Last week I had the privilege of being interviewed by fellow Parliament House author, R. J. Garcia!
1. Congratulations on your upcoming novel, The Hollow Gods from The Parliament House. What can you tell us about the story and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you so much! Man, my heart literally skipped a beat when I read this question. It is so wild being interviewed! The Hollow Gods is a contemporary surrealist fantasy that takes places in an isolated little forest town called Black Hollow. The town is rich with folklore, and there’s one particular figure the people are terrified of: the Dreamwalker. She’s kind of like their version of the headless horseman from Sleepy Hollow, but she spirits away young women from Black Hollow and possesses them! Because
of this, the town is in a constant state of vigilance, and violence is not an uncommon occurrence because of how fiercely the townsfolk believe the Dreamwalker is a threat to them.
The book itself is structured around three narrators from very different walks of life. One is a depressed college student struggling to find her way; she doesn’t know what she wants in life or if her goals are really worthwhile. It’s a feeling so many of us have in our late teens and twenties, and I really wanted to convey that feeling of being adrift with my main protagonist. The second narrator is a social outcast with a potty mouth and a malevolent presence haunting him—and that’s all I’m going to tell you about that! The third narrator is an oncologist who just lost a young patient and wants nothing more than to get away, so he comes to Black Hollow while on mental health leave. In one way or another, all three of these characters get tangled up in the fable of the Dreamwalker.
They’re all trying to understand the history behind the legend while stumbling to make sense of their own lives. Things get pretty hairy, however, when fears of the Dreamwalker’s return start to get out of control, the town grows violent, and our three narrators find themselves in the middle of it.
The Hollow Gods is largely inspired by folklore. At the time I wrote the first draft, I was living in Sapporo, Japan, and I had a lot of time on my hands. I was researching Japanese and Serbian folklore for my PhD and drew a ton of from those two traditions. Being Serbian myself, I sort of cherry-picked aspects of folk culture that I loved. The Dreamwalker, for example, is loosely based on the Kukeri warriors. They’re sort of like shamans from Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, parts of Romania and Greece. I also drew from Serbian wolf lore. There’s an old folk belief that when a woman lost several children through miscarriage or stillbirth, it was because witches had stolen the child’s soul.
When the next child was born, they’d be named ‘Vuk’, which is the Serbo-Croatian word for wolf. Wolves were revered for their ferocity, and people believed they were the only thing witches were too frightened to attack. The name Vuk is extremely popular, though few people realize it’s a kind of totem meant to protect them from evil! Two very important characters in the novel are based on this spiritual connection between wolf and man found in Serbian folklore. That all said, a good portion of my world-building around spirits is based on Japanese folklore, and I’ve been told that some parts of the book are reminiscent of Celtic mythology around Halloween and Elementals.
2. The first chapter of a novel is the hardest for me to write because I keep second-guessing where to begin. Which part of writing your book was the most challenging for you and why?
100% the first third. Juggling three narrators and setting up the conflict was a serious pain, and when I was done, I found myself staring at a very slow, overwrought first act. It was tiresome in its pacing and packed with too much information. I think I suffered through three or four edits to cut it down to something I was happy with. To give you an idea, my first draft of the novel was around 130k words. My final draft was 97k words. And yet! None of the major plot points and structure had changed. I cut over 30,000 words of exposition without any major restructuring. I also rewrote my first chapter 6 times!
3. What was your favorite book as a child? What book might we find on your bedside table today?
Well, here’s a doozy: I hated reading as a child. I didn’t get into reading until my undergrad, and I mostly blame our education system for that. The way books are chosen, assigned, and studied in elementary and high school was so discouraging for me that it turned me off reading for pleasure. It wasn’t until I took a Japanese literature and film course in university that I discovered a love of reading.
Currently, I’m reading Chantal Gadoury’s Winter Dream, and under that you’ll find V.E. Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light and Katherine Arden’s The Girl in the Tower.
4. My ear makes this weird ticking sound. My parents took me to all kinds of specialist as a child, but doctors could never pinpoint the reason. Tell us something strange or unusual about you?
Oh gosh, that must have been so frustrating! Hopefully you got accustomed to it and it doesn’t bother you now! I guess one strange thing about me is that I can’t feel temperature in my shins. I used to train in martial arts quite intensively. We’d practice roundhouse kicks on heavy bags, and the attrition deadens the nerves in your shins and the tops of your feet. It makes kicking less painful but if you stuck a block of ice on my leg I wouldn’t really feel it!
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