Meet Alex Austin
We have a new member of our crew in the science fiction category. Please welcome Alex Austin! Wave that blue flag high.
Alex Austin is a Los Angeles-based journalist, novelist and playwright. His novel Nakamura Reality was published by The Permanent Press in 2016. Publishers Weekly gave the novel a starred review and called the writing, “powerful and moving.” His novel The Perfume Factory was a finalist for Writer’s Digest Independent Literary Novel of the Year, 2009, and was a Kirkus Recommended. Austin’s plays include The Amazing Brenda Strider, a Backstage West Critic’s Pick, winner of the Maddy Award for Playwriting and produced at several venues, including the CoHo Theatre, Portland. His play Mimosa was produced at Los Angeles Theatre Center, the featured play in Wordsmiths Playwrights Festival, presented by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department. Dupe was featured in Ten Grand Production’s Cold Cuts Series in New York City. His fiction has been published in numerous literary magazines, including Carte blanche, Black Clock, Beyond Baroque, District Lit, Midway Review, Foliate Oak and The Disconnect. He has written numerous nonfiction articles. Austin is a graduate of UCLA. He lives with his wife Eileen in West Hills, California. Retired from full-time teaching, he currently works as a substitute teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Alex’s techno-thriller End Man is set for release in October 2022. Before we dive into the details of that fascinating world, let’s learn a bit about our new crew member.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’d always been an obsessive reader, first comic books and then novels. Curiously, it took me a while to appreciate that someone wrote each novel. I had ignored the author to plunge into the story. When I figured it out, I thought it was pretty cool. After high school, I joined the Navy, and read every novel I could find, my admiration growing for the creators of these worlds and characters. When I got out of the service, I enrolled in a local college, and in my first English course, the instructor gave the class a creative writing assignment. I penned a piece that the teacher liked so much he suggested I submit it to the college’s literary magazine. Wow! Imagining my story and name in print left me ten feet off the ground. I located the magazine’s campus office and dropped off my pages. For weeks, months, nothing, and then my manuscript came back to me in student mail. “Sorry, this is not for us.” I moped for a few days, and then realized I could write another story, a better story. So it began. A few words of praise and a rejection hooked me on the writing life.
What do you think makes a good story?
Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairytales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairytales.” Fairytales are deep digs into the human psyche. What we fear, what we love, what we exult. There’s hardly a one where a character isn’t in jeopardy, a treasure to be won or lost, a virtue rewarded, and a vice punished. And whether the tale ends in heartbreaking tragedy, “The Little Match Girl,” or triumph, “Cinderella,” the reader feels more human, enlarged. That’s a good story.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
My long departed sheepdog Shemp.
Why did you choose Cursed Dragon Ship Publishing?
The name frightened me.
If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
I’ve written in most forms of fiction: short stories, novels, plays, screenplays, even some poetry. A writer friend once advised me I shouldn’t spread myself so thin. Pick a form and stick with it. I would tell my younger self the same thing, and he would ignore it.
About End Man
Where did you get the idea for the story?
Six years ago, I was working on a different novel, and I’d been trading pages with a fellow writer. We’d been in this relationship for months, and we thought the swapping mutually beneficial. I emailed her some new chapters and asked her to send her material. She didn’t get back to me acknowledging my new chapters or sending hers. I subsequently sent several messages, which also got no response. Trying to sort this out, I remembered in her story, her main character was battling an incurable disease. Had she fictionalized her own ailment? Could she be in the hospital—or worse? I checked her Facebook and Goodreads pages, but I found nothing to explain her silence. As I reviewed more of her online haunts, I realized if she had succumbed to an illness, everything she had posted online would still remain intact, as if her life went on. Yikes, how many internet users was this already true of? Was much of the online world occupied by ghosts? Each day 8,000 people die in the U.S. What percentage of the dead had been—and to the world still were—Internet users? I started a new novel.
What is the main character’s primary obstacle?
Raphael suffers from dromophobia, which is the fear of crossing streets. Fortunately, in his case, it’s not all streets, but only four: Los Angeles’s Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Boulevard, Fairfax, and La Brea. Unfortunately, these streets intersect to form a rectangle with the area of a square mile. Unable to cross any of those thoroughfares, Raphael has been trapped since childhood. The quadrangle is the limits of his world, though within it, he can cross any other street (Sixth or Third, for example), but should he attempt any of his four streets, they become impassable. His phobia’s source is a mystery, and therapies have failed to cure him. His confinement is a source of bitter frustration, and he longs to break free of his prison.
How did you select the names of the characters?
Mostly, I choose names that reflect an aspect of the character’s physical self, personality, or motives—but not on the nose. Dickens was brilliant at this. After meeting the character in Dickens, the reader can’t imagine any other name being right. Jason Klaes is one character in End Man. “Klaes” reminded me of key, which is “clé” in French. Klaes is a key in the novel. Masie Sparod is another character. “Sparod” reminded me of the saying “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Maisie Sparod is merciless. Maglio means mallet and a slaughter of livestock. Geo Maglio. Mallet to the world. The choice of “Raphael Winston Lennon,“ for the main character is a little different. John Lennon’s mother, Julia, was killed by a car at age 44. Her death devastated Lennon, and he wrote several songs about her, reflecting his grief. In End Man, Raphael’s mother dies at about the same age of a horrible disease and her memory haunts Raphael. Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino) was a brilliant renaissance painter. Raphael, too, is an artist, as was John Lennon. End Man is a dystopia in the making. Winston is the protagonist in Orwell’s 1984. It’s also John Lennon’s middle name. David Bowie’s favorite book? 1984. Raphael resembles David Bowie, who created his final album around the theme of death.
What is the part consciousness plays in the novel?
There is a heated debate among scientists and philosophers as to whether human consciousness can exist in a machine. I’ve read everything available on the subject, and it fascinates me. The novel provided an opportunity to explore the subject.
End Man launches in October of this year. You don’t want to miss the adventure into one young man’s mind and the electronic signature left behind by millions.