Creating Order On The Page – an interview with Entropy novelist, Joshua Smith

So I was reading the first novel by one of my tweeps, Joshua Smith, Entropy, on my laptop via the wonders of Kindle, when a random bro asked me what I was reading. “Not 50 Shades Of Grey?!”, he spat out in a tone that led me to believe he was fed up with the whole idea of erotic novels. I laughed and said, “No, better than that”, and he eyerolled so hard I thought he was gonna pass out. I attempted to explain the title, which I probably didn’t do nearly as good a job of as Joshua did in his book. Referring to it as “a smart, sexy novel” is exactly right. It was an at times surprising and very-well flowing first effort.

BS: I’m amazed this is your first novel.  You wrote it in HOW many days?

JS: Fifty-eight days. That’s only about seven pages (1400 words) a day, so it’s not as quick as it sounds. I think a lot of the time people spend “writing” their novels, they aren’t actually writing. They are editing, or re-writing, or researching, or procrastinating. I did very little of that during that first pass. Then I spent another couple months getting and incorporating feedback from readers, since I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. All told, it was about four months from my first word until I published on Amazon.

BS:  You’re thus far what’s known as “an indie”, selling Entropy exclusively online via Amazon. I don’t know much about how online book sales work, so would you mind going into that a bit?

JS: Amazon has a subsidiary called CreateSpace that does print-on-demand books. So when you buy the print version of my book on Amazon, they print it right then. That avoids me having to buy inventory up front, but it also means I make a lot less per book. So that’s one way to get the novel.

The next way would be to buy the book for your Kindle. Since there’s basically no cost to that, it can be a lot cheaper, and I make almost twice as much royalty as I would on print.

The last way is for you to “borrow” the book in a subscription they call “Kindle Unlimited,” where you pay them $10 a month and they let you read as many books as you want. In that case, they pay me per page read. It’s not a lot per page, but it adds up if people read the whole book. Pretty much everyone who starts my book finishes it, I’ve found. If you read it that way I make more than a print sale, but less than a Kindle sale.

I recommend that people get the print version, even though I don’t make as much on it. I think holding the book is a nice part of the experience, and the print quality is fantastic.

BS:  OK so let’s talk physics. You nerd out a bit in the novel and I love it. Do you have much background in the subject matter, or is your knowledge derived more from a general and natural curiosity about the workings of the universe?

JS: Definitely the latter. I did take advanced physics courses in college, but they didn’t get into anything cool like quantum mechanics. So that’s all just stuff I’ve picked up over the years. So much of quantum mechanics is so profoundly weird. I can’t imagine not wanting to know more about that.

BS: I was sent to “Creation”-based schools, and didn’t do so hot in maths when I was younger; therefore I didn’t take ANY physics/chemistry in high school or beyond – so my own curiosity over quantum mechanics came way late! What in particular about quantum mechanics did/do you find so fascinating – did the possibility of time travel come into play at all? Also the possible existence of parallel universes…?

JS: No, none of that silliness.

I’m sure the first quantum thing I learned about was duality. The “two slit” experiment, where you prove that light is both a wave and particle. Junior high, I’d guess. In the classical physics world we see around us, those are two distinct things. A single thing can’t be both at the same time, but yet it’s really easy to prove that light is both those things at the same time. That stuck in my head for years, trying to sort that out. It’s probably the closest thing I have to “faith” in my life: I accept that duality exists at the quantum level, even though I will never understand how that could be.

The next thing I learned about was probably quantum tunnelling. I learned about that in high school chemistry. It’s how the electrons go from one orbit to another orbit. One instant they are in one place and the next they are in a different place, and you can prove that they were never in the in-between place. They just “tunneled” through space. What the actual fuck? But once you accept duality, you’ve pretty much given up on trying to understand how quantum mechanics works, and you turn your attention to what else is there?

And then you learn about quantum entanglement. And antimatter. And all this crazy stuff.

BS: New Age-y as it might be perceived, One by Richard Bach was the first adult novel I’d come across that dove into the subject matter of alternate realities. I suppose LSD might have also played a part in whatever it was that turned on the quantum mechanical curiosity lightbulb in my own brain…

JS: Alternate realities at the same time doesn’t make sense to me. However, if we accept that time is infinite, then alternate realities that played out in the past or will play out in the future certainly makes sense.

But then, that assumes time is linear and non-overlapping, and we have no way of knowing if that’s true. So perhaps ‘alternate realities’ is just another name for time travel. *shrug*

BS:  So the novel explores a Dom/Sub relationship formed by two people online. While I’m not overly versed in the BDSM community, I’m assuming a good portion of your twitter followers are. How much did they inspire this novel’s trek into that terrain? Did you find you needed to consult fairly regularly with your BDSM-savvy social media base?

JS: My Twitter friends in the BDSM community totally inspired the novel. It started when I wrote a blog piece complaining about Gillian Flynn’s “Cool Girls” hypothesis from the very popular book Gone Girl. I wrote that piece in support of my “sub” friends, who I think were being unfairly attacked. Then when I got it into my head to write a novel, a big part of my motivation was to explain the submissive side of the equation to non-BDSM readers. I think the motivation to be a submissive is really fascinating, and I wanted to see if I could suss it out through fiction.

Since I’m not at all submissive myself, I had to consult a lot with my Twitter friends to make sure I was getting it right. I also had to consult with them on some of the rougher sex scenes—I wanted to make sure I got the details right, and I lack personal experience with some of those activities.

BS:  Without being too spoiler-ish, I found the relationship between the central characters Sir and Lisa to be unusual yet touching, with him often serving as an anchor for her in the midst of personal tragedy and turmoil. While I personally enjoy flawed characters, as it makes them more human/realistic, I’m curious if you’ve encountered any negative feedback with respects to any of the characters, for example Sir being somewhat misogynistic/narcissistic, Lisa being slightly childish and not necessarily an ideal feminist role model (which is also part of the reason their dynamic works…)

JS: My characters are very flawed. They are both cheating on their spouses, for one thing. I didn’t make it easy to like any of the major characters. Some of the minor characters are quite lovable, though.

Most women start out disliking Lisa. A recent reviewer described her as a “doormat.” I’ve also heard “spoiled” and “shallow.” But she grows through the book, and by the end almost all readers love her. Despite initial appearances, it’s not easy being Lisa, and people learn to respect her for how she deals with adversity. This was one of the key things I wanted to explore in the book: how being submissive could be a source of power and strength. It’s paradoxical, and that makes it interesting.

The response to Sir has been overwhelmingly positive. But he’s not a fully drawn character. I leave a lot to the reader’s imagination, which probably makes it easier to like him. I’m digging into his character more in the sequel, and I think people might not like him so much once they really get to know him.

BS:  This writing thing is working out thus far for you, and I’m sure a lot of your fans are stoked you’re working on another novel. How soon can we expect the sequel?

JS: I’m not rushing the sequel. I was pretty driven when I was writing Entropy. With the sequel I’m definitely taking my time. I’ve written about a third of it, and I’ve been working on it about a month. So if I keep up this pace, and take the same amount of time to edit that I did with the first one, maybe late spring?

BS: Awesome, and thanks for taking the time to chat, Joshua – All the best with the next novel*!  (*Update: you can now order the sequel, Duality, here)

Joshua also runs a blog, and here is one of my favourite pieces he’s penned there.