Friday 2 March 2018

Blog Tour: The Gevaudan Project by Alexander Preston

Today, I am featuring novelist, Alexander Preston in his blog tour promoting The Gevaudan Project which is being released on March 3rd, 2018. I have reviewed the previous edition, published as Harvest of Prey in October 2016 and thoroughly enjoyed it. I jumped at the opportunity to feature him in an interview for this blog tour. 

So sit back and let Alexander explain what makes him tick as an author and the background behind The Gevaudan Project. 

Over to you, Alexander! Tell us a little about yourself. 

My name is Preston Klopfenstein. I’m originally from central Illinois but have lived in Sioux Falls, SD since 2013. I met my future wife almost right after the move, we married at the start of the following year, and have since been blessed with two wonderful children. In my day job, I work in operations at a local bank. I’ve been working on the story that became The Gevaudan Project for about four years now. 

What inspired you to become an author?

A lifelong love of books and an imagination that just couldn’t sit still. The concept of “what if?” has fascinated me as long as I can remember. As a kid, I actually made a game out of constantly asking my parent's hypothetical questions (driving them a bit batty in the process, I’m sure). I still gravitate to these basic questions as an adult “What could have been?” “What might be?” “What would happen if”, etc. Fiction to me is the single most powerful medium for exploring those very questions. 

I see that you write under a pen name. What is the reason for that? 

For one thing, my real name is a mouthful and takes up oodles of extra space! I’ll also confess that I’m a lifelong introvert and consider myself a very private person – it’s taken time to build up enough basic courage to put myself out there and openly express my ideas. A little thing like this helps by shifting the attention from me to the books I write. 

What is your favorite genre?

Science fiction, primarily action-oriented, Dean Koontz-style technothrillers. I also enjoy well-written fantasy in the tradition of both Tolkien and Lewis. For now, science fiction is my own genre of choice, though I may branch out into fantasy in the future.

What role does your faith play in your writing? 

I view my writing as, in a sense, an act of worship, using my creative talents to honor the Creator who gave them to me. My stories are meant as an exploration of the mystery and wonder implied by a biblical worldview. With that being said, I write “fiction written by a Christian” rather than specifically “Christian fiction.” I have a few different reasons for this, but the primary one is the following: I’m a member of the Apostolic Christian Church, which holds to a literal “non-resistance” interpretation of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, a belief we share in common with the Amish, Anabaptists and Mennonites. At the same time, following Romans 13, we also believe that God has ordained ministers on earth to combat evil by force (this passage primarily refers to government authorities, but I believe it can also embrace individuals). This created a bit of a challenge for me that doesn’t come up for most authors of action-oriented Christian fiction. For this reason, I’m not comfortable portraying my characters as “Christians” with doctrinal beliefs identical to my own. In The Gevaudan Project, I’ve made my main character a Roman Catholic even though I do not subscribe to the tenets of Catholicism. In the future, I may feature protagonists of Protestant, Orthodox and perhaps even Jewish beliefs. I draw my reasoning from the way the Bible shows God using such individuals as Cyrus of Persia and Alexander the Great to accomplish His purposes. A Christian can find much to admire in the lives and deeds of both these men without making them a model for his own – and acknowledge their very significant and un-Scriptural shortcomings in other areas. 

With that being said, I have hit upon a few ways of more explicitly expressing my true beliefs in my writing. The Gevaudan Project and its associated short stories, for example, introduce a new “mystery character” that was entirely absent in Harvest of Prey – his presence is used to illustrate what I believe is the most powerful role played by believers when it comes to earthly affairs. He appears only briefly, but I’m planning to include him in most of my future books as a common thread connecting all the events. Another long-term project I have in mind is a series of speculative historical fiction based on the Scriptural accounts. I would focus primarily on Genesis (particularly the pre-Flood world and time of Noah) but may perhaps continue on through the entire Bible. Here, I anticipate an opportunity to more fully express my beliefs through my characters. 

How have family and friends responded to your writing?

Quite a bit different, actually, from what I was expecting! I come from a very traditional and mostly rural faith community. I can think of only one other person within it that has written a work of fiction, and I can’t even remember his name at this time. I had a perception for some time that a fiction writer’s pursuit was “out of order” and it took time for me to see my imagination as a gift to be embraced rather than a temptation to fight. Think of someone from an Amish community deciding to write in the speculative genre (though I have heard of at least one such author who writes “Amish science fiction. The main turning point came when I had been wrestling with my creative urges for some time and finally went to my local pastor (“elder” as they call them in my church) to seek his counsel. He listened as I laid out everything in front of him, including the most far-out and seemingly bizarre of my story ideas. As it turned out, he gave me the most supportive response I could have hoped for – that my talent (and imagination) was indeed a gift from God and that I should seek to use it. He actually told me I was sincere enough that I would have fully accepted things if he had given me the opposite instruction – but then I would have left thinking “he just doesn’t understand me.” 

Since that time, I’ve received similarly positive responses from my church family – from both the younger and the older generation. I’ve even found some older members whose favorite genre is science fiction – something I never knew until I told them about my book, which they are eager to read. I’ve been blessed to find that a lot of my assumptions were based on nothing more than baseless fear. In some ways, I’ve tapped into a significant unmet demand I never even knew existed!

What inspired you to write The Gevaudan Project

Where do I even begin? Originally, my genre of choice was classical space opera – basically a fully-fleshed out galactic setting with a detailed ‘future history’ and multiple planets. I put this partially on hold so I could recover from “world-builder’s disease” – I was spending so much time constructing the setting that I wasn’t accomplishing any narrative writing. So I took a step back and started thinking about some more small-scale stories I could write. A thriller of some sort had the most natural appeal to me – Dean Koontz and Tom Clancy have become some of my favorite authors over the years, and I’ve also enjoyed Frank Peretti and some books by Michael Crichton. A somewhat more detailed account of how I determined the storyline specifics is available in a guest post here, but my basic idea was for a speculative story that would appeal to both the scientific and moral imagination. To summarize things heavily, I combined thematic elements from Peretti’s “Monster” and Crichton’s “State of Fear,” (Dean Koontz’s “Watchers” being another formative influence). The result was a genetic engineering and environmentally-based plot that explores the human use of knowledge for both Good and Evil. 

What kind of research did you do for this novel? 

Most of it took place online, where I read through multiple sources on environmental science, genetics, zoology, and artificial insemination – one scene is based almost entirely on a single YouTube clip I found depicting a collection procedure at a tiger sanctuary in Indonesia. Since most of the book actually takes place Indonesia, I was able to draw upon some previous knowledge from a college course where I wrote some papers on that country. I also did some research on political history, particularly as it relates to the environmental and population control movements. Robert Zubrin’s Merchants of Despair proved a very informative resource in shaping the characters of my antagonists. 

One of the hardest parts of the process was getting information on the real-life physical locations appearing in my novel. Being that my travel budget is virtually non-existent, I made heavy use of Google Earth and filled in some gaps with my imagination and logic. Going forward, I hope to write about some places I can actually visit in person. 

How long did it take you to write the book? 

That’s actually a story in itself! The manuscript has gone through two different versions. It took me approximately a year and a half to write the original, which was about 150,000 words. I was very much a newbie to the publishing world, so I thought I could immediately self-publish through CreateSpace (without promotion or marketing of any kind aside from my blog and Facebook profile) while still pursuing a traditional publishing contract. I initially released the book as Harvest of Prey in October 2016 - You can actually find the original guest post [Guest post: Novelist Alexander Preston ] and review [Harvest of Prey by Alexander Preston ] for it on this very blog. I then sent a query to the Steve Laube Agency early the following year. 

Steve Laube expressed interest after seeing the first three chapters, though he recommended some key revisions. At the time I originally wrote it, I had Dean Koontz and Dostoevsky on the brain and was deliberately trying to make the book as long as possible. This resulted in multiple overwritten passages, particularly the dialogue. So I went through and did some editing that brought everything down to about 137,000 words before I sent the complete manuscript. 

Steve got back to me in July 2017 and said he really liked the book. There were some follow-up questions, however, regarding my decision to self-publish. Any previous sales figures would need to be reported to a potential publisher. That’s when I got my first big lesson in the publishing industry. Many traditional publishers only take on one first-time author per year, which makes the competition for that slot extremely fierce. It’s a big enough risk for them to take on an unknown writer with no previous sales history – but if they see someone who has sold books before but with anemic sales figures, they take that as a red flag that this person won’t give them a return on their investment. It’s by no means an in-depth or fully accurate process, but it’s all they have the time and resources for. 

Ultimately, Steve had to tell me “not yet”. He didn’t want to put either of us in the position of seeing me fail for non-writing-related reasons. He did leave the door open for the future though – he said I had a great story, but he’d be better able to bring me on board if I came back with sales in the thousands. 

You can probably imagine what I was thinking and feeling after that kind of a setback – so close, yet so far! But I picked myself up and decided on a new approach. I made a few revisions to the manuscript in addition to those Steve already recommended to me, retired Harvest of Prey from Amazon, and took the time to construct a detailed launch and marketing plan under a new title. That process has taken me just under seven months, and the result has been The Gevaudan Project. All in all, the total time I’ve spent working with both versions comes to about four years. 

What are some themes you explore in this novel? 

You can call The Gevaudan Project a straightforward monster story, but the book is first and foremost, a story of Good and Evil (most of it of a very human variety). One thing constantly on my mind throughout the writing process was that eco-terrorism and its related movements rarely receive an intelligent portrayal in fiction. Hollywood depictions, in particular, are either entirely positive or strongly sympathetic. Few of us have any concept of just how toxic these ideas are or their roots in literally fascist [Fascist Ecology: The "Green Wing" of the Nazi Party and its Historical Antecedents] ideologies. Most environmental groups of modern times have either abandoned human exceptionalism or, worse, perverted it to place an opposite value on human life. My story is meant to vividly illustrate the moral consequences of this worldview. What sort of actions follow from the basic idea that human beings are nothing more than vermin infesting an otherwise pristine planet? 

One thing observant readers will also notice is that my antagonists, while seemingly committed to the same ultimate goal, all have their own set of priorities and agendas, some of them diametrically opposed to the others. In one corner, you have the fanatical true believers, in another the cynical, self-interested manipulators and in yet another the amoral “useful idiots” who really don’t care what happens so long as they’re given a free hand to exercise their proclivities (most of the scientist characters fall into this category). Which of these groups truly controls the other? Can there, in fact, be any form of honor among thieves? This, incidentally, has allowed me to explore other ideas in addition to the main environmental element, namely the shortcomings of materialistic Darwinism and the ethics of genetic engineering.

To tie things in a bit with what I’ve said earlier regarding my faith and my writing, I’ve also sought to explore the ways in which God uses different individuals on earth (with all their flaws and shortcomings) as instruments for good in the face of seemingly overwhelming evil. We’re told in Job that “He disappointeth the devices of the crafty so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise.” In the end, even the best-laid plans of the wicked are doomed to failure. Though Scripture gives us no guarantee of earthly justice, neither does it say that God assigns no value to it – quite the opposite, in fact, as can be readily demonstrated from both sacred and secular history. Evil may seem triumphant for a time, but judgment is inevitable, both in the long-run and in the short – ultimately culminating in the Final Judgment at the end of time. 

Do you plan any more books in the future? 

The working title for my next book is “TALOS” which I plan to start in earnest once I finish up the launch for The Gevaudan Project. I expect the writing process to take at least as long as it did for the initial version of my first book, but hopefully not a full four years! Similar to how The Gevaudan Project explores ideas like radical environmentalism, this one will explore transhumanist ideology – focusing especially on Artificial Intelligence and human augmentation. All I’ll say beyond that is the book will be set in my current hometown of Sioux Falls, SD. 

What advice would you give to other Christian authors? 

There are good points to be said in favor of both self-publishing and traditional publishing. Based on my own experience, I would just recommend choosing one or the other. If you take the self-publishing route, make sure you take the time to go all the way. If you prefer a traditional publishing contract, be sure to make that your singular focus – you can shoot yourself in the foot if you move too fast in other areas. 

Even more important: don’t let your fear of others’ opinions prevent you from writing – your church family may be far more supportive than you think.

This comes to the end of our interview. 

Thank you, Alexander, for such a revealing behind the scenes view into yourself as a novelist and background to The Gevaudan Project.

For readers who want to explore more of this novel and the background to it, Alexander was interviewed by Parker J Cole on The Write Stuff radio show. Click here to listen.

Another interview can be found here: 

Writers Authors Onfire: A. K. Preston

Alexander can be found on these social media platforms: 

Author Website: Empyrean Voyager

To preorder this novel, click on the icon below:

Alexander, what a great interview! Thank you so much for introducing us to the world of The Gevaudan Project and insights into your world as an author. I am sure once readers read this interview they will want to investigate this novel and look forward to your future novels. You are one new author to follow and support. 

Readers and reviews are an author's best asset, so I encourage any reader who likes reading in the genres of Christian inspirational, science fiction and fantasy and futuristic fiction to consider reading The Gevaudan Project and submit a review on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (or any other social media you subscribe to).

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