Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Interview - Adam Rakunas (Author of Windswept)

Today, as alluded to yesterday, we're going to be talking to Adam Rakunas about his debut novel, Windswept. It's a story about a lot of things - labour rights in a spacefaring future. Rebuilding after a trauma. Big explosions. Oh, and a crane chase. It was thoroughly enjoyable stuff, and a pleasure to catch up with Adam and try and learn a little more about the man behind the story.

Hi Adam– thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Padma Mehta says hello.

Windswept is unusual in its discussion of labour rights in a future space – what made you decide to broach this topic in your narrative?

Because no one seems to be writing about the people who maintain future societies’ basic needs. 

When’s the last time Star Trek focused on the lowly Starfleet plumber’s mate who kept the Enterprise’s many toilets unclogged? Geordi LaForge and Montgomery Scott may keep the engines running, but if the sewer lines back up, it’s game over.

I think it’s going to be a while before machines completely take over all our menial work, which means people will keep doing all those dirty jobs that keep human civilization running. The supply of cheap labor outstrips the hell out of the demand. If Jane Janitor goes to her boss to ask for a raise, that boss is going to point at the fifty other people standing in line for Jane’s job. I think Jane should be paid fairly for her work and retain her dignity. Like Rose Schneiderman said, “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.” I want to tell stories like that.

Your protagonist, Padma Mehta is, I think, a wonderful blend of focused violence, intellect, and emotional damage.  Was there any aspect of the character that you find particularly interesting, or would highlight to readers?

Padma is a combination of Rosalind Russell from His Gal Friday and Philip Marlowe. She’d rather disarm someone with a quip, but she’s not afraid to use her fists if she’s cornered. She’s cynical as hell about human nature, but she will fight for what she believes is right. And, while she doesn’t suffer fools, she’ll still have empathy towards anyone who’s getting screwed.

 Windswept’s villains include employees of mega-corporations; when you were crafting your struggle between Unions and Mega-corps, what kind of research did you do to inform your narrative choices?

I worked.

No, seriously. I’ve worked a variety of jobs, and each of them was a glimpse into the magic that is the corporate world. In high school, I bagged groceries, manned a drive-through window, and directed traffic in parking lots. After college, I did time in the software mines for Activision, TicketMaster, Nissan, and a few smaller firms. I also had a brief stint as an online advertising guy, so I got to figure out how to sell stuff (which is why you should buy my book).

What I learned is that work sucks, even if you’re close to the top of the pyramid. At the bottom, yes, you’ve got long hours, low pay, and a miserable sense of self-worth. Higher up, you start fighting with other people for budgets and headcounts and your own relevancy. And the bigger the company, the more potential for abuse and misery, especially when your company has the mojo to deal directly with government. During my time at Nissan, they wanted to move shop to Tennessee, and the Governator came down to convince them to stay. It didn’t take, and it punched a hell of a hole in the local economy. Fortunately, I was just a consultant, so I didn’t have to undergo the gut-wrenching decision that everyone had to make: do I go with my job, or stay where I am and hope I find something that pays as well?

It used to be that you’d work your ass off for your company for your entire career, and then you’d get a pension and medical and a watch. My dad was the last of that generation, and even his benefits got slashed as his former employer did its level best to increase shareholder value by screwing everyone who’d worked for them. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to go from General Electric to Governance By General Electric. I just hope we can trip it up and keep out of the way before we’re crushed.

Similarly, the world of Windswept, one previously utilised for, and then cast aside by Mega-corporations, is a vivid and well realised one – was there any real-world inspiration for the setting?

I think we’re living in it right now. Last week, the New York Times published an article about Amazon’s work practices, and I thought I was reading science fiction. The idea of a Darwinist workforce where people are driven to ruin in the name of maximizing shareholder value is ridiculous, yet there it is. Amazon paid for ambulances to wait outside their warehouses to take their heat prostrated workers to the hospital rather than, you know, install air conditioning ( I used Wal-Mart as the inspiration for the Big Three, but I was looking in the wrong place.

There’s a lot of cool moments in Windswept, which I won’t spoil – but with that in mind, is there a moment you put in the book purely because it was awesome?

The crane chase. I really hope I pulled that one off because the whole idea seemed so silly and awesome.

Several of your characters feel older, more experienced, throwing off corporate careers in order to join the Union – was the move to more mature characters a deliberate choice?

Absolutely. Part of it was practical: Padma’s feelings of burnout are because she’s been a Union recruiter for twelve years, and she had another twelve years of school and work before she joined the Union. I felt I could see her world-weariness if she had plenty of time to get that weary.
Also, I didn’t want to write about some young beautiful people. I wanted people in their forties and fifties who had made a lot of choices and had to deal with the consequences. When you’re young and quit your first job, it’s not that big a deal. But when you quit after long career? There’s a lot of potential for conflict there. You have to confront the person you’ve become and figure out how much is you and how much was shaped by your circumstances. Then you’ve got to decide what you keep.

As a reader, what type of book do you enjoy – and what are you reading right now?

I have very wide-ranging tastes because I think the more culture you consume, the more jokes you can get. Right now, I’m finally reading Robert Joseph Levy’s The Glittering World, which is beautiful and terrifying (sorry it took so long to get to it, Robert). Next up is Daniel JosĂ© Older’s Shadowshaper, which I hope is every bit as mambotastic as his Half-Resurrection Blues.

Can you tell us a little bit about your average day/week as a writer?

I’m a stay-at-home dad, so my writing work revolves around my daughter’s school hours. I get up, make breakfast, get her dressed, walk her to school, then hustle home. I am terrible at getting distracted by Twitter, and I have to rely on the Freedom app to keep on track. I shoot for writing 1,500 words of new fiction a day, and I hit that target. Sometimes.

Some authors plan their novels in great detail before setting pen to paper; others seem to take a more seat-of-the pants approach. How would you describe yourself on that continuum?

Windswept was very seat-of-the-pants, which was fun until it wasn’t. Hitting a plot wall is paralyzing. For Windswept’s sequel, I made an outline using Mark Teppo’s magical Twenty-Five Chapter/Nine Questions structure (which you can learn about in his new book, Jumpstart Your Novel). The first draft of Windswept took a little over two years; the sequel took six months. I like riffing when I write, but all that riffing has to hang on a solid structure. Teppo’s is so rock solid you could build a city on it.

How did you get into writing? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do, or is it something of a new path for you?

I’ve always been a scribbler; I just didn’t know how to get paid for it. In the mid-90s, when the Web was new and fresh, I wrote for personal story-telling sites like (hi, Derek!). It was exhilarating to pour my heart into the keyboard and get someone say, “Hey, I feel like that too!”
I didn’t start writing fiction until 2001, when someone loaned me Stephen King’s On Writing. I ripped through that and thought, “Wow! That’s how you do it!” It’s one thing to be a reader, but to understand how those books and stories were made was revelatory. I started writing short stories and promptly collecting rejection slips. Good times.

As a follow up: as a debut author, has anything about the publishing process surprised you?

That no one has a typical story. Every writer’s path to publication is different, even though we’re all trudging through the same territory. I am reassured by the fact that every writer I know struggles with their work. We’re all toiling together.

Food and drink play a central role in your narrative – not least the titular Old Windswept rum. What meal do you think would work best with a bottle of Old Windswept?

Roasted fish kabobs with lime and mango chutney, with a little Old Windswept bananas flambé for dessert.

Have you found the rise of social media has had any impact on you as an author?

What, other than distracting me from writing?

I used to do social media marketing for a living, and it’s been weird to use it to sell my book. Most of the people who follow me are friends, and I don’t want to be that guy who crashes a party and yells, “Hey, I’ve got a book, and you should buy it!” The phenomenon of following people on Twitter in the hopes of them following you back should be stopped. It’s creepy and needy. Don’t do that. Follow people because you like what they have to say, not because you want something from them. Ew.

What will we be seeing from you in the coming months?

The sequel to Windswept, title TBD. I have ideas for a third book about Padma’s adventures; we’ll see if they come to fruition. I’m also toying around with a book about family stories and talking guns.

 Finally – any words of advice for budding authors out there?

When in doubt, follow Delilah Dawson’s Writer’s Prayer:
Head down
Butt in chair
Honey badger
Doesn't care
Hands on keyboard
Coffee's hot
Give this edit
All you've got.


Biographical Notes (courtesy of the lovely folk at Angry Robot)

Adam Rakunas has worked a variety of weird jobs. He’s been a virtual world developer, a parking lot attendant, a triathlon race director, a fast food cashier, and an online marketing consultant.
Now a stay-at-home dad, Adam splits his non-parenting time between writing, playing the cello, and political rabble-rousing. His stories have appeared in Futurismic and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Windswept is his first novel.
You can find Adam online at his website:, on Twitter @rakdaddy and on Facebook and Tumblr.

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