Thursday, February 2, 2012

Eff the Po-Po or No? An Interview with Barry Napier

I recently finished Everything Theory: Cold Compass, and I really, really enjoyed it. I read the second half of the book straight through, and that sort of experience with fiction has become much rarer for me than it used to be. If you liked X-Files and Unsolved Mysteries, you’ll certainly enjoy Barry Napier’s unique, cohesive, and perfectly-paced take on parascience, the MiB and government conspiracy.

I ask strange interview questions. I know this, and yet I can’t help it. I see that a writer did something I admire, and I ask how they did it, even when “So tell us about your book” would be more appropriate. If you want to learn more about Cold Compass, I’d suggest you buy it and read it, but you can also find a number of other interviews by following links on Barry’s blog.

I have serious problems with authority, and I typically avoid thrillers with police or government agent protagonists. So I was a bit surprised by my response to the characters in Cold Compass. Here, I’ve asked Barry how he managed to write a story about government agents that managed to still wring empathy and emotional-investment from a bitter malcontent like myself. Barry was kind enough to give us a peek into his process, because it didn’t happen accidentally.

Gabe has problems with authority, yet joins The Man. I have problems with authority, and typically don't like books involving the authorities as protagonists, but I could enjoy Cold Compass because of Gabe's reluctance to align himself with The Man. Was this an intentional strategy?

It was, actually.  While Gabe certainly isn’t aligned to any certain political agenda, it’s clear by his mannerisms and the way he behaves around this new world of the FBI and CIA that he’s not going to shut up and obey just because he’s expected to.  Yet, at the same time, there’s a degree of respect there.  When I was fleshing out Gabe’s character, I knew that I wanted a younger character that was reluctant to become affiliated with “The Man” but, at the same time, was sort of secretly in awe of the fact that he was now a part of it.

The tricky thing was to make him an outcast from that whole scene without ousting him too much.  So I had his wardrobe, his taste in music, and his overall sarcasm and aloofness to use as tools.  At the end of the day, he’s part of this world now but, due to backstory and his father’s past, he’ll always resent it.

I sense a fellow malcontent. Do you have problems with authority?

That’s a loaded question.  I grew up listening to Pantera (surprising, I know) so my youthful view of authority wasn’t the best.  With the recent to-do over SOPA and piracy laws, I am reminded just how far reaching certain branches of authority can be.  But in doing research for the Everything Theory books, I came to understand that the inner workings of law enforcement really aren’t all that complex or responsible.

A story I like to tell: When I got my first job working on government proposals, an after-hours conversation at a bar turned to the Roswell conspiracy.  A well respected man that has government clearance to sites like White Sands and Brookhaven National Labs sort of snickered and laughed the whole time.  In the end, his summation of the UFO topic was this: he believed that alien life existed, but that there was no government cover up.  When asked how he was so sure, he said “I’ve worked with high levels of both the US and the UK government for over 20 years.  There is no branch of the government that is clever enough or thorough enough to construct such a cover-up.” (A funny side note: a character that will appear in future Everything Theory books is loosely based on this man).
And that’s sort of how I see it.  Speeding tickets and illegal phone tapping aside, I think most branches of law enforcement aren’t as cruel as we think they are; the stereotypes we pin on them are usually far worse.

 What do you think of cops as protagonists?

It depends on the book and genre (and author, I suppose).  I am currently writing a short novel that heavily involves a sheriff and his deputy in a small Virginia town.  I also have a much larger one that I keep neglecting where the central character is a sheriff.  For my own personal devices, I rather like the staple of a town cop as the lead of a story.  That way, the tension and drama isn’t confined to one family or house, but to this cop’s entire town.

Growing up on Stephen King, it was hard to not find the character of Alan Pangborn as a strong lead.  And hell, even the entire poor police department of Castle Rock became its own sort of character—an arc you can see beginning near the end of Cujo and extending all the way to Needful Things (as well as a few nods in later works).

I think cops make good protagonists if the plot allows them.  To sort of force a cop into it would ruin the story.  In Everything Theory: Cold Compass, the one cop we are introduced to is there almost as a third tier character, not to really move the story along, but to support the sub-plot that later tried everything together.  I needed him in that position to see his town from the inside out, not from the outside in as would have been the case had it been told from Gabe’s perspective.

I liked the character of Sherriff Rollins…so much that I am toying with the idea of a brief cameo in one of the future Everything Theory books.

Thanks to Barry for stopping by. I have more questions about Cold Compass, so I might be able to get another interview or guest post out of him in the near future.

In the mean time, buy Everything Theory: Cold Compass!

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