Dystopian fiction is my jam. I love everything about them. The creativity it takes to build a world in the future based on a single ‘what if’.
That was one of the things I loved about It Takes Death To Reach A Star. The detail and creativity in imagining how society would evolve struck me. Throw in a seriously sinister villain and a kick ass woman?! I had to know more!
The authors, Stu Jones and Gareth Worthington, were very generous with their time, and agreed to answer some questions. I hope you love getting to know this world a bit more!
Be sure to check out their sites, keep reading for links. And, if you haven’t, give their book a chance. It’s very action packed, lots of science for the true science fiction buffs, and it’s in development for TV. Seriously, how can you resist?!
Welcome to Etyom…
I’m always curious how stories originate. Even more so with dual authors. Can you talk about how the idea for both the story and co-authoring came about?
[GARETH] It’s a bit of a long story, but the short answer is we met on Goodreads! In 2012, Stu and I were working on our own indie books and having published the first installments we reviewed them for each other – giving very candid feedback. We appreciated each other’s criticism very much and so beta read the next books in the series. In the meantime, my indie series was picked up by an agent, Renee Fountain in NYC, and then a publishing house, Vesuvian Books. While this series was being combined into a single book (Children of the Fifth Sun), I was asked what else I had on the burner. As it turned out, I had an embryonic idea to explore what we call in science as the ‘God-shaped hole’ – our inability to explain certain phenomenon without the existence of a god. I wanted to write a book about this, reflecting the spiritual side and scientific side, but knew as an atheist I wouldn’t do the spiritual side justice… so, I approached Stu as his previous work was gritty, faith-based apocalyptic fiction. I’ll let Stu take it from here…
[STU] Frankly, the prospect of this endeavor terrified me. I’d gotten to know Gareth somewhat via email and GR messages batted back and forth, but we didn’t really know each other at the time. I knew we were very different people with very different beliefs. How do you mash that together? How do you jump off into something like this not knowing what you can expect from the other party – not knowing if you can even trust them? As it turned out, those initial real-life suspicions ended up being very useful in forming Mila’s interactions with Demitri and Faruq. On the flip side, I love science but struggled in school academically. Quantum Physics? That’s way over my head. I knew Gareth had the ability to really bring some deep scientific, world-building, and character elements to the story that I couldn’t. In the end, I knew our styles were similar and the excitement of a new adventure, one that was very well could be impossible to pull off, was too much to ignore.
Was it harder to write a story together as opposed to your individually authored books?
[Gareth] It took a little getting used to, mainly because writing first person present tense point of view was new to us both. But as for writing together, we actually wanted to ensure both our individual voices and ideas were woven in – so I wrote Demitri/Vedmak and Stu wrote Mila. We allowed each other to write chapters and then read what was going on in the other character’s world. We would then edit each other’s chapters. It was actually really exciting and very motivating.
[STU] Yes it was difficult but also more rewarding. Like Gareth said, it was really invigorating to read his chapters and get a different perspective of the world we created together. When we went back over each other’s chapters we did everything in tracked changes so the original writer had the ability to agree or disagree with the change. We had a rule; whoever’s character it was had the final say. We did that to preserve the individual voices while still rounding off the edges so as to not be a jarring experience from one chapter to the next. Now, almost done with our second book, we trust each other to the extent that we don’t use TC much anymore.
Who was your favorite perspective to write and why?
[Gareth] Well clearly for me it was writing Demitri/Vedmak. Stu and I put a part of ourselves into our characters – which I think is reflected in the dedication in the front of the book nicely. Writing Demitri for me was cathartic. I suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder, which means that I struggle with the world and people sometimes. This is in direct contrast to the fact I have a Ph.D., am a successful businessman and have even modeled (cough!). Demitri’s superior-inferior complex very much reflects my struggle every day to put myself into the world. Originally, I was only going to have Demitri talk to himself and question his actions constantly (which is what I do), but Vedmak’s character took a life of its own and became an integral part to the story. Now, he was fun to write and he is truly a combination of Stu and me to make a wicked character!
[STU] Mila is my favorite because I really identify with the struggle of clinging to her faith. She was really tough for me to start though. How in the world was I going to write a female survivor from the slums? And do it in the first person present tense no less? Her toughness, determination, grit, and faith were things I understood, but I’m not a woman! I decided to further model her after some of the amazing women I’ve worked with in Law Enforcement over the years, and as a litmus test had a few of them Beta read to see if I got it right. They loved her! That said, Vedmak was a real trip! I love a savage villain and he fit the bill. It was really fun to jump tracks and get into Vedmak’s head. Gareth always took the first go at him and I came behind and added my little flourishes.
Mila is my favorite character for how strong she is. As I read her fight scenes, I loved how tough you made her, especially given how small she was compared to some of the men she was fighting. I’ll be honest, my first thought was I need to learn to fight like Mila. For girls/women reading this wanting to know more about self-defense, what would your advice to them be?
[Gareth] Stu and I are both trained in Martial arts, but I have to bow his superior skills. He is badass. My only advice is: size isn’t everything. Bruce Lee was a little guy!
[STU] So glad you loved her! As I said, Mila was modeled after some of the women I’ve worked with over the years. Tough, resourceful, able to survive—even thrive in acidic environments dominated by men—that’s female Law Enforcement Officers in a nutshell. I have a huge level of respect for women who take on the danger of a badge because they want to do something good for their community.
In response to the query about self-defense, here’s the most important thing: find something that’s practical and functional and commit to it. Krav Maga, Chinese boxing (Wing Chun), and ground fighting are good options for women, to name just a few. Train as many times a week as your schedule allows. Remember: it takes thousands of repetitions to make something muscle memory, a skill that will be there for you under high stress. You don’t get there by taking a four-hour self-defense class. It takes years of dedication. Start now.
I believe I read on Goodreads that this is in talks (maybe development) for a show. If you could cast the show right now, who would you choose?
[Gareth] Oh this is a hard one! Stu and I differ on this. I have actors in mind no one has heard of as they appear in foreign films and TV. Stu?
[Stu] That’s tough! And to be honest, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking it over. For a while, I’ve liked Ruby Rose from John Wick 2 for the role of Mila. She could pull it off.
What is the hardest part of the writing process for you? The easiest?
[Gareth] Hardest part is waiting. ITDTRAS was finished almost a year ago. Unlike Indie publishing you have to go through various editors, then the trade reviews and pre-marketing process. It was a horrible wait! Easiest was working with Stu. We were so open to new ideas, killing ideas, re-writing based on the needs of the story. A 10 minute Skype video call on a quick question usually turned into a 2-hour brainstorm!
[STU] He nailed it. Though I’ll say in a general sense, starting is always hardest whether it be a new novel, a new chapter, or sometimes just picking up where you left off. Starting is always the worst, once you get rolling it’s cake.
What does your writing process look like?
[Gareth] In a nutshell: write an outline, write a few chapters and swap them to critique and edit, have a Skype call to discuss, realize the outline doesn’t work, change the outline and repeat! Of course research, research, research. Sci-fi fans are hardcore and we couldn’t afford to miss something glaring in the science.
[STU] One thing we refused to compromise on was authenticity. That meant everything we added to the book we either had to have an intimate knowledge of or it had to be meticulously researched. Neither of us does fluff or bubblegum. It had to be legit from start to finish.
What has been the biggest surprise in your publishing journey?
[Gareth] For me the absolute vehement responses you get from total strangers. We’ve gained fans who do fan art and text and email us asking for the next book or if they can beta read; on the other end of the spectrum people who tear us a new one because they didn’t like one tiny element of the story. It can get quite personal.
[STU] This whole thing has been a rush for me. My previous trilogy was indie published so everything here was new. And the waiting from one phase to the next, incredibly difficult! But most of all the biggest surprise has been working with Gareth. This project should never have gotten off the ground. Don’t ask me how, but it did, and it took flight beautifully. Having the opportunity to write this story with Gareth has been very formative for me as a writer and I know we’re both better for the experience. A new friendship and partnership, it’s been more than I could have hoped for, and I’m just so grateful for it all. We’re finishing Star book 2 now and have several other projects planned. Gareth and I are just getting started!
One of my favorite things about dystopias is when authors take elements of our modern life and imagine them changed in the future. How did you choose the elements you wanted to incorporate into your narration? How much research went into making sure it felt like an authentic evolution?
[Gareth] Oh a TON of research went into this. Right, Stu? You have no idea. The website http://www.ittakesdeathtoreachastar.com has some of it on there. But we went deep. Even the terms Gracile and Robust come from a scientific paper on the eventual split of the human race predicted to come about in 10,000 years. We looked into black hole theory, quantum entanglement, string theory, robotics (The Creed). But more than that we would read the news and see what was going on in the world and then incorporate it into the story. One of the things we were worried about was making it TOO real… Stu, you were taking news articles right, to see how we could work them in?
[STU] Yeah, so every time some tragic event happened, or an ISIS-inspired attacker did something terrible, I would text Gareth and say “Did you see the news? We live in Etyom.” Like I said before we were very deliberate about making sure Etyom was a snapshot of our world jammed into one city—the ultimate powder keg. What we wanted to convey was that despite all our technology and all our supposed advancement, humanity isn’t any different, or better even, than it was thousands of years ago. People will always be people, a mixture of good and evil.
You live in Etyom, are you a Gracile or a Robust? Why? And what would your role be?
[Gareth] It’s sad to say, but I imagine I would end up being a Gracile, and frankly a little like Demitri/Vedmak. Never quite feeling like I fit, but don’t annoy me or else Vedmak comes out LOL!
[STU] Ha! I love this. Of course, I’m a blue-collar Robust. A survivor. Though I’m not as awesome or witty as Mila. Not even close. Can I be Ghofaun? Please let me be Master Ghofaun.
Any teasers you can give us about the sequel?
[Gareth] Well… almost everyone wants more Vedmak. All I can say is: be careful what you wish for.
[STU] This ^^^ 😉
Well, there you have it! Lots of insight, a bit of a teaser, and let’s all hope for Ruby Rose kicking her way through the televised Etyom! For more art, an interactive map, and a whole lot of research on the Graciles, Robusts, and everything else, please visit their website www.ittakesdeathtoreachastar.com.
And, if you love audio books, I hear that will be releasing in the next few weeks, so keep your eyes, or ears, open for that announcement.
Paperback: 324 pages
Publisher: Vesuvian Books (May 22, 2018)
THE WORLD YOU KNOW IS DEAD.
WE DID THIS TO OURSELVES.
The epidemic struck at the end of the Third World War. Fighting over oil, power, and religion, governments ignored the rise of an anti-bacterial-resistant plague. In just five years, the Earth was
annihilated. Only one city survived—Etyom—a frozen hell-hole in northern Siberia, still engulfed in conflict.
The year is 2251.
Two groups emerged from the ashes of the old world. Within the walled city of Lower Etyom, dwell the Robusts—descendants of the poor who were immune to The New Black Death. Above them, in a metropolis of pristine platforms called Lillipads, live the Graciles—the progeny of the super-rich; bio-engineered to resist the plague.
Mila Solokoff is a Robust who trades information in a world where knowing too much can get you killed. Caught in a deal-gone-bad, she’s forced to take a high-risk job for a clandestine organization hell-bent on revolution.
Demitri Stasevich is a Gracile with a dark secret—a sickness that, if discovered, will surely get him Ax’d. His only relief is an illegal narcotic produced by the Robusts, and his only means of obtaining it is a journey to the arctic hell far below New Etyom.
Thrust together in the midst of a sinister plot that threatens all life above and below the cloud line, Mila and Demitri must master their demons and make a choice—one that will either salvage what’s left of the human race, or doom it to extinction…
“One-of-a-kind, richly imagined and vividly portrayed. And that action! [The] sense of pacing, especially in the action scenes, is exquisite. Readers are going to love this book.” ~ Jason Kirk, 47North
About Gareth Worthington
Gareth Worthington BSc PhD is a trained marine biologist and also holds a doctorate in comparative endocrinology. Currently, Gareth works full time for the pharmaceutical industry helping to educate the world’s doctors on new cancer therapies. His debut novel, Children of the Fifth Sun, won in the Science Fiction category at the London Book Festival 2017. He has a number of passions, including: martial arts (he trained in Muay Thai at the prestigious EVOLVE MMA gym in Singapore), studying ancient history, and most of all writing fiction. Born in England, Gareth resides in Switzerland.
About Stu Jones
Stu Jones has served full time as a law enforcement officer for twelve years. Over the course of his career he has worked as an investigator, an instructor teaching SWAT close quarters and defensive tactics, and as a member and team leader of a multi-jurisdictional SWAT team. He is also trained and qualified as a law enforcement SWAT sniper, as well as in hostage rescue and high-risk entry tactics. He is an Eagle Scout, a lifelong martial artist, and an avid outdoorsman.