Welcome everybody to this special author interview & giveaway. Today Jonathan Ballagh stops by to answer some questions about his newest novel, The Quantum Ghost, the second book in his Quantum Worlds series.
1) For my listeners who might not know, tell us a little about yourself.
Thanks for interviewing me, Preston!
Most of my time is spent writing software, or with my wife and three children. But if my screen isn’t filled with code, there’s a good chance I’m working on a new sci-fi story. I’ve been writing speculative fiction for a few years now, and have just released my second novel, The Quantum Ghost.
I’m also working on a serial that I plan to release in a few months. It’s called The Sixth Moon, and the setting, style, and narrative are far outside of my comfort zone. I’m having a lot of fun with it. It’s an opportunity to try something different.
2) Your new book is called The Quantum Ghost, the second book in your Quantum Worlds series. Can you tell us what the book is about?
I’m very excited about this story! The Quantum Ghost is a science fiction adventure about a girl who finds a glowing object floating on the pond in her backyard. Weird things begin to happen to her, and it doesn’t take long for the discovery to flip her life upside down. Saying much more will take us into spoiler territory (writing the blurb was impossible). The novel has characters who travel between parallel realities, just like The Quantum Door, and there are robots. Lots of them…
This is a darker book than its predecessor, scary in parts, with more elements of fantasy. I kept the language clean—it’s written for a middle-grade audience. But I hope older readers enjoy it, too.
3) The Quantum Ghost follows a new character in your world, do readers need to read book one, The Quantum Door in order to enjoy this one?
This book is written as a standalone, so hopefully not. But there is some character overlap, and knowing their histories will provide better context for the events of this book (although brief backstories are provided). If someone starts with The Quantum Ghost, and then goes back and reads The Quantum Door, I’d love to hear what you think.
4) How much time has passed between The Quantum Door and the new novel, The Quantum Ghost?
A little over three years. And quite a bit has changed.
5) Where did your idea for The Quantum Ghost come from?
There were multiple sources of inspiration for this book. I’m obsessed with puzzle-box shows, and tried to do something similar with the structuring of The Quantum Ghost. I wanted the characters, elements, and central plot of The Quantum Ghost to serve as an allegory for something the protagonist is experiencing in her life, using elements from the Quantum Worlds universe to build it out. Once I had the puzzle in place, I broke it apart into out-of-order pieces, then tried to fit them back together in a cohesive narrative.
Lastly, there was one particular character that was rendered mostly one-dimensional in The Quantum Door, and I wanted to use this book as a chance to round him out, so he factors in heavily as well.
6) Where did your idea for The Quantum World come from?
I try to write about things that interest me, and robots and quantum theory are at the top of that list. The fun part was figuring out a narrative that would combine the two. The idea of world hopping is nothing new (The Magician’s Nephew), but hopefully an alternate reality populated solely by robots and elite AIs breathes new life into a familiar trope.
7) How many books do you think will make up The Quantum World?
I’m not sure. I would at least like to write one more story that brings Remi together with Brady and Felix. One of the great things about indie publishing is having the freedom to take risks and try new things. The Quantum Worlds have been very experimental for me, and for better and worse, I’ve tried not to write stories that follow a traditional structure. If there’s something new I’d like to try out, I’ll probably give it a go in The Quantum Worlds—figuring out how to make it work within the context of the universe.
8) In The Quantum Door, you had a code in the book that gave the listeners a message at the end. Did you do that again with The Quantum Ghost?
9) Your stories are always so amazing and you constantly leave readers in awe of your writing ability. What inspired your writing style?
Thanks for the kind words, but I think my writing style is still probably derivative (on some level, at least—especially as relatively new author). I’d like to have a more original voice. I hope that my writing continues to evolve and my style becomes more distinguished with time and experience.
One note about writing for a younger audience. I learned from Susan Cooper not to dumb down middle-grade writing, so I try to write authentically. This is especially true when writing about anything scientific.
10) Can you share with us an excerpt from The Quantum Ghost?
This is a scene in the first chapter, where Remi Cobb, the main character, finds something mysterious floating on the pond in her backyard.
No sooner had she cracked the outside door than Duke forced it the rest of the way open and rocketed past her into the night, nearly bowling her over in the process. Muttering under her breath, Remi stepped to the edge of the deck and leaned against the railing, watching the dog’s shadow disappear down the hill that led from her house to the pond. The autumn air ran through her short red hair and felt cold against her skin. She wrapped herself in her arms and shivered, dreading the winter that meant even more time at home, more time inside. As if that were even possible.
After a couple of minutes, her mind wandered back to the warmth of the kitchen, where the food had to be waiting by now.
“Come on, Duke! Let’s go!”
She heard a far-off whimper, then silence. The lab didn’t return, but then again, he seldom did—a fact she’d pointed out to her brother on more than one occasion. James said it was just part of his charm, that he had trained his dog to ignore her.
She looked back at the kitchen window and saw her mom shifting about inside. Busy as always, Remi thought, feeling sorry for her mom. She decided she wouldn’t bother her with this; she would take care of Duke herself. But where was he?
She gazed over the rail. Beyond the pond, the land sloped down again, giving way to the orchard trees that darkened the horizon like fallen black clouds. Maybe he had wandered under them.
“Come on, boy—now!” she shouted as loud as she could.
Still nothing. She felt a nagging worry building in her, but she dismissed it and headed for the deck stairs. She had just reached the grass when, in the distance, Duke began barking, frantic and wild, with a sharp, fearful edge—almost a yelp. The hairs on her neck stood up—he had never sounded like that before.
Remi bounded down the hill toward the pond. Following the barks, she found the lab standing at the edge of the water, his tail up and teeth bared.
“Duke?” she whispered, creeping forward.
The dog ignored her, continuing his watch. At least he had stopped barking.
She inched closer to the water, growing more timid with each step. Wisps of mist drifted up from its surface. The crisp air smelled of mowed grass and something else—something acrid, toxic. Then she saw something floating on the water: an eerie light behind fingers of curling fog. She squinted to get a better look. It was a glowing dome, with rings of sequined light that grew and retreated around it.
Remi stepped over to the dog and put her trembling hand out to ease him. “What do you think it is?” she asked, crouching down.
Duke kept his eyes on the water and responded with a soft growl. The light pulsed in a slow, hypnotic rhythm.
Her world felt very small now, very still.
She couldn’t look away.
Suddenly, a hand splashed through the surface—pale white, with long, skeletal fingers. They fell across the dome, gripping it tightly, and pulled it under.
Remi covered her mouth with both hands to stifle her scream. The water rippled, then went still. Whatever had been there was gone. The mist had already returned to fill in the gap.
She rubbed her eyes and turned toward Duke. At first, she was too scared to speak, then her courage returned. “Please tell me you saw that.” The dog gazed up at her, panting softly as though nothing had happened.
She wondered if anything really had.
11) A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?
The penguin pauses, waiting for the familiar sound of the closing door; that final gasp of escaping air. It stares out at the strange world in front of it, trying to relax. This time is different for some reason—its steadfast confidence is gone. Just relax. These feelings aren’t normal. Its beak begins to quiver, feeling the crushing weight of expectations—of what’s to come.
Why me? the bird wonders. Why do I always have to walk through that door?
But the bird knows: its job is to impress. To dazzle. And dazzle it has, splendidly, so many times before. In so many places, with so many people. Success has come at a price, though. The bird raises its wing, letting it graze the edge of the worn sombrero, thinking back. It allows itself a laugh. There were good times. Oh, the good times. But the excitement is gone. A tiredness is settling into its feathers.
A thought curls in its head, a wave of guilt chasing it rabidly like a tail. I don’t owe anyone anything. Maybe just this once…. After the rush of guilt is gone, another idea lingers.
I need a vacation from this…
A decision is made. The weight is gone. The penguin adjusts the sombrero, giving it the slightest tilt back. Then, without a care in the world, the penguin turns around, and with a spring in its step, walks right out the door.
Alan V. Nelson:
Why did he almost make me cry with Stone & Iris?
(thanks Alan, I’m glad you enjoyed the story)
Preston, reader, age 15:
What was the process for developing the “stranger” characters in book one?
I’ve loved robots for as long as I can remember. So, when I started thinking about The Quantum Door, it made sense to have an entire alternate reality full of robots (instead of humans). Some of the characters were more traditional robots than others. Some were just plain “strange.” Like the Neurogeists, for example…
There are some really powerful AIs in The Quantum Door. I wondered what would happen if one of those minds was exiled? What would a prison look like to an algorithm? What if you crippled an artificial mind in such a way that it could no longer think the way it was supposed to. By putting limits on it, slowing it down until its logic changed. That’s where the idea of a Neurogeist, or brain-ghosts, originated from. They were prisons of the mind. A punishment.
Jonathan Ballagh would like to give away five (5) signed copies of his latest novel, The Quantum Ghost. Those five winners will also receive a signed Ben Adams print. The print is from a scene in the novel. To get registered for the giveaway just answer the following question in the comment section:
What is your favorite robot character from book or film?
For an extra entry into the giveaway, what is Jonathan’s favorite robot character from book or film?
This giveaway will run until Friday, May 5, 2017. This giveaway is open to everyone. Good luck to everyone.