Book Nerd Interview
SURVIVAL COLONY 9 is Josh’s debut novel.
When I was eight, I wrote a story called “Slowest Runner,” about a boy who dreams of winning the big race. I started typing it (laboriously!) on my mom’s manual typewriter, but I never finished. Still, I remember that when I wrote that story, I thought of it as a novel, and myself as a writer. There was never any doubt in my mind after that point that I’d publish books someday.
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
I read recently that some anthropologists think storytelling is one of the keys to human evolution: storytelling draws people together, promotes memory, and (maybe most importantly) encourages imagination, which is so important to who we are. I would add that storytelling satisfies a fundamental human desire to know the lives of other people. We’re social creatures, and storytelling is one of the ways we fulfill our need to connect.
Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
Hands down, my favorite book is J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I read it when I was on the cusp of my teen years, and it totally blew me away—the scope, the inventive power, the creation of a totally convincing alternate reality. My first completed novel, written when I was sixteen, was pretty much a Lord of the Rings clone, and I still see traces of Tolkien in everything I write.
But if I were to go completely outside my genre, I’d have to say my favorite book is Walden. I love the language, the ideas, the daring of Thoreau’s book. I haven’t had much success teaching it—probably because the whole point is the individual’s experience, not what someone else tells you. But if you let yourself be carried away by it, I think Walden is the equal of any great adventure story.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
I had a writing teacher in college whose advice I’ve always taken to heart. Most people tell you to “write what you know”; she told me to “write what you want to know.” Her point was that if you write only what you know, you’re limiting yourself. But if you write what you want to know, the whole world opens up to you. And if you write what you want to know, chances are you’ll be writing what readers want to know too.
In your book, Survival Colony 9, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it?
War and environmental catastrophe have turned the world into a wasteland. Nations have collapsed, leaving small, nomadic groups—the Survival Colonies—to wander the desert in search of food, water, and shelter from the Skaldi, monsters that mysteriously appeared on the planet at the end of the wars. The Skaldi have the ability to consume and mimic human hosts, so no one can be sure when one is in their midst. And at the beginning of my book, the Survival Colony numbered 9 has been attacked by Skaldi and driven into unknown territory where more of the monsters lie in wait. . . .
For those who are unfamiliar with Querry, how would you introduce him?
My narrator, Querry Genn, is a fourteen-year-old member of Survival Colony 9 with a ton of problems. The leader of his colony, Laman Genn, is never satisfied with his efforts. The girl he has a crush on, Korah, is someone else’s girlfriend. And the other members of the colony—especially the older teen named Yov—treat him like a stranger.
As if that’s not bad enough, Querry suffered an accident six months ago that wiped out his entire memory—who he is, what his life was like, what his relationships are to others in the colony. He senses that his memory loss has something to do with the Skaldi, but he doesn’t know what. All he knows is that if he doesn’t remember, it might be the end for him and Survival Colony 9.
What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’ve finished the second book in the Querry Genn trilogy, titled Scavenger of Souls, and I’m wrapping up a first draft of the final book, currently titled Skaldi City. After that, much as I’ve loved telling Querry’s story, I’m going to turn to a very different project: a YA alt-history having to do with abolitionist John Brown and the events leading up to the Civil War. It’ll be grounded in the actual past, but since it’s alt-history, it’ll still have a touch of the fantastic to it!
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I’d introduce Querry to Corwin, the narrator of Roger Zelazny’s amazing fantasy series about an alternate reality called Amber. Corwin’s a strong, smart, active guy who lives by his wits and is willing to take chances. But he’s also an amnesiac like Querry, and I think it would do my narrator good to see that losing your past shouldn’t stop you from living in the present or fighting for the future.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Korah?
Korah was originally a very minor character in the book, almost a background figure for Querry to admire from afar. But the more I wrote, the more prominent she became: she appeared in more scenes, got more lines, developed a history of her own, and ultimately became one of the book’s central characters. In every story I’ve written, there’s one character who insists on being fleshed out, who fights against the limitations I impose. In Survival Colony 9, Korah was that character.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
This one. No, I’m lying!
In all seriousness, I’ve started to lie when people ask why I’m a vegetarian. I used to tell them the truth, but their eyes would glaze over when I told them my feelings about eating animals, and it became obvious they weren’t really interested. So now I just say, “for health reasons.”
What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
This is a really tough question, because the answer seems so paradoxical: in order to develop your own voice as a writer, you need to study other writers. There’s really no way around this: everyone who gets good at anything, whether that be a sport or a trade or an art, gets good by studying the techniques of those who have come before. This applies even to writers known for formal experimentation or revolutionary changes in style: they learned the craft by studying their predecessors. Writers who believe they can develop a unique voice and style just by plunging in and doing their own thing typically end up creating nothing but a mess.
What's the most memorable summer job you've ever had?
For seven summers, starting after my senior year in high school and ending when I entered graduate school, I worked at a day camp near my hometown of Pittsburgh. The experience was memorable for a number of reasons: I discovered I was really good with children, I made a lifelong friend, and (most momentously) I met my future wife, who was also a counselor. When we got married, my brother drove us to the reception in one of the camp school buses!
Who was your first girlfriend?
Her name was Naomi, and I dated her when I was a junior in high school. She was a freshman, which I got teased about, and I’m ashamed to admit that’s the main reason I broke up with her. But you know, it was high school, and being made fun of seemed like a much bigger deal then than it does now. Now, I’m used to it!
Tell me about your first kiss
It was with my first girlfriend, the infamous Naomi. I wish I could say it was wildly romantic, but the truth is, that line from the Aerosmith song “Walk This Way” pretty much applies to me: “I was a high school loser, never made it with the ladies.” So we were just hanging out one day at her house, and I was nervous as anything because I’d never kissed her (or anyone other than my mom), so I went for it. It was nice, but not earth-shaking. I sometimes wonder what she’s doing these days and if she remembers that first kiss, because it was her first too.
What would be harder for you, to tell someone you love them or that you do not love them back?
Definitely the second one. Telling people I love them used to be tough, but with a wife and children it comes easily to me. Telling someone I don’t love them back—wow, that would be excruciating. It’s happened in the past, but I hope it never happens again!
When was the last time you cried?
Let me see . . . yesterday? No, seriously, when I was younger I seldom cried. But when I became a father, crying became second nature to me, especially at the thought of harm coming to my children or other children. So the most recent time I cried was when I went to see The Fault in Our Stars with my daughter. I don’t think my eyes were dry for one second of that movie.
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
Probably the sixties, because of the Civil Rights movement. I visited Montgomery, Alabama this summer with my wife and kids, and standing in the church where the bus boycott was planned, then walking to the parsonage where Martin Luther King, Jr. lived, was a very powerful experience. I’m involved in social causes as an adult—mostly environmental causes—but I would have liked to be a teen at that time, when it seemed possible to change the world.
What is your greatest adventure?
I’m living it right now. I’m doing what I love, connecting to other people with the same interests and passions, and (I hope) making a difference in people’s lives. To quote a line from Walden: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
Where can readers stalk you?
They should start at my website, www.joshuadavidbellin.com, where they’ll find information on my book, public appearances, and other cool stuff. From there, they can link up to my Facebook page, my Twitter account, and my blog. And if they’re really ambitious, they can try to find some of my old short stories published online, most of them under the pen name J. David Bell!
Connect with Joshua David Bellin:
Querry is a member of Survival Colony Nine, one of the small, roving groups of people who outlived the wars and environmental catastrophes that destroyed the old world. The commander of Survival Colony Nine is his father, Laman Genn, who runs the camp with an iron will. He has to--because heat, dust, and starvation aren't the only threats in this ruined world.
There are also the Skaldi.
Monsters with the ability to infect and mimic human hosts, the Skaldi appeared on the planet shortly after the wars of destruction. No one knows where they came from or what they are. But if they're not stopped, it might mean the end of humanity.
Six months ago, Querry had an encounter with the Skaldi--and now he can't remember anything that happened before then. If he can recall his past, he might be able to find the key to defeat the Skaldi.
If he can't, he's their next victim.
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