Interview with Jay Harlove, author of Daughter Cell.
1) I noticed on your bio that it says you are also a spiritual blogger. Your main character in the Isis Rising Series is a psychiatrist and a Voodoo practitioner. Did you have to research this part of religion or do you have some experience within the world of Voodoo?
A. I spent my twenties on something of a spiritual quest. I was raised largely unchurched, and I knew there was a lot of history and philosophy out there that could help me find my place in the universe. I read about the ancient Vedas, the Egyptians, the Chinese, and the origins of didactic thought in Greece and the rise of Christianity. I filled in gaps in my history of ancient Africa and Europe. I spent ten or fifteen years just reading everything I could get my hands on. I dabbled in writing through that period, mostly fantasy and science fiction. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I started seeing how pieces fit together. Now when I get an idea for a story, I have a wide enough mental map that I know where I would have to go to do the specific research to ground a story. As to Voodoo specifically, I did spend time with a Voodoo mambo in New Orleans and read several books she recommended.
2) Was it relatively easy or hard to combine Exodus from the Bible and the world of Voodoo in your first novel The Chosen? What in particular about that pairing made it appealing to write about?
A. We know the ancient Egyptians asked their gods for help by dressing up and imitating the gods’ behavior. Voodoo practitioners ask their gods for help by submitting to possession by the gods, so the devotee ends up in a trance acting like the god. Voudon’s call this “mounting” and refer to their gods as the divine horsemen, where the people are the horses. I thought, what if the acting out that we know of the ancient Egyptians was in fact the same possession mounting that we see in Haiti.
Then I realized the geography and the timeline fit too. When Rome conquered ancient Egypt and replaced the Egyptian gods with their own, the people in the rest of Africa would have continued to believe in the Egyptian gods. Fast forward 1500 years, and the gods of ancient Egypt are now the animus gods of West Africa. The Europeans kidnap the West Africans and bring them to the New World as slaves, and try to convert them to Catholicism. Only the Africans don’t buy in, and instead they re-label their old gods with the white man’s names, and we end up with Voodoo.
3) With all the other themes going on in your series, why also include Western Mystery Tradition? I understand the comparison between Exodus and the 10 Plagues, but why include “nature based magic” if you already had a main character with Voodoo ties?
A. The Western Mystery Tradition is the occult school of European Christian mysticism started in the 1600’s by grand charlatans like Count Cagilostro, the Comte de Saint Germain, and Anton Mesmer. They took Romanian playing cards and attached an ancient history that connected them back to the ancient Egyptians. Hence the name “Gypsy.” This Tarot deck then gathered a whole mythology around itself with secret societies and alternate histories. By the time you get to the 20th Century, there is a complete mythology of how the ancients knew how to defy gravity, transform matter, and beat death, and by studying their occult practices, we can get back to that time of miracles.
I needed my bad guy magician Silas Alverado, who is a reincarnated ancient Egyptian high priest from the court of Ramses II, to conduct magic in a way that was at once exotic and dangerous, yet still somehow familiar to the reader. The trappings of the Western Mystery Tradition are part of our culture. Just look at the back of a dollar bill. So I have Silas acting like Aleister Crowley and achieving biblical miracles using the original gods behind Voodoo. I wanted him to be believably dangerous, and part of that believability was to have lots of historical and cultural touchstones.
4) It also seems that you have a very strong interest in the way the mind works due to the profession of your main character in the series you are writing and several things that you have blogged/written about. What is it about how the mind works that makes it such a fascinating topic to write about?
A. My first time through college I studied Psychobiology, which is the physiology and chemistry of the brain that makes it behave the way it does. I figured what greater mystery than why we are the way we are? I did not have the focus to turn that into a career, but I love the subject and I have stayed abreast of developments in the field. There have been amazing breakthroughs in the last thirty years since I was in college. Everything from mapping functions to fixing things with tailored drugs to studying altered states of consciousness with monks in satori enlightenment. And the field just keeps expanding.
A lot of what I blog about is how this science gives us a window into why we behave as we do, including why we believe in things the way we do. I don’t have a unified theory, yet, but I like to explore the connection between the brain and the soul.
5) What are your true thoughts on how souls are created? Do you believe that they are divinely given or just a part of genetics as your second novel Daughter Cell implies?
A. Now we’re getting personal. Let me just back up a minute for some context. A cornerstone of nearly all religions is that our place in the Universe is established by the immortality and uniqueness of our souls. This means how divine you think your soul is determines in large part how you think you fit into the world. If you think you are but an incarnation of a fragment of a larger flow of soul energy, then your place in the Universe will be to find and go with that flow. This is a big part Eastern religions. If you think your soul is unique and personally God given, then you’re going to feel justified to go out and seize your inheritance as God’s favorite. This is typical of Western religions.
Personally I lean to the East. I’d like to think the grand design, and the Grand Designer of the Universe cares about me personally. But I appreciate how arrogant and selfish that can be. I have seen lots of evidence that there is divinity that flows through the universe. I am confident I am part of that, since everything is. So whether I am individually gifted, or just part of the flow, why not seek to discern that flow. Then my decision to move with it or against it is at least an informed decision.
The ancient Greeks made the distinction between the body, the mind and the soul. They did not believe our thoughts are the divine part of us. You can change your mind and still be the same person. You can make yourself a better person by making good decisions, but you can’t change who you are. The concept of karma captures how you can’t cut your connections to the past, you can only atone for past mistakes by doing better.
6) You mention on your website jaywrites.com that the soul is lost if too much genetic mutation or alteration happens. Since your second novel also deals with cloning, do you feel that clones or these genetically altered beings have souls of their own? Or do you feel they possibly do not since they are a copy and one soul cannot encompass two physical beings at the same time?
A. At no point can you separate the body, mind and soul, they are just different aspects of one person. In Daughter Cell, someone tries to forcibly turn one person into another person by substituting genes. The new person looks just like the target, and to the extent that genetics mold personality, the clone acts much like the target. The original person is biologically set aside in their own body. The new person is a hollow shell, and I explore whether the new person has a soul or not. When the heroes try to recover the original person, they very nearly lose her soul in the process. So if you take the soul to be “who we are,” then the caution of the tale is, changing ourselves too much can lose who we are.
7) You’ve mentioned that you tend to write later on in the evening due to your busy life as a parent and as a professional in the banking industry. If your muse “Eleven”, as you have named it, were to have a physical body, what would it look like and how would it behave?
A. Eleven is a dark seductress who dares me to try things I would not attempt without her prompting. She is opinionated and demanding but completely supportive and loyal. She won’t let me settle for cliché or second best. She tempts me with visions of great accomplishment that motivate me to put in the hours that good work requires.
8) Out of all the seminars or writing classes you have given or taken, what would be the one piece of advice you’ve learned that you believe all new writers that have yet to be introduced to very own muse should know and/or do?
A. Finish what you start. If you don’t finish, then you will never move past being just an aspiring writer. Don’t fear the blank page. It is easier to edit than to create from scratch. Just write. The more you write the more ideas you will have for what else to write. Classes are great for teaching you the tools of the craft, but only you can show you what your voice sounds like on paper.
9) Was Supergame the only thing that you have written in the gaming industry? How more difficult is it to write for a video game as opposed to writing bank compliance procedures or works of fictions?
A. Supergame is a fantasy role playing game like Dungeons and Dragons. My game concept was to bring comic book superheroes to that social game play environment, with maps for a playing board, dice to determine outcomes, and miniature figurines for counters. I spent six years developing, play testing and writing the game and two supplements called Reactor and The Heroes of Poseidonis. During that period I came up with a short story idea every weekend. That’s over 300 short story ideas. By the time I started writing fiction, I knew a lot about how I construct stories. It was great training.
10) Have you ever thought about writing novels that are not part of the thriller, medical, or science fiction genres? If yes, what other genre would you be willing to write within and why?
A.I already have. I wrote a musical play called Snow White and the Mirror’s Revenge that is the sequel to the Grimm Brothers’ Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It picks up immediately after the story you know ends. By showing what comes next, I reveal the motivations that drove the first story. There are dark family secrets and unrevealed inner strengths that flesh out the whole story cycle. The script is done and I am working with the Celtic/Rock fusion band Avalon Rising to write the songs. It’s nearly done. There will be an album to support the play. In the tradition of American musical theater, you will be able to follow the story by listening to the songs.
I am also writing a romantic fantasy novel called Mermaid Steel. I am releasing it online in serial form one chapter at a time as I write it. It is a race relations story about two neighboring villages, one human and one mermaid, that hate each other. A man and a mermaid fall in love and have to overcome that hatred, as well as their cultural differences. I do not go the Romeo and Juliet route, but I also do not just say love overcomes all obstacles. In keeping with the hallmark of my writing, their cultural and religious differences are both barriers and sources of inspiration to succeed.