Wednesday, August 8, 2012

An Alchemist Challenges A Conspiracy: An interview with science fiction/fantasy author Jeffrey Zweig II

Today I'm talking with Jeffrey Zweig II about his science fiction fantasy book The End Begins: The Nine.

Warning: There are some minor spoilers in Mr. Zweig's answers.


1) Please tell us about your book.

My Book is called The End Begins: The Nine. It follows an alchemist, Cassarah Telmar, after she discovered her academy was subject to scientific experiments by the military group called the Coalition. She vows to bring them down with the help of a resistance group called White Rose and fights to survive in a world she doesn't know. Cass will find, however, she will have to make a choice between continuing to live for them or destroy everything she has known to gain freedom. It's an epic science fiction/urban fantasy book - the first in a trilogy dubbed The Trinity Trilogy.

2) What was your inspiration for this book?

It originally started as a writing club adventure series I was part of in high school for three years. That was much more craziness going on but was fueled by the raw emotion high schoolers have in those days. For a long time I wanted to turn what we had into a screenplay or a book but never got much farther than concept and rough drafts for many reasons. But in 2009 I got laid off and moved back to Indianapolis. Without a job and a lot of time on my hands, I reignited this project finally as a novel inspired by reading Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. I borrowed the skeleton and a couple characters of the journey from the club's story, but a lot of the sub plots and back story were inspired by video games like Final Fantasy 7 or the Metal Gear Solid series.

3) Your book has a bit of alternative history element. Why did you choose to go that route?

I decided on alternate history because people can draw from original history and, while finding the deviations, won't have to construct a whole new world in their mind. There's so much going on in the plot that I wanted to make conceptualizing the setting as easy as possible. Secondly, I could pull from existing history, such as the group White Rose which was an actual resistance group during WW II (See here and also here), and put my own twist on it. I do this kind of thing with the whole USA, the outcome of the Native American relocation situation, even down to having motorcars still puttering around.

4) Your book involves both wizardry and alchemy. Can you tell us a bit about the underpinnings of the magic system in your world?

The world itself is not really magic driven as it's based on the real world more or less. There are byproducts of the alien systems around them that get dumped into this world and change it so it's a melting pot, for lack of a better analogy.

The Mylon crystal technology uses the raw power source to replace Nuclear energy and ammunition for weaponry, is derived from the Nine - harvested from the students’ bodies. But someone with certain training can do more with them. These gems have the ability to access magic power. Caleb uses the crystals this way to power a small pistol that in turn gives him something like unlimited ammunition.

The Nine is a race naturally gifted with magic power (the alchemy part of them). They were natural architects able to construct vast cities out of the Earth. But they need to be augmented by technology to further their abilities (the wizardry portion). From using technology they gain a much wider set of abilities, like focusing that energy through a filter kind of like a materia system (see final fantasy reference here). Of you could also think of it, as Cass goes through her journey, as a hierarchical system of gaining more complex abilities the more you use a certain ability. I could go into more detail in the specifics trees on where powers start and end but for a novel I didn't really get into the super technical stuff as it wasn't essential. It wouldn't be unless you're making a video game (which would be super cool).

The third type of outside magical system that appears I'll touch on briefly. It's James Kesumare and his Gate Keeper abilities. He's like a Green Lantern but able to learn how something works and adapt it to his own powers. Being a dimensional traveler, learning certain abilities could save his life. You'll get to learn more about that in the next book.

5) Your books also involves some science fiction elements. Did you find it difficult to combine the fantasy and science elements?

There's definitely a balance you have to strike when creating a world that has both. I wanted to try to modernize the concept of wizards/alchemists like you see in current anime like Full Metal Alchemist. And again, having been a really big fan of games like FF7, Xenogears, and those kinds of franchises - I have a lot of exposure to that and have a sense of what's working and what's not.

When creating a world like this you have to ask yourself questions like "Is what I'm doing making sense given the expectations I've set forth in the foundation I've created?" As I said before the world the journey really takes place in is a melting pot because of the external influences that have pressed upon it. It's about establishing expectations from the get go. For example the beginning of the book establishes The Nine with the Coalition, then James and his ties to them, then to Caleb and his ties and each facet twists them together so when they come together all in one place - it's not such a jarring shift.

6) Dystopian books have grown in popularity a lot in recent years. Why do you think people like reading stories in depressing settings? 

I'm going to get a little dark in my speculation here. I feel we as human beings have a primal urge to see/read/hear things like that can be worse than their current state "Hey I may have it bad but these people have it much worse!" Example: Mira Grant's Newsflesh Trilogy (Feed-Deadline-Blackout) is a good example of a society locked under several hard and fast rules so that anyone can spontaneously-combust into zombies and start eating people. They have to undergo constant blood tests and decontamination just to get around. They are constricted by nature to live very sheltered/oppressed lives thanks to the regulations the CDC and the government put in place.

A variety of factors play into the rise and fall of genre popularity and I try not to follow the tide, just write what I like and know that things do come in waves. Things like the Mayan calendar, recent political/governmental climate the world has going on, you can name a number of things but I think there's an allure to that kind of thing because in a perverted way we want to see the suffering - it's part of human nature. But - of course - we want to see a hero rise up and beat the system and obtain glory.

7) You deal with both religion and existential issues in this book. Are there particular major themes you were trying to explore?

Not at first, although the degree of religious implication has varied from draft to draft. The "His Plan" train of thought didn't start coming in until the drafts I had in early 2008. The original Mac Guffin from the club story was an ambiguous scroll that could manipulate the multi-verse. So regardless it was going to be something epic - a game changer for all sides involved. When you start getting into big things like traversing parallel worlds, religious and existential questions are going to come up.
At this point I hadn't wanted to get too deep into that kind of thing because 1. I don't want to come off as preachy because as far as religion goes I'm not that at all. 2. I have no idea, no one really does, as to what is on the other side if there is another side. I know I've tread into dangerous water in some ways but at the time I'm not trying to bring that kind of stuff too heavy into it because that's not what this story is about. What we do know coming at the end of the story is that messing with the workings of the universe is a dangerous game. Maybe exciting. But dangerous. I think I'll be exploring it more, but indirectly, as the series progresses. I think the biggest theme, on a personal/relatable level, is Cass finding her sense of worth in in the grand scope of the universe, that right now she could change things, take control of her life - fighting for what she believes in matters.

8) You have a background in screenwriting. How did that influence the writing in your book? 

I wouldn't say screenwriting itself influences my writing - but that training was great when I shifted from script to novel because the essential stuff still applies. How to execute a story. Act structures. Dos and don'ts, etc. That base experience translates into novel writing easier than you might think. What you have to realize is that with a novel you have a lot more room to explore the intricacies of your world and its people. A screenplay is more like a guideline for what will become a visual product, so you need only what's important/essential to each scene to make that script. With a book you will not, so, like radio, you have to rely on the theater of the mind to create the world of the book.

9) Do you have any plans for a sequel?

Yes. The Nine is the first book in what I have dubbed the Trinity Trilogy. The second book is called The End Begins: The Rise of the Gate Keepers. Taking place six months after The Nine, James will have to rediscover his heritage as a Gate Keeper to protect the world while Eden's Gate recovers from the damaged it sustained in The Nine. Everyone is dealing with the aftermath of the Coalition's occupation and the little spurts of rebellion that keep cropping up and the unexpected surprises the Eden's Gate is going to bring to their doorstep. I've slated it for an early 2013 release date but I'll be posting more about it toward the end of this year.

10) Please tell us a bit about your other future projects.

Right now I am working on two short stories that fall between The Nine and The Rise. They focus on some of the supporting characters you'll meet in the Rise. They're more of an appetizer for those waiting for the sequel. Outside of my self-publishing endeavors I'm working on a couple more shorts and splitting my time revising two novelette works I hope to start shopping those around to agents/publishers by the fall. I'd like to get some screenwriting projects sent out too but we'll see about that. My plate is already full with extra stuff, haha.


Thank, Jeff.

Finding Jeff on the Web:

To purchase his book, please visit one of the following links:


sue said...

funny that, it's also part of the theme for A Discovery of Witches I just read - wonderful book

J.A. Beard said...

I have that, but have yet to get around to reading it.