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Despite the fact that The End of Ordinary is speculative fiction, this is probably the most autobiographical thing I’ve ever written. In the book, Drew Bergen is a genetic engineer, and a former college runner who’s having some difficulty accepting the fact that his fourteen-year-old daughter is now faster than he is. I’m a cancer researcher, which is at least genetic engineering adjacent. I’m also a former college runner, and my fourteen-year-old daughter is definitely faster than I am. Additionally, I know a lot about eating waffles in diners, which factors heavily in the plot, and I am an acknowledged expert at awkward social interactions.
What would you want your readers to know about you that might not be in your bio?
My career has included stints as a pool manager, swim coach, hotel janitor, ditch digger, intelligence analyst, freelance editor, college professor, and medical researcher. So, don’t be afraid to try new things. Who knows? Your next job might be slightly less annoying than your current one.
As far as your writing goes, what are your future plans?
Well, I’m currently about three-quarters finished with the first draft of my next book, A Brief History of the Stupid War. This one is set in the same future as The End of Ordinary and my first novel, Three Days in April, and tells the story of the war between the engineered and the unmodified that serves as a backdrop in The End of Ordinary. I also try to put out a new short story every couple of months. You can find links to most of those on my website, edwardashton.com.
If you could be one of the characters from this book, who would it be and why?
As mentioned above, I’m pretty close to being Drew Bergen already. I’m not sure that’s who I’d go with if I actually got to pick, though. Given the choice, I think I might like to try being Inchy. He’s kind of a jerk sometimes, but he's smart and funny and a generally good noodle who will definitely be there for his friends when things get real. Also, he's a network-hopping A.I. who sometimes re-animates dead cyborgs, which I think would be a lot of fun.
Can you give us a sneak peek into this book? The End of Ordinary is set in the near future, which is not entirely a spooky dystopia. Things are actually mostly okay in late twenty-first century upstate New York, despite the occasional super-plague or near-apocalyptic civil war. Drew Bergen works for Bioteka, a custom genetic engineering shop. His daughter Hannah is a fourteen-year-old running phenom who got her awesome lung capacity from Bioteka, and her questionable social skills from her dad.
Hannah doesn’t have a ton of friends, so when she meets Devon Morgan at a high school cross-country meet, she’s willing to overlook a few minor flaws—including that Devon’s family is on a government watch list, she’s palling around with what is probably an illegal A.I., and she’s convinced that Hannah’s dad is caught up in a scheme to end the simmering hostility toward the genetically modified elite by wiping the world clean of the unmodified. Hannah and Devon set out to learn whether there's more to Drew’s work than blight-resistant corn, and hilarity ensues.
Do you belong to a critique group? If so how does this help or hinder your writing?
I do. I’m a member of a small group of semi-pro speculative fiction writers here in Rochester called D309. Working with a critique group that's not composed of your friends and family, but that is composed of people who know writing and understand your genre, is unbelievably helpful. As a writer, it can sometimes be difficult to recognize that what was in your head didn’t quite make it onto the page. A good critique group made up of folks who are not afraid of hurting your feelings will let you know when you’ve missed the mark. It’s also really good to have knowledgeable people who can point out when something you’ve written has been done before. For example, I finished a new short story a while back, and sent it out to the group. At our next meeting, they helpfully informed me that the plot was almost exactly the same as that of a recent movie - one which I had never seen, interestingly enough. I went home and watched it, and they were right. The similarities were eerie. That critique probably saved me from an epically embarrassing rejection letter.
When did you first decide to submit your work? Please tell us what or who encouraged you to take this big step?
I honestly didn’t need much prodding for my first submission, because I was too young to realize the significance of what I was doing. I submitted my first short story to Asimov’s when I was fourteen years old. It was rejected, of course, but the rejection slip came back with a single hand-written word on the bottom: sorry. That one word was enough to encourage me to get better and try again, and I’ve never really looked back.
What is the best and worst advice you ever received? (regarding writing or publishing)
Worst advice: one of my friends once tried to convince me that I shouldn’t bother with finding an agent, because why should some rando get a chunk of your royalties? It’s not like they did any of the writing, right? The truth is, if you want to write novels and have people actually read them, an agent is extremely helpful, bordering on necessary. Most major publishers won’t even talk to an un-agented writer, and a good agent provides a perspective on your work that you really can’t get anywhere else.
Best advice: one of my writing professors in college told me not to quit my day job. I’m not entirely sure she meant it in a friendly way, but that little bit of wisdom has saved me from a life of eating rice and beans cooked over a garbage fire.
Do you outline your books or just start writing?
I know this is bad, but I’ve never successfully outlined anything. I’ve tried more than once, but I usually just wind up staring at a blank page for fifteen minutes, then turning on the TV and watching an episode of Steven Universe. Pretty much all of my best plot twists pop into my head while I’m writing. That means I often have a fair amount of tidying up to do after I’ve finished a first draft, but I think it probably makes my plots less predictable, and it definitely makes the writing process a lot more fun.
How do you maintain your creativity?
Mostly, I try to pay attention to the world. It’s a surprisingly interesting place. A lot of my best ideas come from watching the people and places and things around me. You might think that wouldn't work for speculative fiction, but I’ve always thought that people don't actually change much. My working assumption is that the genetically engineered post-human who will be mixing up my vanilla chai latte fifty years from now will probably have just about the same mix of fake-chipper and real-sullen in her voice that the barista at my corner coffee shop does now.
Who is your favorite character in the book. Can you tell us why?
I like all of my characters, of course, but I really, really love Hannah. She was one of the toughest characters for me to write in the first draft of the book, but by the end she wound up with a mix of wide-eyed innocence and faux world-weary cynicism that I thought really captured the essence of a lot of the people I know in that age bracket. Also, she gave me the opportunity to write some really funny lines, which I always appreciate.
Are your plotting bunnies angels or demons?
Ha! Aren’t they always demons? The essence of plotting is taking likable characters and doing horrible things to them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just gotten to the point of really starting to identify with a character when that little voice in the back of my head says “…and now, he has to die.”
Anything else you might want to add?
Just a huge thank you for hosting me today. It’s been a lot of fun, and I really appreciate it.
Jordan is just an ordinary Homo-Sap. But don’t let that fool you -- he’s also one of the richest kids at Briarwood, and even though there isn’t a single part of him that’s been engineered, someone has it out for him.
Drew thinks he’s working to develop a spiffy new strain of corn, but Hannah and her classmates disagree. They think he's cooking up the end of the world. When one of Drew's team members disappears, he begins to suspect that they might be right. Soon they're all in far over their heads, with corporate goons and government operatives hunting them, and millions of lives in the balance.
“So,” I said when I’d picked the last bit of rind out of my teeth. “What now?”
“Wait for death, I guess.”
“Huh,” I said. “I see where you’re going with that, but I was actually hoping you’d have some kind of last-minute escape plan to present now.”
“Yeah. If this were a vid, this is where you’d suggest a super-complicated scheme to get out of here. I’d say ‘that’s crazy!’ and you’d say ‘do we have a choice?’ and then we’d do it and it would work somehow and you would totally be my hero.”
He stared at me, downed the last of his bathtub water, and stared at me some more.
“So,” I said finally. “Do you, uh… have a plan?”
“No,” he said. “Unless ‘wait for death’ counts as a plan, I do not have one.”
I looked down at the lantern, and found myself wondering if the battery would give out before we did. A shiver ran from the base of my spine to the back of my neck and down again.
“Hannah?” Nathan said. “Are you, uh…” I groaned.
“Am I what, Nathan?”
“Are you really gonna eat me?”
I stared at him.
He looked away.
“Well, yeah. I don’t mean now. Just… you know… eventually?”
I dropped my head into my hands.
“No, Nathan. I am not going to eat you.”
“Are you sure? I mean, you might have to, right?”
I stood up, and picked up the lantern.
“You are an odd duck, Nathan. I’m going for a run.”
Edward Ashton lives with his adorably mopey dog, his inordinately patient wife, and a steadily diminishing number of daughters in Rochester, New York, where he studies new cancer therapies by day, and writes about the awful things his research may lead to by night. He is the author of Three Days in April, as well as several dozen short stories which have appeared in venues ranging from the newsletter of an Italian sausage company to Louisiana Literature and Escape Pod.
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