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Interview with Seed author Rob Ziegler

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Interview with Seed author Rob Ziegler

I reviewed Rob Ziegler's debut novel Seed a few weeks back (here).  It's a tremendous debut that's very much in the tradition of Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl.  It was released yesterday in hardcover from Night Shade Books and is available in eBook.  It also bears one of the most visually stimulating covers in recent memory.  I highly recommend it.

Here's the blurb:
It’s the dawn of the 22nd century, and the world has fallen apart. Decades of war and resource depletion have toppled governments. The ecosystem has collapsed. A new dust bowl sweeps the American West. The United States has become a nation of migrants—starving masses of nomads roaming across wastelands and encamped outside government seed distribution warehouses.

In this new world, there is a new power: Satori. More than just a corporation, Satori is an intelligent, living city risen from the ruins of the heartland. She manufactures climate-resistant seed to feed humanity, and bio-engineers her own perfected castes of post-humans Designers, Advocates and Laborers. What remains of the United States government now exists solely to distribute Satori product; a defeated American military doles out bar-coded, single-use seed to the nation’s hungry citizens.

Secret Service Agent Sienna Doss has watched her world collapse. Once an Army Ranger fighting wars across the globe, she now spends her days protecting glorified warlords and gangsters. As her country slides further into chaos, Doss feels her own life slipping into ruin.

When a Satori Designer goes rogue, Doss is tasked with hunting down the scientist-savant—a chance to break Satori’s stranglehold on seed production and undo its dominance. In a race against Satori’s genetically honed assassins, Doss’s best chance at success lies in an unlikely alliance with Brood—orphan, scavenger and small-time thief—scraping by on the fringes of the wasteland, whose young brother may possess the key to unlocking Satori’s power.

As events spin out of control, Sienna Doss and Brood find themselves at the heart of Satori, where an explosive finale promises to reshape the future of the world.
What follows is an interview I did with the author - enjoy!


Justin: In my review, I mentioned that in many ways Seed is a future glimpse, not just of a post-apocalypse world, but into the changing American culture in the Southwest - namely the integration of Hispanic culture.  Is this something you see on the horizon?

Ziegler: It’s something that’s already happened, and has been happening for generations. There’s still prejudice, of course, and some reactive bigotry in the face of rising Chicano culture (e.g. the “show your papers” law in AZ, and lots of rabidly vocal anti-immigration sentiment). But if you’ve ever been to Albuquerque, El Paso, San Antonio, Denver, Tucson—MexiAmerican culture is clearly integral to what these places are. So with that aspect of the story I wasn’t so much trying to speculate about the future as accurately reflect the present.

Justin: I'm a Californian originally, and you're absolutely right.  I think it gave the novel a lot of authenticity from my perspective.  I won't ask you to comment on our immigration policies (I'm nice aren't I?).  So lets talk about something less politically charged (or not).  Seed joins a new group of near-future science fiction couched very much in a climate change and/or resource depletion future. Why do you think we're starting to see more of these kinds of stories?

Ziegler: I think in part it’s because issues like climate change, resource depletion, the razing of our ecosystem—the cost of our Faustian bargain with tech and materialism, as a friend of mine loves to put it—are already a part of our present-day reality (e.g. This) As it becomes clear that these problems have real bearing on what our future will look like, and as we continue to fail to deal with them, it’s only natural that more writers explore such themes in their work.

Justin: Why did you want to write a story set in this kind of future?

Ziegler: Personally, I wanted to imagine a world that’s on the far edge of what current climate modeling predicts, but still plausible. (What’s frightening is that the dustbowl world of Seed isn’t even on the far edge of what’s now being modeled; it may be downright conservative.) But for me, building a world like the one in Seed was also an aesthetic choice, to cast the American west as a badland, full of hard characters and adventure, like westerns of yore.

Justin: You went pretty far into biotechnology, but also didn't go real deep into the weeds on the why and how either.  Was there a point where you decided to remove the info dumps and just let the story carry itself?

Ziegler: I hate it when a writer halts the story for a big info dump, even though sometimes it’s necessary. The sci fi and fantasy writers I admire tend to be very good at building world apace with story, which can be extremely difficult. If it looks easy, that means it probably wasn’t. It’s definitely what I tried to do with Seed. So the short answer is yes, I cut a lot of info dump in later drafts. There are still a few “As you know, Bob” moments in the book I would love to scrap, but my trusted beta readers assure me these scenes are vital to the story’s coherence.

Justin: Knowing that the SF reader can be a bit finicky when it comes to science was it a conscience decision to not go down that road?

Ziegler: As far as the biotech goes, I went with the premise that this company, Satori, could build whatever genome it wanted, basically from scratch. This gave me carte blanche to pursue things that were fun and fascinating to me. You made an astute comment in your review that Seed reads in places more like fantasy than sci fi, which makes a lot of sense. The fantastical certainly appeals to me, and with the biotech I felt free to make the fantastical happen, in really big, almost cartoonish, ways. Even though some things in the book are already technically possible, a lot of it’s implausible. Would anyone really grow a living city from the ground up? Probably not. But it was a way for me to play with this notion of cities being, more than simply collections of people, kind of living things unto themselves. It was a way for me to have these scary, raptor assassins, and to have characters who are brilliant at pure mentation, but complete dunderheads when it comes to their emotions. All of which was a lot of fun to imagine, and I hope makes for a good story.

Justin:  While large parts of the world remain unexplored, Seed felt complete.  Having written a standalone in a genre that trends toward series have you had any or feel any pressure to try to push the story into multiple volumes?

Ziegler: Seed is definitely standalone. I don’t feel any pressure at all to make it a series.

Justin: My wife insists that we can only live in Washington DC where we currently reside or Dallas, Texas where she grew up. You're from Colorado. Give me a sales pitch I can use on my wife as I try to expand my options.

Ziegler: Dallas and DC!? I think your pitch should begin with you telling your wife she’s nuts.

Justin: You said it not me! I should mention my wife's parents immigrated from Colombia.

Ziegler: [Silence]

Justin: Sooo, Colorado.

Ziegler: Let’s see, Colorado: if you hate spending time in one of the most beautiful spots on the planet, you will definitely hate Colorado. You can also tell your wife the economy here isn't bad, relatively, and neither is real estate.

Justin: I read somewhere that you got plugged into a writing group at some point and it really gave you a boost.  Talk to me a little bit about writing groups, and what they do for authors.

Ziegler:  It’s so important to get knowledgeable eyes on early drafts of a manuscript. I plugged in with a bunch of writers who are, by and large, more experienced than I am, both in terms of the craft and the business. We tend to meet about once a year for novel-writing workshops modeled after Charlie Finlay’s Blue Heaven workshop. They schooled me through Seed, pointing out the blind spots and big mistakes. Everything about the book is better because of their input. (The missteps are completely mine.) They also taught me how to navigate the business side of writing. I don’t think I would have sold Seed, or even finished it, without their help. If you’re in the beginning stages of writing and trying to sell novels, you should absolutely make connections with other writers. It will only help you. Plus, the writers I know make great friends. Writing novels is a weird and solitary pursuit, and they’re doing it, too, so whatever you’re going through, they understand. They’re your family. You should meet them.

Justin:  I think you just set a record for commas in an answer, good form sir!  And thanks for joining me.  I very much appreciate it and I look forward to whatever you're working on next!

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