Exclusive Interview: “A Transcendental Habit” Author James Callan


Some writers hate talking about genres, some don’t mind it at all, or embrace it. Then you have writers like James Callan, who created his own for what he calls his salacious misadventure cyberpunk sci-fi novel A Transcendental Habit (paperback). In the following email interview, Callan discusses what inspired and influenced this story, as well as what makes something a “salacious misadventure.”

James Callan A Transcendental Habit

To begin, what is A Transcendental Habit about?

A Transcendental Habit starts with a chance encounter. It follows a down-in-out, regular Joe — a real average sort of guy — who is thrown into the whirlwind of chaos that is someone else’s much more exciting life. This accidental run-in basically takes a guy, bored out of his mind working at a taco joint, and places him right in the thick of a world-altering feud between larger-than-life characters, eccentric and odd individuals. Throw in some off-world drugs, bionic enhancements, shapeshifter lovers, lots of money, lots of danger, plenty of salacious mischief, and suddenly those shifts at that taco joint evaporate as if they never were — for better or worse.

Where did you get the idea for A Transcendental Habit?

A Transcendental Habit is the garden bed that has sprouted from three very different seeds.

I knew I wanted a character that had a prosthetic leg and a bionic eye, a sword made from his missing limb’s bones and his living eye embedded within. This was the foundation for a character that I had been dreaming of for about 20 years. His story was a blank canvas, apart from one thing: revenge.

I also was very drawn to the idea of a substance that, very simply, made things better. A pill, a liquid, a lubricant, a vapor…something that when applied, taken, ingested, improved upon whatever object it touched. This substance ended up taking the form of the drug that takes centerstage in A Transcendental Habit, driving its plot and providing its background. I would definitely give a big nod to Jeff Noon and his awesome sci-fi novel, Vurt, for the foundational prod that led to this concept.

Lastly, just as I was really committing myself to making a novel out of these little threads tangled within my brain, by luck and good fortune I came across the wonderful writing of Sharman Apt Russel. It was her book, An Obsession With Butterflies, that really stitched together all those loose threads to complete the tapestry that had been developing. From Russel, came the addition of caterpillars, along with some education on butterflies.

A Transcendental Habit is set in a fictional city called Palindrome. Is there a reason you set it there as opposed to a real place like New York, Paris, London, or Auckland?

Well, not really. [chuckles] Maybe because I am a country boy? I’ve been to New York, London, and Auckland (not yet Paris), but I don’t know a whole lot about them. I think to base a novel in these real-life cities you’d be better to know the ins and outs of them, to have an intimate connection.

Also, by being set in the fictional city of Palindrome, a mega-metropolis that isn’t specifically mentioned to be on Earth or some other world, real or fictional, it is hard to pinpoint when (historically) the narrative takes place. If we assume Palindrome is situated on the real planet Earth, then I guess you could hazard a timeline in the ballpark of 150 years in the future. Something like that. But really, even I don’t know if Palindrome is on Earth or some distant planet, so the timeline, in that regard, becomes somewhat tenuous. Being a science fiction novel, I think most of us would wager this is a story taking place in the future.

A Transcendental Habit sounds like a cyberpunk sci-fi story, but it also sounds like it might have a bit of noir in it as well. How would you describe it, genre-wise?

At its base, it is a sci-fi. In the larger expanse and depths of genres and subgenres, I would definitely link it to cyberpunk, foremost, with a pinch or two of dystopia, but in no way a flavor that takes over the dish.

Noir? Well, some of the characters are certainly mysterious, their backgrounds a mystery for large portions of the narrative, but calling it a mystery is a bit of a stretch. Then again, it does have elements of that smoky, noir vibe. I think I would be most comfortable calling it a salacious, sci-fi adventure. Or salacious misadventure, maybe? Is that a genre? Can we make it one from now on please?

So it is written, so it is done. A Transcendental Habit is your second novel after Neon Dreams. Are there any writers, or stories, that you think had a big influence on Habit but not on anything else you’ve written?

If I am restricting influences to A Transcendental Habit, and none of my other writing, I would definitely mention, once again, Sharman Russel. But her influence came from context, an idea. As I said, she was responsible for putting caterpillars in my brain. But in terms of style, a certain voice, but in no way contextually related, I would have to mention Catherine Gammon, whose book, China Blue, I had read just before writing Habit. Her book blew me away. It’s a fantastic novel that haunted me long after I finished it, and one of the few books I have ever reread within the first year of discovering it. That ghost that lingered in her writing might have taken residence a bit in my noggin for the length of time I was writing A Transcendental Habit.

How about non-literary influences; was A Transcendental Habit influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

I reckon anime is part of the equation in influence. Kentaro Miura’s Berserk might be to blame for that sword I mentioned earlier. Guts, the protagonist in Berserk, has a sword that is larger than he is. Needless to say, it does some damage. The sword in Habit isn’t all that similar, really, but having a character whose sword is as much a part of his persona as anything else, well, that’s probably a bit of residual influence from Guts and his monolith blade. Oh yeah, and he has a prosthetic arm too. Influence, check!

And I gotta give a shout-out to the sci-fi television series, Farscape. There isn’t a direct influence to be drawn here, but that show is a part of me, like a prosthetic limb or a bionic eye. It’s in each breath I take.

Cyberpunk sci-fi novels can be stand-alone stories or part of larger sagas. And I assume the same is true for salacious misadventures. What is A Transcendental Habit?

This one is a stand-alone. Could it become a sequel? Sure. But if it does, it would likely be based in Palindrome, drawing from aspects of the narrative universe rather than from the previous characters within. For now, this one’s an only child. But we shall see.

Earlier I asked if A Transcendental Habit had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip the script, as the kids don’t say anymore, do you think A Transcendental Habit could work as a movie, show, or game?

A Transcendental Habit movie or show? A video game? I think I would faint. Um…I think you could squeeze Habit into a movie length feature without compromising too much of its depth, but it would have to be one hell of a fast-paced ride. That squeeze might get a bit tight. I think a show would work better, personally. The second half of the book almost takes on an episodic layout as it is, like stages that characters need to complete with a boss waiting for them at the end, which sounds like a video game but I think a show would suit Habit best. And as I mentioned anime earlier, I’ll bring it to the table again, and point out that I think anime would be a perfect medium to capture the essence of A Transcendental Habit.

So, if someone wanted to adapt A Transcendental Habit into a TV show, maybe an anime, who would you want them to cast as Jarred, Bee, and the other main characters?

This is way too hard a question. If Sam Rockwell were a bit younger, he’d make a fantastic Jarred. Think the less polished version of his character, Sam Bell, in Moon. Bee? Oh god…maybe Ryan Gosling? Someone cool as ice, but explosive at the drop of a hat. Yeah, Ryan Gosling. Think of his character in Drive. That sort of cool-as-ice. That sort of explosive.

The big, bad guy would have to be someone theatrical. Someone who steals the screen. Can I put Willem Dafoe inside of Lee Pace? Can I please see the love child of these two?

If this becomes a movie or show, can I be in the background please!?

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about A Transcendental Habit?

Sorry folks, Squidge hasn’t hit the market in real life. Don’t go squishing caterpillars thinking to get a high or to transcend to the next level.

James Callan A Transcendental Habit

Finally, if someone enjoys A Transcendental Habit, what cyberpunk sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?

William Gibson’s Neuromancer is a cyberpunk staple, and one of the first of the genre. For a real crazy ride that you won’t forget, and something truly unique, check out Jeff Noon’s Vurt. I remember starting that book on the toilet and I think I just sat there, without flushing, for like an hour before things started creeping past decency. I was hooked on its breakneck pace and oh-so-weird vibes. Do yourself a favor and check it out.



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