Let’s start with an introduction: Who is James Breakwell?
Father. Comedy writer. Pig owner. Overall mediocre human being. I write daily jokes on the internet for free and occasional books in print for money.
Your new novel, The Chosen Twelve, is due to be published by Solaris in January. It looks rather intriguing: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
Thousands of years in the future, the last twenty-two humans in existence, all of them children, are charged with settling a new planet under the less-than-benevolent guidance of the self-interested robots who raised them. The kids discover that, contrary to the promises of their digital overlords, the landing craft that will make the one-way trip to the planet only has twelve seats. Those who secure a spot will lead the human race, possibly forever — or until they get killed by the biologically engineered super kangaroos who now hold the planet, whichever comes first. Those who don’t get a seat will be left behind to die on the decaying moon base, aging slowly without the injections from the immortality chamber that have kept them artificially young for decades. The resulting struggle to secure those seats will determine the fate not only of the last twenty-two humans, but also of all sentient life in the universe, both organic and digital.
I’d love for it to be a series, but that depends on how well the first one sells.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I love the idea of immortality being a limited resource. If it were available, what wouldn’t you do to get it? The resulting struggle practically wrote itself.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I think my first introduction to science fiction was Star Wars. I read dozens of the expanded universe books as a kid. Now they’re all non-canon. Thanks for destroying my childhood, Disney.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
It’s weird and fun and overwhelming all at the same time. I love the back and forth with editors to make my books as good as they can be. I hate reaching out to other, more established authors for blurbs. I’m resigned to the never-ending job of promoting my work. The modern author is as much a salesman as a writer.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I wrote the first draft of this book entirely with voice to text on my phone. All first drafts are terrible (or at least mine are), and I just need to get the basic ideas recorded as quickly as possible. Once I had them down, I could craft them into what they needed to be. It’s actually kind of surprising how little the basic story changed from the first draft to the polished final copy. It still blows my mind that I was able to literally speak this thing into existence.
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?
At the end of a computer literacy class, I had some free time, so I did what any normal high school sophomore would do and started writing a fake book of the Bible. I emailed a passage to two of my friends sitting in front of me in the computer lab. I watched them open the email and laugh. After that, I was hooked. If only I had become addicted to drugs instead. It would have been less destructive to my life.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think the genre is currently better than ever. There’s more quality work out there than even the most avid reader could hope to consume in a lifetime. That’s why I don’t get people who complain about books online. If you don’t like something, just move on to one of the literally millions of other options you have available. I’d like to think my book is a worthy entry into the sub genre of comedy sci-fi. It made me laugh while I was writing it. That has to count for something.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I have a children’s picture book coming out next year, which is a big change of pace for me. That will be fun to promote. Right now, I’m also putting a big emphasis on my newsletter. It’s 2,000 words of free, original comedy writing that comes out every Sunday night. It includes stories I can’t sum up in 280-characters on Twitter, like the time a neighbor called the police on my pigs. You can sign up here.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I listen to audiobooks constantly. I prefer history because the stakes are higher. The people who died really died, no retcon allowed. Currently, I’m listening to World War Two Week By Week by Time Ghost on YouTube. It might not be a book in a traditional sense, but it certainly contains as much information as one.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. I’m confident no finer (or funnier) book has ever been written. Not that he needs me to promote his book. Because he’s already sold a bajillion copies. And because he doesn’t care about sales because he’s dead.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I have a habit of giving gifts of large, oddly dressed taxidermy at formal events. It’s a dangerous thing to be my friend.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
The final weeks of the college football season. This is the first year I’ve followed it closely, and I’m hooked. It’s my new favorite way to procrastinate on writing. My productivity never stood a chance.
There are 22 candidates. There are 12 seats.
The last interstellar colony ship is down to its final batch of humans after the robots in charge unhelpfully deleted the rest. But rebooting a species and training them for the arduous task of colonisation isn’t easy – especially when the planet below is filled with monsters, the humans are more interested in asking questions than learning, and the robots are all programmed to kill each other.
But the fate of humanity rests on creating a new civilization on the planet below, and there are twelve seats on the lander. Will manipulation or loyalty save the day?
Breakwell is also the author of Only Dead on the Inside, out now.