Today we are thrilled to have award-winning author Adam McOmber over to talk about his debut novel, The White Forest. A Victorian era story about three friends torn apart by one’s obsession, one’s secret power, and one’s jealousy, The White Forest is a story of secret societies, unfathomable powers, and higher planes.
Ladies and gents, please give a warm welcome to Adam!
The Book Smugglers: Welcome, Adam, and thanks for taking the time to chat with us! The White Forest is your debut novel, but you are an accomplished author of short fiction. Tell us a bit about the transition from writing short stories to a full length novel – was this a daunting or challenging shift, or no big sweat? Do you feel more comfortable with or prefer writing one format to the other?
Adam: Thank you for having me! As for the differences between writing short fiction and the novel, I think The White Forest really evolved out of the short stories I was working on. I’m not talking about the plot or the characters here, but rather the tone of the novel, as well as some of the ideas that are presented. Short stories were a place for me to experiment, and The White Forest is a culmination of all that thought-work. It was great to have such a large canvas to paint my ideas on. And of course, it was also wonderful to discover my main character, Jane Silverlake. She became this complex and mythic figure who could really hold a big story together. A short story couldn’t have contained her.
The Book Smugglers: The White Forest blends fantasy elements in a gothic Victorian setting, appealing to both genre fiction readers (such as ourselves) and general/literary fiction fans at large. Do you consider yourself a fantasy, mainstream, or literary fiction author (or do you abscond such labels altogether)? And do you read fantasy novels or other works of genre fiction?
Adam: I really don’t make a distinction between genre fiction and literary fiction when I read or write. Though, I’ll admit that most of the so-called “literary” fiction out there today bores me. I don’t really care for traditional realism — those stories that are ostensibly about regular people who you could meet in your every day life. I want stories that transport me completely. I want the fantastic.
I think good writing (be it genre fiction or literary) focuses on strong characters and uses interesting, fresh language. The Victorian’s themselves understood that good writing can have complex characters alongside elements of the supernatural or the mythic. I’m thinking of Dracula or The Turn of the Screw or The Picture of Dorian Gray. Those are some of my favorite works in all of literature, both for their writing and for the supernatural elements in their plots. I’ve tried to make The White Forest read as both a literary novel as well as a page-turner. Books that straddle that line are amazing to me. In terms of contemporary writing that does this, I love works like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Stephen King’s The Stand or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
The Book Smugglers: Let’s talk spiritualism, Victorian style. During this particular era, the occult (encompassing mediums, séances, and secret orders) were all the rage with the London elite – a trend you capture in The White Forest. Did you do any research regarding this particular spiritualism craze? What sort of research did you conduct, if any, in writing this novel?
Adam: The White Forest is a highly researched novel, yes. I immersed myself in the Victorian notions of spiritualism by reading widely from nineteenth century fiction and nonfiction. One of my favorite texts for this sort of research — a book that I still return to again and again — is James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, which is a wonderful nineteenth century work of comparative mythology that presents all kinds of interesting information about ancient religions, folk rituals and the like. As I was working on The White Forest, I also read countless Victorian ghost stories, everything from M.R. James to Algernon Blackwood. Those stories really helped me get the tone and atmosphere of the piece right.
The Book Smugglers: The White Forest’s heroine, Jane Silverlake, can hear the souls of manmade objects and takes solace from that din in the quiet of nature. There’s a tension in your book between these two concepts – tell us about this struggle between technology and nature, between industrial and scientific progress, and a return to/understanding of the natural world. What role or significance does this tension play in your book?
Adam: Though I currently live in the city of Chicago, my father and grandfather are both farmers. I grew up in the rural countryside of Ohio. The cornfields and isolated farmhouses of my youth are still very much a part of me, and those elements seem at odds with the hustle of city life that currently surrounds me. Jane Silverlake’s Hampstead Heath and the industrialized central-London that she fears are symbolic equivalents of my farm life and my city life. I think that I “feel” the city more having come from the farm. And because I have a generally Gothic temperament, I perceive that both the country setting and the city setting can be dangerous in their own way. The White Forest itself isn’t exactly a place you’d want to go for a pleasant afternoon stroll.
The Book Smugglers: Your five favorite gothic fantasy novels are:
Adam: I’ve mentioned many books that I love already. Here are five that I haven’t talked about yet.
The Dark Tower Series, Stephen King
The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Moore (Technically a graphic novel…but quite amazing).
At the Mountains of Madness, H.P. Lovecraft
Drood, Dan Simmons
The Book Smugglers: We Book Smugglers are faced with constant threats and criticisms from our significant others concerning the sheer volume of books we purchase and read – hence, we have resorted to “smuggling books” home to escape scrutinizing eyes. Have you ever had to smuggle books?
Adam: Most definitely. I’m highly invested in fantastic worlds, so I always try to carry a novel of the fantastic along with me wherever I go. There are places though where I’m not able to smuggle books. I think that’s maybe why I started writing in the first place. You can’t take a book into every situation, but you can carry a story in your head.
Adam McOmber teaches creative writing at Columbia College Chicago and is the associate editor of the literary magazine Hotel Amerika. Stories from his collection, This New and Poisonous Air, have been shortlisted for Best American Fantasy and nominated for two Pushcart Prizes in 2012.
We have ONE copy of The White Forest available for giveaway! The contest is open to all, and will run until Sunday September 23 at 12:01am EST. To enter, use the form below. Good luck!