Wednesday, January 15, 2014

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Gretchen Blickensderfer

An interview with Gretchen Blickensderfer, author of The Last Circle.


Hi! Welcome to Zigzag Timeline. Can you tell us about your background as an author?

This is my first novel. I began writing in 2004 with two screenplays: Foreign Exchange and Imminent Disaster is Imminent. I have also been a film critic for an Indianapolis Fox News affiliate and am currently a writer for the Windy City Times in Chicago.

What got you into writing?

I was working as an actor in Los Angeles and was rather disenchanted with the typecasting that tends to go on there, a lot of which is nonsensical. For example, a Casting Director once told me that, owing to my British background and dark skin, she saw me either as “a terrorist or a Hispanic Hugh Grant.” While drowning my sorrows with an awful lot of watery beer, I told the story of how I came to America to a friend of mine. He suggested that it would make a great screenplay. So, we worked on it together and Foreign Exchange was picked up by an agent. I was hooked, I think chiefly because of the freedom I found in creating a character and then guiding her/him towards their ultimate fate rather than portraying and being limited to the ideas of another writer.

What was the first idea you had for your book, and how did the story grow from there?

I had begun transitioning from male to female and it was, without a doubt, the toughest journey I have ever had to make.  After a rather selfish phase that I went through, believing I was wholly justified in demanding people just deal with it, I realized I was asking a tremendous amount of my friends and family to essentially say goodbye to one person and welcome the next. It tested those relationships in ways I never imagined possible and some simply did not survive.

At the same time, I became more starkly aware of the raw hatred that was being sent my way, particularly by members of the religious right. Words like “abomination” or “freak” suddenly took on a whole new and more terrifying meaning. I remember an online debate about whether a trans-person in Maryland could use a restroom appropriate to their chosen gender and the number of people saying that if they ever caught a trans-woman in a female restroom, they would “kill it.” Then there were all the stories about LGBT people being murdered around the world, often times with no repercussions for the killers. Places like, the AFA and the Family Research Council were replete with statements that an LGBT person was not a human being or possessed some sort of sinister agenda to bring America crumbing down. It didn’t seem so far removed from the sort of propaganda that has always been utilized by those “at war with undesirable people.”

So it all came together: the fallibility of friendships and the deep seated fear that is invoked when you are hated by a ‘moral majority’. It’s a modern day horror story, the monsters of which are drawn directly from people like Pat Robertson and Bryan Fischer who wholeheartedly believe that they are on the side of good. The policies portrayed in The Last Circle were drawn, not only from statements they have made, but directly from documents such as the Texas Republican Party Platform of 2010. That is a terrifying read all by itself.

Among your characters, who's your favorite? Could you please describe him/her?

The antagonist of the piece, Shelby Langman. It’s always fun to write bad guys but the challenge comes in seeing things from their point of view. The most perniciously evil characters, fictional or factual, never believe that what they are doing is wrong. Oftentimes, in their minds, they are performing a selfless public service and should be acknowledged as such. Shelby genuinely believes that ridding the world of Pagans and homosexuals will make America a better place and, by converting unbelievers to Christ, she will be seen as righteous by those around her and by God. The actual damage she does is inconsequential to her because she is on the side of an evangelical interpretation of the Bible that she believes to be infallible.  Rationally speaking, I often wondered what people like the late Howard Camping or even Fred Phelps could possibly be thinking. What motivated them and their followers? We talk about blind faith but is that all it is? Shelby is a composite of many such people and one theory about what drives them. She was a lot of fun to put together.

What's your favorite scene from your novel? Could you please describe it?

In the early scenes of the book, Shelby has just finished a dictum to her Bible-study class on how witchcraft in the media is dangerous and should not be tolerated. Once again, right wing blogs and Christian media watchdogs provided a limitless and sometimes quite hysterical pool of inspiration for me here. Shelby’s rather vacuous set of students argue about which Disney films do or do not include witches and therefore should not be supported. That was an awful lot of fun to write, if anything because the source material provided its own comic relief.

What's your favorite part of writing? Plotting? Describing scenes? Dialogue?

All three. Yes, sorry for the cop-out but, again, it all boils down the simple joy of creating a world and the people who populate it. Each aspect carries its own set of challenges.  Dialogue is always going to be tough because, unless it’s a prepared speech, people often stumble over words, they don’t always have a pithy comeback and sometimes correct themselves mid-sentence. Conveying that in writing would make it just cumbersome, but you want to try and keep it as real as possible. A lot of that meant reading the book out loud again and again to my poor, eternally patient wife.

How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have a writing process, or do you wing it?

The first draft of The Last Circle took a year and half and about two years of rewrites before I began querying it. I didn’t stick to any set process while putting it together but there was a lot of pacing back and forth before I’d begin a section and far too many cigarettes for my own good when I was writing it. However, sometimes, ideas would come to me thanks simply to my environment. For example I was writing a scene between Shelby and Stephen on a plane and there was a rather nosy little old lady sitting next to me who was reading over my shoulder as I typed. Pegging her as a bit of a Mary Whitehouse, I added some gratuitous sex for her benefit which, in turn, spurred a big reveal about Stephen that I had hitherto never thought of. We toned down the scene a little in story editing, but left the reveal in. Thank you Mary.

What is it about the genre you chose that appeals to you?

As I said, there is a great deal of information to be had that makes the dystopian world of The Last Circle a little more visceral than say “lizards taking over the planet and turning human beings into rather stylish clutch purses.” When I was first pitching it around, Rick Santorum was on the momentary upswing of his presidential bid. I was asked repeatedly if The Last Circle was fiction. It confirmed to me that I had something that genuinely scared people.

Are there any books or writers that have had particular influence on you?

Douglas Adams had a phenomenal way of looking at the world and seeing the comic potential in the marvelous lunacy it generates. He gave it a science fiction setting and a beautifully dry narrative. I’ve yet to see it’s equal.

Did you ever surprise yourself when you were writing your book? Characters who took on lives of their own? Plot elements that took unexpected turns?

Now that it’s published. I miss both Shelby and Laura particularly.  When you’re an actor, you make best friends with your characters even if, ordinarily, you’d nose dive into a volcano in order to avoid them. When the run of the play is over their absence is felt. This is no less true when writing. Outside of the search for more cash, series books are generated because the author simply doesn’t want to let a character go just yet. As the book was coming together, Shelby and Laura started to guide me rather than vice versa. I’d have to say it was Laura who was responsible for the outcome of The Last Circle, as I honestly did not know how the end was going to play out until her character started speaking to me. Anything else is between me and my therapist who’s still working on my banana smoking problem.   

Thanks for stopping by!

About The Last Circle

“If you will not be saved, there will be consequences.”
Based upon existing platforms and quotes from American Conservative political and church leaders, The Last Circle chronicles the rise to power of a United States Evangelical theocracy and the small group of Pagan and LGBT friends who must escape the country in order to survive.
The U.S. economy is plunged into depression allowing a charismatic preacher to seize control of the government as the leader of the Tea Party and ‘Revangelism’ movements. With the support of a starving nation, he engages in a gruesome, systematic program of religious and cultural cleansing.
Laura Salway is the leader of a devoted group of friends who maintain a precarious Wiccan Coven in Indianapolis. After publicly performing a Pagan ritual in protest of the new administration, they attempt to flee to the safety of Europe. In a cat and mouse chase through the Southern states, they are relentlessly pursued by Shelby Langman, the vitriolic director of the Bureau of Religious Protection, charged with keeping America safe from threats to Judeo-Christian values.
Their terrifying journey tests the limits of the Coven’s friendship and Laura must discover who among them is secretly tipping Shelby off.
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