Last time, Amy Wang provided a review of Ben Berman Ghan’s recently published novel, Wychman Road. For today, she’s sat down with the author and conducted an interview.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Where did the ideas for the Wychman Road originate?
I think it came from lots of places. I grew up on a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, and I know immortality is a very popular theme. Something I never understood is why it wasn’t explored in a number we can understand; characters pop up in stories who are thousands of years old, and that’s completely beyond our comprehension. I wanted to make that [number] smaller, more understandable, which is why Joshua Jones is one hundred and seventeen years-old when we meet him. I [thought] about what a century of a life would do to a person, and I couldn’t help but conclude that it would have to destroy you a bit.
It was that, coupled with my problems with [the concept of] telepathy. I remember watching X-Men 2, a scene where Patrick Stewart’s Professor X casually reads someone’s mind and erases their memory, and I remember just thinking about how wrong that felt to me, how much of a violation that was. How would you be able to relate to or understand other people if you can just override them in such a fundamental way? I also wanted to [write] about friendships, because I think the friendship between Joshua and Peter is central to the first book (and the whole series). What does a friendship look like when it’s formed out of something so traumatic? What kind of dynamic would that create?
It’s interesting that the power comes from feeding off energy, and it is kind of vampiric considering the added immortality. How do you feel about speculative fiction as a whole, and where do you think your book fits within it?
The nod to vampirism was definitely intentional. But I think a big difference is just … the Thought Walkers don’t actually need to do this. There’s something to be said about people abusing others in order to feel powerful in the world we live in. [One thing that] I don’t like about the traditional modern vampire story, or any anti-hero story really, is that all is forgiven with time. At no point are my characters excused for the choices they make, and I think that’s important.
As for the genre, well I grew up on spec-fic. I’m not quite certain where my book fits within that. It’s definitely a fantasy. I’m not pretending that I’ve created anything wholly new and original, but I do think I can say that Wychman Road and its sequels will kind of become a deconstruction of the genre. It’s not quite a book just for adults (there isn’t profanity), but this isn’t for kids either. This is a book about violence and the consequence of using violence.
You mention that the cities are like characters in your book. How does that view affect your storytelling? Most of the present day action was set in Toronto. Was it important to you that this city was featured so prominently?
Well firstly, San Fransisco had to be the birthplace of Joshua Jones, because it was on a trip to that city that I first decided to write the story.
If pressured, I’d accuse a lot of “high” fantasy of using their settings to avoid talking about real people, or to casually not have female characters. Setting Wychman Road in the modern day meant that I could make Clair a Muslim Canadian without it being the biggest part of her character, just like I could make Joshua Jewish and bisexual. Peter and Joshua could (subtly) talk about belief and sexuality because the book is set in a world where it’s reasonable that they would do so. I think it would have been unreasonable for Peter not to be asking those questions.
I’ve lived in Toronto all my life. It’s my city, and I’m a little possessive of it. I read a lot of comic books, so I’m used to urban environments being important. Gotham is important to Batman, just as New York is to Spider-Man. Also, setting them in the here and now meant I can write dialogue the way I like.
I also grew up in the Harry Potter generation, which means I’m very used to the “there is a magical world just out of sight!” idea, and I wanted to use that, though this [world] isn’t so desirable.
In the book, Joshua mentions that he’s not too fond of the name Thought Walker. Where did that name come from?
The very first working title the book was The Thought Walkers. I think the reason is that I very literally imagined these people walking around inside our heads. Joshua’s doubts on the title were my early embarrassment with it, which I’ve long since shed.
Tell me about your experience with independent publishing. What difficulties that you have encountered, and what things went really well?
Well, when sending this book out, I was eighteen with no prior publishing record, so I think I was rejected out of hand a bunch of times. It was only after I took my age off the cover letter that I got an acceptance.
My publisher is small, only a few years old. I’ve worked with a couple editors, and it’s been a good relationship getting the book to publication (with a few comical setbacks of course). I can’t gush enough about the cover. Wendy Kimberly really nailed what I wanted, and I just can’t stop staring, it’s so beautiful! The nice thing is that because it’s a smaller pool of people, I can talk to my publishers and editors directly.
The thing about independent publishers is that it’s a bit of a grass roots go for some stuff. I’m pushing the book out and running around asking for reviews and shout-outs, though lately a marketer has been helping and I’m very grateful. I’ve had to make a website, Facebook page, and learn what Twitter is. I’m now also in communication with a couple other independent authors who are really wonderful and I wouldn’t have known otherwise.
Any advice for other people who are starting out with their first novel?
Don’t stop. The number one thing I see a lot of people do is to start writing, and then get self-conscious after a chapter or so because it’s not the novel-to-end-all-novels and they just stop. I can’t tell you how many great ideas I’ve seen people throw away because they think, “no, that’s stupid” and just dump it. Don’t! Throw away all self-doubt and self-awareness, and just tell the story you want to tell. Do it as often as you can, lose yourself in it. Make writing something you need in your life as opposed to something you want.
It doesn’t need to be a best-seller or a revolution or the greatest thing ever done. But if you think one day your story could mean something to just one person, then it’s a story worth telling.
Where can people find your book?
The eBook is available for Kindle and Kindle unlimited.
It’s available right now in paperback and eBook from Amazon.com. The paperback will soon also be available from Amazon.ca. [Editor’s Note: It’s available now!]
It won’t be on shelves at Barnes and Noble or Chapters Indigo, but if you walk in and ask for it, they will get it for you. If enough people are doing that, then they might put it on a shelf. I’m also talking to local bookstores in Toronto, and if you walk in somewhere and ask for it they can order it for you.
It will also be available from the U of T bookstore.
If you buy the book and you like it, let other people know! Even in this day and age, nothing helps people to discover new things to read like word of mouth.
-Contributed by Amy Wang