The Grim Reader talks to Ani Fox.
Ani Fox probably isn’t somebody very well known to you, and to be honest I am not familiar with his work either. However, I came across a book that piqued my interest when browsing the world wide web the other day. That book is called ‘The Autumn War’ – a new urban fantasy tale published by Ragnarok Pubications. It’s the first book in an exciting new series and I can’t wait to get stuck in. The cover caught my attention straight away. I bloody love it. I read the synopsis and was intrigued by this tale of espionage, Nazis, genetically engineered super soldiers and more.
I will be reviewing the book in the not too distant future, but, in the meantime, I caught up with Ani to find out a little bit more about him, his writing and ‘The Autumn War’
TGR: Thanks for stopping by, Ani. Tell us a little (or a lot, if you wish) about yourself: Where are you from? Is this your first published work? And where does your love of the written word come from?
ANI: While I’d like to say I was raised by a colony of mutated raccoons behind a desecrated church in Latvia, I’m actually just from California – which in the 70s might have been the same thing. I’ve moved 30 times in my life and presently live in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg which is a tiny European country half the size of Rhode Island.
I started publishing in college when I worked for 4 different newspapers as a journalist and columnist, was the satire and managing editor of Rutgers weekly paper and pretty much ghost wrote half the page contents. Then I got into resume creation, which is high fiction. Eventually I published professionally in 2007 with Jim Baen’s Universe after detours into academia, teaching and being a corporate weasel. This is my first published novel but not the first one I wrote. The first one sucked so badly my editor suggested I take less drugs (which depressed me since I was on none at the time).
As far as love of the written word – I’m a supreme geek. I read the dictionary for fun as a child and had a massive…er vocabulary as well as swaggering nerd ‘tude by the time I entered high school. When I was really sick with the flu, my mother gave me her old Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter novels and that was it. I knew I wanted to be a writer.
TGR: What are some of the books that helped to define you as an author?
ANI: I’m influenced more by genres and writers than individual books. I often say that if David Drake, Toni Morrison and Boris Akunin all like my book, I’ve succeeded. That’s a tall order. As kid I absorbed pulp scifi and the classics. Heinlein, Asimov, Clark but also stuff like Horseclans books, Rice Burroughs, mystery books and choose your own adventures. I was also a huge D&D nerd. As in memorized all the rules to 2E and beyond. BT (Before THACO) and age myself by saying I owned the illicit Deities and Demigods because someone bought it for my birthday off a genuine bookshelf firsthand.
Then in college I majored in comparative literature and read the classics of the world. Toni Morrison, Lady Murasaki, Tanazaki, Camus, Baudelaire, and that kind of deep complicated stuff. Turgid works like War and Peace. The Death of Ivan Ilyich might be the best short story ever not written in English.
Then I got exposed to all manner of weird books including Bulgakov, Tergenyev, Chekov and Akunin for the Russians / Ukrainians and then stuff from folks like Don Delillo and Andre Debus. Sprinkle in some Shakespeare and throw in random crap like airport books, graphic novels, lots of journalism and essays and the entire collection of Robert Parker’s Spenser novels. Then, add to all that hundreds of thousands of pages of graduate school work in history, social science and ecological sciences with both theory and primary sources. Voila, you have a mess but a fascinating one.
TGR: How would you describe your writing style and what sort of a writer are you? Do you meticulously plan out your work or is it much more organic than that?
ANI: No story survives first contact with its characters. I live in their world and they tell me what happens, often surprising me with shenanigans. I sometimes sketch out long plots, sometimes the story hooks into me. For a novel you must plot and you must understand classic story structure even if you plan to deviate or demolish it. So, I’m a planner who doesn’t plan with a lot of respect for the art of writing who might not be all that artful. I agonize over fine distinctions of language but use too many adverbs – it’s a wild mix of inchoate elements that goes more by feel than form. So I err on the art side of art vs science, but no one gets remotely good without knowing the trade.
TGR: What are the aspects of writing that you find are the most difficult and what comes easiest to you?
ANI: Writers write, so for me writing isn’t the issue. Writing well with a worthy plot and interesting characters will always be the challenge. I’m a severe critic of my own work and a secret perfectionist. There are writer’s like Boris Akunin or Toni Morrison where if you add a word or take one away, the story changes. They are that precise and that intentional. While I aspire to that, I know my limits. I aim for mood and sensibility, for the French notion of mentalité above all else. My prior experience in the humanities has given me a broad sense of milieu and a desire to create verisimilitude through subtle context. That’s a maddening challenge to do it without being ham fisted.
TGR: Outside of books, where else do you draw your influence from?
ANI: My parents were kind of hippies with day jobs – folk dancers. So my early memories are about music, dancing, weird food and a big tribe of nomadic nerds playing games, drinking and singing until late hours. In college that led to troubling associations with knowledge and politics, to seeing the world as a holistic often conflicted set of world systems. I’m a bear for ontology and metaphysics, for metaconsciousness and asking the big questions. It helps that my Uncle Lee Fox bestowed upon me his unique indigenous perspective of the world. So there’s some Mohawk and Cherokee peeking out from everything, via my childhood mentor. Then I just take all my friends and all my enemies, the sum total of whatever terrible crap happened when I believed in going to therapy and pretend it’s a story, change the names to protect the guilty and let the story invade the page.
TGR: What is the best writing advice you have ever received?
ANI: Two things. First: Write what you know. But caveat emptor, don’t take that literally. I know all that I’ve ever imagined and desired. The point being to not try to write as if I were a Latvian raccoon. I’ve never really been there nor do I have the moral authority to make that story cling to the reader with perfectly crafted details that evoke mood and place.
Second: One of my parents read a story and told me “I don’t like it.” It hurt my delicate artistic feelings and they said something along the lines of, “you’ll never get better if you don’t want to know what your readers think.” That really stuck with me. Getting critical feedback, often brutal in nature, has made me a far finer writer.
TGR: How do you approach the promotional aspect of your books? It seems as if it’s getting more and more difficult to get noticed these days, so how do you deal with this?
ANI: I picked a publisher with great art and packaging – isn’t Shawn King’s cover amazing? Then I considered my network. Friends have organized three different book clubs to read my book. It’s not a huge promotional plan but it’s a start. Curb appeal matters when there are 1.4 million books in Kindle’s repertoire and more being added daily. There’s no way to stand out except to produce quality, start small and engage a network of devoted fans, then see what happens. As a new novelist, that will be harder for me. I’m very fortunate that Ragnarok Publications teamed up with IPG and has made a commitment to its authors to provide networking and publicity.
TGR: Your novel ‘The Autumn War’ was released in December 2016. What can readers expect to find within its pages?
ANI: Mayhem. It’s a flawed first person point of view narration with a character who doesn’t speak English as one of his first five languages. So his views and focus are a little askew. It will be equal parts revealing what’s behind the curtain of a very messed up cyberpunk world and gut wrenching action to save that world. As you dig into the book it’s superficially an adventure story. Quentin Tarentino could film it with ease. But underneath there’s several other stories being told, some colliding with the narration, some merely inferred. It’s those hidden stories that matter and that’s the focus of the book. It’s almost like sleight of hand. The red queen left the table a while ago while I used a puff of smoke and a delightful assistant to distract you.
TGR: ‘The Autumn War’ is billed as “the start of a new series”. Can you tell us how many books you have planned for the series and when can we expect them?
ANI: There’s two plans for this series. In one it’s a classic ring cycle with three interlocking stories inward that use three narrators each more organically linked to cyberpunk than the last. Then three stories back, each narrated by the losing side. The enemy perspective. That’s the ambitious plan. The cheap and easy one being, Spetz is cool and people like Spetz, so we just follow that big dangerous agent on his further adventures. Neither excludes the other. But feedback and sales will really determine what gets written first because I want to write books people will read. When I’m famous like GRRM, I can get artistic and precious.
TGR: I love the cover art for the book. First thing I thought was ‘The Running Man’, and when I read the synopsis I knew I had to read it. It sounds to me like a book that will appeal to a number of different genre fans. From science-fiction fans to urban fantasy fans, even thriller readers. Where did the idea of ‘The Autumn War’ originate from? How long did it take you to write it? And what is your favourite part about the writing of this book? Is it the characters, the plot or something else?
ANI: Shawn King and I batted around a few ideas. We wanted a more abstract soviet art meets dystopia vibe which turns out to be pretty close to The Running Man (especially the Bachman version). There’s been huge positive buzz around Shawn’s work and we’re lucky to have an artist of his skill involved in the project.
The story is all my weird family and work anecdotes turned to 11. My whole clan is Ukrainian Jews and they make it into the book on a number of strange levels. I may or may not have worked for a Mafia front in New York City and have family members who worked for Meyer Lansky. Emphasis on no proof. In addition, I’ve owned a black hat white hat security company where my partner did the hacking and I did the keep us out of jail part. Add to that a lifelong fascination with covert operations, some family involved in such things for the military, a grad school focus on genocide and atrocities which informed my Stasi / Nazi villains and then just figure I lived in New Jersey more than once. Voila berserk dystopian espionage crime novel with a Ukrainian commando hero.
In a way I’ve been writing this book since my college professor Elin Diamond hurt my feelings when she ripped apart my final paper for failing the Bechdel test: when two women interact directly with one another and discuss something other than a man. The novel is my hat tip to her and the test itself. The actual writing took under 18 months. It started slow and finished fast. Once I hit halfway I was rolling. I generally write one session then edit and revise the next. So I earn the right to make a new part of the story by bettering the old pieces. By the time I reach the end, the whole of the book has gotten 5-10 full edits and is ready for a publisher to review and then edit more.
My favourite part of writing is writing itself. Writers write or they die – a slow, soulless death to be sure. I love spending time in my characters’ world, even if it’s grim and miserable, because we breathe life into one another. Whenever I’m there with them, I get to live one more day and the artist within me will not die. Plot seems to just happen when my characters tug me by the sleave and whisper what happens next. You should see when I argue with them, always a good look at breakfast.
TGR: Does your work have any underlying message to it, or do you simply write to entertain?
ANI: Art that doesn’t entertain better be amazing. I’m not arrogant enough to believe I can get away with anything so turgid and painful as Finnegan’s Wake. For a writer of my type, for a storyteller and dreamer, a philosopher hidden behind silly tales, entertainment must be front and centre. How better to slip in all my seditious messages? So yes to both. The novel intends to tell a story and that story has a moral. Does my reader need to understand the more abstruse parts of the book to enjoy? That’s a big negative Ghost Rider. You can come, pop some popcorn and go for a wild ride. Or dig deep into the subtle and often conflicting versions of reality presented which challenge not just our received notions of what is moral, fair or politically acceptable but what constitutes reality itself. If I did it well, then there’s no big “whack” as some character monologues a crass very special episode level of moral carping. Please tell me if you feel there was so I can improve the next novel.
TGR: Ani, thanks very much for stopping by! I wish you all the very best! Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
ANI: Thank you to The Grim Reader for the opportunity to reach my own community. I will remind all grimdarkers out there the book has War right in the name, so you can be assured there’s sufficient death, mayhem and life’s unfairness to pique your interest. IPG can supply bookstores or wholesalers with the book (link below) and it’s available in book / kindle form on Amazon.com (link below)
About Ani Fox:
Ani Fox lives in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg – the heart of ancient Europe. He’s published short fiction in Jim Baen’s Universe as well as in the Ragnarok Publications anthology Corrupts Absolutely? The Autumn War is his first published novel. In his spare time he holds down a day job, serves as Editor in Chief for the European Review of Speculative Fiction and does what his cat tells him. He holds a BA in History from the Rutgers University, a PhD (ABD) in World History from the Australian National University and a PhD in Indigenous Theology from ULC Seminary; none of which make him more fun at parties.
About AUTUMN WAR:
Nothing is as it seems. After the mysterious death of his family, retired operative Spetz has come looking for answers, using himself as bait. The shadowy Syndicate has made him a job offer that a deranged cadre of Nazi super-soldiers, the various global Mafias, and a ship full of eco-fanatics would all prefer he decline. By midday, the U.S. Government has declared him a terrorist, and an unseen adversary has offered more than a billion dollars to have him killed.In this covert global war, Spetz is forced to call in some favors from former associates: a rogue Artificial Intelligence, an ice-cold femme fatale, and a rescue team of former Soviet saboteurs. Among his enemies are Zeus, a genetically engineered soldier who styles himself a god; Mika French, the best assassin alive, and Hans Gutlicht, a mad scientist with a grudge…and the man who raised Spetz. From the icy waters of the Canadian North Atlantic to the burning sands of Las Vegas, Spetz must keep two steps ahead of everyone, outfoxing some of the most brilliant and dangerous operatives alive. To unravel the conspiracies behind the Autumn War, he does the one thing he’s always resisted: join ‘The Game.’ But can he win it in time to stop his faceless enemy? For Spetz, it’s gotten very personal. Game on.
Publisher Website: www.ragnarokpub.com