place are about to find out just how big a mistake they made when they had me killed. 

My name is Veronika Kane and being murdered isn't the end of my story. 

Wail of the Banshees is an Urban Fantasy Novel and the first book in the exciting Ghost Wars saga which features paranormal horror and action set in living Philadelphia and the ghostly world of Limbo.

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