Clay Gilbert has been thinking about aliens, vampires, and people from the future since he was four and he channeled these thoughts into stories. I was fortunate to have been able to interview him about Children of Evohe, a series that includes Annah and the Children of Evohe, Annah and the Exiles, and Annah and the Gates of Grace. Since this interview, Gilbert has published a new book called, The Conversationalist. Wanting to know about this new novel, Gilbert allowed me to interview him for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: We last talked in October. How has your life been since then? Has anyone discovered the terrible secret in your attic?
Clay Gilbert: My biggest secret is I don’t have an attic. Seriously though, things have been great. Just a lot of work and trying to promote Annah and the Exiles and Annah and the Gates of Grace since they came out last fall.
Yanes: When we last talked, we mainly discussed Children of Evohe. How have these books been since then?
Gilbert: The Evohe books continue to sell; the television series project based on them, from Council Tree Productions, is still under development, and a fourth book in the series, Annah and the Arrow, will be out before the end of the year, with a fifth scheduled for 2019. I don’t have an ending planned for the Children of Evohe books. I frankly can’t envision a time when I’m done telling Annah’s story.
Yanes: You have been a full time writer since 2015. How did you keep your passion for writing while doing the day-to-day grind?
Gilbert: It’s not a ‘grind’ if you love what you do, and there’s nothing I enjoy more, frankly. I don’t understand the notion of losing your enthusiasm for doing something just because life lets you do a lot of it. I think our culture bombards us with this idea that ‘if it was fun, it wouldn’t be called work.’ If you ask me, that’s a lie.
Yanes: You have recently published The Conversationalist. What was the inspiration for this tale?
Gilbert: Back during the time I wrote Annah and the Children of Evohe, the first novel of the Children of Evohe series, I had an idea for a novel about a guy named Northrop Wynn who was stationed on board a starship, who would monitor transmissions from other ships, and who in the process of doing so started having conversations via shipboard communicator and online with a young woman whose name was Rynn Handel. Eventually, I knew, there would come a time when North and Rynn would develop feelings for one another, and then he would find out she was a bodiless cyborg connected to the central computer of the ship she was stationed aboard. I had no idea of anything further about Rynn’s situation, such as how she ended up on board the ship to start with, so I really couldn’t write the novel, even though I had the title The Conversationalist at that point. Ultimately, The Conversationalist became not one novel, but two: The Conversationalist Book One: Out of the Blue, and The Conversationalist Book Two: Mission to Mercy Prime. Book One is out now; Book Two will be out before the end of the year.
When I was writing Book Three of the Children of Evohe series, Annah and the Gates of Grace, there was a prison in that book called Gracegate, the main level of which was overseen by a cyborg. When I realized that, I knew that had to be Rynn. From that point, her backstory fell into place fairly easily. I knew I wanted to explore family relationships and the nature of ‘what is human’ in a different way than I had in the Children of Evohe books so far, and I also knew that The Conversationalist would be a novel dealing in large part with the issue of living with a disability, since Rynn and North are both disabled in different ways. Most of my novels tend to grapple with issues of disability and ways people transcend them, and make a difference in the world despite them, or even sometimes because of them, and if anything, the two novels of The Conversationalist, Out of the Blue and its sequel, Mission to Mercy Prime, deal with these questions head-on.
Yanes: The Conversationalist is set in the universe established in your Children of Evohe novels. How did you manage to keep The Conversationalist its own tale while staying true to the pre-existing universe it is located in?
Gilbert: I wanted the book to be Rynn and North’s story, and especially Rynn’s story, and to be accessible to people who’ve never read any of the Children of Evohe books, while still being a rewarding read for those who know that series. I tried to provide all the references necessary for a new reader to jump right into The Conversationalist, without making the reader feel he or she needed to go do some research first.
I think it helps, too, that The Conversationalist has a different tone than the Children of Evohe books; hopefully, it’s lighter and funnier than those books, because Rynn Handel is not Annah of Evohe, and I think this book reflects Rynn’s personality in that way. That being said, there are still serious things going on, and serious issues being examined. So, readers, if you haven’t read the Evohe books, but think you might want to check out The Conversationalist, there’s no need to hesitate in doing so.
Yanes: When writing the romance in The Conversationalist, what were some clichés you strove to avoid?
Gilbert: The Conversationalist is a story that, although it’s fun, hopefully funny, and celebrates the idea of falling in love as much as any romantic comedy might, also highlights the fact that loving someone else puts a person at risk. It’s not particularly safe, and it’s often not stable. The two novels are basically the journey of a developing relationship rather than one which is already on solid ground. I wanted to avoid the idea that a loving relationship is always a good time, and also the idea that love is blind. Rynn and North don’t see each other as perfect, in fact, they know better. However, each of them learns to accept the other in ways the world around them often does not.
Love is often work; it’s work at times for the two of them, but there’s a reason the term ‘labor of love’ exists, I think. I also wanted to avoid the idea of the ‘damsel in distress’ who needs a male hero to save her all the time. It’s true, Rynn can’t walk or do some of the other things most people take for granted. But she has a sharp, inventive mind and a persistent will, not to mention a healthy sense of humor. I hope she shows how perceived ‘weaknesses’ can turn to strengths when seen from the right point of view.
Yanes: Was there a character in The Conversationalist who took on a life of their own?
Gilbert: All my characters do that, or else I couldn’t write the books. But Rynn Handel, particularly. Rynn had more or less ‘convinced me’ to write a book about her while I was still finishing the third Annah novel; that one ended up being two, and Rynn and North will both appear in the fifth Children of Evohe novel, Annah and the God-Builders, down the road a bit. I think people will love Rynn as much as I do.
She’s a young woman who struggles with anxiety, with self-esteem and identity issues, and with the desire to make a difference in her world despite some severe physical handicaps, but she doesn’t often let these things get her down. She’s got a great sense of humor, reads voraciously, and loves music. She’s probably the only cyborg in science fiction history with a fixation on the music of ELO. And there are reasons for that…
Yanes: When people finish reading The Conversationalist what do you hope they take away from the story?
Gilbert: Primarily, that people with disabilities are nonetheless people; that their disabilities don’t define them, and that they still have the same needs and wants as able-bodied people. I’m disabled myself, and it’s a continuing concern in my own life. I’d almost rather the readers of The Conversationalist look past its genre trappings and just see a disabled man and woman struggling to get to know each other and find a way to be together in a world that doesn’t always cut them slack. But the genre trappings are fun, because I love science fiction and fantasy, and the genre lens also allows me to ask one of my favorite questions: what does being human really mean? And by asking that question, I can hopefully affirm for my readers that we are all the same, regardless of the differences we may have on the surface.
Yanes: Finally, what are you working on that people can look forward to?
Gilbert: The Conversationalist Book Two: Mission to Mercy Prime will be coming out next, finishing up the story begun in the first book. Later in the spring, Dark Moon Press will bring out its edition of my vampire novel, Dark Road to Paradise, which was originally brought out by PDMI Publishing, LLC in 2013. This new edition is revised and re-edited. Among the changes is a restoration of the book’s setting from the fictional college town of Grove, Alabama to the very real Auburn, Alabama where I went to graduate school in the early Nineties, the same time period in which the book takes place. Also coming is Cassie’s Song, a sequel to Dark Road, an urban fantasy called The Kind, and the fourth Children of Evohe volume, titled Annah and the Arrow. I’m planning a busy 2018.