Welcome to this week’s Feature Friday Futures interview with Jonathan Maas, an award winning author specializing in looking at various aspects of the morality of man.
Now let’s get right into the interview.
What was the most surprising thing you found out while researching/writing your latest book?
Oh haha there are too many things I found out while researching Dion: A Tale of the Highway.
Investigation plays a big part in all my books, and this one was no exception. Though it’s fiction, I included a bibliography, and I researched two topics in particular for this book: wine and Dante’s Inferno. I’ll explain below.
Wine played an important part in the tale. I spent a lot of time reading about wine, and though I still don’t have a great palate, I loved learning about it from the experts.
Among the things I learned:
- When you think of wine, think of the grape. It’s the Merlot grape, the Pinot Noir grape, the Chardonnay grape. There are different processes to make each type of wine of course, but it’s the grape that really starts it all.
- The big wines – Chardonnay and Cabernet – are big for a few reasons. First of all, the grapes are adaptable, so they can grow in multiple reasons. Second of all, since they are well-known wines, that in and of itself sells them. Consumers want a Chardonnay, or a Cabernet, and they buy them.
- Pinot Noir is more difficult to grow, but André Tchelistcheff, legendary winemaker of California’s finest Cabernets, once said if he could do it all over again, he’d do Pinot Noir instead of Cabernet. Pinots are more difficult, but can be more interesting, compared to the ‘Can’t Miss’ Cabernets.
- Ice Wine is interesting – it’s wine born of grapes that have experienced a freeze. It’s difficult to harvest because you have to grow them in a cold climate, and once that freeze happens you have to have a labor force that can harvest them right afterwards. It’s difficult to mass produce this, but I’d advise trying an ice wine – they have a natural sweetness to them that are irresistible.
- Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines come from grapes that grow in pebbles. And speaking of that—
Probably the most salient point overall is that great soil doesn’t make for great wine. Grapes need to struggle a bit to make great wine, not too much of course, but they do need to struggle. I see a metaphor here when it comes to thinking about life, and in particular one’s childhood—a bit of struggle can yield better things later on. You don’t want to have an impossible struggle, just like you don’t want to grow grapes in cement, but a bit of adversity can be good.
I guess my first point overall – you don’t have to be a scholar to take on scholarly topics. I’m not a scholar. I love reading the original works, as well as other scholars’ analyses of those works, and I loved reading all about Dante. But before I get to the bullet points, my advice to everyone: you don’t have to be a scholar to get into a scholarly topic. Jump in, read the original text and read about the original text, and then bring the work into your life.
But on to Dante, which inspired Dion. I’ll separate what I’ve learned into two parts, Dante Alighieri himself, and Dante’s Inferno.
He was born in 1200s Florence, during a tumultuous time. The city was split between the Ghibellines and the Guelphs. The Ghibellines believed the Pope was the supreme leader, and the Guelphs believed in separation between the Pope and secular politics. Dante was a Guelph, but this minor difference between the groups was enough to keep Florence in a persistent state of civil war. I believe this chaotic world drove Dante to write Inferno, where Hell was the only way he could make sense of the world above.
One of the things I reference in the book is the section where Dante meets with a group of philosophers in Limbo the first level of Hell. He meets Homer, Ovid, Horace and Lucan, virtuous pagans who lived and died before Christ, so they could not get into Heaven. But their place in Limbo isn’t that bad, and their room has a strange light in it. Hell is a place devoid of light, so where does the light come from? It comes from the poet’s light of reason, and I took a lot of meaning from that.
In short, no matter where you are, if there’s reason somewhere, there’s light. This is especially meaningful in these times, where the modern day analogues Ghibellines and Guelphs yell at each other on social media. Wherever there is reason, there is light—it’s up to the individual to find that reason.
Why did you choose this setting?
It’s not so much I chose a setting, but rather I chose a premise, so let me discuss that.
The book’s beginning and premise is this: after a bizarre dream a man wakes up in the middle of the road with no clothes and no memory of who he is. It’s night, and no one is around. There’s a car in front of him though, and it has keys in it. There’s a note on the car: Drive this car forward and do not stop. If you do not do this, bad things will happen to you.
I’m not saying this to be crude, but after reading this strange, incredible book by Clive Barker, I began seeking other books whose author didn’t give an f___.
It’s not that they didn’t care about quality – in DGAF books, they actually put a tremendous effort into imbuing their tales with quality, probably more so than in regular tales. Case in point The Hellbound Heart, which is beyond quality.
I’m saying that in DGAF books, they don’t care about conventions. The hero might be a legitimate bad guy, or the main character might be an unreliable narrator, or there might be some other rule they broke.
Oh, S.! That broke all the rules of literature I knew, and then broke some rules that I didn’t know they had! It took me a month to read it–but it was great.
So I began thinking of my own DGAF, and decided to 1) keep it short, so if the reader is alienated by the style, it’s over before they realized this, and 2) break a rule or two, stick with that direction, and go all the way. DGAF.
With Dion, I didn’t end up keeping it short, but it’s fiction book with over 90 footnotes, to show the tale of a man with no memory, who writes from the perspective of his current self in tiny print at the bottom of the page. His experiences range from the mundane to the bizarre, and at all times I tried to DGAF it all the way. It’s up to the reader to decide if they like it or not.
Also, aside from this, there was one song I kept listening to while reading it, and it set the theme for the tale:
A Pale Horse Named Death – Dead of Winter
Listen to that song. You might like it, or you might not, but the band really stuck with their own way here. They DGAF’ed it, and it’s one of the most beautifully dark songs I have ever heard.
What’s unique about your world?
Unique? Hmm – I guess it’s not so much unique as inspired by so many other pieces of work that it becomes unique. The character visits Hell in his dreams, as well as another planet. He has dialogue with a repressed gas station manager, and is tormented by two psychopaths who come from crows.
It brings in Dante’s Inferno, The Girl on the Train, Arthur C. Clarke, modern science, mythology, the movie Locke and countless others, and brings it into one tale. I put a bibliography at the end to keep track of all the influences, but I called it a partial bibliography, because I’m sure there is more.
How real do you think the science is in your book?
Haha great question. The science is truly Science Fiction, and I don’t put it on the level of some Arthur C. Clarke books, where there’s a rational explanation for everything. But I tried to separate Dion’s dreamscape from the actual science part, so there’s either magic, or something with a real scientific root.
And like most all my books, I not only read a lot of non-fiction to prepare, but I asked a lot of questions of my real scientist friends—engineers, Physics PhDs and the like.
That’s one of my favorite parts about these books – they allow you to seek out the smartest people you know, and ask them real questions about this universe that matter.
For Dion, I had queries about space elevators attached to asteroids, what would happen if you approached the speed of light, and even convenience store supply delivery logistics. I had a lot of fun interviewing experts about all of those topics, and more.
What did you include that you wish was real today?
It’s a pretty scary tale, so I don’t wish that much was real today. But let’s just say that I wish everyone would experience that message of reason that Dion experiences. The world around him shifts constantly in frightening, dangerous ways, but the philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle tell him to rely on his reason, and every time he does, there’s light.
If everyone nowadays relied more on reason and a little less on emotion, I think the world would be a better place. And even if not, the reasonable people around the world would see this, and make rational improvements to make the world a better place. That’s what I wish was real today.
Anything else you would like to add?
Just a few links! I have few books and a feature-length movie out. They are unrelated to Dion above, but here they are!
The book is Spanners: The Fountain of Youth, and it has a prequel movie, starring Shawn Christian and Eric Roberts. It can be seen here:
It’s on Amazon, YouTube and Vimeo.
For my other books, here are the links:
Thank you Jonathan for taking the time to chat with me and enlightening the readers about your books and the science behind them.
You can find out more about Jonathan Maas at:
- Amazon author link: https://www.amazon.com/Jonathan-Maas/e/B00FE5RERS
- Goodreads author link: https://www.goodreads.com/jmaas
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/jonmaas78
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