J Gabriel Gates’ upcoming novel Blood Zero Sky has been picking up some steam since our review last month. The book was recently featured in Shelf Awareness Pro’s “Author Buzz.” Recently Gates took the time to sit down and answer a few questions for us..
Blind Scribblings and Incoherent Grunts: What was your inspiration for Blood Zero Sky?
J. Gabriel Gates: Basically, I was seeing a lot of insidious things going on in the world and I wanted to express how I felt about them, and get other people thinking about them, too. In the U.S., we’ve seen a basic shift from a more or less democratic government toward blatant oligarchy, a fact that is proven by the massive and ever-increasing income gap. Obviously, despite what the politicians say, the fact is that the government does not have the best interest of most people in mind. I think a lot of this has to do with the power of corporations. As I point out in the book, the purpose of a corporation is to amass as much market share and as much capital as it possibly can—and that’s fine. That’s what corporations should be doing; it’s their nature. The problem is when we these corporations amass so much political power that they become kingmakers and policy makers for the state. What we’re seeing now is the result of having the moral decisions of a nation made by entities and organizations whose only consideration is greed. There is a fundamental conflict there, and we as a nation and a world need to get started on rectifying it.
BSIG: You first wrote Blood Zero Sky in 2005. How long did it take you to write? Have you made any major changes in the story in the seven years that have passed?
JGG: It only took around six months to write the initial draft, but I did numerous revisions of it in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and a final revision late last year (2011) to prepare it for publication. The main thrust of the story remained the same throughout all the drafts, but I spent most of the earlier drafts refining the plot and making sure that I was clearly expressing what I wanted to say philosophically. The most recent draft was mostly a reflection of the changes that had happened in the world between the book’s first draft and the present. My intent was always to set the book in the near future, using technology that either already existed or was on the cusp of being feasible, so in the latest draft I had to modernize the technology a bit to keep pace with actual advances. I also tweaked the story of how the Company’s consolidation came about to reflect the actual changes that have happened in our world lately that, in my view, have brought us much closer to the world depicted in the book.
BSIG: What was your writing process for this book?
JGG: Well, I wrote the first draft from beginning to end in about six months, then I revised it. I was living in Hollywood at the time, and I had some connections in the film world who were interested in shopping around a screenplay version of the book, so I wrote a screenplay. It got shopped around Hollywood. One major Hollywood agent felt it was “too hyperbolic” (Ha! I wonder what he’d think now? Probably that it’s too close to the truth.) There were other interested parties, but the writer’s guild strike hit at that time, and script sales ceased, so the opportunities fizzled. But I got some good plot ideas from working on the screenplay, and used them to do a new revision of the book. I got the manuscript into the hands of a major agent, then, who declared that “dystopian fiction wasn’t hot” at the moment, and passed. So the manuscript sat on a shelf before my visionary friends at HCI Books came along and loved it. I did one more revision, and well, the book’s destiny will be in the hands of readers from here on out.
BSIG: Where did your idea for the Protectorate come from?
JGG: The book depicts a new revolutionary war in America, so as I set about writing it I did some research about the original American Revolution. As much as the names of our founding fathers get bandied about constantly by supporters of this or that cause, (often by the far, far right!) the fact is that many of them were truly extraordinary people, warrior-farmer-philosophers who literally risked everything they had, including their lives, in a bid to form the most egalitarian, most free country that the world had ever seen. It’s impossible not to read their words and learn their stories and not be filled with a yearning to see men like them running the country once more. In the book, the Protectorate is a secret fourth branch of government created by George Washington to lie in wait and rise up in the event that America’s democracy was ever threatened. It was my way of bottling the transcendent wisdom and strength of character of our nation’s founders and injecting it into our not-too-distant future.
BSIG: In Blood Zero Sky, May is a lesbian. What lead you to that choice?
JGG: Not too long before I started work on Blood Zero Sky, I read a wonderful book called Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. It tells the tale of a male-identified lesbian trying to live and make ends meet in the 1950s and 60s, amid all sorts of terrible discrimination. The story and the character really affected me, and when I sat down to write Blood Zero Sky, I realized that the main character in my story would have to have that same extraordinary strength in the face of a world that was seemingly so full of promise, but also held so much potential for hatred and destruction. And so May Fields was born.
BSIG: What lead you to choose the corporation names that you selected?
JGG: Ha! The fear of a lawsuit! Truthfully though, I wanted to use the names of real corporations to give the story a feeling of gravitas and an air of reality without demonizing any particular company, even one that might be considered an “evil corporation,” so I picked companies who most people tend to consider fairly benign: Nabisco and Briggs & Stratton. My objective was to criticize the corporate system, not to bring attention to any corporation in particular.
BSIG: So many dystopias eliminate religion. Why did you embrace it as a tool and element of the story?
JGG: Because I’m pissed off. In addition to being fairly politically liberal, as your readers may have noticed, I am also a Christian of great faith. I’m absolutely fed up with people wrapping their virulent hate speech and their unapologetic greed in the trappings of Christianity. This I shall proclaim from the rooftops: judging others and being greedy are diametrically opposed to the teachings of Christ. And using His name as an excuse for one’s selfish proclivities is worse than that. For quite a while, it was hard for me to proudly tell others that I was of a Christian, because this beautifully, loving philosophy and way of life has been co-opted by far too many pretenders and fanatics to the point where, for many people, the name of God has become synonymous with hypocrisy. This farce will not stand, and I intend to do my part to take the name of Christ back from those who use it falsely.
BSIG: Will you ever revisit the world created in the book?
JGG: It’s possible, but not likely. At this point, I feel like I’ve said what I have to say about this world. I do have another idea for a story that could take place about 20 years later or so, however, and it’s possible that I might decide to set it in the world of Blood Zero Sky. We shall see…
Blood Zero Sky is out in October from HCI Books.