Reader's Give-Aways 1: Aaru
For more information about our book give-away series, see Events
Aaru by David Meredith is the first in our series of book give-aways – and rightly so, because it all began when David contacted Reader’s Abode and asked if we’d be interested in his book. It’s not the kind of thing I normally read, but the blurb sounded fascinating, and I said I’d take a look. Almost immediately, I was hooked, and the idea for this series was born. Our fortnight’s lucky winner will receive a free copy of this awesome novel – but you have to be on our mailing list to enter the draw.
I’m excited to share with you my review of Aaru, and my interview with David.
Rose Johnson is dying of leukaemia, and her sister Koren’s devastated. A mysterious man in a white lab coat offers a solution, and the family agree to let him experiment, even though Rose is too tired and ill to have any further interest in fighting her fate.
Rose dies, the family assume the experiment failed and Koren goes off the rails. When the man in the lab coat reappears, promising to reunite them with Rose, they assume it’s a sick joke. They soon change their minds. He explains that his company, Elysian Industries, has found a way to capture the complete essence of a person, allowing them to remain alive in the cyber world of Aaru. The family can communicate with Rose via a terminal, and they’re soon convinced that the real Rose has survived.
Rose, meanwhile, finds herself in an incredibly beautiful world, with everything she could ever wish for to make her happy. She soon makes good friends and is kept busy preparing Aaru for new arrivals. It all seems too good to be true.
Elysian Industries persuade Koren to become their spokesperson as they prepare to make Aaru commercially available to the terminally ill. She’s swept into a new lifestyle and becomes an overnight celebrity.
But Elysian Industries haven’t thought of everything. Is Aaru really safe from cyber attack? Is having everything one wants really enough to make a person happy? And what are the dangers attached to putting a girl as young and attractive as Koren in the limelight?
Soon a shadowy individual whose online handle is Magic Man is stalking Koren, and Rose must risk everything she has and is in a desperate attempt to save her sister.
Author David Meredith has created a set of lively characters, and he describes Aaru with stunning imagery. His choice of words is beautifully poetic as he brings his world to life. I enjoyed this book on many levels. The story is gripping and entertaining and the language is a pleasure to read. At the same time, David raises several ethical questions that keep the reader thinking. Like all the best authors, he doesn’t force his own views, but rather leaves the reader to make up his or her own mind.
Whether you read for entertainment only, or like your books to provide food for thought, this book is a must-read.
Interview with David Meredith
Alice: Have you always wanted to write? What got you started?
David: I think so. The earliest story I ever wrote on my own
(and by that I mean not for homework at school) was when I was in about 3rd or 4th grade. It was written on wide rule notebook paper, bound with shirt-boards and decorated with magic marker. I also wrote a lot of really awful fan-fic in middle school and high school that I'd certainly not want anyone to see now. I started four or five unsuccessful novels before giving up for a variety of reasons, but even that was an important part of my development as a writer, I think. I've always felt like I have these stories that need to get out somehow, but have only really just acquired enough life and writing experience to express them in a way that other people want to read.
Alice: Can you tell me a little about the place where you live? Do you like it, and why?
David: I live just outside of Murfreesboro, TN, kind of out in the country, but work in Nashville. Nashville is one of the fastest growing cities in The South, so there are lots of opportunities in terms of both career and lifestyle. At the same time, it's nice to not be smack in the middle of it all the time. I have a house on two acres of land with a wooded back yard and a creek running through it. I'd never be able to have that in Nashville.
Alice: You're a teacher, I understand. Can you tell me a little about it? School, college, or private teaching? Do you enjoy it?
David: I have taught and/or coached in various capacities for 24 years. Most of it has been in secondary schools, but I've also worked in pre-schools, colleges, and with adults as well. About half of my time teaching has been in US public schools and the rest was in Japan. I do enjoy it. Otherwise I don't think I could have done it as long as I have, and I certainly don't do it for the fabulous salary.
Alice: What age group do you most enjoy teaching? I could tell from your novel that you know teenagers well.
David: I'm teaching middle school right now, but high school is my favorite. I'd say my teaching experience has been pretty evenly split between those two groups, both in the U.S. and Japan, with a little elementary thrown in for good measure, but again, I prefer working with older kids.
Alice: So you've spent time in Japan? How did that come about? Did you enjoy it?
David: I originally went in 1999 as a participant in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. I finished my time in 2002, but my wife decided that she wanted to do the program too, so we went back in 2005. Overall we spent nearly a decade there. I wouldn't trade that time for anything, but the longer we were there the more obvious that it became I was unlikely to ever be allowed to do anything more responsible than acting as an assistant or junior teacher because I wasn't Japanese. We came back to stay at the end of 2010, but I still miss it sometimes.
Alice: What did you like most about Japan?
David: Quite a lot, actually. The nice thing about the JET program was that in addition to being able to live in a foreign country (we both did three years each before finding employment in Japan privately) we also got to know parts of the country that tourists rarely see. We lived in Shinjo City in Northern Japan on the Sea of Japan side of the country. It was very rural and except for me and my wife (and later our daughter and son who were born there,) I think there were only two other English-speaking foreigners in our town. This forced us to really immerse ourselves in the culture and learn the language. Also, having been to Tokyo 25 times or more, I found rural people to be much less jaded about foreigners and more open with their attitudes and opinions (Big City Japanese people, I've found, can be rather reserved). They were warm, welcoming and really curious about us.
Something else I really enjoyed was the way you could find ancient history practically sitting on your doorstep. There was a Buddhist temple near where we lived, built on a mountain-top around 800 AD, named Yamadera. I used to go there quite often to sit and write, or just contemplate. It wasn't the only place like that either. Evidence of Japan's antiquity was everywhere. Another place I used to go fairly often was Ginsan Hotsprings. This resort was the model for the Bathhouse of the Gods in Studio Ghibli's masterpiece "Spirited Away." I miss the ready availability of inspirational places like that. Besides our friends, that's what I miss the most . . . and the food of course. As long as I lived in Japan, I never once saw a single solitary Hibachi restaurant. I really miss authentic Japanese food, and there are very few places that offer it here.
Alice: Japan sounds great, and I could see a lot of the culture you absorbed there coming through in Aaru. Ok, let’s talk more about you. Could you tell me something about your family? Pets? Hobbies?
David: I've been married for 18 years and we have three kids. We also have a cat named Sunshine. I just recently finished my doctoral program in Educational Leadership, so I had very little time for anything other than study and dissertation, with a little fiction writing thrown in to maintain sanity. I've started to try to get back in shape, but other than that, hobbies will have to be something I explore in the future.
Alice: I see you have another book on Amazon: Reflections of Queen Snow White. Could you tell me a little about it, and what inspired you to write it?
David: The Reflections of Queen Snow White tries to answer the question, “What happens when 'happily ever after' has come and gone?” The original versions of most fairy
tales were pretty brutal, (especially compared to the highly sterilized Disney incarnations that most people are used to.) However, in spite of the fantastical elements they invariably contain, they are at their root, very real. They speak to our deepest desires, darkest fears, and greatest flaws, but they are also aspirational. They provide us with examples, regardless how improbable, of how we might overcome desperate circumstances to achieve greatness and contentment in a world where such things often seem rarefied and elusive.
However, in most popular re-tellings of fairy tale princesses, particularly of the Disney variety, in spite of horrible trauma and tragedy, the heroines seem largely untouched by it. They just don’t appear to have the same weaknesses and failings as regular people and do not generally suffer any long term impacts of those traumatic experiences. If you really examine the story of Snow White as a human being, there is some interesting potential for a great deal of darkness. In my approach, I try to more accurately examine the likely impacts that a life of neglect and abuse would have on a person in real life. It’s the sort of thing that has the potential to break someone and I wanted to explore that struggle and triumph over it more thoroughly. The Reflections of Queen Snow White essentially desanitizes the story and tries to look at Snow White as a real woman, real victim, and real survivor of trauma, abuse, and depression.
I originally came up with the story in 2006, right after both of my grandfathers died just a couple of months apart. I noticed how hard it was for my grandmothers, who had both been married over 60 years. My question was, "When your life has been that closely tied up with another person for so long, how do you find meaning and move forward in the life that you have left to you?" That is the struggle that Snow White must cope with.
Alice: Aaru is the first of a series. How many books do you plan to write in the series? Do they all feature Rose and Koren, or do you concentrate on other characters?
David: At least three, but it could be more depending on how the story plays out. I will definitely be getting more in depth about other characters, and the world of Aaru itself as well. However, never fear, Rose and Koren will still be central to the story.
Alice: When can we look for the release of Book 2?
David: I'm hoping some time in 2018, but I learned long ago not to give myself arbitrary deadlines. It will be out when I think it's as close to perfect as it can possibly be.
Alice: Do you have plans for other books outside the series?
David: Yes actually. I also have a fantasy series on the back burner that I want to release at some point. It’s based on Japanese mythology and legend instead of the European model that is so prevalent in fantasy literature today. I wrote most of it while I was living in Japan from 1999 – 2010. The first three volumes are basically finished, so as soon as I can find some time to sit down and polish them, they’ll be released as well.
Alice: I love the idea of a series featuring Japanese mythology. Did you do a lot of study of their beliefs/myths while you were there?
David: Yes. The city where I lived for a great deal of my time there, Shinjo, Yamagata, Japan, is well known for its traditional storytelling, so I soaked in a lot of that while I lived there. A city fairly near us (Yonezawa) also did a yearly samurai battle re-enactment. Then of course we went to the dozens of local festivals that are held in almost every town and village over the summer, all of which have at least some basis in mythology, history, or religion. I also did a great deal of my own research from various sources.
Alice: Your books are self-published. Was that a good choice? Would you choose to change that for a future series?
David: If I got a good offer from a large publisher I'd totally sell out. But I haven't regretted going the Indie route either. It can be a challenge to handle everything yourself - cover art, cover design, marketing, promotions, sales, etc, and still fit writing in somewhere, but it is really satisfying as well. For better or worse, you make all the decisions about your work, so when it comes out it can be just exactly the way you want it.
Alice: Thanks so much for chatting, David. And I’ll definitely be looking out for the next in the Aaru series.