In the following email interview, sci-fi writer Rich Larson discusses his new dystopian post alien invasion novel Annex (paperback, Kindle), the first installment in The Violet Wars trilogy, as well as his upcoming short story collection, Tomorrow Factory (paperback, Kindle).
Photo Credit: Micaela Cockburn
To begin, what is Annex about?
Annex is about kids fighting aliens, but also about loyalty, family, and outsiderhood.
Where did you get the original idea for Annex and how different is your novel from that initial concept?
Annex was originally a short story called “Mother Mother” that depicted Bo’s first encounter with his othermother. Editors found it was trying to do too much in too small a space, so over the course of a summer I spooled it out into a full novel.
Annex is a science fiction story. But is there a subgenre of sci-fi, or maybe a combination of them, that you think describes Annex better?
Since Annex opens with the city already conquered by aliens, I would call it a post-invasion novel. It combines the alien invasion aesthetic with dystopian elements.
Now, while you’ve written a number of short stories, Annex is your first novel. Are there any writers or specific stories that were an influence on Annex but not on your short stories?
Actually, Annex is not my first novel; it’s my first published novel. I think it’s pretty rare for people to get their first stab at a novel published. I wrote three novels before this one, each deeply flawed in its own way.
Annex is heavily influenced by Garth Nix’s Shade’s Children, Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord, and K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series. It also has shades of Coraline by Neil Gaiman, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and A Series Of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. Basically, it’s a love letter to all the books I devoured as a kid.
How about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big influence on Annex?
The biggest non-literary influence, and the seed of the short story that later became Annex,was a sort of vision I had after getting very high around Christmas time in my hometown. I got this vivid image of starving people wandering a ruined city while biomechanical pods drifted overhead, occasionally swooping down to pick them up. That’s also where I got the book’s internal color scheme: purples, pale yellows, grays. The aesthetic developed from there.
Also, the alien designs ended up borrowing a lot from Half-Life 2, one of my all-time favorite video games.
You’ve said that Annex is the first book in a trilogy you’re calling The Violet Wars. What made you decide that this needed to be a three part story?
The publisher wanted a trilogy or nothing and I took the deal with dollar signs in my greedy young eyes. This year the pressure of writing the sequel, plus my total drop-off in short story production, has made me regret my decision. [Note: In a later interview about his novel Ymir, Larson admits he was not able to finish the second book, and that the planned trilogy was scrapped.]
So what can you tell us about the other two books in this series?
The second book is a half-finished mess; the third book is a distant nightmare. There’s still plenty of time to turn things around, but it would be disingenuous for me to do the “oh, I’m so excited to bring readers back into this world and blow their socks off” thing.
As you probably know, some people wait until every book in a trilogy is available, and then read them all in a row. But is there any story-based reason why they should read Annex now? Or that they shouldn’t?
I think people should read Annex right away, because who knows if the sequels will be good?
Ha! Now, along with Annex, you also have a short story collection coming out October 16th called Tomorrow Factory. What can you tell us about it?
I’m very excited for Tomorrow Factory! It contains twenty-three of my favorite short stories plus one poem, along with brief author commentaries on each. You’ll get the Year’s Best hits, but also a lot of very strong stories that were published in small print mags or anthologies, and are thus hard to find. I feel a very personal connection to the collection.
Are any of the short stories in Tomorrow Factory connected to Annex?
None of the short stories in Tomorrow Factory are related to Annex — this was actually a point on the novel contract, since they are being put out by two separate publishers.
Ah, gotcha. You actually have a lot of short stories up on your website. Which would you recommend people check out if they want to get a sense of your style before buying Annex or Tomorrow Factory?
Some recent ones include “Meat And Salt And Sparks,” which is about a depressed chimpanzee detective; “Carouseling,” which is about long-distance dancing and quantum magic; and “Our King and His Court,” which is a post-apocalyptic mash-up of Sicario and Mad Max.
Going to back to Annex, I asked earlier about the movies, TV shows, and video games that influenced it. But has there been any interesting in adapting Annex into a movie, show, or game?
There was film interest in Annex right off the bat, but it was the sort of mega-trawler interest where some intern in L.A. is firing off hundreds of emails inquiring about hundreds of IPs just to check what’s on the market. I’m confident that actual interest will turn up once the book is out. Selling a film option is like winning the lotto, though, so I doubt it goes anywhere.
If Annex was to be made into a movie or TV show, who would you like to see them cast in the other main roles? Or, if you think it should be a game, what kind of game should it be?
If Annex were to become a movie or TV show, it would be tough to cast due to most of the characters being kids. Obviously, it would be really cool to have an actress who’s transgender play Violet.
If Annex were to become a video game, it would basically be Half-Life 2. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Finally, if someone enjoys Annex, what would you suggest they read while waiting for Tomorrow Factory to come out?
I’m not actually much of a novel reader, Paul. Right now I’m working through a dusty second-hand copy of an Italian translation of a poetry collection by Pablo Neruda. This is a great way to learn Italian and be pretentious at the same time.