Alex Adams Interview by Grover Gardner
GROVER GARDNER: Welcome to Downpour.com’s interview series. I’m Grover Gardner, and today it’s my pleasure to be speaking with Alex Adams. Alex has a degree from the University of New England in Australia, and has taught English as a second language. She’s also lived in Greece, New Zealand, and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. Alex is the author of White Horse, the first book in her debut trilogy. It is a post-apocalyptic thriller chronicling one woman’s adventure across the world to find the man she loves, set against the backdrop of a shockingly altered world. Blackstone released the audiobook version April 17. Hi Alex. Thanks for joining us today.
ALEX ADAMS: Thank you for having me.
GG: Post-apocalyptic stories are wildly popular these days—The Hunger Games, for instance. What do you think is the appeal?
AA: I think really what it is, we’re at a fairly wretched place at the moment, or the world’s looking that way. And I don’t think people have to strain too hard to imagine the end could be—not too far away. What post-apocalyptic fiction does is, I think, it’s about survival, where humanity faces the worst and manages to prevail. It’s a message of hope that we can face the worst and overcome. I think that’s really appealing to people. That we can survive. I really believe that’s why.
GG: What was the appeal for you as a writer?
AA: Me, I like writing extremes. I like pushing characters right to the edge and taking everything from them and seeing what can happen. Also I’m like a big kid. It’s like playing with Legos. You build something. It’s not right; you tear it apart, build something bigger and better. And post-apocalyptic fiction allows you to do that. It’s very exciting. It’s like we’re reality engineers. Very enjoyable.
GG: This is your debut novel. How did you get started writing?
AA: Well, I had a false start in my twenties. I wanted to write and had absolutely nothing to write about. I had to go and live some more, and once I turned thirty the ideas started coming. I’d just finished another book where a protagonist spends half the book talking about her shoes, and I thought ha-ha, I can do this. And I turned out to be wildly wrong.
AA: It turned out to be tremendously hard work. My hat’s off to that author. But I started working with just a few of the ideas I had, one of which was a terrible, terrible book about a pet detective. That went nowhere. Then I wrote a paranormal novel and that went nowhere, but I got better feedback. Then I scrapped that, wrote a woman’s fiction novel and got even better feedback, so I knew I was on the right track. Then I wrote White Horse and everything just happened. Just within a month I had a new agent, and had sold to Atria, so…
AA: Yeah. It just happened overnight once it happened. But it was six, seven years of hard work before it all happened at once.
GG: What was it about White Horse that finally clicked for you?
AA: I don’t know. It’s one of those things that just turned into magic on the page. I started writing it as a short story to amuse my boyfriend because he’s a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction. So I started writing, and kept writing, and I said to him, “I think this wants to be a novel.” And that’s what it turned out to be. Everything kind of clicked all at once. Everything I’ve learned, all the feedback I’d received. Everything I’d read came together. It’s just one of those lucky things. I wish I could say it was premeditated, but it wasn’t.
GG: (laughs) Your bio says you were born in New Zealand, raised in Greece and Australia, and now you live in Oregon. That’s a lot of ground to cover. How do you think that background has influenced your writing?
AA: I think the biggest way in which it’s influenced it is that when I’m writing, I want to move characters around. I don’t want them to stay in one place—like Zoe just goes right across the world in White Horse, which made me very happy. So there’s always that need my characters have to spread their wings outside what they know and the places they know. That’s been the biggest side effect of that I think.
GG: What brought you to Oregon?
AA: I got a book deal and it was a very substantial book deal. And my now-fiancé and I, had our choice to move anywhere, and we picked Oregon. We looked at a list of the best places in the country to live and Portland was on that list, so we just moved. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing that worked out incredibly well. We love it here. So beautiful.
GG: It is. We down here in Ashland agree.
AA: I came here from Texas. I was in San Antonio, Texas. They’re having 100° temperatures. You can never get away from the heat in the summer. Here we are in Oregon. It’s just so beautiful. It’s wonderful. I love it.
GG: This is the first in a trilogy.
GG: Without giving too much away, can you tell us something about the next book?
AA: I can tell you this: Zoe is not the protagonist. You will be seeing her again in books two and three, but book two is called Red Horse. It’s set several years after the events of White Horse and takes place in a small society that was set up for the survivors—for the wealthy survivors—of the disease. And it’s a very dysfunctional and deadly society. Our protagonist is Zoe’s cousin. What I can tell you is that she has lost even more than Zoe has and she undergoes a physical and very emotional journey to find what she’s looking for.
AA: Ah, I hate to give any more spoilers.
GG: No, no, that’s all right.
GG: I know I need to find another narrator [for the new protagonist in book two]. That much I’ve learned. You’ve been compared to Justin Cronin and Stephen King.
GG: Wow. Well, how does it feel to be in a class with folks like that?
AA: It’s incredibly flattering and I aspire to be that strong a storyteller. Stephen King especially is one of my all time favorite writers. But I think if I’m in the same class as them, I’m sitting in the corner in the dunce cap. That’s how it feels. (laughter) But it is a lovely comparison and I’m very flattered.
GG: RT Book Reviews says, “Adams’ narrative is the prose of the world’s destruction, beautiful yet horrible. Her amazing characters are full of both hope and hopelessness in the face of death—and worse. This is what apocalyptic fiction will aspire to be from now on.” Was it your intent to spark a trend in this genre or is this just…
AA: No, I just set out to tell an interesting story. I’m not much of a trendsetter or a trend follower. It’s just that’s the way the story wanted to go so I wrote it. I think if you’re writing to start a trend, you’re probably focused on the wrong thing. And it happened to come out at a time when the market is full of apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian fiction. No, it was never my intent at all. I was just telling a story.
GG: Your writing is fluid and somewhat mesmerizing, even when describing horrifying human events. You’re able to weave graceful creative writing with an imaginative but terrifying storyline. How would you describe your writing style?
AA: Tersely poetic. (laughs)
GG: Oh, I like that.
AA: I don’t waffle on the page. I don’t use too many words. I get in and put down the best things that I can and get back out again (laughs). Writing poetry helped me with that a great deal. I write awful, awful poetry, but it helps with economy of words—being effective in as few words as possible. Which isn’t the way I speak at all, I do waffle more when I speak but not when I’m writing. (laughs)
GG: Oh, I would say you’re nicely to the point, I think.
GG: Did you draw on anything personally for the storyline of the book?
AA: Not really, no. I’m not really one to pull from my own experiences much, or from people around me. You’re never going to read about any character in a book who is someone I know personally. But I think I do borrow from emotions in my life. At the time, halfway through writing the book, I broke up with my partner and I was absolutely miserable, so the book became a much darker story than it might have otherwise been. And what was bad for me really ended up being good for the story. Ultimately, not long after the book was finished, my boyfriend and I reunited and we’re getting married and having our first child in a couple of weeks.
AA: Thank you. Kinda just waddling around at the moment. (laughs).
GG: I was going to say, it’s nice of you to spend some time with us. Might be dashing off to the hospital at any moment.
AA: No, I’m fine. It’s not that imminent. Don’t worry.
GG: You’re a featured contributor at Writers Read, where you share your thoughts on some of the books you’re currently reading.
AA: I am currently reading, let me see on my iPad here. It is Simon R. Green’s latest novel, The Bride Wore Black Leather. It’s the latest in his Nightside series and I love that series so much and I’m excited to be reading it at the moment.
GG: Who are some of the authors who have influenced you?
AA: Such a long list. Stephen King would probably be at the top of the list. He’s the first adult author I really read. I was ten or eleven years old the first time I picked up Pet Sematary. Definitely been a horror influence there. Terry Pratchett, I love Terry Pratchett, the things he does with prose, I just love it. Enid Blyton’s another one. She’s definitely had a fantastical influence on the way I put stories together. My list changes all the time because everything I read has some influence on my writing, whether it’s a good story, a bad story or good writing or bad writing. I’m not a difficult-to-please reader at all. You know, show up with a good story, I’m happy. I’ll take something away from it. (laughs).
GG: It sounds like you’re a big horror and fantasy fan.
AA: Really, I read all over the place. If a story sounds interesting to me, I don’t care where it’s shelved. I’ll read it. If it’s romance, western, doesn’t matter.
GG: Do you ever listen to audiobooks?
AA: Not as often as I wish I did. I have a real concentration problem. (laughs)
AA: This is terrible to admit. I’m ashamed to be admitting this to you, but my mind does wander and I wind up missing half the story. It’s not limited to audiobooks. It’s not the author’s fault or the narrator’s fault, but I seem to retain more when I read off the page.
AA: It was the same thing when I was in college. With the professor talking, my mind would just kind of wander off, but if it was on the page I could retain that.
AA: (laughs) I know. I know.
GG: Oh dear. Your poor professors.
AA: I know. They’re all such good people, but terrible student here. Yeah.
GG: Just for fun, if White Horse was going to be a movie, who would you cast?
AA: As Zoe, I would pick, probably Kate Winslet.
AA: She can do anything. She’s absolutely wonderful. There are so many wonderful actresses out there now though. Even someone like Angelina Jolie could do a wonderful job of it. Nick, I can’t think of anybody to play that part. Beyond that, I kind of get stuck. I think it’s because when I’m writing, I don’t imagine their faces in all that much detail. Other people, actually, on my Facebook fan page, had better ideas about the cast than even I have, so…
GG: Oh, ok. So we can go take a look there and see what people think about who should play who.
AA: Somebody suggested Kate Beckinsale for Zoe.
AA: I kind of snapped my fingers and, “Oh, that’s a good idea,” and Giovanni Ribisi for the Swiss. Another very good idea. Somebody I hadn’t considered. When I think about the movie, I think most about the dress I’m going to wear to the premiere. It’s terrible.
GG: Aren’t you worried about what they’ll do to the story?
AA: Not really, no.
AA: As long as they don’t turn it into something absolutely terrible, I’m quite happy for a director and a good screenwriter to interpret it their way. But honestly, again this is going to sound terrible, but as long as somebody’s writing me a nice check, I don’t mind. (laughs) You know. I’m focused on what comes next, though.
GG: Well, thank you for joining us today. This was wonderful and a terrific glimpse at your process and what’s coming up.
AA: Wonderful questions. A lot of food for thought there.
GG: Good luck in the next few weeks.
AA: Thank you very much. It’s going to be a busy time.
GG: I’ll bet it will be. Thanks a lot, Alex. Thank you for joining us for this exclusive interview. You can find all of Blackstone Audio’s titles and more at Downpour.com.
This interview was recorded in June 2012.
Disclaimer: This audio and transcript have been edited slightly from the original recording for quality and readability.
White Horse is a unique postapocalyptic thriller chronicling one woman’s quest to nurture those she holds dear against the backdrop of a shocking new world.
Thirty-year-old Zoe wants to go back to college. That’s why she cleans cages and floors at Pope Pharmaceuticals. If she can keep her head down, do her job, and avoid naming the mice, she’ll be fine. Her life is calm, maybe even boring—until the end of the world, that is, when the president of the United States announces that humans are no longer a viable species.
Zoe starts running the moment she realizes everyone she loves is gone. Her boyfriend Nick, fearing he’s contracted the virus, leaves for Greece. When Zoe discovers she’s pregnant—and entirely alone—she treks across the world to find Nick and reunite her growing family. On the way she encounters characters both needy and nefarious—some human, some monster, and some uncertain beings altered by genetic mutation—and comes to see that humanity is defined not by genetic code but by soulful actions and choices.
Told in alternating before and after chapters, White Horse is a terrifying and romantic story that readers will be unable to put down.