Fellow writer and friend, Jim Gaines is visiting my blog today. Hi, Jim, can you tell my readers a little bit about yourself—where you grew up, family, career, etc.?
I was born and raised in Massachusetts, in Somerville and Saugus. My family is pretty international, since my mother came from Germany and my father was from a Portuguese-Canadian family. My son, John, was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where we lived with my late wife, Josephine Roberts, an English professor at LSU. A while after Jo was killed in a highway accident, we moved to Fredericksburg to be closer to John’s grandmother in Richmond. Up to that point, I had been a professor of French at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, having previously been trained at Michigan State and the University of Pennsylvania, and having taught briefly at schools in Battle Creek, Michigan; Gonzales, Louisiana and Dijon, France. I taught at the University of Mary Washington from 1998 to 2014 before retiring. John graduated from UMW in English and went on to get a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Pittsburgh. He currently works for the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.
Do you have any hobbies? What do you do to relax?
I like anything associated with nature, such as gardening and bird watching. I still try to watch French and German TV every day and read newspapers from those countries, where I have relatives and friends. John is very active in an international humor annotating group on the internet. We like to travel and a recent vacation to Iceland may contribute something to our future work.
Your novel, Life Sentence, is a Sci-Fi thriller. Give my readers a sense of the story.
Sure. It involves a German convict, Willy Klein, who turned whistle-blower against a nasty corporate scheme and had to defend himself against assassins sent to eliminate him. His death penalty is commuted to service as an executioner in an off-world penal colony where he is befriended by a wonderful alien pleasure worker named Entara. They are forced to part when he continues to be persecuted and she is recalled to her home world for an arranged marriage. After several adventures, Klein receives a distress message from Entara and, with the help of a human religious cult, gets to her planet of Forlan just in time to confront her odious husband and forcibly derail his plans to enslave Forlani females. Leaving Forlan with enemies on his trail, he becomes an indentured worker on the bizarre world of Song Pa and faces danger and near-death before returning to the penal colony and making a tremendous sacrifice for its indigenous beings. We wanted to avoid the old blast-em-up Sci-Fi and write a story about how humans face many different challenges in dealing with different alien races.
Please give us an idea about your journey to publication.
This book began as a novella in 2004, when I presented it at a writers conference to an editor who immediately began talk of a contract. However, it would have meant producing a full text rapidly and a sequel in 18 months, which I could not do while I was teaching. As I neared retirement, John urged me to finish the novel and offered to collaborate. It turned out that he introduced many of the characters and added a whole new dimension to my original concept. We completed the last chapters and set a 2-year plan for publication, ultimately deciding to self-publish on Kindle and CreateSpace.
When did you decide to write a novel and how did you pick the genre?
I had been tossing around Sci fi ideas for decades, since the first short story I ever did in high school, was sci-Fi–in French! We have always watched Sci-Fi movies and often discussed different plot ideas. During my last two years of teaching, I taught a course on non-traditional approaches to 17th century French literature that included early sci fi by Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac and Gabriel Foigny, and that prompted me to return to serious work on my original story.
Are you planning on a follow up to Life Sentence, or are you starting a completely different novel?
Yes, we have nearly completed a second novel in the series we call the Forlani Saga. When I originally presented the story to an editor, she raised the objection that Klein dies at the end of the first novel. I explained to her that the plan was to continue with other characters who would take center stage in the following novels, as the French author Honore de Balzac did. So we started to write Spy Station quite soon after finishing Life Sentence, using Entara and her eldest daughter as the central characters. We wanted the second novel to have a single setting, so we imaged a peace conference on a space station, with lots of espionage intrigue. John added many interesting characters as we went along, including an intelligent dinosaurian, a couple of robot doctors, and a human villain who somewhat resembles Dick Chaney. We continued to create new alien races, as well.
Do you write anything else other than novels?
During my academic career, I wrote six books on French literature, which is a very different process from fiction-writing. I have also written poetry for much of my life and published a good deal. I have published some short stories, one of which deals with French colonies in the Caribbean and has actually been referenced in some literary bibliographies because one of the characters is a historical figure. Besides his comedy annotating, John has done numerous articles for library sites on various types of books, especially monsters and Sci-Fi. That’s a lot on the plate already, but if time permits, I may eventually write a book on pirates, since I also taught a pirate course at UMW.
What is your next project(s)?
Once we finish Spy Station within the next year, we plan to work on a third novel in the Forlani Saga, tentatively entitled Earth Regained. Our little planet gets completely ravaged during Life Sentence and Spy Station, and we want to explore how it can be reclaimed by characters such as Entara’s daughter, Klein’s human daughter Amanda and her husband, robotic settlers and a newt-like race, the Talinians, who are given grants on Earth in return for helping rehabilitate the planet. Of course, we will have some villains, too, and some human characters that change sides in the course of the story.
Is there anything else you’d like my readers to know about Jim Gaines or Life Sentence?
John and I are devoted to creating something different in Sci-Fi that invites people to think in new terms about the adventure of outer space and what we may find there. As a language specialist, I have always confronted the difficulties of communicating across cultural boundaries and that remains a central concern. As Steven Hawking has stated recently, our greatest challenge will probably be to establish a clear exchange with any aliens we meet and to avoid the kind of mistakes made in Earth’s own early colonial period, especially because we may be in the shoes of the Aztecs and the Dahomeyans this time, instead of the colonizer role. Ray Bradbury, Karel Capek, and A. E. Van Vogt understood this very well, and we hope to carry on in their tradition.
Jim, thank you for an interesting interview. Life Sentence sounds captivating; I hope it’s a huge success!