James Frey: Endgame Author Q&A and competition

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I was absolutely thrilled this week when Endgame author James Frey was able to stop by for a quick Q&A about the first book in this exciting new trilogy. Haven’t read it yet? Then you’re in luck – The Library for Delinquents is hosting its very first giveaway competition! There are five copies up for grabs – all you have to do is email me your name and address via my contact page. The first five will win a copy so get typing!
Without further ado, here’s the Q&A with James Frey…

Q. If you were a Player in Endgame, what line would you be from and what would be your tactics?

A. That’s tough. Haven’t been asked that one yet. Maybe Mu, since they’re the oldest and most mysterious. As to my tactics, that’s easy. I’d be smart about it. Stay in the shadows and wait for other people to make their moves. Make sure I stayed alive. Try to strike when no one expected it.

 

Q. The story unfolds in many locations across the globe. How did you research the settings in the book? Have you visited many of these places in real life?

A. Between me and my co-author, Nils, we’ve visited some of these places. Places like Omaha, Stonehenge, Trieste, Istanbul, Jodhpur, New York, Warsaw, and so on. But the bulk of the action takes place in locations neither of us have been to, like Xi’an, China and Mosul, Iraq and Gobekli Tepe in Turkey. The simple truth is that it wouldn’t have been possible to write this book without the resources available online. We spent tons of time looking at Google maps, staring at satellite images, and doing search after search for coordinate points. We also spent a ton of time on Wikipedia, as well as used some more traditional sources, notably National Geographic, which ran features on Gobekli Tepe, the Terra Cotta Army, and Stonehenge all while we were writing this book.

 

Q. The twelve Players come from diverse backgrounds, but Sarah Alopay, an American high-school girl, really comes to the forefront. What led you to focus on her story?

A. Primarily because she’s most relatable to American readers, but also because I felt like I could know her the best. I come from a town not that much different than Omaha, Nebraska, so I felt like I knew what her life is like. I also think that while it’s true that Sarah is featured, that several other characters are prominent too that are not American at all. I’m thinking of Chiyoko Takeda, from Japan, as well as An Liu, who’s Chinese, and Jago Tlaloc, who’s Peruvian. It’s hard to give each character his or her due, but as the series progresses (and as Players get killed off), I promise that other characters will move to the forefront.

 

Q. You’ve said that your inspiration for writing a puzzle book was Masquerade by Kip Williams, in which readers were challenged to solve a puzzle that would lead them to a jewel-encrusted golden hare. But what was your inspiration for the story of Endgame itself?

A. It’s basically based on the ancient aliens theory of human evolution. This postulates that about 12,000 years ago a highly intelligent alien race visited earth and tinkered with our DNA, changing the way our brains work and completely changing the way our culture would evolve. This is pretty easy to dismiss as a conspiracy theory, but I don’t really care. I love conspiracy theories. If nothing else, they make for great story material.

Besides, there’s some evidence it could be true. After the Human Genome Project finished decoding our DNA, they tried to figure out how we’d evolved. When these scientists started investigating our genetic past they found that around 12,000 years ago our cognitive brain function changed drastically. How and why it changed they don’t know, but the change bore all the hallmarks of genetic engineering. Around this time, the first human civilizations started to pop up around the globe, agriculture started to happen, and stone working and language and eventually metal working and writing and all the rest. Stranger still is that these civilizations formed around gold mines. No one knows why, since gold isn’t functional at all. It’s pretty and all but it can’t be formed into anything useful like an ax or a hammer, and it’s only valuable because we say it is.

Also around this time, the world’s origin myths began to come into existence. No matter how disparate, these are really similar. They basically say that an omnipotent being descended from the heavens and gave us the spark of life, gave us our soul, gave us rules to live by. And then it left. But before it left it told us that one day it would return, and when it did return it would be a day of reckoning. This story has been woven into just about every major religion. We’re tailing about nothing less than Judgment Day.

So for Endgame we said: what if all this were in fact true? What if some higher form of intelligence actually did visit earth in the distant past, conducted a genetic experiment on the homo sapiens running around, taught us some pretty advanced tricks, asked us to mine gold for it for whatever reason, and then left? Is that any more or less plausible than pure natural selection? Ancient alien theorists still believe in science and in the theory of evolution, but they also think that some of our ancestors were artificially selected by our ancient aliens visitors. Endgame begins in a world that is exactly like our own, but where this did in fact happen, many thousands of years ago. And now, for reasons not yet known, our alien creators are returning to Earth to start Endgame.
Q. The central theme, of humans pitted against each other in extraordinary circumstances in a fight to the death, where only one may triumph, has been tackled by many an author before (comparisons to famous examples such as Running Man, Battle Royale and The Hunger Games are inevitable). Why do you think that this theme holds such enduring fascination?

A. Don’t forget Highlander! There can be only one!

But yeah, it’s true that we’re endlessly fascinated with this story. I think it’s archetypal: how one hero or a group of heroes defies or confronts overwhelming odds, whether they prevail or not. I’m just a writer, but if I had to guess I would say that we’re probably hardwired to love these themes. We’re all kind of the heroes of our own lives, and we all have to struggle to make it. We all have to fight—and I know that as well as anybody. As a species, it wasn’t so long ago that we really, really had to fight in order to survive: with other humans, with animals, with the environment. Life is a struggle, we suffer, we prevail or we don’t, we find beauty and ugliness and happiness and sadness and excitement and boredom and everything else, and then we die. That’s kind of grim, but I think that’s why we love stories like these: because our lives may be mundane but we are all spectacularly mortal.

 

Q. You’ve written this book with a co-author, and from what I understand the people at Google Niantic have been involved in creating the gaming storylines. How does the collaborative approach impact on your storytelling?

A. It’s been a lot of fun, and it will continue to be as the story evolves. Working with Google has pulled Nils and I more into hard science fiction, which has been really cool. As far as the impact, I’m not sure that it’s changed the end product that much. It’s more that the process is just different. It’s faster, that’s for sure. Nils and I can pass the torch back and forth when either of us needs a break, which is a nice luxury to have.

 

Q. It’s a pretty epic project, with three full-length novels, novellas coming out in-between each book and all the work that goes into the gaming and social media aspects of the project. Will this be a one-off for you?

A. It’s hard to say. I certainly don’t have the stamina to embark on another project like this while Endgame is ongoing, and it will be ongoing for the foreseeable future. If it blows up (in a good way) then yeah, this may be it. But I’ll never completely leave the world of books or writing or entertainment. Even with my complicated history in this world, it’s home and I love it. I’ve never lost sight of the fact that I’m a lucky guy that I get to do this for a living.

 

Q. Do you think multi-platform stories are going to really take off in the future?

A. Yes. Absolutely. Given time, I don’t see how they can’t. Our world is only going to get more connected and interactive. Who knows what the future holds, especially in the world of personal technology and communications. We live in a really exciting world, and it’s amazing to see it all develop. I’m happy—and again, super lucky—to be able to play a small part in that.

So there you have it. Don’t forget to enter the competition for a chance to win a copy of Endgame!

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