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Author Q&A: Miscellaneous

I'd like a sequel to LIFE EXPECTANCY. That book was a page-turner and hilarious. Will you ever write one? –Rafael, Arizona

I’m on record as saying I don’t believe in sequels. Yet here I am, finishing the third Odd Thomas novel, working on the third in the Frankenstein series, contemplating a fourth round with Odd, and promising a third Chris Snow. I can’t write sequels to everything. When I finished LIFE EXPECTANCY, I wanted to spend more time with the characters, but it seemed that to follow little Rowena on her five special days would require the book to be science fiction if the first of her days, like her father’s special days, came in her twentieth year. Then I realized all five special days could come in Rowena’s first couple of years, which lets the book take place in our time. So it has been a thought in the back of my mind. But the past few years have brought me more and better ideas than I’ve ever had before, and I think it’s less–not more–likely that I’ll do any sequels other than the third Chris Snow and, possibly, other Odd Thomas titles. Thanks for caring, Rafael. May you always have cake, and may you never be troubled by angry clowns.

The dedication in FOREVER ODD has me worried. Did something happen to Trixie? –Jill, Maryland

Unless I just took a ghost dog out to pee, she’s fine. Several people wrote with condolences–misinterpreting, I think, the line of the dedication that says Trixie is “an angel on four feet.” She has been an angel since the day that she came to us, but always very much alive. I’ve made a couple of verb-tense changes in the dedication for the paperback edition, just to avoid confusion. Trixie is 10, turns 11 next October, and with the veterinary care and healthy diet available to dogs these days, she should be with us another five years or more, especially as she is on the small side for a golden, weighing in at 68 pounds, except in those weeks when she cages a few corn chips and extra peanut butter, but even then she has never ballooned to more than 236 pounds.

Will you take me out to pee right now? –Trixie, California

Of course, short stuff. Let’s go.

What are you currently writing? –Alicia, Kansas

The answer to your question.

I just finished FOREVER ODD. This book, like most of yours, is packed full of subtle literary allusions. I probably get a small fraction of them. Does anyone ever notice this? You do intend it, don't you? Or am I crazy? –Maxine, Texas

You may be crazy, Maxine. I don’t know you, so wouldn’t venture an opinion as to your sanity. Your neighbors and friends have got quite a web site going on the subject–maxinewhatanut.com–but I’m not prepared to make a judgment based on hearsay. I love the idea that I might be packing books full of literary allusions just by chance–like that infinite number of monkeys writing all the plays of Shakespeare, given an infinite length of time–or perhaps while in a trance. A writer of fiction has a deep bag of techniques with which to attempt to affect the reader on a subconscious level. This includes conforming metaphors and similes and imagery to a scheme that supports the underlying themes of a novel and also deepens character as revealed through point of view. It includes reaching for poetic meter now and then to make the prose surge along for a particular effect. And among dozens of other tools, there is literary allusion. None of these are things of which the reader needs to be aware. In fact, the more aware the reader is of them, the less effective they may be. The surface of a piece of fiction should be alluringly illuminated, but there are dimensions that fade down into ever deeper shadow, affecting us less consciously than by washing through the catacombs of the unconscious. After I’d been at this a long time, I realized that no matter how cunning the writer may be, even if he layers the story as exquisitely as a master pastry chef’s best phyllo, there will be a layer or two of which he himself is not consciously aware, or perhaps of which he is not aware at all. This is one of the reasons I say that fiction is a mysterious medium and that creating a fictional world puts you in touch with some higher creativity.

What might Chris Snow, sentenced by his creator to perpetual shadows, say to you if you could enter his world or if he showed up in yours?–Reese, Nevada

He would surely curse me for condemning him to a life without light, but he might thank me for making him such a romantic figure. He would mock me for writing novels in which even the troubled and the weak usually find great reservoirs of courage deep within themselves–while I myself am reluctant to board aircraft except in dire emergencies. Then he would notice the moon was full, the surf was up, and he’d suggest we grab boards and beer and speed for the beach. Orson would swoon over Trixie.

Often, maybe not always, names of your characters have wonderful meaning. I laughed when Mark Ahriman showed up in FALSE MEMORY–"the Mark of Satan." In VELOCITY, the doctor who wants to let Barbara die is Jordan Ferrier–Jordan the river between life and death, and a ferry driver takes the dead to the other side. Valis in that book–doesn't he refer to the Vast Active Living Intelligence System in Philip K. Dick's novel Valis? And the guy named himself Valis. What an ego! But the lead characters' names in VELOCITY: Billy Wiles, Barbara Mandell. I don't get those. Do they have meaningful references?–Tom, Iowa

Very meaningful. In real life, Barbara Mandell’s husband paid a lot of money at a Canine Companions for Independence fund-raising auction to have his wife’s name used in one of my novels. And at another auction for another charity, Billy Wiles’s wife paid a handsome sum to have his name used in a novel. They both ended up in VELOCITY. The names of characters are not always symbolic, but they are always important and need to ring true, and they have to resonate in a particular way in each story, supporting mood if nothing else. That’s why when people have won charity auctions to have their names in a book, they sometimes have to wait a couple of years until I find a story in which they will fit. As for Phil Dick: I knew him a little bit and admired his work a lot; Phil would have gotten a kick out of seeing Valis in VELOCITY. In FRANKENSTEIN: PRODIGAL SON, I got to use an anecdote about Chinese cuisine that Phil once told me over lunch. I remember his smile when he got to the punch line. He had a killer smile, though you seldom see a photograph of him that isn’t somber.

I loved all the carnival lore in TWILIGHT EYES. How did you learn all that?—Connie, Florida

During my childhood, we lived across the highway from the county fairgrounds. The county fair was the biggest event of the year. Even bigger than the summer-long thrill of watching corn grow. I knew all the places where you could sneak under the fence and get in for free. Consequently, I spent a huge part of fair week on the fairgrounds, but not in the livestock and home crafts exhibitions! I might run up to the barns to see the biggest hog of the year, because everyone gets a kick out of huge hogs, but otherwise I was on the midway. I was fascinated with the exotic, gaudy world of the carnival, with the life on the road that it offered. Because of our poverty and my father’s alcoholism, I might have run away with the carnival if they would have accepted me. My fascination with carnies has endured, though current carnivals are a pale imitation of what they once were.

Why do you set so many of your novels in California? Why don't you set one in Virginia?—Ronnie, Virginia

I do so much research for a novel that I try to spare myself additional research regarding the locale. Consequently, I prefer to set my books in territory with which I’m deeply familiar—largely here in California, but also in Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado. When I set BROTHER ODD in the Sierra Nevada, in California, I thought I had spared myself locale research—then too late realized a great deal of the novel would take place not in the mountains themselves but inside the monastery. I didn’t know a lot about monastic life. I sure do now.

I was fascinated by the waitress, Ivy Elgin, in VELOCITY. She has a small part, but she's magical. Would you consider writing an entire novel about her? I guess this is a stupid question. –Rebecca, Seattle

Don’t usurp my authority, Rebecca. I’ll be the one who decides which questions are stupid. This is not a stupid question. In fact, lots of people have written to me with the same request. And when I finished Chapter 43 of VELOCITY, I felt it was likely that Ivy was going to get the leading role in a future novel. She’s a very mysterious, even haunting, character, and I would like to have a look at the world from inside her head. I haven’t come up with a story for her, but I can feel it brewing.

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