Today's author is Joshua McCune, the author of Talker 25! I'm really excited to share this interview because every question is about his book. I think you guys will love reading Joshua's responses! (Plus, there's a giveaway . . . )
Joshua McCune was born on a Navy base in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He grew up in London and Washington, D.C., went to college in Texas, and got married in New Zealand. He worked as a telemarketer, an SAT instructor, and a robotics engineer before becoming an author. He currently lives in San Antonio, Texas with his wife and two dogs, writing stories of people and places just beyond the reach of planes, trains, and automobiles (but not dragons).
Publisher: Greenwillow / HarperCollins
Publication Date: April 22nd, 2014
Find it on Goodreads
Debut author Joshua McCune's gritty and heart-pounding novel is a masterful reimagining of popular dragon fantasy lore, set in a militant future reminiscent of Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker and Ann Aguirre's Outpost.
It's a high school prank gone horribly wrong-sneaking onto the rez to pose next to a sleeping dragon-and now senior Melissa Callahan has become an unsuspecting pawn in a war between Man and Monster, between family and friends and the dragons she has despised her whole life. Chilling, epic, and wholly original, this debut novel imagines a North America where dragons are kept on reservations, where strict blackout rules are obeyed no matter the cost, where the highly weaponized military operates in chilling secret, and where a gruesome television show called Kissing Dragons unites the population. Joshua McCune's debut novel offers action, adventure, fantasy, and a reimagining of popular dragon lore.
What do you hope readers get out of reading Talker 25?
First and foremost, my goal is always to create a story that readers will hopefully enjoy. That said, there are some pretty dark elements in T25 (originally called KISSING DRAGONS, btw) that I knew would likely turn some audience members away. When I was first writing T25, it was a lighter book – the second half (the dark side) was far less grim – but I decided the tone didn’t match my desire to paint a more realistic, grittier version of war. In terms of marketing, T25 is often labeled as a cross between urban fantasy and dystopian. I’ve never really viewed it as either. I look at it more as a war story… with dragons J.
Where did the idea for the television show Kissing Dragons come from?
I once read that Guantanamo Bay prisoners were tormented/tortured with Disney songs on constant repeat. I wanted to incorporate that idea into T25. Kissing Dragon is introduced to the reader in a similar manner, though that’s not its primary purpose.
The concept of propaganda has always fascinated me. The media’s influence in today’s world is more pronounced than it’s ever been. The lines between fact and fiction (real and not real) sometimes blur. And sometimes, the lines are blurred intentionally to dramatize/sensationalize in order to maximize reach, effect, and profit.
In T25, I wanted to blend the ideas of propaganda with reality TV to help remind the population that just because the dragons have been defeated after a decade long war, it doesn’t mean they still aren’t out there, waiting, lurking... lethal. Plus, the government can always use more money to fund its elaborate extermination efforts.
Describe the personality of your heroine, Melissa.
Flawed. Damaged. Human.
Melissa comes into the book still struggling to overcome her mother’s death, struggling to understand why her mother loved dragons, struggling to figure out how to live in the world as it is. In the first few chapters, some major events occur that send her closer to the edge. Her reactions to situations aren’t always the best because of this, but ultimately, she’s a girl who misses her mother deeply and wants to make her proud by living her life the way her mother lived hers. With conviction. Doing the right thing. The problem is, the right thing is very rarely clear anymore.
Tell me about some of the other important characters (main, side, human, or dragon) and their roles in the story.
James, the prime boy in the story, is a shadow character. Melissa is initially attracted to him because of his mysterious nature, though he’s little more than a passing thought for her in the grand scheme of the chaos erupting in her life. Only when she discovers that he knew her mother does her interest grow. By then the chaos is in full force and there’s not too much time for any sort of relationship. Yet because there’s so much unknown going on around Melissa, she clings to him, because he’s a semi-known. A reminder of her mother in some ways. By the end of the story, however, he’s a complete unknown, lost in his own darkness.
Baby, a baby dragon, is the linchpin of the story in a variety of ways. One of the reasons I wrote T25 was to explore how war affects children. I remember seeing these horrible images of child soldiers in Africa on the TV. Ten-year-olds carrying around machine guns, hard-eyed. Joyless. Robotic, almost. As we grow older, we sadly have a tendency to lose our innocence and become jaded by the world anyway, but war tends to accelerate that exponentially. Despite everything, Melissa’s mother maintained that joy for life, an unbreakable optimism. Hope. When Melissa looks at Baby, she doesn't see a dragon. She sees a child full of innocence and hope. And, in some ways, she sees her mother. And she’ll do anything to protect her.
Lorena – Talker 2: I love Lorena. She’s jaded to the core, but she’s got a heart of gold and quickly becomes Talker 25’s best friend. While most of the other talkers are just trying to figure out the best way to survive, Lorena’s trying to figure out the best way to help them survive a little better. Her methods aren’t always the purest, but her intentions are.
Vestia – the only other dragon besides Baby that Melissa befriends. An older, gruff dragon who helps Melissa discover that not all dragons are monsters, and, unfortunately, that not all monsters are dragons.
Talker 25 is a pretty dark book, but it seems like it’s pretty important to the story that it be that way. Am I right? Would the story be the same if it wasn't as dark?
I think it would be less authentic, though perhaps more stomachable. When I wrote the back half, I was envisioning CIA black sites, where some of the most dangerous people in the world are purportedly held. Off the grid sites, where torture and interrogation occur (for the most part unregulated). Brutally.
Often, as authors, we’ll tapdance around the more horrific elements in our stories and let the reader infer/imagine the outcome. In earlier incarnations, I tapdanced around the more squeamish scenes with generic summary, but my editor and I decided we wanted the reader to experience the scenes with Melissa, in the moment. We understood that this would turn more stomachs… but we wanted to create a more visceral effect, a more truthful effect.
What can we expect in the sequel?
In T25, many readers will see the government as this evil entity and the dragons as the victims. In the sequel, readers will see that it’s not nearly that black and white. Plus, there are more dragons (lots and lots more), more battles and aerial scenes, more romance (a lot more of that too)… and no dragon torture ;).
Joshua has offered to give away one signed hardcover copy of Talker 25! (Thank you, Joshua!) The giveaway is open to US addresses only and ends on June 26th @ midnight PST. I will announce the winners on Twitter and will send emails to the winners. If you win, you have 48 hours to respond and claim your prize.a Rafflecopter giveaway
I hope you enjoyed the interview! Come back tomorrow a guest post by the next author.
Hint: Her debut releases in October and focuses on Aztec mythology.