Friday, December 9, 2011

From the Bookshelf: Age of Giants - awakening by Rob Reaser

The angels have descended--sing Hallelujah, right?  Not so fast.  In Rob Reaser's chilling debut novel, Age of Giants - awakening, the Nephilim (half-angel, half-human hybrids) aren't here to be our guardians or our friends.  In fact, four generations have passed since they wiped out most of humanity and staked their claim to our world.  The Earth as we know it is gone; what remains is a desolate and dangerous battlefield in which bullets fly and blood flows.

Age, the first installment in a series of future-warfare adventure novels, follows Nora, a skilled soldier trained out of necessity as her nomadic clan resists the Nephilim and human traitors working with the invaders.  In the opening salvo, Nora and a small team of raiders travel to the outskirts of the Kralen Dominion in old New Mexico, hoping to take out a Nephilim radio transmission station and procure supplies and ammunition.  The plan quickly goes awry, and following a bloody firefight, Nora finds herself up close with one of humanity's merciless enemies.

"He looked to be well over seven feet tall. Probably more like eight, Nora guessed. Long, dark coarse hair covered his head. A short-cropped beard, riding high on his cheeks, hid much of his face. His broad nose, heavy eyebrows and wide mouth combined with a light brown complexion to complete the horrible visage.
Horrible. That was the word she’d often heard used to describe the Nephilim. She could see now that it suited them perfectly.
He wore dark blue pants that fit snugly around his legs. His thighs were massive, each nearly as wide around as Nora’s torso. Fine, tanned leather boots were laced high over his calves. He wore a loose, dark brown tunic—made even darker by the enormous amount of blood pumping from his multiple chest wounds. The garment fell well below his waist and was cinched with a broad leather belt and an ornate gold buckle.
Nora stared at the man in a sort of primal shock. It was several moments before she realized she had stopped breathing, and a few more before noticing that the Nephilim hadn’t. She watched, stunned, as his huge barrel chest slowly heaved like a pulsing mound of earth.
They said the Nephilim were impossible to kill. Nora wasn’t sure she had ever believed that, although she was now certain that they could be seriously hurt. But she understood how such crazy talk could become legend. No human could ever have survived that many shots to the chest. Nora tried to understand what she saw before her. Assuming their anatomy was the same as a human, this Nephilim had to have at least one shot to the heart, one or two to the spine and the rest penetrating the lungs. And yet he lived, breathing laboriously, but with a steady rhythm.
Nora felt a most unusual fear, one she had never experienced before. She had been in plenty of firefights. Killed men. She was always anxious and tense going into battle, senses heightened, pulse rate elevated. That was normal. But she had never truly been afraid. Now she was. The living nightmare of her childhood lay before her. It left a hollow feeling in her legs. Her head buzzed and her ears felt as if they were filled with water. Her vision dimmed at the edges until all she could see was the blood-soaked Nephilim on the ground.
She settled her eyes on his, and saw that he was looking straight at her."

On the heels of the engagement, Nora meets Stu, a captured resistance fighter with knowledge of communications technology who reveals a looming new threat not only to her clan but to all raiders.  After the Nef's capture Nora's father and most of her people, she finds herself among a greater resistance than she ever imagined possible -- and at the terrifying very epicenter of the war.

Reaser tells an excellent tale, his style muscular, his world building instantly believable and engaging.  In Age, human resistance fighters learn to hunt, gather, and engage the enemy in a dusty landscape filled with the remains and reminders of today's world.  The Nephilim's disposable human labor force construct huge stone palaces to their ruthless masters, whose feudal, fraternal society is well thought out and believable.  Not once does the pacing slow -- Age of Giants is the definition of a page-turner.  I found myself cheering on Nora and company --  and dying to read the sequel!

It was my honor to work as a feature writer for Rob Reaser for several years when he edited the late, great Heartland USA Magazine -- the second largest men's general interest publication in terms of circulation after Playboy (some three million issues bi-monthly).  During my stint, Rob assigned me plum adventure stories on such topics as the U.S. Coast Guard and Goodyear Blimp fleet, and celebrity interviews with Dirty Jobs dude Mike Rowe, Animal Planet's Jeff Corwin, and Weather Channel storm chaser Jim Cantore, among others.  After Phillip-Morris killed the venerable magazine, Rob tried mightily to resurrect it with a new publisher.  And he wrote one hell of a novel in the interim.  I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Rob about Age of Giants and its forthcoming sequel.

Tell us about your writing history -- where you've been, where you're going.
Funny thing about this journey called life...there are always surprises, twists and turns. I never envisioned myself becoming a writer when I was younger. Sure, I was an avid sci-fi and fantasy reader, but a writer? Heck, I was a B, C and sometimes D English student in high school. Of course, that can mostly be attributed to the fact that I didn’t want to be in a classroom. What I wanted to be was a photographer. I taught myself the craft during my Junior and Senior years, and the summer I graduated I was hell-bent on becoming the next Ansel Adams. I tried to sell some of my work (looking back at that effort now, I laugh!), but quickly discovered that in order to sell images to publications, I needed words to go with them. I bought a copy of Writer’s Market and tried to find some magazines that might offer an entry opportunity. By the end of the summer I had sold two article/photo packages to national publications. That caused me to reassess my future. Writing, as it turned out, was fun, and if financial reward was any indication, there was a chance that I might have some measure of talent for it.

Flash forward a few short years later. I was living in Florida and had just completed my Associate in Arts degree. I had been accepted to the University of South Florida’s journalism program when I took what was meant to be a summer job as a darkroom technician for an automotive publishing company. Wow! I had taken my first step into the publishing world. As it turned out, I decided to bail on getting the sheepskin. After all, I was already where I wanted to be, even if it was standing in a darkroom eight hours a day burning 5x7 prints (this, of course, was before the glorious days of digital photography).

Then one day one of the company editors, Tom Corcoran, asked if I would be interested in stepping out of the cave and working with him as managing editor of Mustang Monthly magazine. Tom knew of my interest in writing, and I guess he saw something in me that held promise. Anyway, I accepted and was thrilled beyond belief.

Tom turned out to be the über-mentor. He was, and still is, an exceptional writer (he’s the author of the Alex Rutledge mystery series set in Key West). Tom was Key West buddies with Jimmy Buffet (and collaborated on some of Buffet’s songs), hung out with the infamous Hunter S. Thompson, and counts poet Jim Harrison, Winston Groom (Forrest Gump) and PJ O’Rourke (a college buddy) among his many well-known friends. Tom had street cred, and I was fortunate that he took me under his wings. He taught me more about writing and editing than I could have ever learned in a classroom.
Over the next decade I worked as an editor for several automotive magazines, became a full-time freelancer and columnist, then bookended my magazine career when I became editor of Heartland USA (where, of course, I became friends with an astounding writer by the name of Gregory L. Norris!).

During all of those years, however, the urge to become a novelist (which first took root in my scrambled brain about the same time I got into the magazine industry) kept gnawing at me. Unfortunately, the work-a-day tasks of editing and non-fiction writing never left much creative space for me to start to work on that dream. When Heartland USA folded, however, I knew it was time to either get to it or get off the pot. I chose the former.

That’s where I’ve been. As to where I’m going, I suppose the fates will decide that. In the interim, I’ve decided to go back to school. Last fall I re-enrolled (after a 25-year hiatus) at Alderson-Broaddus College, where I attended right after high school, and am looking forward to completing my bachelor’s degree in creative writing.

What's the backstory behind Age of Giants?  Where did the idea originate and how long did it take you to write the novel?
Interestingly, Age of Giants - awakening began as a writing prompt assignment for my creative writing practicum class last fall. It was a short 300-word ditty with a post-apocalyptic setting in which some unnamed aliens had ravaged Earth and the remnant humans were left to survive like rats in a sewer. Over Christmas break I kept thinking about that piece, and in short order I sketched out a rough story arc. By the end of the spring semester I’d penned the first three chapters. I started writing hot and heavy near the end of May (in between client work for my business, Reaser Brand Communications), and on July 15 the book was completed.

As for the story itself, I simply wrote the kind of novel that I like to read, the key ingredients being dark realism, a post-apocalyptic setting, ancient mystery come to life and a strong, unconventional yet realistic heroine. I also am enamored with the hero journey in literature—the benchmark being The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

When I say I developed a rough story arc before writing AoG, I do mean it was rough. I already had the beginning, and I knew where it was going to end. As for the eighty-percent in the middle, I had no idea where I was going. And that was what made writing this book so much fun. It was a discovery for me at every step. Often I would finish a chapter and have absolutely no idea what was coming next. I guess I was lucky in a way, because I never painted myself into a corner.

I had tried mapping out story ideas before, often in great detail. It never worked. I suppose my creative process just doesn’t allow me to do that.

A year or so ago I read Stephen King’s book On Writing. In it he likened novel writing to digging up a fossil. You dig and scrape away and eventually, if you keep at it, a whole emerges and you finally see what it was you were working so hard to uncover. That was exactly how this process went for me. It was thrilling, and when I had finished I was surprised that I had actually done it. (To that, my wife just rolled her eyes. She always had faith and confidence in me when I found so little in myself.)

How do you compose?  On the computer?  Longhand?  How many drafts, etc.  What's your creative space like?
I’m totally enslaved to the keyboard. I’d say this comes from years of writing articles on deadline. No time to write longhand, then type it in, then edit. I’ve become used to editing as I go. I know a lot of creative writers believe that method stifles the process, but for me, it works. It also means I don’t require multiple drafts and major surgery after the first draft is completed. With luck, all I need is the usual copy editing plus some massaging here and there.

My creative writing space must be absolutely sterile in terms of visual and aural distractions. I have to be totally immersed in my bubble and can’t have anything be able to grab my attention—no TV or radio on, no dogs wanting to be let out, no telephone or email...nothing. We have a detached two-story garage/storage building next to the house. The building has no insulation, and is full of boxes and stacks of stuff. I made a small oasis in the middle of the “stuff,” plugged in my laptop and wrote AoG in total isolation, usually from 4pm until 8pm each day. It was a real hoot when the temperatures hit the upper 80s, but since AoG is set in old New Mexico, perhaps the stifling heat helped me get into the proper frame of mind.

Who--writers or otherwise--inspires you?
I’ve been reading sci-fi and fantasy, with some horror thrown in, for as long as I can remember. Tolkien has probably been my greatest influence, but such heavy hitters as Asimov, Heinlein, Anthony, Hubbard, Bear, Le Guin, Clark and Poe have played their parts.

On the writing business side, I find encouragement from those writers with the big success stories. Say what you like about J.K. Rowling or Amanda Hocking’s work, for example, but any author who manages to go from lint-in-pocket to mansion-of-the-month is a hero and an inspiration in my book. Folks don’t write to get rich, they write because they have to, so I heartily cheer anyone who finds their fortune along the way.

Rumor is there's a sequel to AoG in the works.  Anything you can share?
The story of Nora and her friends, and their struggle against the Nephilim monsters, does, indeed, continue in the sequel to Age of Giants - awakening. I’m finishing chapter four this week, and am looking forward to a strong writing spurt during the holiday break.

The first book sets the stage for a world in which the sons of the fallen angels have returned and enslaved what’s left of the human race. It also leaves the reader with a lot of tantalizing questions—particularly how these giants have reemerged from their quasi-mythical past, and how the story’s protagonist, the young and beautiful Nora, may hold the key to their final destruction. Can a ragtag tribe of raiders succeed against giants who, four generations earlier, managed to brutally smash human civilization at its peak of technological sophistication? All of these and other burning questions will be answered in Age of Giants, Volume II.

And while I’m following Nora and her team across the desert southwest over the next couple of months, I’d like to see if I can snoop out a production company that might find AoG to be an intriguing premise for a feature film. I know...every novelist thinks that about their baby. But really, with all the unoriginal, uninspired and remade or rehashed drivel that keeps coming out of Hollywood, you’d think they’d be starving for a somewhat fresh and original idea. I mean, jeez, have you watched the SyFy channel lately? With the entire 20th century of classic and cult sci-fi gems to choose from, they have the balls to come out with Mega Python vs Gatoroid starring Debbie Gibson and Tiffany


I dunno. Perhaps I can persuade a certain hyper-productive and brilliant author/screenwriter I know from New Hampshire to partner with for such an endeavor.  :)

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