Author Interview: Paul Blackwell, author of “Undercurrent”

image001Recently, I was given the opportunity to read and review “Undercurrent”, and to pose a few questions to author Paul Blackwell. He very graciously gave up some of his summer to do so (thanks, Paul!), and there were some really interesting responses…. For more on the book, check out my review, or Paul’s website!

Your book puts forth a really interesting premise about cause and effect and a kind of  ‘butterfly effect’. What was your inspiration for this concept – are you a huge sci-fi fan?

I do enjoy science fiction, especially stuff by classic authors like Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison. But I think I’m most interested in explorations of character, and that crosses all genres.

The idea for UNDERCURRENT actually came me on a road trip a few years back, when I stopped off in a small town that surrounded a waterfall. For some reason, there seemed to be a strange shadow over everything that day. Standing there looking out at the falls, the story just popped into my head.

My archetype of the sinister small town comes in large part from David Lynch, no doubt. And for the characters, Alfred Hitchcock, who loved to thrust everyday people into extreme circumstances to see what they’d do.

Throughout the story, Callum is trying to right wrongs by making different decisions. What decisions do you wish that might have been made – or made differently – in history that might have changed things?

Wow, I hardly know where to begin, so many evil events have unfolded over the smallest of choices! For starters, the entire Holocaust might have been averted if Adolf Hitler had been admitted to art school. I can only hope that the person who evaluated his portfolio never had an idea of what actually hung in the balance with his decision. Can you imagine the guilt?

Without giving away any spoilers, Callum, like all of us, acknowledges that he has a dark side. What do you think it takes to bring out that dark side in each of us?

That depends. Fear and desperation are certainly big culprits, not to mention covetousness and self-interest. But I don’t know. Some people are just born cold. They don’t feel things the same way as others; their actions are governed by rules only they understand.

Callum has an icy, impulsive quality for sure, first hinted at by how he started fires as a boy for the sheer pleasure of it. Fortunately, he’s managed to get control of those feelings. Nevertheless, darkness remains inside of him. It’s just a question of whether it gets out.

Perception is everything, as we know, and sometimes a person’s motivations result in actions that we don’t necessarily like. Do you think that most bullies are inherently good, or do you think that there is no reason for bad behaviour?

Most bullies are misguided, I think, and are only imitating the behavior of people they admire, like their fathers for instance. They also have an overwhelming need to impress, and to feel in control. But I think most bullies are unaware of the impact their actions have on others.

But some people just have no empathy for anyone. They’re just wired like that. And no amount of growth and support and maturity will ever change the fact.

There’s a really complex and interesting relationship between Callum and Cole. Do you have siblings to draw upon for your experience, as it’s a well-developed relationship within the story?

Thank you! I have an only sister in fact, so no, the relationship between Callum and Cole is not something I’ve personally experienced. But I’ve watched how brothers relate and used a bit of imagination to develop their dynamic. There’s almost always a power struggle among brothers, I’ve found, with the final pecking order usually correlating with age and size. But as Undercurrent suggests, sometimes younger brothers end up becoming tougher individuals however, having lived under constant threat and adversity from an early age.

In Callum and Cole, I really tried to capture two authentic teenage boys struggling to hide their problems rather than solving them. Apparently this is a tough sell for some readers, and has even provoked hostility in a few. Though surprised, I do regret it as Callum in particular is close to my heart. But I think there are already enough protagonists out there racing around being cute while opening up cans of whoop-ass on bad guys. Personally, I believe change feels like an affront—not an adventure—to most teens. I also believe it’s in their nature to keep problems a secret until they have no other options. So I hope people will cut Callum, and all living breathing teenagers, a bit of slack. It’s their struggle; let them find their own way.

A few process questions for you – what are your greatest influences in your writing (books, TV, movies, family stories, etc.)? Are you a plotter or a ‘pantser’? Do you have set number of books lined up for this series (duology, trilogy, etc.)? Just how many sticky notes did you go through trying to keep everything straight in the storyline?  

Everything I consume influences my writing somehow. But music in particular often inspires me. With music, so much can be said with so few words. It’s fun to take cool songs and try to fill in the remaining spaces.

As far as plotting goes, I’m definitely a die-hard ‘pantser’. I hate committing to a story before I’ve properly played around and explored the setting and personalities. Stories have a tendency to reveal themselves in my experience. For example, I had a strong initial idea where I wanted to go with Undercurrent, but eventually it felt like I was just transcribing the actions of the characters as they happened. That’s a really wonderful moment as an author, I find, when you’re typing as fast as you can, trying to keep up with everybody.

I’d really love to write another installment after UNDERCURRENT. I purposely ended the story with some momentum in the hopes that people would want more. That’s where readers will have to come in, demanding a sequel. The good news is that I already have the storyline ready to go—which should be even more intense, with all the lingering questions answered. Things may change however when I actually get around to ‘pantsing’ it.

Rapid Fire round:

Waterslides or log rides? Waterslides. Log rides leave you with sopping wet underwear, and nobody likes that.

Football or Football (soccer)? Canadian Football.

Brothers or sisters? Sisters, I guess. As I’ve shown, brothers sometimes make you do things like going over waterfalls.

Small towns or big cities? Big cities. The bigger, the better.

Neat & tidy endings or cliffhangers? Cliffhangers, of course—real life is never neat and tidy.

This reality or another – and if another, what is it like? This reality, I must report. Hey, I’m already a lucky guy—why roll the dice?

Undercurrent is published in Canada by Doubleday, a division of Random House and is available for sale at IndigoAmazon and your friendly indie bookseller. ISBN: 9780062123510, 320 pages.