Thursday, October 11, 2018

An interview with M. Verant, author of the Trump-Era political thriller ''POWER IN THE AGE OF LIES''

Book blurb: "Power in the Age of Lies" is literary fiction, but it holds up a mirror to the very Trumpian times we live in now. Perhaps more than any novel published in 2018, Verant's book seems set to capture the angst of those of us alive now. Read it and weep. And then take action. - Dan Bloom, Editor, The Cli-Fi Report.

This blog recently interviewed Mike Verant by email and he kindly took the time to reply. [He writes under the name of M. Verant.]

[TO ORDER: The book's on Amazon but note this: the novel can only be released in the USA right now because lawyers are still checking defamation law for other regions. In the USA the book is protected as satire by the 1st Amendment. But the UK, Canada, and Australia are all riskier, due to different libel laws there, Mike told me in a follow-up email.]

DAN BLOOM: Your novel Power in the Age of Lies is the story of a brilliant coal engineer, a woman, who's fighting to save her destitute Kentucky mining town, and whose honesty and ethics force her to re-examine her own climate change denialist thinking and, ultimately, to challenge the corrupt U.S. White House administration that she has joined. What led you to write this novel? When did you start writing it, what month or  what year and when did you finish it.

MIKE VERANT: I care deeply about the themes of the novel — truth, integrity, and empathy. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 revolted me, as if an idiot-savant had risen to personify our society's trend toward self-gratification, dishonesty, and cruelty. I've always been political active but knocking on doors for candidates no longer seemed sufficient, so I began writing full-time in June of 2017. I finished the first draft in December 2017, and the third major revision wrapped in June 2018  this year. So the project lasted almost exactly a year.

2. Power is both a cli-fi novel and a directly-political book that criticizes the Trump administration and America's descent toward authoritarian government. Instead of depicting a future climate disaster, your focus is the corruption and hypocrisy driving current American climate policy. You have said that your hope is that a book like yours can reach people who have checked out from other media due to fatigue or disgust. Do you hope your novel can change readers' minds in this regard?

MIKE VERANT: Changing beliefs is hard in our echo-chamber world, but yes — I hope to change a few minds. However, for politically charged topics like climate change, I don't believe any outside argument can change a person's opinion. Instead, a reader must choose to self-examine their own beliefs critically. In Power, the protagonists are heroes because they seek either objective truth about the world, or their own self-realization. Although the book evangelizes correct climate science, I try not to pound the reader with factual arguments. Instead, the message is to think — seek facts, care about people, and fight for good.

3 and 4:. One reader said in his blurb that your book is set in ‘Year Four of the Trump Presidency’ ominously, no actual date is given with the United States on the brink of a second Civil War between an underground Resistance and a nationalist dictator. He said your book calls to mind ''The Man in the High Castle'in its dystopian vision of a divided America, but is perhaps better described as a liberal (and much shorter) ''Atlas Shrugged,'' with a lot to think about as the 2020 Presidential election looms. Did you write the book in hopes of reaching anti-Trump readers as the election campaign of 2020 draws near?
4. Another reader has said that your novel's portrayal of a corrupt, egotistical Trump dragging America toward civil war feels very real. A the same time the book is about the two heroes of your story —Madison and Conrad, who are champions of science, empathy, and truth. Can you tell me a bit more about Madison and Conrad, just to whet potential a reader's appetitie?

MIKE VERANT: Madison is a 25 year old woman, raised by her coal-miner father in a small Kentucky town. Her life has been shaped by the economic collapse of the coal mining industry through the Appalachian coal belt. She's an engineer, a bit of a nerd, and a powerful leader. But her driving force is empathy; she cares desperately about the damage to her community, and through the story, her actions and the evolution of her beliefs are driven by her care about others.

Several readers have compared Power to Atlas Shrugged. Both books feature a powerful woman protagonist who uses industry for her goals. But Dagny Taggart from Atlas Shrugged is extreme to the point of caricature. Madison, I believe, is very human, struggling with her feelings, falling in love, and fighting hard to do the right thing.

Conrad is 31, and a passionate activist in the fight against climate change. He abandoned his successful career building solar power plants to pursue politics so he could fight more effectively against global warming. He just won a critical senate election that broke Republican control, so his position should be immensely powerful. But he's frustrated and disillusioned with politics. Now he's hunting for the motivation and means to fight again. He's also Latino, and although immigration and race are not the main focus of Power in the Age of Lies, Conrad is a strong advocate for victims of discrimination.

Madison and Conrad are passionate people pursuing causes that collide. I loved writing their interaction, particularly the SV1 chapter. You'll have to read it to see what happens.

5. In the novel a fictionalized Trump lurches from one scandal to another while the laws and customs of the USA are at risk. So the novel is a warning, a wake up call, a call to action. Was that your intent or did you just want to write a good warn and vent your feelings at the time time?

MIKE VERANT: This was intent. I wrote Power to be an exciting, fun story, but criticism of the Trump administration was there from the first—the book's afterward has 70 notes that tie the story to fact. However, I admit that venting feels good, too.

6. Power in the Age of Lies " is  a very powerful and topical title. How did you come by that title, and was it your first choice right from the get go and did you also have some other possible titles in mind? Dish.

MIKE VERANT: The hunt for a title was painful and long. The draft title was Red Lies, but readers younger than me felt that was a dated reference to the USSR, and I never felt it captured the theme. I toyed with Truth and Treason because I like both alliteration and Jane Austen, but that was too cute and suggested petticoats. I may still write a book with that title. Power in the Age of Lies came to me while finishing revisions, driven by the social themes of the book.

6. What kind book publicity do you plan to do to get the word out and attract readers in a crowded social media landscape full of gossip and entertainment industry distractions and cute cat videos? Radio interviews with NPR station in San Francisco area where you live? Newspaper interviews? Bookstore signings and readings in the Bay area? Maybe NPR national bureau in Washington by telephone interview with Scott Simon on All Things Considered? Blogs, websites? Social media tweets?

MIKE VERANT: All of the above would be wonderful! However, I've found social media more useful for networking with other authors than for promotion. Perhaps I just don't have the knack. But book marketing is challenging right now for everyone, including indie and mainstream publishers. One quirk is that Power is not easily categorized. I've had readers argue that Power a political thriller, a spy novel, a satire, speculative fiction, political criticism, even romance. Um... okay. Now what?

7. The book has soft-launched already and now you're trying to get the word out and connect with people who care about these issues. How did you plan to do that?

MIKE VERANT: My goal has always been to write a book that's a fun, powerful read. If I've succeeded, then I just want to keep finding new readers. Hopefully they will spread the word.

A lot of my readers tell me this would make a great movie. Is that an option?

8. Already many "resistance" readers and writers and activists you know have jumped in fast to read your novel, but since the book also is a kind of cli-fi novel you would also  like to add connections to people in the climate advocacy and climate activist communitiies. How do you hope to do that?

MIKE VERANT: I'm excited to be interviewed for your blog, which I think many climate advocates and fans of cli-fi follow. This month I'll reach out to authors and journalists who are interested in cli-fi. Or if  any of your blog followers are reading this, please tell them they may contact me

9. Your novel is a political thriller, and also a cli-fi story set in these post-IPCC report times. Do you think the cli-fi genre can impact readers and even be a kind of call to action?

MIKE VERANT: I absolutely believe cli-fi can be a call to action. Will a hardcore climate denier read cli-fi and change their mind? Probably not. But there is always a new generation rising with open minds, and reaching them through fiction is wonderful. Also, reading great new cli-fi is re-energizing for those of us who have been fighting for this cause for decades.

If I had a selfish wish, it would be a few less climate disaster books, and a few more cli-fi stories that chart a path for humanity to save the planet.

10. Who is publishing your novel? Did you  work with an editor and a proofreader to get everything into shipshape shape on the printed page? Who designed the cover? if the book has a dedication page, who is the book dedicated to?

MIKE VERANT: Power in the Age of Lies is self-published. Querying the book was interesting because several agents immediately advised me to self-publish. One reason was time-to-market; traditional fiction publishing would be slow and Power's material is very topical. But the other reason was that few publishers would risk publishing a partisan book. If I were doing it over, I might try to find a small press who was willing to take the risk.

I've very happy with how the project has proceeded. I've had tremendous support from publishing professionals, both formally and from eager people who support the book's goals. The line between self-publishing and small presses is increasingly blurry anyway. I had more professional editorial help than many first-time authors receive from their publisher, and although promotion is difficult, many debut authors do a lot of their own promotion even with a major publisher.

The cover and interior are by Streetlight Graphics, who did a fabulous job.

I didn't formally dedicate the book. I could dedicate it to Trump, without whom it would probably not have been written, except the irony might be missed. And this book is not about Trump. He's merely a symptom of social trends I oppose.

No comments: