Monday, January 21, 2013

Interview with Collin Tobin, author of "Upload"

Today we're pleased to feature our KindleBoards interview with Collin Tobin, author of the newly-released novel Upload.

We received an advance review copy of the novel, and found it a very enjoyable read. The book is a technothriller, filled with suspense and vivid writing. Collin has a knack for coming up with an original descriptive phrase or a dead-on characterization. This book's a fun one!

This book deserves to get good exposure from the Upload blog tour which kicks off today. Check the blog tour page for upcoming interviews and reviews of the book!

Now, on to our conversation with Collin Tobin!

Congratulations on your new novel. In a few words, how would you describe your book to someone who hasn't heard about it?

“Upload” is an unsettling look at a very plausible future, as technology rapidly advances to both hinder and help us. The story is just that: a battle between help and hinder, good and bad, with technology at the center stage.

How long did it take you to write the novel? Can you give us some insights into your approach? Specifically, what does a typical writing day look like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?

I wrote the first draft over a very concentrated year, with no real hiccups, writer’s blocks, etc. The unrelieved itch to write my first book, and the happy coincidence of a fun and interesting idea came to me one evening while watching my 2,037th (approximately) true crime show.

I tend to write most productively in the morning, which disappoints me. I like the romantic idea of writing at night, when all is still. While writing at night, you can easier assume the role of overseer, while everyone else is sleeping, and the world seems to have slowed enough for you to capture it. For “Upload”, I did most of my writing outside of my house. Unfortunately, the tiny study in our house is also used as a second attic for storage. This is also where we keep the cat litter for our two cats. Writing in there can feel claustrophobic and nauseating, like I’m writing in the steerage way of a ship. When I do write, I find I can write in a very concentrated fashion for three to four hours, but then I’m empty. I’m done. I can edit and touch-up later in the day, but for all intents and purposes, I’m wrung out by then.

Your characters are so tech-savvy, it makes us suspect that you have a technical background. True?

This is true. I’ve parlayed some degree of my own experience working in the tech industry for the past fourteen years. But in my work capacity, in quality engineering, I’m normally defending against hacking, not advocating or practicing it.

The novel touches on the coolness and innovation of technology, and also delves into the creepy side of it - for example, how it can be used for surveillance and voyeurism. Can you comment on how technology plays a role, almost as a character unto itself, in the novel?

Good question. For some personally unexamined reason, I think the most horrible thing could be to have no shield or division between each of us. I like filters. I like discreteness. Without them, I think people, or any society for that matter, would quickly lose grip of itself. I would never want to know what absolutely everyone I ever met thinks of me. Imagine having no super-ego to suppress your Id. Imagine what you would see, or others would see, if they were allowed to invisibly observe all your thoughts and actions?

I’m officially a techno-geek, so I love gadgets, new technologies, and new iterations of my favorite software. There’s so much personal allure to finding something that makes small parts of my life just plain easier. But on the other side of the coin, there’s damage to be had. We expose so much of ourselves when we routinely expose ourselves to technology, and enmesh ourselves within it. Over time, it seems we are slowly handing ourselves over, one byte at a time, into someone else’s hard drive.

We enjoyed the vividness of your writing, and your use of creative and original descriptions and phrases. Can you describe your experience and background in writing?

For the longest time I’ve concentrated on short fiction and poetry. I think these shorter forms almost force you to fit as much as you can into a smaller confines. And I suppose I’ve always enjoyed more visual writing, and go for the same with my own. I do try to describe things as accurately as possible, and as uniquely as possible. I do this for the high of it. When I can hit upon just the right description, or comparison, there’s a magic, or a spark there, some connection to some other level of understanding it seems. On a similar note, when I read someone else’s vivid writing, and witness them describe something in the best way possible, it does two things to me. As a reader, I’m immediately thrilled, as if I was accidentally shown the secret to some trick, a legend to a map I wasn’t supposed to have seen. There’s a flashing arc of recognition, like: I’ve seen the world this way too, I know what you mean! But as a writer, I’m saddened, for another writer has just carved out the perfect description for “x”, and the rest of us, when describing “x”, will just have to sort through and settle for the sawdust and shavings left behind.

The death of Jay's mother becomes a double loss for him, as his father disengages. It strikes us that Jay is almost left as an orphan as a result. Perhaps that forces Jay to pursue the mystery more freely than if he had his father to consult with. Can you comment on that situation and how you as the author used that to propel the story line?

Jay is certainly adrift at the opening of the novel. There is no greater time that a child would need the support and guidance of one parent, than with the loss of the other. I also wanted to free-up Jay, his friend Bennie, and Bennie’s sister Chloe, so they almost had no choice but act on their own throughout the story. We do find out later that there are definite reasons for Jay’s father’s disengagement, and the reasons aren’t as selfish as they seem.

This is your first novel. Can you share with us what you learned from the writing of the book?

It’s hard. I was spoiled with the instant gratification of writing a short story or poem in a day, polishing it up, and sharing it. Novel writing is so much more complex, and because of its longer form, any early miscalculations made only get exaggerated as you continue to write… like shooting for the moon from earth, but you’re off by one degree. Early and consistent feedback during the writing process can correct these issues. There are an infinite number of adages about, you know, anything worth doing is worth doing well. I liken writing your first book to running your first marathon. Crossing that finish line is a very intoxicating image, but later, in the harsh reality of running the race, it’s really just one brave, and sometimes extremely painful, footfall at a time.

What advice would you give to other writers or would-be writers?

I don’t know how you could fail if you write something that uniquely interests you first. Also, it took me a long time to allow myself to just free-write in early drafts. It actually might feel awful at first, like garbage, but if you don’t start writing, you’ll have nothing to improve, nothing to shape into something better.

Okay, let's get a bit more personal. Tell us five random things about you!

I’m a premature baby juggler that loves pizza. But that’s only three. Let’s see. I just made my first batch of homemade beer and it’s terrible. And finally, I used to be a big sleepwalker—I miss it, it generated some great stories.

We enjoyed the twists and turns of this story! What's next in your writing plans?

I’ve finished the first draft of my next novel, entitled “dirt”. I literally drove by the original idea for the book. I noticed a commercial building in town being demolished very close to an adjoining neighborhood. Another business would be built in its place, a particular type of business that values its security and privacy. The new building would also be very close to one house in particular. Within digging distance, say.

Thanks for talking with us. We're pleased to feature your book on KindleBoards!

Collin, thanks for talking with us. We're pleased to feature your book on KindleBoards!

Upload is available now to download to your Kindle!

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