JB SIMMONS’ recently released novel, Light in the Gloaming, is gathering five star reviews. Well-educated and highly articulate, the American fantasy author has learned to combine his love of this genre of fiction with his pedantry for the written word into an excellent debut novel. Here he speaks candidly about his influences as a writer.
1. Who do you think you are JB Simmons?
Six years ago, late one night, I was sitting in a windowless office toiling over a legal brief. It was a season of questions: who am I, why am I here, what am I doing? An answer flashed in my mind like a bolt of lightning: ‘you are a writer.’ Ever since, I have felt peace when filling a page with words. I am a writer.
2. What events in your life inspired you to write fantasy?
Writing begins with reading, and I grew up around shelves full of books. Those shelves held many fantasy treasures, from the staples (The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time) to lesser known epics (such as the Dragon Prince series). The first story that took hold in my mind fit best in a fantasy realm, albeit a realistic one. I believe these realms can have a unique power. As Tolkien put it: ‘Fantasy is…a higher form of Art, indeed the most nearly pure form, and so (when achieved) the most potent.’
3. To what extent has your study of political philosophy influenced the plot of Light in the Gloaming?
The plot began with two different political philosophies pitted against each other. You might call it a dark side (think Hegel, Nietszche) and a light side (think Locke, Burke). The two main characters then became champions of those philosophies, ready to battle. Of course, political philosophy is riddled with disagreement and confusion. That makes it a wonderful subject to take life in characters, just as it does in the real world.
4. Gloaming is a Scots word. Do you have connections with Scotland?
The Scottish Highlands – rugged, beautiful, epic, mythical – enchanted me the first time I visited over a decade ago. So much so that I thought it would be an ideal place to propose to my bride a few years later. She said yes just off the Isle of Skye, which remains a magical place for us both.
5. Did you ‘learn’ to write well or is it a talent you just developed over time?
I very much ‘learned’ it. In fact, I went to law school with the main goal of becoming a better writer. Years of practice in the professional legal world have honed my skills – because in law and in fiction, every word must have a purpose, chosen with care. I have also continued studying my favourite novelists’ styles, picking up what I can. I would love to strike a chord between the crispness of Hemingway, the complexity of Faulkner, and the accessibility of CS Lewis.
6. Tell us something about the themes underpinning the storyline of Light in the Gloaming.
On the surface, indeed in the very title, you will see the classic theme of light versus dark. Dig deeper, and you will find a story about what the light is, what the dark is, and what resides in the space between. Wrapped in that there’s pride versus humility, power versus love, and ambition versus peace. Another major theme is restoration and redemption, and how revenge throws a wrench into those processes.
7. What does writing in the first person past tense add to your novel?
Something different, something special, I hope. You will find that only the two main characters get to speak in first person. The rest of the story reads more like a typical third-person novel. Because you the reader have access to the minds of the two key actors — an access that the other characters lack — you have a privileged view into the fundamental, philosophical struggles at play.
8. Would you describe your book as a Christian fantasy and why?
It could be called an epic dystopian fantasy. I am a Christian, but you will not find any sermons or theology in my book. You will instead find a pursuit of underlying reality and truth.
9. Is this debut novel part of a sequel or a stand-alone? Either way, what do you have in store for the future?
The sequel is well underway. The first book’s story begged me to write a follow-on, to answer more questions, to learn more about the Gloaming. After I finish the sequel (target: 2014), I have a clear vision of my next book. No spoilers here. Suffice to say it will be quite different in many ways from Light in the Gloaming, but with the same level of intensity and action in a character-driven plot.
10. Tell us something unusual about yourself.
I HATE celery. My eleventh book might be titled, ‘Why I Wouldn’t Eat Celery Even If Starving In The Gloaming’. I love ales, however, and I hope you’ll let me buy you a pint when we meet. Cheers!
Find out more about JB Simmons at: http://www.jbsimmons.com
Follow him on Twitter: @jbsimmonslight
Buy Light in the Gloaming on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Light-Gloaming-J-B-Simmons/dp/1492263176