Please welcome Piper Bayard, author of the new release FIRELANDS (Stonehouse Ink, June 2013), a fantastic dystopian thriller:
Piper Bayard is a belly dancer from way back and a recovering attorney with a university degree or two. She currently pens post-apocalyptic sci-fi and spy novels with Intelligence Operative Holmes when she isn’t shooting, blogging, dancing, or chauffeuring her children.
Piper blogs at Bayard & Holmes. You may contact her at their site, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard, or by email at BH[at]bayardandholmes.com. Sign up at Bayard & Holmes Newsletter to receive infrequent newsletters and notices of book releases. She and Holmes will not, under any circumstances, share your email with any foreign operatives, phone solicitors, or grasping DHS agents, though they can make no promises about what the NSA will do with it.
Thrilling, moving, and ultimately hopeful, here is a novel to be savored long after you turn the last page. —James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of BLOODLINE.
Eighty years in the future, America has devolved into a totalitarian theocracy. The ruling Josephites clone the only seeds that grow in the post-apocalyptic climate, allowing their Prophet to control who eats, who starves, and who burns in the ritual fires that atone for society.
Subsisting on the fringes, Archer risks violation and death each day as she scours the forest for game to feed her people. When a Josephite refugee seeks sanctuary in her home, Archer is driven to chance a desperate gamble—a gamble that will bring down the Prophet and deliver seeds and freedom, or end in a fiery death for herself and for everyone she loves.
Seeds are life . . . Seeds are power . . . Seeds are the only hope of a despairing people. What will Archer do for the seeds of freedom, and what will she justify in their name?
I met Piper several years ago at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Conference. We share a love of thriller novels (and shooting – let’s hear it for girls with guns!) and I had the honor of reading FIRELANDS before its release. I recommend it without reservation – and I’m delighted that Piper is letting me interview her today!
And so, with no further delay….on with the questions:
Where did you grow up? Will you share a favorite story from your childhood?
I grew up in New Mexico, but as a teen, I worked summers at a Rocky Mountain dude ranch in a state I shall not name. You’ll see why. Please forgive me if I start to write in my native accent. Proper dude ranch stories cannot be told in urban terms.
At this dude ranch, I often worked as a horse wrangler. Being the good natured folks we wranglers were, we did anything we could to help the tourists have a good time and fulfill all of their dude ranch dreams. Part of that service included a bit of creative storytelling.
Well, once we had a group of folks out from New York. They sure wanted to see an elk. Problem was there weren’t any elk on our mountain. They’d all moved up to higher ground when the BLM land got opened up to cattle. Elk are kind of particular that way in who they’ll dine with.
So we were out at the barn talking about how we could get an elk for these folks. Playing around, I took a deer rack off the shelf in the barn and tied it to the head of a bay horse named Bucky. (For those who don’t know, a bay is red with black mane, tail, and legs.) We laughed about how that was an elk we could show to the New Yorkers. (No offense, New Yorkers. It really was all in fun.)
The head wrangler came in and saw it, and he got an idea. The next morning, he and I took out the group for the 5:00 a.m. ride, which we called the Dummy Ride, because only a dummy gets up and rides at 5:00 a.m. when they don’t have to. It was my favorite ride. Anyway, as we traversed the forest, a couple of the cowboys took Bucky and the deer rack up to a meadow that sat below a cliff. The wrangler lead the New Yorkers up on the crest of the cliff, and at the same time, the cowboys down below led Bucky, deer rack and all, into the forest in such a way that the New Yorkers only got a glimpse of a large animal with horns.
Those New Yorkers couldn’t have been more excited. They gasped and pointed, and one of them said, “Wow! That’s as big as a horse!” At which I refused to glance sideways or crack a smile. In short, they loved it. Happy tourists mean happy wranglers.
Lest you think God didn’t get us for our deception . . . A week later, the guys—I wasn’t there—took out a different group. This time, it was a really fat, shaggy black Shetland pony that had the honor of being in the meadow below the cliff.
When the head wrangler got the tourists up to the crest, he said, “Look! There’s a bear!” Just then, the pony saw the other horses and whinnied. So busted! And yes, we learned our lesson about overt deception, even in the name of showing our customers a good time.
What inspired you to start writing?
*shifts out of drawl*
My friend offered me the opportunity to sell insurance about the time my kids went to school. It made sense. It played well with my law degree, it had flexible hours, and they were going to set me up. But I knew if I put all my energy into starting an insurance business, I would never write a book. I could die happy without ever selling insurance, but I could not die happy if I never wrote a book. So I began.
If you could go back in time and share one writing lesson with “new writer you” before starting your first manuscript … what would that be?
Who you are is more important than what you can do or who you know. If you are professional, trustworthy, discreet, hard-working, and reliable, and if you can shut up and listen without arguing, the people you meet will be willing to teach you, and you will need their help. No one does this alone.
Your new novel, FIRELANDS, is a fast-paced dystopian thriller set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world. How did you decide what kind of apocalypse would shape the world of your novel?
Shortly after America went into Iraq, I saw an interview with a Shiite imam, in which he was saying, “Now we are free. We are free to ban TV. We are free to ban music. We can make the women cover up.” Then I noticed that when candidates here win elections, no matter how slim the margins, they, like the imam, interpret their wins as carte blanche for creating society in their own images of freedom. It made me question what it would take for Americans to embrace a theocracy as their image of freedom. I knew it would take an event that would genuinely hit us where we live. Which led to the next question. Where do we live?
America is a Wal-Mart society. As long as we can get in our cars and go to Wal-Mart when we want a cheap TV or a pair of gym shorts or some chips and dip, we’re willing to put up with virtually anything on the part of our government, from betrayals of our foreign diplomats to broad warrantless surveillance of American citizens. Whatever apocalypse came along would have to disrupt the Wal-Mart reality without slaughtering everyone and laying the land to total waste. Someone had to survive to be in the book.
I put that idea with the fact that for decades, a certain well-known agricultural company has created seeds that produce only sterile crops. Also, they have a well-earned reputation for being heavy handed in agricultural domination. In any famine—the natural result of apocalypse—seed companies will hold the key to world domination.
I needed an apocalypse that temporarily affected North America for long enough to bring widespread famine, but that didn’t create a total wasteland. So the book begins twenty-one years after a supervolcano called Taupo in New Zealand blows and blankets Earth with ash, lowering the average temperature of North America approximately 20 degrees for a period of seven years—much like a body of research indicates happened with Mt. Toba in Indonesia 74,000 years ago. During that time, the Josephites, whose prophet is a genetic engineer, cloned the only seeds that could grow in the cold and dark, giving them the power over who eats, and who starves.
Do you have a favorite author, book, or genre? If so, who (or what) is it, and why?
I actually love historical fiction and fantasy. The Crystal Cave, Harry Potter, Shogun, and Colleen McCullough’s First Man in Rome series stand out for me. I love the hope and the noble values inherent in fantasy, and I love the easy history lessons I get from the historical fiction.
Archer, the protagonist in FIRELANDS, must risk her life to save a young girl named Bunny from capture and execution by the religious zealots who control their post-apocalyptic world. What did you find most challenging about balancing the non-stop action with Archer’s internal growth as a character, and how did you overcome those difficulties in writing and editing?
The most difficult part was sacrificing all of the scenes I loved that didn’t move the plot. I call them Little Darlings, a term coined by Kristen Lamb. The hard fact is, though, that there is a difference between writing a book and playing with my imaginary friends. I had to learn that. It was a literary slaughter when I cut those scenes, but it had to be done. Live and let Little Darlings die.
Do you have a favorite scene or section from FIRELANDS? If so (and if you can tell us about it without spoilers!), what makes that scene stand out for you?
I gave this a great deal of thought and concluded they are all my favorites.
What is the last book you read, and why did you choose to read it?
The last book I read was the ARC of your debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT, and I loved it! I read it because I was lucky enough to get an ARC.
You’re currently writing a series of spy thrillers with your writing partner, the mysterious Holmes, who blogs with you at Bayard & Holmes. Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress?
We’re currently finishing edits on THE LEOPARD OF CAIRO, the first in our seven-book APEX PREDATOR series that will be published by Stonehouse Ink. In it, an ex-intelligence operative must thwart a billionaire cartel before it can unleash a regional apocalypse, and, in the resulting chaos, corner the world’s oil market. While it is fiction, our particular angle is that we keep it all very real and entirely possible.
And now, the speed round:
Plotter or pantser?
Coffee, tea, or bourbon?
Socks or no socks?
Cats, dogs, or reptiles?
For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?
Italian—gluten free, served by a handsome waiter in a white button-down shirt and tight black trousers.
Thank you, Piper, for joining me here today! It’s been great fun to learn more about you and FIRELANDS – it’s a fantastic book, and I’m sure my readers will love it as much as I did!