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Today's Chat with Sarah features Jude Austin, author of the April 2020 book of the month, Project Tau, as well as the second in the series, Homecoming.
View the OBC author page which links to the official review for both books here.
Get Project Tau on Amazon here.
Get Homecoming on Amazon here.
1. For this interview, I'd like to focus on the second book in the Projects series, Homecoming. Can you give a brief synopsis for those that aren't familiar?
Sure. Homecoming picks up literally hours after Project Tau leaves off, with Tau and Kata on the run in a stolen shuttle. They're both injured,
exhausted, half-starved—basically, in very bad shape, and they end up on a back-of-beyond little world called Sedna. From there, they have to find a
way back to Kata's homeworld of Trandellia in the hopes that they can live there in peace. Needless to say, with GenTech, bounty hunters, criminal
gangs, and the Trandellian government itself all determined to catch them and either sell them or break them to their respective causes, even after
they arrive on Trandellia, finding a place to call home and stopping GenTech for good is going to be a lot harder than they think.
2. The book has just the right balance between seriousness and humor. Why do you feel it necessary to add humor to such a serious topic?
It just comes, really. I do think there's a danger of getting a little too bogged down in the dark side of things, and that can be a bit heavy for
some readers, so I try to lighten the mood where possible. Usually, though, it's not planned; it just comes out of my characters naturally
3. How do you come up with your descriptions? Do they just come to you? For example, the language that's compared to "Gollum with hiccups"?
Heh, yeah. I don't usually giggle at my own work, but I have to admit that the "Gollum with hiccups" comparison is one of my favorites. Mostly, they
do just come to me, but sometimes when I imagine the scene in my mind, I try to think of a good comparison that avoids being too cliché.
4. Neither Tau nor Kata have an easy time in either of the books. How did you write the more graphic scenes and how difficult was it for you?
Honestly, every chapter featuring Tau was difficult to write. I like him a lot as a character, but he's not easy. There's a new edition of Homecoming due to be released later this year that adds a Tau chapter toward the end, just to balance things up a bit (poor Tau gets shunted out of the limelight) and I'm still battling with it. No word on when it'll be released – hopefully, by the end of this month – but I'll put an announcement in my official newsletter.
Graphic scenes aren't really a problem for me, although the scenes I loved writing most were basically anything between Kata and Alan The hardest
thing I find to write are descriptions of places. Animals are slightly easier, but I struggle with describing locations in a way that enables the reader to see them too. A couple of reviews said that they felt the worlds really came alive in Homecoming, which put a huge smile on my face
5. Up to this point, Tau lived most of his life in a lab. When he finally lives in the real world, he discovers many items that he has never encountered. Having grown up around these items, was it difficult to write about someone having these firsts? How did you do it?
It was actually a lot of fun! It gave me the chance to get inside Tau's head, which – hard as it may be to write – was still interesting, as he's unlike any character I've ever written before. I'd already done the Kata-explains-the-outside-world to Tau in Book 1, and I figured that it would get very old very fast if I continued it in Book 2, so I put the whole onus on poor Tau. One reviewer actually commented that, after the pair of them leave the lab, Tau and Kata are no longer equals in this book, and I think Tau's inexperience is the main reason for that. His frustration with Kata, who expects him to understand everything, and Kata's frustration with Tau for not understanding everything, come together to create some serious friction between the two of them.
So I had it in my mind that Tau could handle small things fine, like when he eats his first apple. He knows it's food, he knows he's supposed to eat it, he's just not sure how, and looks to Kata for a lead. However, changes in environment terrify him, because that's just too many new variables to cope with.
6. The book discusses many relevant issues. Not only human rights but even something as simple (and yet complicated) as eating disorders. Are there certain topics you decide to include before you begin? Or does the story dictate what issues you handle?
Human rights was always going to be a major theme, given Kata and Tau's background. During Project Tau, we see how Projects (human clones) are trained and viewed as livestock. In Homecoming, we get to see how society as a whole views them. With a couple of exceptions, there's a huge
difference between the way people treat Tau vs. the way they treat Kata. It's brought home very forcefully by one of the characters, who points out that, since Tau is a clone with no rights, what he suffered in Project Tau wasn't sexual assault, but "bestiality, at most."
What's really interesting for me on the human rights score (and, I admit, a little alarming!) is that there are quite a few people on the BOTM forum for Project Tau who – perhaps unwittingly – are siding with Dennison (clones aren't the same as humans and don't/shouldn't have rights, therefore us 'real' humans can get away with subjecting them to torture and sexual assault and not have to worry about any consequences). The thing is, every time you say that a specific group of people – whether it be clones, women, aliens, men, an ethnic group, followers of a different religion etc – isn't entitled to any rights, you're essentially saying that it's fine for everyone outside that group to treat them as brutally as they like, and that the members of that group aren't allowed to complain. If you say that the members of that group shouldn't be put through things like that, then you're acknowledging that they should have rights.
Mental health was also going to be a huge one. Ironically, Tau handles things a lot better than Kata does, and I think that's because he was raised in GenTech, so he accepted his treatment there as normal. Kata, on the other hand, has the added trauma of being locked up, tortured, and gaslighted to come to terms with, to say nothing of how he feels over what he did to the people in the lab. We do learn in Homecoming that there were other survivors besides Chatton – people who weren't due in that day, or who were on vacation, or who simply weren't within range of the security measures when they went haywire – but Kata still has a huge amount of guilt to work through. There's a moment between him and the new character, Alan, when Alan asks if he's okay, and Kata basically lets his guard down for the first time and admits that no, he's not okay, that he'll never be okay.
There's also a bit of a double-whammy for mathematically-inclined readers: Kata's date of birth is given as August 20, 3372, and the events in Project
Tau begin in September (just before college starts) 3389. Kalin/Kata himself later says he graduated high school early, making him barely seventeen at the time when we first meet him at college. I imagine he lied about his age when he went to the frat house
The eating disorder wasn't planned at all, but when it happened, I tried to handle it as tactfully as I could. One thing I did like about the development – if like is the right word – is that a lot of people in the world think that eating disorders are things that only women and girls suffer from, yet this really isn't the case. With Kata, we get a protagonist who suffers from an eating disorder, and who happens to be male.
The only other topic I wanted to include – and did – wasn't just the issue of Kata and Tau having to learn to trust again, but, in Kata's case, learning that he can't solve every problem on his own, and it's okay to let other people take control of the situation. I got a bit of flak from a couple of people who complained that Kata doesn't seem to do much about Conclave, and that it's Alan who gets the ball rolling on that and makes it happen. This is quite true. It happens that way because I write reality. Reality in this case is that a nineteen-year-old kid with no legal background isn't going to be taken as seriously as a man in his mid-thirties. Think about it: how many nineteen-year-olds do you know who could gather the required legal documents needed to file a case? I couldn't have Kata keep slaughtering people who posed a threat to him and Tau – he's not a thug or a sociopath – and so he had to learn to rely on someone else, and that asking for and accepting help doesn't make a person weak.
7. Do you welcome comments or questions from your readers? If so, what's the best way to go about that?
Always! I love it when people ask me questions, especially when it's about the books or the characters. You can reach me via my Ask the Author page here on OBC, or on Twitter. I also have an official newsletter that comes out on the first of every month that has a behind-the-scenes look at the Projects books and excerpts from the next book in the series, for those people who can't wait You can sign up via my official website.
8. Can you give us a hint about the next book in the Projects series and when we can expect it? Any more of an idea now of how many books total there will be?
Oh, you want more of a hint? Okay...let me see.
First of all, it's really two books in one: Tau's story and Kata's are separate but linked, if that makes sense: you have Kata, who's gone to investigate some disappearances on a space station, and Tau, who's caught in the middle of a brewing conflict on Atthiras. Both are shaping up to become full-length novels in their own right, so I'm not sure how long Book 3 is likely to be at the end. At the moment, I'm about 1/3 of the way through Kata's story, and up to 35,000 words. Tau's story has only one chapter to it, as I'm concentrating purely on Kata at the moment. It's easier to keep the two stories straight if I write them one at a time, then I can just intersperse Kata's chapters with Tau's and vice versa. Book 3 also builds on the relationships between Kata and Alan, and Tau and Kurai, who we find out a lot more about. There'll be people from Book 2 making an appearance, along with a couple of new characters.
Release date...I don't know. I want to tentatively say it'll be early 2021, but I learned the hard way about giving definitive release dates with Homecoming, so don't hold me to that. I'm aiming for it to be out (hopefully) next year, but even that's not guaranteed...
There are definitely two more books planned, making it five books in total. I have ideas for more books in the series, but they would focus more on expanding it and feature other characters, not just Tau and Kata. For example, I really want to write a series around Amy Saunders and her spy
assignments prior to the one she took on at GenTech (think a female James Bond in the future). I also want to write about historical events in the
timeline of the series; for example, the Akkhenian Insurrection is mentioned a lot, so I'd like to tackle that one. Same goes for the Trandellian Founding, and there are the backstories of a few new characters in Book 4 that I want to do.
Generally speaking, I also want to write what people want to read. Sometimes that isn't possible, but if people contact me and say, "Hey, I really want to know more about this character or this event," then that's something I'll take very seriously into consideration.
For those of you wondering and who have already asked on the BOTM forum: yes, this does apply to Amy and Renfield's child, but that won't be for
many, many books yet, as retcon is a pain. I do promise you'll find out what happens at some point, though
9. Is there one person that you've been awed to learn has read your book? If not, who do you most want to read your book and offer advice?
I really want Mark Gatiss (Dr. Who and Sherlock) to read it. I've been a huge fan of his for a long time, and it would mean so much to me if he'd agree to read through it. I even have an email set up to send to his agent asking if he'd be willing to give a brief, 1-2 sentence review in exchange for a free copy, but I haven't gotten up the nerve to send it yet.
For my part, I definitely think that email should be sent! Thanks to Ms. Austin for her time.
-Louisa May Alcott