First Contact with Tade Thompson: Alien invasions, doodles and scribbles, and death to darlings
Posted October 12, 2016on:
Tade Thompson’s work has appeared in Apex Magazine, Interzone, Escape Pod, African Monsters, and in numerous anthologies. Most recently, his horror novella “The Murders of Molly Southbourne” was acquired by Tor.com. His work combines thrillers with horror, first contact with mythology, and a voice that is purely Tade. His newest novel, Rosewater, out of Apex Publications, will be available in November. Part alien invasion story, part psychological thriller, and all intelligence, this novel is sure to make an impression.
Tade’s debut novel, Making Wolf, won the Golden Tentacle Award at the Kitchies. He’s taught science fiction writing classes, loves the Netflix show Stranger Things, and suffuses his longhand manuscripts with arrows, flowcharts and doodles. All this is to say he’s an author you need to keep your eye on. Be sure to check out Tade’s website and his twitter feed @tadethompson.
Tade was kind enough to let me pick is brain about Rosewater, the joys of writing and brainstorming longhand, and his favorite writers.
Tade Thompson: Thank you! The ideas came first. I spent ages ruminating on a particular theme, almost as an exercise. Why would aliens come to Earth? I wrote a short story in the universe many years ago, and kept extrapolating. Then my main character, Kaaro, presented himself, and I started on the first draft. The plot grew around him and it changed quite a bit over subsequent drafts. At one point, for example, it was going to be a dark love story. Let’s just be grateful that didn’t happen. The most important aspect of Kaaro was his flawed character. His personality has been scored and mutilated by life. I fractured the story because that’s what I enjoy. Alejandro Inarritu, when talking about the film “21 Grams”, said that stories are rarely told in a linear fashion in real life. There are always digressions and culs-de-sac. I subscribe to that idea.
LRR: Aliens are so much fun to write, that authors have been writing alien invasion and first contact stories since the beginning of literature. I know there is something that makes Rosewater different, but my blog readers may not. So, what makes Rosewater different from other alien invasion and first contact novels?
TT: All I can say is this is not a militaristic sci-fi story. I’m not Marko Kloos, though I love his work in the Frontlines series. This is not about alien technology or motherships or the grotesque/beautiful creatures. Rosewater is about the invasion of the mind, more than anything. If aliens are more evolved than humanity, why and how would they invade? To give you a hint, I am a great admirer of The Andromeda Strain, The Day of the Triffids and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
LRR: Without giving any spoilers, what was the most challenging scene in the book to write? What scene was the most fun to write?
TT: Without a doubt, the most problematic scene was alien sex. It wasn’t necessarily the mechanics of it. It was more about how far should I go? I had to set my own morality aside and just tell the story. And, no, it’s not a boink-fest! But the carnality is there, front and centre, but necessary to the plot.
The most fun scene was one I had to cut in an earlier draft, though it survives in a form. It’s a scene where an intelligence organisation tries to disintegrate an alien with a Tesla Particle Beam. I cut it because I was indulging myself. It did not contribute meaningfully to the story, but Ye gods, it was fun to write about a soundless beam and orange embers floating skyward in the aftermath. Plus collateral damage. Either way, Rosewater isn’t that kind of book so death to the darlings!
LRR: If Earth does experience first contact with an alien species, how do you think humanity will react?
TT: If we encounter intelligent life, blind panic and religious hysteria.
If we encounter flora or fauna, blind panic and religious hysteria.
Humans don’t handle the unknown well. Look at our history.
LRR: I’m fascinated by the fact that you write longhand. I always have a better end result if I write my articles longhand first, so it’s nice to know others do this too! Do you find your mind goes in different and wider directions when you literally have pen to paper, than when you’re typing in a word processor? And more practically, pen or pencil? Lined or unlined paper?
TT: I’ll start with the practical bit. I use all manner of notebooks because I often write in different circumstances. I prefer unlined paper because I doodle and draw. Standard Moleskins are my go-to notebooks, but I am one of those people who can’t resist cool stationery. I have a hard-cover signum notebook I bought in Venice that I haven’t even used yet, and a leather-bound one I got from the Covered Market in Oxford.
I tend to use gel ink pens and I finish them with reckless abandon. Thank Zeus they’re tax-deductible.
I find when I write in longhand I seem to have a more intimate relationship with the material, be it fiction or non-fiction. I can break into flow charts or even story-boards on a few occasions. Mentally, I feel freer and more nimble when there’s ink on paper. With a keyboard and screen I’m faster, but more task-oriented with less free-association.
LRR: You describe yourself as a cold war baby. What impact did the cold war and the thread of nuclear war have on your writing and your view of storytelling? The newest generation of writers is the “9/11 generation”. How do you think their storytelling will differ from cold war storytelling?
TT: I think the key difference between cold-war and 9-11 generations is the mindset: It is “we will ALL die” versus “we may die”. I think the idea of Mutually Assured Destruction, MAD (surely the best acronym in the history of the English language), created a mentality of compromise with ones adversary and covert action rather than seeking to destroy them. The 9-11 mentality is more “find them and kill them so that we may be safe”. Demonstrate that if you mess with us we will come to you and disintegrate you. I am not saying that either one is superior, just that the context of ones childhood will have an effect on problem-solving. You can also see differences in those who lived through WW II, for example. Of course, I am not an expert and this could all be bullshit.
LRR: Who are some of your favorite writers? Why is their work important to you?
TT: How much space do you have?
I read so much that it is difficult to limit my responses.
David Foster Wallace, because nobody human should be able to use words the way he did.
Barbara Kingsolver, because I want to worship her sentences and bring them tributes of unicorn pelts.
Shakespeare because Shakespeare.
Noam Chomsky because of clarity of thought.
Mary Doria Russell because of the sublime prose in The Sparrow.
I could go on and on. Octavia Butler, Kelly Link, Anton Chekov. Margaret Atwood. Jeff VanderMeer. Victor LaValle. Kate Elliott. So many to think of.
LRR: I have unending love and admiration for Russell’s The Sparrow as well, and parts of Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible are imprinted on the backs of my eyes (and this is a good thing!). What’s next for you? Have you got any currect projects you can tell us about?
TT: I have two upcoming novellas: Gnaw, from Solaris books standalone and part of the Five Stories High anthology; and The Murders of Molly Southbourne which has been acquired by Tor.com.
I’m working on a novel which will probably take the whole of 2017. Too early to talk about it.
LRR: Thanks Tade!