Category: Philosophy

I recently reviewed Tony Bertauski’s “Annihilation of Foreverland” and “Foreverland is Dead”.  Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with him online and this is the result of that interview.

Ten Questions: An Interview with Tony Bertauski

Does the hidden pinky finger have an R on it?
(If you don’t understand this reference, please see Tony Bertauski’s Facebook Author Page)

I’ll be there in 5 minutes.
I don’t remember if I put an R on that finger or not.
(Is that my first question?)

Nope.  Just a freebie.

What is self-publishing like?

…and don’t worry, you have as much time as you have…

Oops. Let me find my glasses. At 46, my eyes went bad.

Oh, please.

Self-pubbing. I’m lucky I got into writing when I did. Traditional publishing is a tough market to crack. I’ve never aspired, and still don’t, to be a full time writer. I have stories to tell. And the more I write, the more stories I find.

I love to have complete control of the story, interacting with fans and being involved with the cover. Once I put it all together, I upload to various outlets (Amazon, BN, etc) and announce through various outlets. I’ve also learned how to market it so that more people will see it. It’s a wonderful “hobby” that works like a side job. A side job I love.

By the way, an interesting blog post is making the rounds titled “Why indie writers suck“. So there’s some debate.


People who think Indie writers suck are generally unsuccessful Indie writers…(And that [blog] is from a pretentious snob hiding behind a nazi monocle, I mean, moniker who, has his/her/its own blog (a common form of indie writing))


How old were you when you wrote your first ‘thing’ and what was it?

Mmm…good question.

I didn’t write much of anything when I was young. I read a lot of sci-fi but never thought about writing. However, back in the day we passed notes in school (smart phones were still futuristic thoughts) and I had a friend that wrote concise notes that were hilarious. I remember wanting to write like that.

I attempted to write a couple books/stories when I was in my early 20s but, like most starts, they barely got started before I quit. I completed two novel-length stories when I was in my early 30s. They’ll never see the light of day. The story that got me hooked was The Discovery of Socket Greeny. I started writing it for my son when he was little, something he would read. It didn’t work. I think I rewrote that story a dozen times before it was good enough to get out.

I’ve gotten better since then.

And my son still hates to read.


What book has inspired you most in your writing?

Dune. I was captivated by a universe that existed in Frank Herbert’s mind that contained philosophy, politics and relationships that didn’t really exist. I wanted to create my own worlds, and I wanted to share them with others, wanted to connect with people the way I did with Herbert. Now, although I’m not a horror buff, Stephen King has been a large influence. I don’t like his endings (I’m a big ending guy, want the twist) but his style is so fluid, so visceral and comical. I rarely read his stuff without feeling like I’m in that room with that character. That, I believe, has been very inspiring.


What one work/series would you most like to see made into a movie? (and just to sneak another freebie in: who would you want to see play the major roles?)

Damn good question. A second to gather my thoughts.

…no worries…

The Discovery of Socket Greeny would be the first one because that character is so close to my heart. Socket played by…drawing a blank. I’ll come back to that before we’re done. The Foreverland series would be second with Jeff Bridges playing the Director. Claus would be third with Jeff Daniels as Nicholas Santa and Jim Carrey (so cliche but have to) as Jack.

Ok, throw Socket Greeny in there when you have an answer…


Do you write by hand, or straight to “screen”?

I write rough outlines by hand on a legal pad. It’s basically sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee and letting the story unfold. That might be half an hour to hour. Then I prop the pad up and type, sometimes not even looking at it once I’ve got it. However, even if I have to rewrite a scene I’ll go to the legal pad.


Aahhh. so there’s no Royal or Remington lurking in your past? (another freebie)

I learned on one and glad they’re dead.

I shouldn’t laugh, so did I…


What is the most important element of writing a story (as opposed to the craft of writing)?

I’m not a great writer. By that I mean I don’t know the rules of grammar and I don’t care. I’m interested in the story. For me, the most important element is the twist. As a reader, I become engaged when I don’t exactly know what’s coming. It doesn’t have to be a big bang surprise, but keep it from being predictable. Keep it original. And if I read that last page with a WHOA!–well, then…we have a winner.


When developing characters, how do you know when you have the “right name”?

I spend a lot of time on the names. There are times I’ll look up the origin of the word to match the personality. For instance, Cyn in Foreverland is Dead is short for Cindy. However, it sounds like “Sin”. That’s not an accident. So much of the time the names have hidden meanings. Socket was a fluke. I wrote that for my son so it was a fun name but then it became integral to the story. Broak was a name that had great significance in the Socket story. There have also been times where I finish the rough draft and do a find and replace because the name isn’t feeling right.


How much time do you spend writing on a daily basis? If you don’t write every day, what is your regular writing schedule like? (more freebies)

Socket Greeny character would be someone like Josh Harnett or Liam Hemsworth, but since they were both in Hunger Games it seems too cliche now so I’ll go with the kid in The Walking Dead, Chandler Riggs.


My day job is an educator and all the ancillary things that go with it. I’m also a father and a husband. I was just chatting with an author friend about this. Writing is solitary endeavor much of the time and can isolate my wife. (My kids are older so they’re not around as much.) I’m careful about when I get focused because I always remember something from Stephen King’s autobiography. He used to write at a giant oak desk in the middle of the room. Now it’s smaller and in the corner so there’s room for life. I write mostly on weekends and in the mornings. If I’m on break between semesters, I’ll put in a lot of time. If my wife is gone for the weekend, I’ll probably put in six hours daily. I don’t think I’d enjoy it as much if I was a full time writer. It’d be a job. Right now it’s an escape.


What has been your most memorable encounter with a reader(s)?

There have been many but the most recent was a review of Socket Greeny from a mother that bought the books for her reluctantly reading son. Her gratitude was moving. I try to write from a place that has meaning and when it connects with a reader I am grateful.. There are elements of Zen (a practice I’ve been involved with for the last 20 some years) that underlies my stories. Even now, I’m working on a romance novel but wasn’t satisfied with the outline until the characters where sufficiently suffering and find ways to transform. That plus sex.

That’s funny: sufficiently suffering.. plus sex.


Last question: Who is your favorite cartoon superhero? (villain?)

It would have to be Frank Miller’s Batman. He was very human. However, I find great affinity for a despicable villain you can’t quite hate. For instance, Heath Ledger’s Joker was masterful. I loved him and hated him. I strive for that element in my villains. At the very end of Socket Greeny, Pike’s role as super evil, super villain is questioned…just what side is he on?


See, that was easy…

And fun.
Thanks for chat.

Thank you for letting me pester yo

I like yo better.

Straight up: you are going to get to the end of this book, and let out a little squeally gasp reserved for something slimy slithering down the back of your shirt.  That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Tony Bertauski has the uncanny ability to split and sustain a climax over a sequence of several events.  You’re hoping the heroine makes it out alive…the tension drops and immediately begins to rise…you’re hoping the heroine manages to save the rest…then the third time, you’re hoping the heroine has the ability to lay a whooping on that guy.

51pzT8Sl3ULIn Foreverland is Dead, Tony Bertauski creates a world that was first intimated in Annihilation of Foreverland.  While this place is alluded to, it is only a small element of that tale.  This world is entirely different, and lends a new meaning to ‘the cold, harsh world’.  Annihilation of Foreverland isn’t required reading to enjoy Foreverland is Dead and it doesn’t matter which you read first.  The plots are completely distinct and where the stories overlap, they are not hindered by too much or too little information.

While Annihilation of Foreverland ponders some philosophical ideas, Foreverland is Dead contemplates them with much greater earnestness.  Tony Bertauski presents concepts that have been the burden of philosophers since man began thinking.  He explores the meaning and complexity of self and reality. He asks who are we, and who we are at the same time.

What does it mean to ‘be’? Do we consist solely of our bodies? Or are we the thing inside? What comprises the borders of our selves?  Are we nothing more than the sum of our memories, and if so what becomes of us if our memories are lost?

What defines reality? In Annihilation of Foreverland, a character declaims, “Reality is what we perceive in our minds.”  The reply, “That is the definition of delusion.”  If reality is not what we perceive  (and how can we know what is strictly a mental perception or what is an accurate representation our senses give of the world around us?) then how do we determine reality?  Is this a dream, and if I wake from this dream, how do I know that I am not waking to the dream of my dreaming?

In the midst of this, Bertauski weaves a well-crafted tale of exploitation, selfishness and deceit.  Yet, Foreverland is Dead is a greater tale of strength and survival.  To find the way in a world that has undefined rules with very harsh consequences, when resources are scarce and not all are who or what they seem, somehow, six young girls manage to waken from that very dream.  What they awaken to, however, is a question of reality.

Bertauski infuses his stories with hard concepts and encourages, even challenges his readers to answer the question for themselves.  Not many authors can claim success at telling the story and being responsible for answering the questions raised.  I’m hoping there is another Foreverland story out there that might take up where that squeally gasp left off.

This is probably the best philosophical science fiction I’ve read in years. I’m looking toward Bertauski’s other series to draw me in like this one has.

There’s a limit to everything, and at some point you have to ask yourself if you are capable of stepping beyond that limit.  Are you capable of truly identifying reality and yourself?

Three Classics:

Since I am still trying to catch up on my reviews and I’ve read Catcher in the Rye, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and Short Stories by Edgar Allan Poe I’ll be reviewing them in one piece.  I’ve read three more books since then and it’s easier to read on the train and harder to write. First, there’s not much original to say about these works, I can only add my own opinion.


Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger:

This has been considered a classic simply for the way Salinger addresses mental illness in the late ’40s, early 50’s.  It’s a different type of classic now because the story has been corrupted by our culture of violence.  A teenager reading this for the first time will be disappointed there is no bloodshed, no sex, no ‘excitement’.  The first person narrative seems destined to erupt into some horror of depravity and despair.  The cataclysm never arrives because it would be completely beyond the pale for the author.

Salinger’s daring lies in the internal conversation Holden carries on, gaining momentum as he emotionally staggers from pillar to pillar attempting to right himself internally.  His body, however, is at the mercy of his mind.  As he reaches out to friends and strangers alike, his paranoia builds in intensity, until he rejects even his own beloved younger sister. Salinger, masterfully employs a fugue state as Caulfield collapses, and then re-emerges in the present tense.

Mental illness is no longer a subject to be spurned.  Today, pretty much everyone believes they suffer from some form of mental illness, if for no other reason than to escape responsibility for their behavior.    It’s clear in the initial and final paragraphs, Holden doesn’t know what events are true and what is his attempt at reconstruction.  Salinger’s protagonist, doesn’t deny responsibility, he simply states matters as he knows them, leaving the rest for the reader and the novel’s internal audience.  Salinger sums this up in an intimate fashion. There isn’t the wholesale slaughter of innocents many have come to expect in fiction, and maybe that’s just the point.


Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:

I’ve heard it doesn’t really count unless you read Chaucer in the original English.  To be quite honest, I didn’t read Don Quioxte in Spanish, Inferno in Italian, nor Crime and Punishment in Russian.  (Speaking of being in Hell, with a hopeless romantic as Punishment for your Crimes…Oy.)  But they’ve enriched me just the same.

I’m not sure Chaucer would enrich me in any language, but it’s an interesting concept for storytelling.   Figure this:  you have a collection of short stories with nothing in common.  Some aren’t even very good, but you want to get them out there.  Self-publishing is in its antiquity, (Anyone can publish anything with any amount of money.)  Chaucer thinks if he can just get this one work off the ground, his more ambitious efforts will follow.  I’m not sure what constitutes a bestseller in the days of yore, but none of his other efforts seem to have stood the test of time with the exception of Troilus and Cressida. I will probably not chase it down for the sheer pleasure of saying I’ve read more Chaucer than just Canterbury Tales.  Yes. Back to the Tales. We have bawdiness, gallantry, romance, and adventure. We have a narrator who spends more time blabbing about who these people are than the actual telling of the tales.  Ok, fine, it’s a classic. I was bored to tears.  Hoping the next story would be better is the only thing that got me through this.


Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume 2:

Poe wrote more than just horror stories, and this collection samples that variety. There are some of his more famous works, the Tell-Tale Heart, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Cask of Amontillado. But there are lesser-known works, some of which are not horror at all.  A couple of them almost sound like travelogues for places that exist solely in his imagination. Some of this work is used for place-setting in other stories.

The editors of this collection showcase a couple of themes running through Poe’s work.  Not only do we see the intricate detail of place and time being developed, we see themes of mental illness, unrequited love (frequently of a close relative) and the destroying nature of guilt.  More than one of his stories is built on the premise that the remains of the victim prey so harshly on the mind of the murderer he gives up his guilt rather than live with the accusation. (The Tell-Tale Heart is one example; in another the narrator becomes so flustered he betrays himself to the police.)  These are stories we’ve read and heard about most of our educational lives.  Reading them again with a blind eye to previous experience, enables us to feel again the incipient loss of hope as the walls close around us in The Pit and the Pendulum, as well as the emerging terror of our actions in Berenice.

Reading Poe can be hard work. His prose is dense and filled with complex descriptions.  His narratives tend to exist in the mind of the speaker. Little external dialogue results in a sense of isolation, and nervous anxiety.  The underlying menace becomes singularly suffocating as you can no more escape his thoughts than he can.