Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Blog Tour Stop: Under the Shadow

Guest Blog by J.M. Kay, 
Author of Under the Shadow: Children of the First Star, Volume I"
[Release date: October 1, 2014; Publisher: BooksEndependent,]"
Friends and family members often ask me what the inspiration was for my novel, Under the Shadow. I couldn’t answer, “It came to me in a dream,” or something equally as romantic, because dreams are fleeting and provide only incongruous collections of images which can be interpreted in many ways. What drove me to write this book was more powerful than a dream; it was an attempt to describe a concrete feeling deep within me that has no name. Along with this desire came the conviction that the proper way to express this feeling was by telling a story. "
I never thought I would write a book. My writing had always found its way into much shorter venues: poems, funny short stories, cartoons, even a short play here and there. I thought I didn’t have a story that warranted a piece of novel-sized length, until one afternoon, at the age of twenty-seven, I re-read an animated half-hour television pilot I had written. It was about two friends forced against their will to take part in a grand space adventure. In re-reading the script, I realized there was a much larger story beneath the surface that lent itself to a different format all together. I had the feeling that these characters could encapsulate something greater than “Every week they travel to planet x, and then y happens and blah blah blah...” Instead, I could use these characters, and the backdrop of space and time, to tell a far more personal journey of self- discovery. "
I remember in middle school, and through the rest of my teenage years, being full of wonderings and questions to which, I assumed, there must be answers that some human, either alive or long since dead, had gleaned. And yet that was not the case. There were no answers to a lot of the questions I had about the nature of life and God, and our purpose. At that point in my life I didn’t know how to reconcile that an answer wasn’t necessarily needed, and further, if somehow received, probably would be incomprehensible to my limited understanding of reality. But I remember the need to have that understanding very clearly. In this way, Jason, the protagonist of the trilogy, also seeks an understanding, and feels he can’t move on with his life unless he receives a very clearly defined answer to mollify his grief. But he will find, as I did, that simple answers to complex questions usually don’t bring a hoped for catharsis. Rather, they just set us forward on a longer journey of discovery than we ever might have anticipated."
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The hardest part for me in writing the book was deciding what kind of science fiction it was going to be. I have no great expertise or background in the hard sciences, other than my general fascination, especially with astrophysics. I knew right off the bat the book wasn’t going to be what many might describe as “hard” science fiction. I also chose not to try the route of an author like Kim Stanley Robinson (Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars), whereby in-depth scientific research and description drives the plausibility of the technology. I’m glad I didn’t attempt this because it seems a far less fitting approach for the aliens involved in Under the Shadow. These aliens, the Shantar Anar, and even the Ranis Aun, are so far beyond human beings in their technological evolutions, what would it say about them if a human (me), alive not much more than thirty years -- with a background in economics, who has never invented anything in his entire life -- could readily explain the inner workings of technologies, bordering on magical, in their power? If I could tell you exactly how the Archivist’s ship works, then the Shantar Anar would be far too ignorant and human for my liking."
The inner workings of the technologies of the Shantar Anar are ancillary, at best, to their importance to the story, which is: what people, or conscious beings in the context of the book, choose to do with their power. What sense of morality guides them in the constraints they have willingly chosen to place upon themselves? "
The technologies of the Shantar Anar also serve the purpose of making a point about perception. Jason, and his classmate, Daniel, imagine the Shantar Anar to be as powerful as gods, which the archivist, Nierion, is quick to dismiss. But how do the Shantar Anar feel about themselves? What happens when these beings with powers, which to others seem godlike, are convinced that perhaps they are more than what they are? This is the central theme of the story: How to know what to make of oneself, what one’s own limitations are, and what they are not. How do we move past our many and powerful fears in order to become a better version of ourselves? Perhaps most importantly, how do we see the things that are essential to the worth of our own life, namely our home and the people we love? "
My love of fantasy and science fiction made the conduit of this tale seem obvious, but the inspiration was The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. For all of The Waste Land’s complexities and cryptic nature, there is a clear, emotional component of the awareness the poet has for the world he inhabits, which resonates through the immense scope of the poem. My recognition of this awareness is the basis and the inspiration for the trilogy I’m writing: Children of the First Star Volumes I-III: Under the Shadow, A Moment in the Glass, and What the Thunder Said. All three titles are taken from The Waste Land. And each book can be defined, in essence, by the three words of Sanskrit Eliot borrows from the Upanishads -- ancient works of Indian wisdom – used in the concluding piece of his poem: Datta, Dayadhvam, Damyata – give, compassion, control. " ---"
For more information about J. M. Kay, visit his website at:

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