Author Spotlight: Mathieu Gallant: The Outage Series Book One: Darkness Falls
Today, joining us is Mathieu Gallant, a writer of speculative fiction, apocalyptic and science fiction. His debut novels, THE OUTAGE SERIES BOOK ONE: DARKNESS FALLS and BOOK TWO: WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS were written over a period of six years, starting in 2006 and have been well received online. Some reviewers have compared his work to that of Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov and Raymond Bradbury. Mathieu is a graduate of the journalism program at the New Brunswick Community College and has worked in the print, radio and television mediums. He also has a background in IT and currently works full time in that field. A third book in the Outage Series, tentatively entitled EARTHSHIP PHOENIX, is currently in the process of editing. Mathieu lives in the port city of Saint John, New Brunswick, the main setting for the Outage Series.
Mathieu, thank you for joining us today. Please tell us a little about your book.
DARKNESS FALLS is the first of what I see in my mind as a set of four novels. It is the linchpin, the foundation for what is to come. Originally, DARKNESS FALLS and the follow-up – WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS – were together as one long novel. But after being rejected by a few editors due to length (the longer the book, the more money it costs them to print) I decided to cleave the thing in half and voila! Two books. I like the result, and it makes it look like I’ve been working twice as hard. Ha ha.
As the synopsis says, DARKNESS FALLS is a frame story, or a story within a story. Altogether, there are three story streams going on at once. One is in the “present day” of 2179. The other is in the main character’s (Robert Hendricks) world of 2026 and the third is from the point of view of those who caused all the carnage back in 2026. I switch back and forth quite a bit in DARKNESS FALLS, but eventually all three story lines will merge into one.
How did you come up with the title?
When the book was in one piece, the title was just “OUTAGE.” It worked okay, straight-forward and to the point kind of thing. But when I split it I needed two titles. And I wanted to make sure the two books would be clearly linked. So I started with “THE OUTAGE SERIES BOOK X” and then went from there. The first is “DARKNESS FALLS” because it’s the book where the lights go out. And in a more symbolic sense, it’s also the book where Robert Hendricks gets his introduction to the darker side of humanity.
What inspired you to write this book?
There are so many reasons, but I think it comes down to me being a newshound and interested in history. When I started the book, the US was in the midst of George W. Bush’s second term in office and it seemed like the country was on the cusp of an implosion with all the added security from the “War on Terror” and the divisive nature of the wars being fought overseas. So that got my coffee maker percolating. Also, since I was a little kid I’ve dreamed of being an astronaut. I’m pragmatic, though, and realize I just don’t have “The Right Stuff.” So at some point I start thinking about what it would take for a Regular Joe like me to get into a rocket and get fired into space. As you can imagine, they just don’t leave rockets on the pad, fueled with the keys in the ignition. So, to get to that point it would take something rather… ah… apocalyptic? Also, I’m a long-time fan of Sci-Fi and have spent countless hours thinking about extra-terrestrial life and the prospect of “first contact” with aliens.
Throw all of that together, add a pinch of my own character traits, and you’ve got the recipe for “DARKNESS FALLS”
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. A few actually. One: Our “connected” world hasn’t been around very long. Hard to believe with all the smart-phones, tablets and ultra-books floating around these days, but the internet – and more broadly speaking computer networking – has barely been around for a quarter century. But already we treat this technology like it is a birth-right that is an integral part of being human. I know some people would gladly take on cybernetic implants if it meant they could be plugged in 24/7. I have news for you, folks: I’m in my early 30s, and I remember a time, not so long ago, when there was no such thing as the World Wide Web. We seem to have grown so dependent on the Internet… within a quarter century we’ve forsaken reality and turned instead to living our lives “online.” It’s going to be one hell of a rude wake-up when that disappears, let me tell you. If there’s an emergency and you need information, but Google is not available and you can’t text your friends for help, what do you do?
My second message is that we must come to terms with the fact that if the end does come, it’ll probably be our fault. It seems to be in vogue these days to paint the apocalypse as some natural disaster we couldn’t do anything about. In my opinion, although it makes for good cinema, this is avoiding reality to keep from ruffling feathers. Truth is, if the end comes it’ll probably be at the hands of other humans. We’re living on a powder-keg, and the launch codes are in the hands of people that – although they like to portray themselves as trustworthy and dependable – are every bit as fallible as the rest of us. I think it’s just a matter of time before the wrong person gets their finger on the button.
I have other messages as well, but I’ll avoid going on a rant and just leave you with a final thought from the pages of DARKNESS FALLS:
When I talk to people about the subject, I often hear that the developed world is better positioned in order to deal with a global disaster. To which I usually respond by asking the person a question: Can you give me one example of a time where you lived without the proper necessities of life? The truth is – in the event of a truly global disaster – the poor have much less to lose. They’re already adapted to survive in harsh conditions whereas, for the more well-off amongst us, such a situation would represent a major shift in the realities of life.
What is your writing process?
I don’t have any process that I have to follow religiously. I write at all times of day/night. The only thing I require is some peace and quiet. I used to be able to write with music on, but I find this distracting now. Also, I find that using a writing journal is a good idea and something that many writers overlook. When I was doing most of the hard work for the first two books of THE OUTAGE SERIES – and even the third book which has yet to be totally finished – I wrote in my journal every day. I also find it useful to write by hand if I find I’m having a hard time with something. It uses a different part of the brain.
How long did it take to write your latest release?
I’ve been working on it since 2005-06 and I’m still doing touch-ups. An author’s work is never done!
Do you have a favorite line or scene from your latest release?
From DARKNESS FALLS, I think my favourite scene is one of the last ones, where Hendricks breaks into an Army/Navy store to score some supplies. For me, this is where he finally gives up his “wait for help” attitude and decides he has to help himself if he wants to survive. Of the two completed books so far, I think my favourite scene is in When the Levee Breaks when Hendricks runs into a group of religious types looking to hasten the coming of the end times for themselves. Pretty dark and disturbed.
Did you hire an editor to review your manuscript before publishing?
I was VERY lucky to have access to a top-notch editor for THE OUTAGE SERIES. Actually, I’ve had a couple. The first was Dr. Anne Compton, Writer-in-Residence at the University of New Brunswick (Saint John.) Dr. Compton is the winner of the 2006 Governor General Award in poetry. I worked with her for about two years, and it’s during that time I feel that I really came into my own as a writer. I still keep in touch with her, but she no longer edits my books. Once I was picked up by World Castle Publishing, I got in touch with Eric Johnston and he has helped me quite a bit as well. He suggested some pretty major changes in point of view and verb tenses, and even though it was hard work the end result is all the better for it.
I also must take this opportunity to thank my friends Paul Gagnon and Roger LeBlanc for taking the time to read the books and giving me their frank opinions. Their input was invaluable.
What are the future plans for you and this book?
Other than hoping to sell a boat-load of copies, I need to finish book three, tentatively entitled “EARTHSHIP PHOENIX.” And then I have to do book four. I think that should tie up the current story line. From there I could either call it quits on THE OUTAGE SERIES or keep it going. Not sure at this point. I’m also working on other projects independent of this story line. I’m hoping that if THE OUTAGE SERIES has any success, it’ll give me the time and money to do some real research (i.e. travel) that will really allow me to do a thorough job on this other project.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I’ve always loved words. Even in elementary school, I found spelling tests easy. Then, in higher grades I excelled at written composition; when most of my fellow students were struggling to get to the minimum word count, I was handing in multiples of it, no sweat. And my marks were always high. The first story – outside of assignments – that I recall was something I wrote after seeing the movie “Die Hard.” I was in my early teens then and decided I’d try my hand at writing a story about some “bad guys” taking over my school. I would be the hero and save the day (and capture the heart of the girl I was interested in back then.) Well, I filled a Hilroy notebook with my story, writing on the fronts and backs of pages. There are about 30 pages in one of those notebooks. In the end, it somehow came to the attention of school administrators and was confiscated. I got in a bit of hot water over that one. Lucky for me, this was before Columbine, so people weren’t so hyper-vigilant about that kind of thing back then.
All this to say is that I think I’ve always been a writer and I’ll continue to work away at it, even if it never gets beyond being a hobby.
DARKNESS FALLS is a frame novel, a story within a story. Primarily, it tells the story of one man, Robert Hendricks. We first meet him in 2179 onboard an alien star ship approaching Earth. He is the lone human on the ship and it will be the first time he sees his planet in over 150 years. He has been away so long, in fact, that Hendricks has very little in the way of actual memories of his home. The only thing he knows for sure is that his feelings about going back are far from positive. This is a problem for his extra-terrestrial hosts, the Gulran. The Gulran have a growing interest in this sector of the galaxy and Earth is vital to their plan. With Hendricks as an ambassador the Gulrani High Arbitor, Gorak, thinks the mission has a good chance of success. Without the human’s help, he’s not so sure. In order to ensure a positive outcome – but also to help his troubled friend – Gorak hypnotizes Hendricks and, through his recollections, travels back with him to the Earth of 2026. For Hendricks, the end begins with a total blackout of North America. It doesn’t take long for him to learn that the line between order and chaos is as thin as a stream of electrons flowing down a copper wire.