Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spotlight on author Dennis Foon

"...I thought you were a Storyteller, not an actor."

"Anything can carry a story, young Lump. Whether it's a song, a tale, a poem, or a play. Our objective remains the same: to plant the seeds of doubt and righteous indignation in the people."

The quote above, from YA science fiction novel freewalker, could just as well describe its author, Dennis Foon. Foon is a novelist, a playwright, and a screen writer, and his works do seem destined to "plant the seeds of doubt and righteous indignation" in people. His books and plays pack a powerful punch, whether he's dealing with environmental devastation and war in The Longlight Legacy, the roots of male aggression in War and Skud, gambling in Chasing the Money and Double or Nothing, or racism in Skin.

I've been absorbed in Foon's fascinating young adult series, The Longlight Legacy, a blend of science fiction and fantasy set in a post-apocalyptic world devastated by environmental catastrophe and war. I reviewed the first book, The Dirt Eaters, here, and the second book, freewalker, here. I'm currently reading book 3, the keeper's shadow. You can also read my son's review of The Dirt Eaters here and freewalker here.

Dennis was kind enough to answer some interview questions:

"The Longlight Legacy" is very complex, with multiple plot threads, shifting alliances, and very rich and detailed world building. How did you keep everything straight? Can you describe your process of planning and writing the series?

I have to confess that I originally planned it as one not-too-long book. But about half way through the first draft of The Dirt Eaters, as I began digging into the characters, cultures and two worlds, I found my outline exploding on me. I always knew the beginning, middle and end, I just hadn't anticipated how much I'd be discovering when I created my own worlds. I contacted the publisher and told them that I needed three books to tell the story. Luckily, they were delighted and I was able to go where I needed. Having learned my lesson, from that point on I worked off detailed outlines.

The Longlight Legacy is science fiction/fantasy, but your other books and plays seem to be more realistic. What inspired you to try writing SFF for a change?

Actually, I've always had a finger in (and great love for) SFF. My very first (Hopwood Award) winning story was pure fantasy. And even in my realistic work there is usually a sprinkling of magic realism or wild theatricality. My television writing has spanned the gamut of SFF, writing multiple episodes for the space show Deepwater Black,(I had the pleasure on that one to work with Richard Manning of STNG and Farscape) and more recently, 2030 CE ( a Brave New World where kids run everything because of the 30 year life span) I co-created and wrote/consulted during its 2 season run. The Longlight Legacy was my first big foray into SFF prose fiction because I wanted a bigger image structure than reality could provide for the themes I wanted to address.

In both your SFF and your realistic work, you don't seem to shy away from dealing with difficult and controversial issues. You've written about topics such as violence, gambling, racism, and, in the Longlight Legacy, toxic waste and organ harvesting, among other things. Obviously your work has been well received; you've won awards and had good reviews. But has this kind of brutal honesty about the world's problems generated any backlash? Do you find that adults tend to react differently to your work than young people?

For the most part, adults have been just as receptive to my work as young people. I try to write the kinds of things I enjoy seeing or reading -- stories that are engaging and thought provoking. Probably because I get bored so easily. But I have had the odd negative experience. My book Skud was singled out by some for being gratuitously violent -- despite the fact that it is specifically about "manhood training" and the roots of aggressiveness in males -- and is certainly not gratuitously violent. But no doubt that theme makes some people very uncomfortable. For example, the play it was based on, War, was banned in one city because of its provocative language. When I asked what words were offensive, I was told some of the slang, like "skrunk" and "skud," were objectionable and I was asked to change those words. I pointed out that these slang words were invented by me. So I had the honor of having imaginary words censored!

You were born in the United States, but moved to Canada at a young age, lived there most of your life, and became a Canadian citizen. What drew you to Canada, and what aspects of living in Canada do you find most appealing?

I spent my childhood summers at Camp Tamakwa in Algonquin Park and it was an oasis from my family and the chaos of the city I grew up in, Detroit. Because of those idyllic summers, I promised myself that one day I would come to live in Canada. When I graduated from the University of Michigan's Residential College, I was offered a fellowship in Playwriting at the University of British Columbia. Theatre was booming in Vancouver at that time, and with some fellow UBC grads we started a theatre company, Green Thumb. I never looked back. Canada is by no means a perfect society, but it does have an intrinsically humanistic bent with a decent system of universal health care and other proper social services. And my adopted city of Vancouver is simply one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

After high school, you studied religion before you became interested in writing and changed your focus. Have your religious studies influenced your writing?

I studied the phenomonology of religious experience. The Longlight Legacy is one of my first developed attempts at exploring some of my mystical obsessions. But those early, intense studies most certainly filter through the rest of my work.

What are some of your favorite books and authors?

At the moment I'm thoroughly enjoying Tom Holland's excellent history book, Persian Fire, Martin Kemp's Leonardo and am about to crack open Lukyanenko's Nightwatch. I'm addicted to Jasper Fforde who is pure, unabashed guilty pleasure, bow down to Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridien was a big inspiration for Dirt Eaters) and Philip Pullman, adore Ian McEwen and David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas blew my mind) and love having my brain messed with by Haruki Mirakami. And I'm currently adapting Allan Stratton's Chanda's Secrets as a screenplay, and Michael Ignatieff's Scar Tissue for the stage. Both terrific, heartfelt novels.

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You can read a biography of Dennis Foon here.
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