Friday, April 5, 2013

Catching up with Warren Fahy

Several years ago, I received a galley of a debut thriller called Fragment.  I was so thoroughly
enchanted by the novel that the title of the review I wrote was, "Where have you been all my life, Warren Fahy?"  A few days later I received an email from Warren thanking me for the enthusiastic review.  While we've never met, we've chatted via email sporadically ever since.  And Warren has been a great friend to this blog over the years, frequently giving us exclusive scoops, such as the conversation below.

**A warning first--there is info below about the newly
(re)published Pandemonium that could definitely be considered spoilers for the novel.  Read on at your own risk.

Susan: Hey, Warren, congratulations on the long-awaited hardback publication of Pandemonium! For years, this book has been almost mythical. It's great to finally hold a copy in my hands, and what a great job Tor did putting this book together design-wise. Do you want to comment on the book's path to publication?

Warren: It took a circuitous route, indeed! And it was a bewildering odyssey from an author’s perspective. What it came down to was an artistic difference of opinion between myself and Random House. I did a lot to bridge that difference but in the end the difference proved just too profound, unfortunately. It was painful to me in many ways. It hurts an author on many levels to change publishers, especially after writing a sequel. One of the sticking points was the inclusion of the hendros. I felt there was no way after the most important discovery in scientific history (terrestrial sapient life other than ourselves!) that the characters could just move on to their next adventure leaving everything from Henders Island behind. I felt this discovery would have such a profound effect on the world and on the lives of the scientists from Fragment that leaving them out was just too cartoonish, like Scooby-Doo episodes where the wildest thing happens and it’s on to next week. Also, having the hendros’ presence as a B-story in a stand-alone thriller was a dream come true for an author. You just don’t get the opportunity for such an exotic and original backdrop that often. I thought it would be incredible to have that development as a casual premise for a stand-alone novel. It elevated the whole sequel from simply being “Fragment in a cave” to being its own complete adventure. Crichton’s The Lost World felt like the second time around to me and I didn’t want to just repeat myself, A) because you can’t really, the same story over again can never be as much fun as the first time, and B) because it would instantly make my central characters shallow if they moved on from the last discovery as if it weren’t career-defining, which it certainly would be to any serious scientist. Finally, the idea that subterranean species could pose the same threat to surface ecosystems that species from Henders Island in the first book posed was scientifically too absurd for too many reasons, as well as being repetitive. There’s just no way subterranean species could be adapted to sunlight, even only half of the time. It would have taken us into genre horror/fantasy territory because it couldn’t be sustained logically. Now, subterranean creatures could do some damage and cause some scares in a limited and potentially very scary way (and they do in the novel!) but certainly not in a GLOBAL way, unless they were microbes or viruses. And I felt very strongly that the sequel to Fragment had to be big and that it should spell
out the dangers hinted at in Fragment, namely that people might deliberately use invasive species as weapons of mass destruction. It was the next logical step in the arc of both stories: the thing you feared most in Fragment is on the verge of happening! So I felt it worked as the second half that completed Fragment, as it were, and as an amazing stand-alone novel, too. Alas, my publisher did not agree and ended our contract. Technically, they claimed I was in breach of contract. Well, a few weeks later, after putting on my editor/type-setter/book designer hats, I published the novel myself on Kindle and Nook. That’s when you read it and reviewed it on Amazon, I believe, and you were one of 400 or so who got to see it then. It was only available for about 10 days I think, but my agent pitched a fit, naturally, so I took it down. Bob Gleason at Tor then picked it up, God bless him. But of course it had to get in line behind a lot of other Tor jets stacked up to land before me. Bob was ready to publish it as is but I gave it a couple more editing passes since I had the time. And now, finally, it’s out, and it’s just what I wanted it to be. Pandemonium survived the extinction event. And so did I.

Susan: I've been really curious what changes might occur between the self-published version I read two years ago, and this latest "Big 6" edition. In order to really compare the two, I had my Kindle read the old version aloud while my eyes followed along in the new hardback. It was fascinating! Believe me when I say, there isn't a single page without changes, but they're basically cosmetic. There's absolutely no doubt that this is a more polished draft. How much work went into updating the novel? It's obvious that you were still thinking of clever lines and adding telling character details. When is a book done? Is it ever done? Are you still thinking about how Pandemonium can be improved?

Warren: Oh, you’re tickling a lot of nerves there! Yes, it’s very hard to let go because as an author
you’re always in writing/editing mode. I edit paperbacks I’m reading! Since writing requires so many iterations as a writer or as an editor, you must have the ability to clean the slate of your experience every time so that you always read fresh and with a cold eye. You can’t build up good or bad prejudices if you have any hope of seeing what the reader is going to see. So if you can do that and NOT find anything wrong AND enjoy it you know you’ve gotten there. You’ll always find something you would change later when it’s in print, but you have to let it go then because people really do in a way own it as much as you do at that point. People have written me telling me they’ve read Fragment a dozen times and it’s their favorite book. People have also said that Fragment is living proof that the entire publishing industry has collapsed like the Tower of Babel. What right do I have to mess with all that now? I’m very happy with Pandemonium, I have to say, though. Since there was no editing process at Random House or Tor, and I had this long time in between to edit it myself, it gave me the chance to get the distance from it that is necessary for an author to do what an editor does. Now, I was a managing editor for five years in a previous incarnation, but you still need that distance when you’re editing yourself. I already loved the structure of the novel and since all the research and careful construction of the geography and history and ecosystems and science and technology and action choreography were already completed, it was really just the luxury of riding the ride adding aesthetic touches to the experience and filing off speed bumps. I gave it a total of three editing passes I think from the time it left Random House, probably only 15 days of work total but separated by months. Bob Gleason gave me total freedom, which is so wonderful. In the in-between time I finished and self-published a number of other novels and short stories.

Susan: I'm a huge fan of these two books, Fragment and Pandemonium. With Fragment, you really left the door open for a sequel. Pandemonium, however, doesn't have that obvious open door. Do you think you will return to this world, and if so, when?

Warren: I will return, and the pressure from Hollywood is pushing me to do that next, I’ve recently been told. I’m working on the third book in the series, SYMBIONT, right now, as well as another unrelated thriller called AFTER, appropriately enough, but the sequel will be in a totally different ecosystem unrelated to the first two books. Some of the same characters, though, including Nell and Geoffrey, of course. Someday, I think it would be very interesting to revisit Pandemonium and see what the collision of worlds has wrought...

Susan: How soon can we expect to see Symbiont on bookstore shelves?

Warren: No comment. Well, I’ll elaborate, actually. These books are like designing Disneyland. There is so much involved that has to be created before the writing of a novel can begin that it is hard to say exactly when it will be done. I expect to finish a draft within a year, though!

Susan: I know there's a film version of Fragment in the works. Can you give us an update on where it's at? What has your involvement with the project been?

Warren: Hollywood has been an interesting experience. It’s been circuitous as well, I’m afraid. The project was going in a direction for quite a long time that would not have borne much resemblance to the novel – in fact, to such a degree that you couldn’t really get away with saying “Soon to be a major motion picture” on the cover, which of course was a no-go for everyone. I didn’t know what was even going on for 2 years before I hooked up with Lloyd Levin (Boogie Nights, Field of Dreams, Hellboy, The Watchmen), who looked at my screenplay and loved it. He optioned the rights and we’ve finally locked down the screenplay last month. Now we’re looking for the right director to bring the audience someplace they’ve never been before, and that takes a certain kind of genius, to breath life into the design and motion of a whole new and menacing alien world. And it takes balls of steel to do something new in Hollywood, even though I think audiences are desperate for that magic Hollywood window to point in that direction and show us what we have never imagined before. Avatar, I think, proved that six times over. But it will take someone special, and we’re looking for him or her right now.

Susan: You have several other self-published works available for sale on various platforms. Would you care to tell us about them? Are you now planning on publishing any of those novels with Tor? Or will you be self-publishing future titles?

Warren: I did put some of my work out there since I wanted to bridge the gap between books that inevitably resulted from switching publishers and I needed to pay the rent! I thought it was a good way to diversify myself, too. I think time will tell where they end up, but I’m glad they’re out there. Plus, they defy categorization. They don’t really fit on bookshelves. As for future titles, time will tell there, too. I have a few in the vault. There’s a great freedom in publishing work yourself that’s pretty irresistible but there are obviously a lot of advantages to the traditional route, as well, especially when you have a publisher who respects your work.

Susan: Clearly you have interests beyond science and thrillers, and you're comfortable writing across many genres. Can we expect to see more science thrillers from you, or are you ready to move on? What's on the horizon?

Warren: The next two books are science thrillers, but I might simultaneously publish some books in other genres, as well... We’ll see!

Thanks so much, Warren! I love it when we have these conversations.

Readers, if you can't get enough Warren Fahy, I highly recommend checking out the essay he contributed to the Powell's Books Blog recently, Fragments of Pandemonium.  It's a non-fiction look at some of the science behind his novels, and it's absolutely fascinating!  Another terrific place to visit is his website, which is chock full of the real science behind his books and more great art like the illustrations stolen borrowed for this blog post. 


  1. Just finished pandemonium and came across this interview while ravenously seeking more information. Very pleased to see a third book is already in the works! Wonderful interview.

    1. I know, right? Symbiont isn't even written yet, and I'm already sucking up to the author to get my hands on a copy, LOL.

      I'm glad you enjoyed this. Thanks for the kind words!

  2. Does any one know if Warren will release Pandemonium on the kindle??? I'm waiting for it!!

  3. It's available on Kindle now! :)