I had the wonderful opportunity to interview up and coming author James Stryker and learn more about him and his debut novel, Assimilation. In this interview he talks about what went into creating this book, his love of reading and music, and what readers can expect from him in the near future.
Well, my name is James and I’m a central-PA transplant, originally from Utah. Despite being here for almost ten years I’m still notorious for getting lost – a source of amusement to my friends and frustration to me. I work as part of the leadership team at a call center, which keeps my supply of strange names and crazy characters pretty full. My wife and I are also the humble slaves to four pugs, who continue to think I should allocate more time to treats and less to writing.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
My debut novel, Assimilation, released at the end of June. The inspiration for Assimilation stemmed from my goal to explore a transgender experience through a different lens.
In Assimilation, my main character is brought back from the dead after a fatal car accident; however, an error in the cryonic preservation technique impacts his gender identity. The result is that a male identity, Andrew, is reanimated in the female body of Natalie. Having the wrong body is further complicated by Andrew being expected to fill a role as a wife and mother under the pressure of Natalie’s husband, Robert.
I feel like Andrew’s situation is one that a transgender individual would recognize and could help a cisgender person identify with the struggle.
How would you categorize your book?
Assimilation could fit in many categories – Momentum/Pan MacMillan calls it a “dystopian sci-fi thriller.” When I’m asked “what kind of book is it?” my go-to answer is “sci-fi with LGBTQ elements and a prolific use of the ‘F’ word.”
|Assimilation Available Now|
Assimilation is actually told from three points of view (close third-person narrative):
Andrew is my main character and the book focuses on his challenge to retain his gender identity against the controlling wishes of Natalie’s husband. He wants to just be seen as “one of the guys,” but putting so much energy into that singular purpose drives him to selfish, careless actions. He’s definitely not a “heart of gold” character, but I believe many can relate to his “trying to fit in” mentality.
While the husband, Robert, is the antagonist from Andrew’s perspective, I think it’s significant to see the situation from his eyes. Robert is ecstatic to be reunited with the wife he thought he’d lost, yet she’s not the same Natalie. His desire to have his wife back at any cost is an admirable quality; however, I was drawn in by the idea of how perverse the quest for “the perfect Natalie” could become.
My third key player is Oz, an ex-Cryo patient who befriends and supports Andrew in pursuing a life outside Robert. Oz has also been deeply damaged by the cryonic reanimation, which has taken away the gift he feels gave his life purpose. He regards himself as meaningless and is bent on a path of cheerful self-destruction. Of every character over all five books, I enjoyed writing Oz the most.
How does the title relate to the story?
The tile Assimilation directly ties into the book. One of the legal repercussions of the reanimation is that patients only temporarily assume their pre-death identity until their guardian determines if they can assimilate on a permanent basis.
Tell us more about the cover design. How involved were you with creating the cover?
Momentum/Pan MacMillan actually proposed the cover. The concepts I’d posted on my website focused on a “brain in jar” motif, so it was interesting to see their designers take it in another direction. They were great to work with in incorporating a couple of suggestions I had in their design, and I love the result.
The cover captures the opening scene of Assimilation where Andrew wakes up mute and paralyzed to be confronted with having been reanimated in a woman’s body. Proof of how positive it can be to get outside my own head – I never would’ve created such an “eye-catching” cover solo.
Tell us something about your book that isn't mentioned in the synopsis.
The synopsis alludes to it, but I think an interesting part of Assimilation is the other Cryo-patients and their group dynamic. Oz has essentially brought together a “band of brothers” – people who were also damaged by the reanimation in various ways.
Midway through the book, Andrew meets Oz’s best friend, Santino – despite his charming exterior, his obsession with death veers into the morbid and taboo. Andrew is also introduced to another friend, Tinks, who suffers from the never-ending earworm of Chopin’s Polonaise Héroïque.
Give us a summary of your book in a tweet.
It was actually an #SFFPit tweet that caught the attention of Momentum/Pan MacMillan and led to the offer, so I’ll give you that one: “Cryogenic error resurrects man in a woman’s body; he asserts own identity against husband who paid to have her back.” Funny how after 150 individual queries (word count amounting to a small novel itself) it only took 20 words squeezed into a tweet. J
How much of your experience is in your book?
I wouldn’t consider myself a stereotypical guy – I crochet, I like cleaning the house, and there’s no way I could change a tire. But I grew up in a culture with very defined gender roles where deviation from the layout is sinful. Andrew’s struggle to embrace his identity and gain acceptance from those around him is an experience I’ve had, and that I think everyone shares in different ways. Realizing that my self-worth isn’t dependent on meeting the standards of anyone else is at the core of Assimilation.
Describe your writing process.
I’m a combination of plotter/pantser. When I’ve mentally plotted the first third, I get the feel that “it’s time to write” – basically, if I don’t start, I’m going to have told it in my head so many times that it’ll be stale and boring (if I lose the enthusiasm in writing it, how can the reader be anything but bored too?)
The actual “words to processor” phase goes quickly. I’ll take some time off work, cloister myself somewhere, and just pound out a first draft. I type 115ish words per minute, so as I let the story unfold it’s almost like taking dictation. Are you familiar with that scene in Milos Forman’s Amadeus where Mozart is at the billiards table? The shouting of his father and wife fades into the music as he passes the pool ball from side to side and writes. That’s what it’s like for me – I’ll write 10-12K in a day, and my wife will have to remind me to eat.
I don’t have a specific place that I write overall – kitchen table, papasan chair, bedroom closet etc. Usually I’ll listen to music, but it’s often the same song for hours. I like to write in the dark, if I can. Another weird quirk is that I also prefer to wear a scarf when I’m writing.
How much research did you put into your book?
Thanks to this book I actually became quite the abstract art fan, and my animosity toward mathematics has improved considerably.
What are your interests outside of writing? Do any of these find their way into your books?
One of my long-time fascinations has been in the biological/cultural aspects of death. I’ve toured several cadaver labs and did a brief stint in a mortuary, both of which have stuck with me. I frequently incorporate death and the dead into my books. In my second novel, Boy, the family operates a funeral home, and I write about suicide, necrophilia, and various levels of body decomposition in my other books.
On a lighter note, I also love opera, but unfortunately, the characters I write about don’t generally have an appreciation for classical music. (My one fellow opera enthusiast in Boy dies at the end of the first chapter.) So I save my music preference to enjoy between writing books.
What is the best advice received as an author? What advice might you give aspiring authors?
The best advice I received is also what I’d pass on to an aspiring author – reading, even silent reading, is an auditory experience. Studies have shown that when reading, activity is present in auditory processing areas of the brain. (A great article among many: http://scicurious.scientopia.org/2013/01/23/silent-reading-isnt-so-silent-at-least-not-to-your-brain/)
I’d recommend that any author have their manuscript read to them using an e-reader or text-to-speech software. The things that can be uncovered are amazing – typos, grammar, issues with sentence construction (awkward phrasing, length, etc.). As writers, we work on a project for years and its words are ingrained in our minds. When we read back to edit, we read it as we thought it. In hearing the book without our internal rhythm, how it will “sound” to a reader… Well, I always find plenty of cringe-worthy things.
What kinds of books did you read as a child?
Books were an escape for me when I was growing up. I was actually a fantasy buff – I loved T.A. Barron’s Lost Years of Merlin series, and Tamora Pierce’s Lioness Quartet. The characters in these books were my friends when I didn’t have any and gave me the strength to keep persevering to reach my goals. While I wouldn’t dream of attempting anything in the fantasy genre, I’d like the books I write to be as meaningful to someone else as these were to me.
I’d say my favorite character is Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I discovered her when I was eleven-years-old. She was the little girl who was always alone and felt unloved, yet had dreams to be more. I especially identified with how she noticed and derived meaning from seemingly small things – the brown bowl in the library, the smell of her father’s shirts, the tree outside the window. I remember thinking, “Wow, there is someone who thinks like I do.”
Francie chose to express her feelings in writing, and when I read about her that’s probably when I started to think seriously that I should try and do the same.
What types of genres do you read now for pleasure?
As opposed to fantasy, I go for more literary fiction now. I love books with beautiful prose that have purpose beyond entertainment.
What is next for you?
I’m very pleased to announce that I recently contracted with NineStar Press for publication of my second novel, Boy, later in the year. Their objective of showcasing and advancing fiction from under-represented voices is something I’m very excited to be a part of.
Of course, I’ll also continue to seek homes for my other completed works as I maintain connections with the writing community. There’s nothing better than a good #2BitTues, #1LineWed, or #ThruLineThurs to meet some amazing writers and get a sneak peek at the next best sellers J
You can find James Stryker at the following:
Twitter: : @JStryker21
You can find James Stryker at the following:
Twitter: : @JStryker21