These are serious times. And in serious times, it’s important to take things seriously. Well, when they’re things that should be taken seriously, that is. When it’s a book about unicorns and aliens, well… In the following email interview, writer Keith Rosson seriously answers my questions about his sci-fi / cosmic horror / magically realistic novel, Road Seven (paperback, Kindle, audiobook), which has both a very serious-looking unicorn and a very serious-looking space ship right on the cover.
To begin, what is Road Seven about?
I can save us some time and just blurb the cover copy. “Mark Sandoval — resolutely arrogant, covered head to foot in precise geometric scarring, and still marginally famous after Hollywood made an Oscar-winner based off his memoir years before — has been strongly advised by his lawyer to leave the country following a drunken and potentially fatal hit and run. When a woman sends Sandoval grainy footage of what appears to be a unicorn, he quickly hires an assistant and the two head off to the woman’s farm in Hvíldarland, a tiny, remote island off the coast of Iceland. When they arrive on the island and discover that both a military base and the surrounding álagablettur, the nearby woods, are teeming with strangeness and secrets, they begin to realize that a supposed unicorn sighting is the least of their worries.”
It’s essentially a book about two men — Sandoval and his hired assistant, Brian Schutt — navigating the unknown, and the lies they’re willing to tell each other and themselves to get what they want. Or think they want.
What inspired this story, and how did the plot evolve as you wrote it?
It actually started out as a short story I submitted to my writing group a number of years ago — and that story started from a series of writing prompts I was given at one of our meetups. It just didn’t quite work as a short story — I might even have that early incarnation of it laying around somewhere — and I just kinda started chipping away at it. The word count grew.
It’s weird, this is my third published novel, and after the fact, it always seems a little hard to remember mindsets and inspirations and specific instances. Honestly, I don’t really remember writing any of the books all that much, save for the fact that for each one, writing a novel-length piece of work takes levels of sustained concentration that seem to be getting harder and harder to sustain as I get older.
And is there a reason why you made this about someone spotting a unicorn as opposed to an alien or Bigfoot or some other mythical creature?
Yeah, I think the prompts that I got from that writing group exercise years ago was, 1) a unicorn. 2) sex in a pumpkin patch. 3) A secret. Got almost all of ’em in the final version of the novel.
I haven’t, but that sounds wild. While spaceships, aliens, and monsters to play a part in this novel to varying degrees, things aren’t quite what they seem with any of them. How’s that for mysterious?
Pretty good. Now, Road Seven has been called a work of “magical realism.” Is that how you see it, or are there other genres that either describe it better or are at work in this story as well?
That’s a good one. I think magical realism fits very well into at least one of my other books, and much more prominently in my short stories. I dunno if Road Seven exactly fits the bill, but I’ve found that “magical realism” is a lot like “punk,” in that everyone has a very vocal opinion on what exactly it is, and all the opinions are wildly varying. Publishers Weekly said Road Seven was a “blend of genres, from science fiction to cosmic horror,” and I’m perfectly happy running with that.
As you mentioned, Road Seven is your third novel; you previously wrote The Mercy Of The Tide and Smoke City. Are there are writers, or specific stories, that were a big influence on Road Seven but not on your other novels?
Like I said, and I’m not trying to be fey or whimsical here, but I hardly remember writing it. I read voraciously regardless of what I’m working on, and I remember struggling greatly at one point with the structure of Road Seven, the varying viewpoints of it, but that’s about it. I don’t remember specific writers I was reading.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, and video games; did any of those have a big influence on Road Seven?
Not really, at least not consciously. When it comes to entertainment, I’m mostly a reader.
In researching you for this interview, I went to your website, where I learned that along with writing, you’re also an artist who’s done album covers for such bands as Anchor Arms (Cold Blooded), How Dare You (The King, The Clown, And The Colonel), and For The Win (The Black & The Blue). Did you also do the cover for Road Seven?
One of the reasons that Meerkat is a great publisher is the leeway I’ve been given as an illustrator and graphic designer. I’ve designed the covers for all three of my books, as well as a few other Meerkat Press titles. I feel incredibly lucky — I’d be a writhing mess if I had to let someone else drum up a cover for one of my books. I’m sure it’ll happen eventually, for whatever reason, but so far, I’ve given plenty of breathing room when it comes to book design, and I’m incredibly grateful for it.
Given your interest in visual art, did you ever consider doing Road Seven as a graphic novel instead of a prose one?
Hellllll no. I’m an okay artist and designer, but comic artists are a whole other level. If I drew Captain America or whoever from six different angles, it would look like a different guy in a different suit every single time. I just can’t draw like that. And the amount of time it takes, Jesus. Comic artists are a whole other beast, and I tip my hat to them.
Now, along with Road Seven you also have a short story collection called Folk Songs For Trauma Surgeons coming out February 23rd of next year. Is there a theme to that collection?
As of this writing, we’re still nailing down the story order of the collection, and I’m hoping to gather up some new material as well. I’m a little trepidatious about hammering anyone over the head with what I think the theme is, or should be; I think the reader should have to room to decide that, or have the joy of recognizing common themes as they progress through a book. I think our criteria is essentially, “Does this story suck? No? Okay, is it too much like this one?” That’s about it.
In a similar vein, does Folk Songs For Trauma Surgeons have a framing device?
Yeah, not really. It’s my first collection, spanning a pretty significant stretch of time, so I think we’re just focusing on solid stories that aren’t too jarring in scope or style from each other, but also throwing a few curveballs here and there. Y’know, ya got your heart-wrenching literary fiction on page fifty, and a footnote-dense ghost story about a dead Wobblie haunting a restaurant as a couple tearfully breaks up on page ninety, that sort of thing.
Are any of the stories in that collection connected to Road Seven? Or, for that matter, to either The Mercy Of The Tide or Smoke City?
I love authors that do that stuff! It’s such a gift to revisit beloved characters or worlds like that. For a variety of reasons, the first two novels have made it pretty difficult to consider doing that. They’re pretty encapsulated. I’ve written a few stories that feature the same characters here and there, but nothing from the novels.
Earlier you said that Road Seven had not been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting Road Seven into a movie, show, or game?
Y’know, in my experience, there’s always a little interest from TV / movie folks right when the book comes out, but so far there hasn’t been a whole lot of interest. The Mercy Of The Tide is, hopefully, going to be shopped around as a TV series here soon; there’s some great writers and producers involved, and they’ve written a first-season nine-episode synopsis that’s fantastic. It’s hard as hell, as far as I know, to actually get anything done when it comes to film or TV. I’d be thrilled if anything was able to move forward, and I would happy to take the money and ruuuuuuun. I have no qualms or misconceptions about the purity of my art when it comes to people adapting my stuff.
If Road Seven was to be adapted, do you have a preference as to how?
I wish I was more knowledgeable about this stuff! Though I think unlike the other two books, Road Seven‘s actually contained enough to work as a movie.
As far as a cast goes, hell, who knows. Like I said, I’m happy to consult with directors and whatnot on any TV / film stuff, but I’m just as happy to stay out of the way and watch people do thing. I’m sure there’s no shortage of actors that would slay at playing Mark, Brian, or Karla.
Finally, if someone enjoys Road Seven, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next and why that and not the other one?
Read them alllll! Buy copies for your friends, your family, the neighbors. When the mail carrier pushes your bills through the mail slot, push one of my books back at them. Tell your instructor to order ’em for your classroom. Get them tattooed on your forehead. Read books I haven’t even written yet!
Well alright then.