Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Chat With Cindy Borgne-The Author of VALLAR

I loved Cindy Borgne's debut novel entitled VALLAR. And you know what, there are some real perks that come with keeping a blog, and one of them is that you can actually ask the author questions (especially when they are as open to questions as Cindy is). And anyone that follows my blog knows that I question everything...so this really shouldn't be a surprise. First off is my review:

I finished this book today and I must say, I thought it was an outstanding debut. I gave it four stars instead of five because there are a few places in the book where a word is needed and not included or a term is misused. However, editing without the benefit of a publisher behind you can be an extremely daunting task. As it stands, VALLAR is quite an achievement.

Cindy's world is as authentic as they come. She knows Mars down to the names of the canyons and how little wind it would take to start a red dust storm on this mysterious fourth planet. Adding to the mystery, Cindy has created a future in which two corporate giants battle over the fate of a mine and the one that ends up doing the most monstrous inhuman acts is ironically the one that desires to return to earth the most. I find this fascinating because earth is at the heart of humanity (and by being a monster) this guy really shouldn't be allowed anywhere near it. Maybe this is a subtle statement on the author's part in that Beacon knows he's a monster and wants to reclaim his humanity.

The voice of Ian Connors is strong in this book. He's the sixteen year-old protagonist and I envisioned him as looking like the kid named Ryan in two Smallville episodes. In the episodes that I'm referring to, Ryan has been experimented upon by a Dr. Mengele-type person in a laboratory and had a tumor created inside his brain that gives him psychic ability. Superman kind of adopts him as a little brother and Ryan eventually dies from this while Clark is with him. I have to say...I cried at the end of this. I loved the Ryan character...here's a YouTube video so you can see Ryan:
I see a lot of parallels between Ryan and Cindy's Protagonist. Ian is a protagonist that we can cheer for as he breaks away from the singular military purpose to which he was created and shackled and uses all of his powers to help the woman with whom he is in love. His sacrifice becomes shocking as he loses his best friend and almost his own life for a person that he knows only from his dreams. Luckily, she seems to share his passion so, at the heart of Vallar is a love story.

This book easily stands by itself but also begs a sequel. I expect that Cindy will be letting us know more about Nate and his recovery (he had horrific things done to him) and also there are hints of a new evil bad guy that is rising amidst the ranks of Marscorp (the organization of all evilness). Perhaps we can have some more information about the planet Hinun as well for it intrigues me (and I'm sure it will have this effect on other readers).

The action in the book is pretty much non-stop. If this were going to be adapted into a movie, it would require a significant CGI team. But it doesn't get overwhelming. There are plenty of emotional breaks and even though the novel is told in first person, Ian's ability to project himself psychically and to see outside his own body through portals in the future, allow for many more stimuli that would normally not be available in the context of a book that adhered with a strict first-person point-of-view.

Now without further adieu...the Q & A:
1) Why did you choose Mars as your setting as opposed to some other planet in the solar system for your book?

Several things in my story grew from tiny seeds or from twisting things around. I’ve been working on this story for years and things just evolved. Next thing I knew, I was on Mars. Okay, not exactly.

Let me try and explain further. Before I had a plot, I only had the character of Ian Connors, the psychic. At first, I wrote stories about him on a future Earth. Then I did some experimenting with the story and wrote a few chapters with him on Mars. It wasn’t as easy because I had to deal with the limitation of Mars such as if anyone goes outside they must be in a spacesuit. However, I liked the challenge because it added more complications, dangers and going to Mars was a way of taking the reader to a strange place. Mars makes sense as a stepping stone if humans are going to further explore space, so I continued with the story there. Also there are certain things that happen in VALLAR that can only happen on Mars.

2) Why did you make Ian only sixteen years of age? Also any specific reason for making your protagonist male as opposed to female?

I’ve experimented with Ian being different ages, even up to age thirty. I ended up going with sixteen because it adds to his innocence and ties in with the father/son relationship that develops in the story. If he was older, his desire to have a father wouldn’t make as much sense.

These days there are so many books about female protagonists. I like to be original and wanted to do something different.

3) Why did you choose to write VALLAR in first person point-of-view as opposed to say, third person point-of-view?

I wrote some scenes with this story in third person, but I ended up going with first because I liked the voice better. It sounded more personal. First person helps me get inside the mind of the character. This led to the story being written in a way that lets the reader discover surprises and other things through Ian’s eyes.  

4) Scientists like Carl Sagan believe that there is a kind of dance that science-fiction does with science, i.e., one kind of circles around the other. Your novel is set 100 years into the future. Do you think that earthlings will be able to reach Mars given the way things are going now in that time period? (My note==> not sure where I got 100 years either hmmmm.)

I’m not sure how you got the idea it was 100 years in the future since I don’t have any dates in the book. My latest blurb says that Earth abandoned the colonies one hundred years after they had been there, but it doesn’t say when they arrived. I decided to let readers speculate as to the year and left it out on purpose. At one time I was going to make the year 2150. I think earthlings could be capable of reaching Mars in 100 years, however, I don’t think the effort will be there. It’s hard to justify the cost with our current economy and other problems in the world.  

5) Do you think you will keep your sequel to Vallar PG-13 or do you think we can expect some sexy scenes in the future?

This is a tough question because some of my readers consider VALLAR to be a young adult book. I can tell that you did not view it that way. It’s one of those books that’s on the edge of young adult. This sort of thing has always been a subject of controversy with young adult books too. How far does one go? Decisions, decisions…. personally I’d like to go for steamy, yet tastefully done. I’m not sure if it will turn R-rated yet. Most likely I will get reader opinions on this because I don’t want to disappoint.

6) You use sites on Mars (like the Noctis Labyrinthis) to stage incredibly dramatic scenes. However, I'm thinking that other locations might have been equally cool...say Olympus Mons which is the largest mountain in the solar system. Do you plan on using additional locations on Mars in the sequels and if so, can you give us a glimpse of a particular scene that you've played out in your head that may be super cool?

There will probably be one scene at the southern polar cap that will involve ice. It’s hard to say much more about this without giving something away. Olympus Mons could be another location. Who knows what might be inside that old volcano?  
Check out the super cool Mars Map that Cindy made for her book. It comes in really useful as a tool.

7) Now that I've read the book, the cover art is dead-on to an extremely important central area of the book. However, were there other scenes that you consulted with your cover artist or did you just let the artist pick any scene with a (surprise me and we'll see) kind of tagline?

I’m finding that people understand the cover art after they read the book. I’ve been wondering how it’s been coming across before they read it. I’m still not sure if I’m satisfied with it. The current cover art is from my first idea. I’m considering taking the ship off and expanding Ian’s face. Then with the sequel, I would have an image of Ian along with his love interest Kayla next to each other. With Indie publishing you can always try something else, and we are working on it. If you or anyone has some suggestions, please feel free to let me know.   

8) Who is your favorite character in the book and why?

Ian Connors, the main character. Sometimes people associate an ability like being psychic with a super hero, but I think Ian is far from that. His ability is useful, but it also causes him problems. He’s just a young guy trying to do the right thing and be normal, and I like this about him. I also like how his innocence gets him into trouble. On the other hand he can be stubborn against those trying to control him.  

Sonny is a close second. He represents the working man. The guy that works hard no matter how many injustices he’s suffered. He took on a life of his own and he changes a lot throughout the story. Some readers have mentioned to me that how much they like him. I might let Sonny be the main character in his own novel.

9) From your experience in writing Vallar, what advice would you give an aspiring science-fiction writer?

The best thing to do is participate in a critique group. You need about eight to ten beta readers. My favorite place is Critique Circle. You will be able to tell by the responses if you’re ready to publish or to query agents. However, there will always be someone who won’t like your story. It doesn’t mean your story is bad. It just might not be for them. It takes some experience to know the difference. Getting feedback is the main thing.

Research is important with science fiction, so you can be sure you have all your facts straight. It’s also important to be familiar with the science fiction market and what’s popular, although with the e-book boom all the book markets are changing fast. 

10) You use a villain to great effect in VALLAR. What do you think are important traits in establishing an effective antagonist?

The antagonist has to be the hardest character to get across as being realistic. One method I used was to slowly build up Admiral Beacon as the villain. In the beginning, he doesn’t seem so bad and that was done on purpose because in real life people always seem okay on the surface. 

We all have met antagonists in real life in one form or another. For Admiral Beacon, I drew on my own personal experiences with bosses. How many of us have had bosses that don’t really care about us? At one time, I worked at a place where I was a dedicated employee who had no problem going all out for them. Then for several months I had a condition that was causing me to be late for work. My uncaring boss who I thought was a friend threatened to fire me the entire time even though she was retiring in four months. She didn’t care about my pain. She only cared about herself. That’s what Beacon represents - the bosses of the world who care about their quotas more than people. So for your antagonist, build them from real life examples. 


  1. If Michael likes it, it must really be good. I may have to check this out.

  2. Nice interview. I liked seeing the way Cindy approached the story.

    Also, her way of building an antagonist makes sense to me. I'd love to read Vallar now. :-)

  3. Great interview MO. I like the name of the book a great deal and the plot sounds twisty and fun.

    Is it okay to acronym your name?

  4. Thanks for the review/interview Mike. It's nice to meet you all.

    I have never seen the video of Ryan before, and now I've been thinking about it all day.

  5. Nice review; this isn't a book I'd have ordinarily checked out but I'll add it to my wish list.

    Can you follow up with how Cindy decided to go indie publishing, and what that experience was like for her? I'll have to check out her blog, as well.

  6. Matthew: Thank you very much for the compliment :)

    Misha: Cindy's antagonist is exceptionally well-done. I had no idea it would turn out like it did and was riveted near the climax.

    Munk: Yes, that's fine. Just don't call me Bubba...I had a friend once that called me that and it really irritated me because it made me think I was fat and I'd lost all this weight and...hmmm...yeah I don't like "Bubba".

    Cinders: I should mail you seasons one and two of Smallville. I don't watch them anymore as they are in the dead dvd pile and the series is over. I been thinking of ebaying most of my dvd's actually.

    Briane P.: It's 99 cents. I can definitely say you get wayyy more than the money on this. Honestly, I think Cindy is way undervaluing her book at that price.

  7. Brianne P: I have changed my price back and forth between .99 to 2.99. I feel it's worth more than .99, but when there are so many others priced at .99 cents..well things get complicated. Many people aren't willing to try an Indie for anything more than .99 cents. Then some people think if it's price at only .99 cents something must be wrong with it. It can be hard to know what to do. I'm still learning the marketing end.

  8. Oh sorry, Mike I meant that last comment for you.

    About Indie publishing. It was a hard decision. I still don't know if was the right decision for me because I've been having to learn all about marketing. But I do have some writer friends who have had big success with it. I also submitted to agents and was rejected. I've come to know that unknown writers have little chance of getting an agent. On the other, I do know some Indie authors who have agents now because the agent queried them.

    But Indie (as I've found out) is by no means easy. It's VERY hard to get noticed.

  9. Awesome interview. Mars would be a difficult setting to chose. I've never thought about writing on another planet, or what it entails to do so.
    Thanks for the info!

  10. What a cool book/interview! Sounds like Cindy has done some amazing world-building. Thanks for hosting, Michael!

  11. If you try the link for the new EverythingLGBT post again, it should work. When I edited something in it, I accidentally saved it as a draft instead of republishing it, which caused it to disappear. >.<

    <3 Gina Blechman

  12. Good interview. I have a lot of respect for people who self publish books because it is so much work.

  13. Dammit. I read this post the other day and thought I commented then... I guess that shows what I know. Anyway, I rushed out and bought my copy of Vallar as soon as it was available and it quickly got buried in my to be read pile. I think I'll stop my current book and just go ahead and start reading this one.

    Good questions Mike.