By Dan Levy
Like many successful authors, Alex Gordon was drawn to writing early in life and continued through high school. Then, Gordon explained, “I poked around with the idea of writing a (science fiction) novel in college, but that fizzled.”
Gordon shelved her writing for a time, but as it is with so many, the call was strong. “In the early nineties, I saw that so many of my coworkers were returning to school for MBAs. I thought that I would give writing a shot, that some sort of writing course would be my version of an MBA,” she said. The result was Code of Conduct, the first in the Jani Kilian science fiction series, written under my real name, Kristine Smith.
Nearly a decade later, Gordon returns with a supernatural thriller entitled GIDEON, set for release this month. THE BIG THRILL caught-up with Gordon to learn about her latest work and her shift from science fiction to the thriller format.
First, why the switch?
The main reason I want to write thrillers is because I love to read them. Supernatural, science fiction, espionage, medical—I enjoy the high stakes, rapidly-evolving plots, larger than life characters. They’re a blast to read and a real challenge to write. You need just enough detail—too much and you bog down the story. You need interesting characters, but you have to remind yourself that you’re not writing character studies. Revelations need to tie into the main plot.
You’ve lived all over the country. Why make a small Illinois town the backdrop/namesake of your novel?
The seminal event of the story, the Sudden Freeze of 1836, affected that area. Real towns in the vicinity were founded in the 1830s, so it made sense that a town like Gideon might exist there. Because I was making up so much history, I wanted to make sure that I grounded it in reality as much as possible.
Why use the supernatural as your antagonist (as opposed to a terrorist, crime boss, or some other more-common bad guy)?
A supernatural element is often part of the history of the story location, a local legend, an inherent feature of the landscape. It’s as though the land itself has risen up against you—there’s no place to hide. That makes for a more formidable adversary. The usual good guys who would aid your protagonist—law enforcement, your spy agency—can’t help you. Then in the end, have you defeated it, or merely held it at bay for a time? Or has it defeated you?
What do you like about writing/researching the supernatural? What opportunities does it provide you as a writer? How about challenges?
Researching the supernatural can lead you down so many merry paths that, while not specifically about supernatural subjects, could be used to form the foundation of a story or enhance a fantastical world. While researching GIDEON, I found information about crows—how intelligent they are, how they can recognize faces. I also stumbled over a medical journal article about a man whose heart shared structural features with a reptilian heart (atavism). I used a little bit of information about the crows in GIDEON. The information about atavism will have to wait for another time, but boy, what a basis for a weird tale.
Describe Lauren Reardon in one sentence. What do you like most about her? What has surprised you about her as she came to life on the page?
Lauren Reardon doesn’t yet realize what she’s capable of, and that may be a good thing both for her and the rest of the world.
I like that she rises to the occasion, and then some. Given the things she learned about her father and all the strange things that started happening to her, she didn’t hesitate to push forward, to go to Gideon, to try to help people who for the most part wished her nothing but ill. Her fearlessness boggles me. But at the end of the book, she is warned that she needs to take care, or she may start down a path from which there is no return. I am not sure if she will heed those warnings or not.
Is there a scene or chapter in GIDEON that is a favorite or that is especially poignant for you? Why?
There are a couple of scenes in which Lauren interacts with GIDEON townfolk that I like. Even though (the scenes) are relatively calm, they give me the chance to inject a touch of humor, and give Lauren a break from all the animosity she has encountered.
Having not had the chance to read the book, would you talk a bit about the “ticking time bomb” aspects GIDEON?
Without giving too much away, the town of Gideon is like the stopper in the bottle. If the Evil escapes, it would move on to envelope the world. That’s not immediately obvious—Lauren realizes it before anyone else because she felt its effects from a distance.
While I don’t want to overlook GIDEON, what do your fans have to look forward to in Jericho, the next Lauren Reardon novel?
In Jericho, the stakes are much greater. It’s hinted in GIDEON that magical influence stretches well beyond one small town in Illinois. In Jericho, Lauren is going to learn just how pervasive that influence is, as well as who else is interested in examining and harnessing that power.
What are you reading right now?
At the moment, I am reading a science fiction novel, Echopraxia by Peter Watts. His aliens are amazing, as are his examinations of transhumanism and the impact of technology on what it means to be human. Next on the list is Blue Labyrinth, the latest Pendergast novel by Preston and Child.
Which authors/books inspire you?
John Le Carré was, and continues to be, a huge inspiration. He described spycraft and the people who practiced it better than anyone. Terry Pratchett, the author of the Discworld books, can define a character with a single thought or action. The books are humorous for the most part, but I can usually count on at least one scene that draws tears.
Considering the importance of good character development in any story, what’s one thing about you people would be surprised to learn?
From what I’ve heard, I am considered pretty quiet. But, I do have a temper. And I swear a little too much. And I like the idea that I can write things that scare people.
Is there one piece of advice that has served well as you’ve achieved your writing success? If so, what is it? Is it the same advice you’ve give to aspiring authors today?
Finish something. It’s so easy to get caught up in trying to make every sentence perfect, to set aside one piece because it’s a struggle and start something new. But you can’t put something out there until it’s finished, so finish something.
Any final thoughts or last comments on GIDEON or being a thriller writer that you’d like to share?
It took me a while to work out how to approach GIDEON. Then I finally realized that it was a story about a woman and her father. A thriller can be grounded in personal relationships, and driven by the actions of everyday people. Maybe everyone else knew that, but it took me a while to figure it out.
Alex Gordon, author of the supernatural thriller GIDEON, was born in the Northeast, grew up in the South, and now resides in the Midwest. She is currently working on JERICHO, the follow-up to GIDEON, and is having too much fun doing research. When she isn’t working, she enjoys watching sports and old movies, running, and the company of dogs.
To learn more about Alex, please visit her website.