Today's guest is Rohan Quine, author of The Beasts of Electra Drive, which was a 2018 finalist for the Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards. With themes of magic realism, technology, horror, LGBTQ characters, it is both a genre and gender-bending indie book, with gender fluid characters.
I call him genre-bending because he retrospectively finds labels to apply. That means he just writes, and does not really concern himself with categories. Later, he sees that his book can be defined as sci-fi, horror, fantasy, LGBTQ, among other labels. This is one advantage to indie publishing, of course. A traditional publisher would probably want him to just pick one.
After having spoken to Rohan, I can see why he would not want to play that game. In conversation, he can seem a little unconventional, even a little untamed. Thoughts pour out of him as a way of vocalizing internal dialogues. This is the way he writes, and it is also why he writes.
To read his “voice” does not do him justice. That is why he is recording his books on audio and video, and it's why I chose to interview him for my latest Inspirational Indie Authors podcast.
Every week I interview a member of ALLi who has done something remarkable and inspiring. This is the only show in our AskALLi series that does not focus on the business side of self-publishing. My guests talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.
A few highlights from our interview
On Why he's Recording Video Books
Yes. I decided that, partly because the arrival of 5G imminently is gonna make video hover ubiquitously, sometimes not even on a screen, but in a kind of holographic form in a few years time. And video is just gonna be everywhere. It seems silly not to just output a video book in the same recording as I recorded the audio books.
On Gender Fluid Characters
There's a character (who) describes himself as always having felt half a gender to the left, never having quite felt like a boy. That is definitely a part of my experience internally. And when I was growing up this was observed many times. It didn't always go down so well on the streets of south London. But, nonetheless, I didn't care. I scuttered off to New York and inhabited it very fiercely and with great fun. And for me it represents, joy and beauty and magic. It is simultaneously a liberation and an artifice and an enchantment, frankly.
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript
Howard: I'm Howard Lovy and you're listening to Inspirational Indie Authors. I'm a writer, editor and multimedia manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors and every week I interview a member of ALLi who has done something remarkable and inspiring. This is the only show in our AskALLi series that does not focus on the business side of self-publishing. My guests talk about their writing and what inspires them and why they are inspiring to other authors.
Howard: Today's guest is Rohan Quine, author of The Beasts of Electra Drive, which was a 2018 finalist for the Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards. With themes of magic, realism, technology, horror and LGBTQ characters, it is both a genre- and gender- bending indie book. Here's how Rohan describes the multiple personalities genre order within his books.
Rohan: Hello, nice to be on this show. Thank you, Howard. Yes, my name is Rohan Quine and I am a novelist and it is literary fiction with a touch of magical realism and a dusting of horror and that sounds complicated, but it's very simple from inside. The complexity comes from retrospectively applying or finding labels to apply. But that is it. In its DNA it's very much literary, but it also happily wears genre credentials on its sleeve, which are, as I say, magical realism and horror too. When we say magical realism, I suppose it's not necessarily the classic South American kind. That label has been zeroed in upon originally by a friend of mine actually, rather than by me. She identified it for me. I was very grateful. She said “magical realism.”
Howard: So Rohan retrospectively finds labels to apply. That means he just writes and he does not really concern himself with categories. This is one advantage to indie publishing, of course. A traditional publisher would probably want him to just pick one. After having spoken to Rohan, I can see why he would not want to play that game. In conversation, he can seem a little unconventional, even a little untamed. Thoughts pour out of him as a way of vocalizing internal dialogues in fully realized sentences. This is the way he writes. And it is also why he writes.
Rohan: Well, it is the one medium in which I stand, I believe, a chance of doing a decent job of making that artistic use of a life. We're not here for long, are we? None of us is here for long. We only come by but once, et cetera. So, I'm absolutely intent upon making the most unique, the most rich, the most resonant use of this little journey through this strange dubiously designed planet as I can.
Acting, Then Writing Malarkey
Howard: if you haven't guessed it already from Rohan's expressive voice, he is also an actor. In fact, he was a fairly accomplished one in New York and had some small parts in films whose names you'd recognize.
Rohan: Initially I ran around doing the acting thing on screen for the most part in New York and that was some fun and I got to a point where I was paying about half my income with it, etc. But then when I came back to the UK, I thought, which I did because I had to for visa reasons. Then I thought, you know what, I'm not gonna go back up to where I'd got to with all that. That because it's a completely different market, I'm going to go back and do what I really should be doing. I've always known I really should be doing where my actual abilities lie. So, I did manage to, you know, have small speaking parts in Zoolander and I was one of the prison queens in Oz and Election with Matthew Broderick, there was a small speaking part and fun and frolic like that, but there was no kidding myself at the end of the day that this writing malarkey was where the actual abilities and the greatest rich potential lay.
Howard: So it was back to London for Rohan where he continued his writing career. But armed with an actor's voice and flair for the dramatic, he had specific goals in mind.
Rohan: In summary, I'd say that I would describe it as I'm aiming to push imagination and language towards their extremes in order to explore and illuminate the beauty, horror and mirth of this predicament called life where we seem to have been dropped without sufficient consultation ahead of time. I've written those two lines in quite a few places so they stuck.
Howard: Rohan breaks his mission down into three guidelines.
Rohan: My first guideline is how can I illuminate the world to the best of my finite abilities using language in new and old ways and thereby leave the world infinitesimally better than it was beforehand. That's the first thing. And that's a very serious mission leading to lots of fun, but there's a serious flame at the middle of it. The second thing is how can I aim and attune my ears as clearly as possible to whatever the highest artistic potential may be? Then bring down the richest results from that place and then give those results the truest and most beautiful form I can possibly create. And then finally, more specifically dark here, how can what I write take an honest account of the darkness and pain in the world while at the same time being a boat for life and maybe even an absolute blast of fun along the way.
Coding by Metaphor
Howard: As we know, most good science fiction is set in a techno utopia or dystopian future, but it's really all about humanity. And sometimes in allegory for contemporary issues. Not many writers openly admit that technology is just a device, except Rohan, of course, who is not an ordinary science fiction writer.
Rohan: As the technology, that, likewise is essentially a device because I'm not at the end of the day terribly interested in technology, nor would I say, nor, I can say, does technology loom very large as such?
Rohan: I've never played a video game in my life, but my protagonist is posited as being a game designer and that's all he needs to know. I never spell it out how he does it. I deliberately say absolutely nothing about the software. In fact, one reviewer said, “It's interesting we've not learned anything about how he makes these games.” And I thought, “Yes, thank you. That was deliberate.” And this review then went on to say, “It's almost as if Jamie, the game designer, the protagonist of The Beasts of Electra Drive codes by metaphor, which is rather sweet, so his game design is a device by which I can do what I always do in all these titles, which is to plunge into a deep delve, a red hot pirouette into the most primal and magical feelings within ourselves.
Howard: Okay. With all that is background into Rohan Quine, now that you know how he sounds and what he says and why he writes, let's learn what his latest book, The Beasts of Electra Drive is all about.
The Beasts of Electra Drive
Rohan: The most efficient way to do that is for me to simply to read the strap line, which is the following, it says, “From Hollywood Hills Mansions and Century City towers to South Central motels and the ocean side refinery, the Beasts of Electra Drive spans a mythic allay following seven spectacular characters or beasts from games designer, Jamie's game world. The intensity of those beasts creation cycles leads to their release into real life in seemingly human forms and to their combative protection of him from destructive rivals at mainstream company, Bang Dead Games. Grand spaces of beauty interlock with narrow rooms of terror, both in the real world and in the incorporeal world of cyberspace. It's a prequel to the other five tales of mine, which are one novel and four novellas. The Beasts of Electra Drive is a novel. And there's one other novel of mine and four novellas, too.
Rohan: So that's, those are the six titles so far. And this is a prequel to the rest. And I've called it a unique explosion of glamour and beauty, horror and enchantment exploring the mechanisms and magic of creativity itself. So again, creativity itself is one of the major themes, quite bigger than just, it happens to be games, but it could be anything. It could be music. Indeed, very much, I think about feel and aspire to the rhythms of music. The nonverbal magic that music, the nonverbal language of music. It doesn't matter what kind of music, whatever kind of music turns you on, the music within the language that I'm creating. But it could very much, images as well. So any kind of, it's creativity, very generally speaking,
Howard: And the story of Rohan Quine would not be complete without also including another integral part of who he is. And that is gender fluid. And this gender fluidity shows up in his work, not as token characters but integrated into his stories.
Rohan: There are characters that are very much inhabiting the side of me. There's a character called Chagin based on somebody I once met in Malaysia, who in the Beasts of Electra Drive, He's also, by the way, in the Imagination Thief as well, totally the same character and he describes himself as always having felt half a gender to the left, never having quite felt like a boy. That is definitely a part of my experience internally. And when I was growing up and so forth, this was observed many times. It didn't always go down so well on the streets of south London and so forth. But, nonetheless, I didn't care. I scuttered off to New York and inhabited it very fiercely and with great fun. And for me it represents, joy and beauty and magic. It is simultaneously a liberation and an artifice and an enchantment, frankly.
Preparing for the Age of Video
Howard: For Rohan performance is baked into his writing. So it's no surprise that he is not only making audiobook versions of his work available, but is also preparing for the future with, well, some kind of idea that it will involve very high definition video.
Rohan: Yes. I decided that, partly because the arrival of 5G imminently is gonna make video hover ubiquitously, sometimes not even on a screen, but in a kind of holographic form in a few years time. And video is just gonna be everywhere. It seems silly not to just output a video book in the same recording as I recorded the audio books. So I've now done this with most of my titles. There's one more I'd like to do. I did a dry run of it, but I want to do it properly, but the other five I've already done it with, by which I mean I sat down in front of a high definition camera, and through an auto cue I delivered the entire text. Now, I hasten to add, this is not for viewing all in one go. This is, it certainly can be, but more likely it is to be chunked, it's very chunkable to use that rather alarming word that you sometimes hear.
Back to the Caves
Howard: So that is Rohan Quine, author, actor, narrator, and above all, storyteller and one who considers himself an heir to an ancient human tradition.
Rohan: Although it's availing of modern distribution options and so forth, it takes us right back to the caves. You know, those times that we can feel in ourselves when the fire was crackling outside the cave mouth. And there was a circle of cave people and one of them was telling a tale in whatever language they used, and the others were listening and maybe they were looking at him and maybe they were looking away into the night where there were the calls of beasts in the darkness, or maybe they were having their eyes closed and just listening within the spaces of their head. But there was a tale being told, and that's quite atavistic, obviously. So with me looking into a camera and telling the tales through an auto cue with all the fire and fluid and humour that I can possibly magic out of myself, it feels in a funny kind of way, atavistic, as well as contemporary.