Saturday, April 29, 2017

An Interview with Charon Dunn, author of Retrograde Horizon, by T.B. Kahuna

T.B. Kahuna, displaying his familiarity with literary matters
I interviewed myself to promote the last book I launched, and it worked! People actually bought copies! I was feeling all self-congratulatory about my self-inflicted promotional ability, when I reflected that everything on the internet is better with a cat in it. Maybe I could get my own cat to interview me to promote my current book!  So I woke T.B. Kahuna from his nap, and bribed him with some catnip and a bilateral ear massage.

Me: Kahuna, I really appreciate your being able to fit this interview into your busy schedule.

T.B. Kahuna: I have food in the square kitty dish but not the round one! Please move it to the round one right now. It’s kind of an emergency.

Me: Sure, but before I do that, I just wanted to talk about my most recent book, Retrograde Horizon.

It’s the middle of my Sonny Knight trilogy. In my opinion, it came out pretty good. If you like swift moving action-oriented post-dystopian science fiction, you’ll have a great time. Sonny faces all new dangers as he tries to reunite with his family while resisting the wicked clones who are holding them hostage.

Triggers include explosions, terrorists attacking schools, malfunctioning robots, school bullies, an asshole principal that makes Sonny do a bunch of extra work just because she’s a bitch, paparazzi, poverty, affluenza, bad neighborhoods, public transit, precipitous drops in socioeconomic status, police drones, police, clandestine lizard fights, exploding roller coasters, unicorn attack, industrial steam calender malfunction, pissed-off chef who happens to be deep frying … I’d better stop, I’m starting to get into spoilers and I’m barely into the second chapter. There's a gay character and a bisexual character, but they don't do stereotypical tropey things, and I'm probably venturing into more spoiler territory, so I'll stop. 

But yeah, if you’re easily stressed, you shouldn’t be reading my books to begin with. [Transfers kibble to the correct kitty dish.]

T.B. Kahuna: If you could please put it more toward the center of the round bowl? Not toward the circumference? Otherwise I’m going to have to meow at you again.

So how about that cover? Brian Allen did an awesome job yet again, with a cover showing the scene where Special Agent Blocker shows up at Sonny’s school during a terrorist attack (wearing her anti-terrorist mech suit) while at the same time, Sonny’s in trouble with Principal Pantler, plus he’s being followed around by a police drone (something to do with the exploding roller coaster down at the boardwalk) and his school is full of bullies. I’d like to reassure you that it gets better for Sonny, but it really doesn’t.

I want to delve a little further into that cover. First of all, you may have noticed there’s a black woman on it, striking a pose of command with a gun so big she needs a mechsuit to help carry it. There’s an unusual story as to why she’s there.

When I learned about the concept of “whitewashing,” an overwhelming sense of kiss my sweet self-published ass all you racist corporate publishers came over me. I’m a noob with no reputation yet and nothing to lose. I’m willing to experiment.

T.B. Kahuna: Oh no, my catnip-filled squirrel got stuck behind the couch.

It’s interesting that you should bring up politics. I did a little rewriting after the U.S. presidential election, since one of my villains is a politician – I toned down the violence and opinion-slinging, and I made my bad guy more generic. My stories take place far in the future, long after the corpses of current politicians have decayed into dust and the social problems we’re fighting about have been solved for the most part, leaving room for a whole bunch of new ones (for instance: if we create sentient life, do we have to consider it a sovereign nation?). My goal is escapism for people taking a breather from politics, not to browbeat people about the world they’re trying to escape. [Retrieves squirrel.]

T.B. Kahuna: Remember that time there was a raccoon on the fire escape? That was really scary.

Thanks Kahuna. I know you and I have spent many hours in storyboard conferences, so you’re probably starting to get a little burned out. I just thought I’d mention the influences first.

I’m the kind of writer that needs a structure built out of sturdy parameters. Only when I’ve laid down fifty or sixty ground rules and a basic scaffolding of where I’m going and who’s involved can I get down to the fun, unconscious storytelling part, where you turn a couple of characters loose and see what they do.

When I first started entertaining the idea of writing a fun novel as opposed to a good one, I glanced at my bookcase looking for ideas to steal and incorporate into my structure. My gaze landed upon Christian Astrology by William Lilly (published in 1647) and it occurred to me that either/both of those concepts would piss off several of my enemies, which might be fun. I therefore set forth to write a novel that (a) is inspired by Christian themes without actually containing any Christianity and (b) is heavily encrusted in astrological symbolism, yet doesn’t actually contain any astrology. (A time traveler might recognize it as astrology but someone more familiar with newspaper astrology might not; given the current political uncertainties I thought people might be interested in learning about arcane forms of prognostication.)

I then realized I was on a roll, so I kept going: 
  • Science fiction (because my heart belongs to science fiction) – but without science fictional tropes like space, aliens, telepathy and time travel; 
  • Adventure (another genre I love) – but hold the imperialism and racism that tend to define the genre; 
  • Maybe a little YA dystopianism – except it takes place in a society that’s utopian for everybody except the hero. 

Yes, this was my first attempt to write a commercial novel, and I approached it by writing the antithesis of everything I could possibly pitch – a second example of how my brain tends to tackle concepts from an unusually contrary angle.

L. Frank Baum’s Oz books gave me the idea of touring a series of exotic societies, and Buster Keaton’s movies showed me how to avoid clogging up your storytelling with a bunch of useless writing. Robert Sheckley inspired my super-convenient futuristic cities, and also convinced me to throw in a joke every now and then to keep readers from falling asleep.

In case you haven’t stereotyped me yet, I write stories where stuff goes wrong frequently, and spectacularly. If you were looking for the litfic, I guess you probably made a wrong turn. I’m aiming to be more of a purveyor of purple-prosed pulp, cranking out fun tales to help decorate your idle hours, because nothing beats a fun book except maybe taking naps in patches of sunlight.

T.B. Kahuna: Sunlight patch! Gotta go.

Brand Sparkling New:

Retrograde Horizon is the middle of a trilogy about a year in the life of Sonny Knight, a futuristic teenage trouble magnet. If you want to read about some dangerous stuff happening but don’t want to familiarize yourself with the overly complicated plot, you should get it. 


The first volume is One Sunny Night, and whether you should read it first depends on how methodical your mind is. Some people need to have everything in order. Other people prefer to start with the newest one and/or the one that contains the most explosions, in which case I’d have to say Retrograde Horizon is definitely far ahead of the pack when it comes to explosions.

Sieging Manganela is not part of the trilogy, but it takes place in the same universe (yet has more grimdark ultraviolence). It’s a standalone that is shorter than the other two, and therefore cheaper, making it a good choice for those who aren’t interested in committing to a trilogy right now.

About Whatshername

Charon Dunn is originally from Hawai’i and lately from San Francisco. In addition to multiple failed career paths in journalism, music, fortune telling, performance art, marriage, audio engineering and actually graduating from college, she has decades of experience assisting trial lawyers by supporting the desks, processing the words and performing many other litigation-related skills, most of which she can’t talk about at all. She has a pretty good handle on the concept of what all can go wrong.

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