Jun 252014
 

Interview: Eliot Baker

Can you tell us what your book is about?
Absolutely. Around Nantucket Island, brutal crime scenes are peppered with ancient coins, found by the one man who can unlock their meaning. But what do the coins have to do with the crimes? Or the sudden disease epidemic? Even the creature? And who–or what–left them?

The answer leads reporter Simon Stephenson on a journey through ancient mythology, numismatics, and the occult. Not to mention his own past, which turns out to be even darker than he’d realized; his murdered father was a feared arms dealer, after all. Along the way, Simon battles panic attacks and a host of nasty characters — some natural, others less so — while his heiress fiancee goes bridezilla, and a gorgeous rival TV reporter conceals her own intentions.

Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
Growing up the son of a dangerous arms dealer (amongst other enterprises), the protagonist, Simon, developed a host of anxiety issues, including intense panic attacks, while being defended by his best friend and body guard, George the Greek. Simon has deeply conflicted feelings about his father, of whom Simon wrote a prize-winning expose before his father was assassinated. Judy, Simon’s Manhattan debutante fiancee, is a fellow Ivy League overachiever and elite tennis player. Cecilia Rodriguez is much more than just a sexy celebrity TV reporter covering Simon’s story—she’s a brainy girl of humble origins who finds herself hopelessly entwined in Simon’s story. But none of these characters are what they seem. And then there’s the creature, which is perhaps in its own right the most dominant character.

Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
Ultimately from imagination, but my characters are like mosaics, or DJ samplings, of different people: celebrities, historical figures, friends and acquaintances. I mix wide-ranging traits into a single character, but the combinations of personality ingredients often surprise me. For instance, I took pieces of the best people I know and carved them into some arch villains to make them more interesting and sympathetic. It’s like real life filtering into a dream. It’s unavoidable, not a conscious decision. But of course other people will think your character signifies something or someone else you hadn’t even considered. If I do find that a character is too obviously like a real person, I flip some combination of the character’s gender, race, sexual preference and age.

Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel or do you discover it as you write?
Ah, the Great Question! Yes, I’m highly aware of the plot once I put pen to paper. I have to be, to stay on course. I believe plot is the soul and backbone of a story. I always map out a beginning, some of the middle, and definitely an end– and then let the book take on a life of its own. The rules and logic of the world achieve their own sentience. I admire people with an engineer’s approach to constructing a novel—hard chapter-by-chapter outlines, never deviated from, with exactly five good pages written a day, and so on– but I can’t do that. Not completely. Just sucks out all the joy of discovery for me. So I write down a strong outline and then open up my mind to whatever the little voices tell me. I find that after tons of thinking about a world, and kilotons of research and preparation, the keyboard becomes like a Ouija board for channeling the world onto the page.

Is it hard to get a genre-mashing supernatural thriller/historical mystery/horror/fantasy book published?
Yes and no. Agents I’ve met turn a peculiar shade when they tell them your book’s genre contains slashes. Which I get. It’s much easier to find an audience for a distinct genre. But I happen to most enjoy books that throw genres into a blender and make them cold and frothy with a good dose of strong writing. The Last Ancient had to blend genres. It’s an intricate mystery that I spent oodles of effort to seem plausible, and then even more effort to make the writing not suck. And it has alchemists. And journalists. And scientists. And arms dealers. And a mythological creature. Oh, my. When you go outside the genre box and make a stack of boxes, it’s always harder to get published.

What do you like the most about being an author?
Knowing what I am, at a cellular level. Whether you figure it out in grade school or upon retirement, one either is or is not an author, I think. Either you’re willing to embrace the required frustration, rejection, and loneliness, or you flee from it. It comes down to what gets your brain to release the happy chemicals. For me, writing a good sentence makes my brain go, “Oh!” Conceiving and nurturing a whole plot lights off the neuro-fireworks. As a runner, I’ve had runner’s high. Writer’s high is better. Lasts longer. You smell better, too, after four hours of writing than of running.

What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors?
Paint a realistic portrait of success. An Indie NY Times best-seller? It could happen, but probably won’t, so if that’s how you define success you’re going to define yourself as a failure–even if you achieve the high honor of publication. Success in writing is personal. Try, in the beginning, to just be happy about completing a short story. Throw a little party for yourself. Embrace the warm glow of creation. Then try a novel. Be okay with writing a crappy first draft–and love every moment of it. Put it away for a month or two. Then read it over. Do you still love it? Yes? Then, and only then, start thinking about publication. Identify your weaknesses, your obstacles to publishing—descriptions, characters, dialogue, plotting, whatever–and start honing your craft. Don’t be afraid if it takes years to summit that mountain. If Frodo turned away from Mount Doom, we’d all be speaking Orc now. You’ll get there. Just keep living, keep writing, keep smiling.

About Eliot Baker

Eliot Baker

Eliot Baker lives in Finland. He teaches communications at a local college and runs an editing and translating business, but would be content singing for his heavy metal band and writing novels full-time. He grew up near Seattle, got his B.A. in World Literature at Pitzer College, and got his M.S. in Science Journalism from Boston University. He was an award-winning journalist at the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror, and before that he wrote for the Harvard Health Letters. He spent four years pursuing a career in the sciences while at the Harvard Extension School, during which time he spun old people in NASA-designed rocket chairs and kept younger people awake for 86 hours at a time in a sleep deprivation study. He likes good books, all music, and bad movies, and believes music and literature snobs just need a hug.

Interview: Eliot BakerThe Last Ancient by Eliot Baker
Published by Self published on Dec 1, 2013
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller
Find the book: AmazonSmashwords, Goodreads

Around Nantucket Island, brutal crime scenes are peppered with ancient coins, found by the one man who can unlock their meaning. But what do the coins have to do with the crimes? Or the sudden disease epidemic? Even the creature? And who--or what--left them?

The answer leads reporter Simon Stephenson on a journey through ancient mythology, numismatics, and the occult. Not to mention his own past, which turns out to be even darker than he'd realized; his murdered father was a feared arms dealer, after all. Along the way, Simon battles panic attacks and a host of nasty characters -- some natural, others less so -- while his heiress fiancee goes bridezilla, and a gorgeous rival TV reporter conceals her own intentions.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)

CommentLuv badge