Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Jeremy Szal?
Jeremy Szal was born in 1995 and raised by wild dingoes. He spent his childhood exploring bookstores, beaches, and the limits of other people’s patience. He loves watching weird films, collecting boutique gins, exploring cities, and cold weather.
At least, that’s the impression I want people to have of me. I live in Sydney, Australia with my family and a hyperactive Jack Russell. I was homeschooled when I was a kid, up until the last few years of school, before heading off to university. I’m an outgoing person, but I’m also the sort of guy who’s perfectly content to stay home with a good book or engaging boxset.
Your debut novel, Stormblood, will be published by Gollancz in June. It looks really cool: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
It’s the first book in a trilogy! It’s about the DNA of an extinct alien race that’s used as a drug, making soldiers permanently addicted to adrenaline and sending them off to war. Of course, everything that could go wrong inevitably did go wrong. The protagonist is one of these soliders, returned home from the war to find his squadmates being murdered, and his estranged brother is the prime suspect.
Things get messy, and messy fast.
We pitched the book as Blade Runner 2049 and Mass Effect 2 meets the Red Rising series. It’s a first-person murder mystery set in a far-flung future with weird alien technology, space cults, criminal underworlds, spaceships, all the good stuff. But it’s also a character-driven adventure about brotherhood, love, loyalty, friendship, and doing right by the people you love, no matter how much it hurts. If I had to pitch any features to potential readers, that always takes center stage.
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
A: I got the idea about alien biotech being used as a drug first. And then I thought of how it would impact people and their relationships. Having the two brothers’ lives be torn apart by the alien drug was the next logical step. The story developed out from there.
As for where I draw inspiration: I guess the predominate place is science-fiction, especially space opera and military SF: Star Wars, Blade Runner, Mass Effect, Halo. Authors like Iain M. Banks, Al Reynolds, Pierce Brown, Karen Traviss, Joe Abercrombie. But my more enigmatic answer is that I draw inspiration from everywhere. Bars and coffeehouses. Beaches and parklands. Foreign films and instrumental soundtracks. Video games and city streets. Concept art and street vendor food. Everything I see and experience feeds into my creative process one way or another. I’m a very visual thinker, so there’s some very specific “shots” in my writing that’s mimicking the visuals and aesthetics from movies directed by Denis Villeneuve, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, etc.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
My mother’s to blame for that. She’s been pushing books into my hands as long as I can remember, but I do distinctly remember her showing me Star Wars on a wet Sunday morning and being absolutely entranced by the visual spectacle, the feel and look of the whole thing. She’s an English teacher, so regular trips to the bookstore were an essential part of life.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
Very much so. It’s a tricky business, and an ever-evolving one, to be sure. I’ve been a short fiction writer, an editor, and audio producer, before now becoming a novelist, so I’ve had the opportunity to see how the gears and cogs turn at many levels.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Yeah. Writers write. So I write. The words ain’t going to write themselves, and no one can tell you how to write them.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I’d made half-hearted attempts at novel writing through my teenage years. But my first foray into writing with the intention to be an author came when I was seventeen or so. I’d come off the tail-end of finishing high-school, where I’d taken all the creative writing courses I could. I was reading A Song of Ice and Fire at the time, and was struck with the ingenious idea of writing my own sprawling, epic tale of the same scope, but set in space with aliens and spaceships. If the term “ignorance is bliss” could ever be applied, it was to me that summer. I enjoyed pounding out six hundred pages of nonsense. Not so much the editing part. Or pitching it to agents and publishers.
That book is now locked deep underground in a concrete bunker in hopes no human being ever has to be aware of its existence.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think we’re seeing a lot more diverse and international voices on the scene, which is great. I’m especially excited about new international writers. I feel like when a lot of people say they want more diversity, they mean diversity within America. Not the world, and definitely not from other languages. I’m Australian and multiracial with parents who are both ESL (one of whom is an immigrant), so my lived experience is going to be very different from the average Anglo-Saxon American author. My protagonist is half-Japanese and half-Russian, and while his ethnicity has no bearing on the plot or how he’s treated (I have no interest in writing that), it does impact his values and how he feels at home. I try to filter every word through character voice, so I guess being able to bring that cultural interiority to a character, while still writing in the sci-fi backdrop of aliens and spaceships and asteroid cities, lends my work a more authentic angle.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m neck-deep in editing Book 2 in the Common series, the sequel to Stormblood. It’s a much bigger and darker book than the first, and far less streamlined. It’s taking up all my time and attention right now. And after that, it’ll be onto Book 3!
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’m reading books that are similar to mine, in order to keep myself in the same mental mindset (if I get wrapped up in another genre or style, it bleeds out into my work). So I’m rereading Golden Son by Pierce Brown, Velocity Weapon by Megan O’Keefe, House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds, and rewatching the entirety of The Expanse.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
I’ll cheat and say the entirety of the Red Rising series. I’ve never read any other author who can conjure up such a brutal and visceral world, and yet still have hope and friendship and love taking center stage, even in the midst of a battle sequence. They’re my favourite books of all time, so it’s an easy pick.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I lived in Austria when I was a kid, so I’m fluent in German!
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Other than COVID-19 (hopefully) not continuing to screw up the world? I’m keen on readers from all over the world finally meeting the characters I’ve had kicking around in my head for the past four years, and hopefully getting to know and love them as deeply as I do.
Jeremy Szal’s Stormblood is due to be published by Gollancz in the UK, on June 4th, 2020.