I am pleased to have with us here today, Joseph Devon, author of Probability Angels. This book delves into the deep recesses of so many times and places and is sure to draw you in.
MK: A Samurai from feudal Japan, a two-thousand year old Roman slave and a dead man from Brooklyn - How did the idea of this combination of characters come about?
JD: Well all of my main characters are dead. They actually all died under the same strange set of circumstances and after death they were given the option of staying on earth as immortals who are tasked with “pushing” humans to make sure that humans live up to their full potential. The main character, Matthew, is the dead man from Brooklyn. I started with him and he’s new to this world and the reader learns along with him what’s going on. But, once I had the concept in place, it was just game on. I rather enjoy reading history and I realized pretty quickly that I had created a scenerio where I could draw on any era I wanted to and create a character from that. The samurai was created purely because I’ve always wanted to write a samurai and this was a great chance. It was a lot of fun fitting him in. The Roman slave came up because I needed a mentor, a character to guide Matthew and explain things, someone far more powerful than any of the other testers. That became Epp, a near god-like figure from the outside but constantly struggling with himself internally. There’s a moment at the beginning of the book where most of Matthew’s friends, all relative newcomers to the afterlife, talk reverentially about Epp and how he was a slave, making him over two-hundred years old. This seems like a long time but then in a private conversation Epp reveals to Matthew that he was, indeed, a slave, but not in America. He was a slave in ancient Rome. And suddenly the depth and expanse of this world comes into focus.
MK: What can the readers expect from this book? Drama? Suspense? Supernatural experiences? Feel-good reading? Terror…or a little of everything?
JD: I hate to give this answer but, yes, they can expect a little bit of everything. I’d also add humor to the list. My characters, some of them anyway, have wonderful senses of humor. Too many authors tamp down humor because they think it will lessen their suspense or horror or drama. To me that’s just unrealistic. I’ve been in many awful situations where humor has still popped up, albeit as a stress release or counterbalance to too much gravitas. I think that leaving humor out of a story takes away from the reality of it. Okay, I went off on a little tangent there but, yes, readers can hopefully expect the entire gambit from my book. You have some very colorful and heroic characters dealing with their own afterlives while being hunted by some very nasty enemies. There’s room for everything.
MK: I'm glad you did give the answers-what a great combination. What is your favorite scene in the book?
JD: There’s a lot, and I hate spoilers so I have to keep myself from talking about any scenes that are too far along. I will say that the entire section titled The Monk, the Warrior, and the Lord stands out in my mind as one of the simplest but most powerful bits of writing I’ve done. My favorite scene, though? I think it’s very early on. Matthew hasn’t even become a true tester yet, he’s a newbie. The whole process of becoming a tester has rules and before you can take that final step you get a sort of incubation period as just a rabble rousing ghost of sorts. You have some sense of what’s going on but the full scope of how powerful you could become and the role of testers throughout history isn’t generally realized amongst the newbies. So Matthew’s time to choose is coming and Epp, his mentor, sits down with him at a bar. Matthew’s been drinking some cheap scotch and Epp takes a sniff of disgust of Matthew’s drink and delivers the line, “Even for the immortal, life is too short to drink cheap scotch.” He then proceeds to lay down a stack of bills and conjure up crystal tumblers and a very fine scotch. They talk and Matthew, still trying to get his head around what it might mean to no longer be a newbie, decides to focus on Epp’s apparent wealth. Epp laughs and bangs his fist on the bar and the stack of bills jumps and turns into doubloons. He bangs his fist again and it turns into ancient Roman coins. He hits the bar again and it’s another type of currency from somewhere in time and Matthew slowly starts to get that these testers have existed all throughout history, they may in fact have been there at the start of history. It’s an eerie moment and the fact that it takes place while two guys share some scotch at a bar, that combination always makes me smile.
MK: What is Matthew’s greatest challenge and why must he overcome it?
JD: As you may have gathered from some of the earlier answers, the road to immortality is difficult, winding, and flat-out weird at times. Matthew is given a chance to shirk all of this, to just go on being a newbie until his loved one’s pass away and then he can follow them to whatever comes next. But he chooses to become a tester and that’s like choosing to get your Masters in every subject possible instead of playing video games and eating pizza. His biggest challenge, though, and I think every tester continues to deal with this, is letting go of his past. A lifetime of being human doesn’t just shake off instantly and all testers still have anchors to their former life. In fact, one of the biggest dangers for a tester is to revisit a loved one. The pain and longing can be so great that they might never break away and they’ll just follow them around, rotting away while they do so. On the other side of things, a tester’s powers come from accepting that they no longer have a body, that they exist as pure energy. Epp is constantly drilling this into Matthew and all of his other students. So Matthew’s biggest hurdle is accepting this new world by leaving behind everything he loved about his old life.
MK: What was your greatest challenge in writing this story?
JD: The biggest challenge by far came from trying to get the simple logistics to all match up. I’ve got characters in different time zones constantly, plus they can travel instantly all over the globe, and these scenes were inter-playing with other globe-hopping characters. Keeping my time zones straight was just maddening. I might want a sunset in Las Vegas to paint a scene perfectly but then have to figure out what time it was in Prague and decide if it made sense for humans to be awake there while setting a scene at the Petronas Towers. I had a world clock open at most times while writing to keep track of all of this. It was a lot of threads to keep unknotted.
MK: That would be maddening for anyone I'm sure. Do you have a favorite character in this book?
JD: I do. Her name is Nyx. I don’t want to give too much away but she is not a very nice girl and people are always surprised when I name her as my favorite. But I think it’s important to note that after a year of writing a book, your main characters lose some of their impact because you’ve spent so much time tweaking and pondering them. Nyx is sort of a secondary character and I love her for many reasons but one of the main reasons was that I never had to think too much about what she was up to. She wrote herself and she was fun as hell and that means a lot when you’re on your third read through.
MK: Do you have any quirks when it comes to your writing process?
JD: Probably the oddest thing I do when I’m writing is solve my Rubik’s Cube over and over again. My nephew got one for Christmas a few years ago and he asked me to help him solve it. So I learned how to solve one, then I bought one for myself, and now when I sit back to read over my words or ponder something I usually end up scrambling it and solving it while I think. I’ve actually already ground one into pieces. I’m on my second Rubik’s Cube.
MK: What do you have in store next for your readers?
JD: Probability Angels is the first book in a planned trilogy. Book two, Persistent Illusions, goes on tour in about a month. The third book I’m currently doing research for. So finishing up the stories of Matthew and Epp and all the others with book there will be my next big release.
MK: I have to admit, I'm fascinated by the storyline. I want to thank Joseph for being with us here today-it's been a pleasure. Don't forget to join Joseph on the rest of his tour stops or participate in one of his current contests!
I was born, so I’m told, in northern New Jersey. Growing up I was inundated with metal. This was brought about by the fact that my family owned a scrap yard in the Ironbound section of lovely Newark, New Jersey. Through basic osmosis I came to understand how tin is made, what rerolling rail is, and the price of bare-bright copper by the time I was eight. Other kids grew up playing with Tonka trucks; I grew up with the real thing.
In high school I gravitated towards…Earth. I wound up taking Latin as a foreign language due to a coin toss on my first day of school. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this choice would lead me deeper and deeper into the language and culture of ancient Rome. (That really sounded a lot cooler in my head.)
Their stories, legends, myths and tall tales stick with me to this day. All of this learning of a dead language culminated in my reading most of the Aeneid in its original Latin. Then, it was torture. Now it seems a blessing. I couldn’t tell you the third person plural verb form of my left foot at the moment, but to this day I can still recite the opening lines of the Aeneid. (Ladies, start your swooning!). Something about scrutinizing literature that closely while translating and paying incredible attention to the detail of every word made that story, and the art behind it, come alive to me in a way no other book had. English class became much more interesting after that.
In college I majored in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. I was the only sophomore accepted for an Advanced Creative Writing class. School and I had some issues, though, and a lot of my class time was spent staring out of, or climbing out of, windows. I began writing my first book during these years about a road trip across the US I made with some friends, and I made a deal with myself to have it finished before graduation. Both finishing the book and graduating came right down to the wire. Nobody should have to take Anthropology twice. Nobody.
After college I moved to New York and self published my first book. Read More...
I currently have two contests running.
The first is The Great Typo Hunt. I encourage readers to email me if they find a typo and if it checks out they can win a signed copy of one of my books:
The second is my Annual Fan Art Contest. There’s a lot of great prizes to choose from for simply submitting art based on my books: