Today, I’m delighted to welcome one of my favourite bloggers, Michael Offutt, to guest post. Michael has been a fantastic supporter of my blog and my writing, and he also happens to be a very talented author. Today, he talks to us about a touchy subject that forms part of his recently released novel, Oculus, which is the sequel to his first novel Slipstream.
Take it away, Michael!
Michael: Suicide is a topic that I never really encountered when I went to college at the University of Idaho. Maybe my school was just too small or too unimportant, or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention. But when I started reading newspaper articles, blogs, and internet forums written about Cornell to better understand this Ivy League school that would be the setting for “Oculus”, I came across an astounding statistic. CU has a lot of student suicides.
I kind of struggled on how I wanted to portray this in my book. A lot of people blame the easy access that people have to Ithaca’s gorges. And there’s no point on campus that you can wander where you cannot hear the rush of water moving through one of these miniature canyons. In fact, in many a Carl Sagan address (he taught at Cornell before he died in 1996) you can hear the roar of a waterfall in the background. As a side note…Carl Sagan is my hero and there’s a few references to him peppered through the narrative. So if you’re a fellow Carl Sagan fan, you might enjoy these “Easter eggs.”
What I finally decided upon was the idea that once Jordan realized what was going on, he would be torn up about it, because he actually has the power to see what happened at the very moment someone plunged to their death. Additionally, Jordan is a really nice guy and he’s going to be moved emotionally by just thinking that someone would choose to end their life this way. He has a “hero complex” and that means if he can do something about a problem, he will. Finally, I wanted to draw into question that at least one of the suicides might not be what it seems. This of course leads to further questions, investigations, and an overall mystery that unfolds for the secondary characters in Oculus who have a task to complete while Jordan does his best to locate the Black Tower on Earth (a place that holds a miraculous box running a program that applies all of the laws of physics to the entire universe as long as it continues to operate).
I think the task that the secondary characters do is as riveting as the one that Jordan is tasked to do, and overall, keeps the book from having the dreaded “saggy middle.” However, I still question as to whether using Cornell’s problem with suicides as a plot device in my book is crossing some kind of line. I hope it isn’t.
If you would like to read a sample of my writing or know more, visit the books page on my blog.
More about Oculus
Autumn has arrived in New York, and Jordan Pendragon attends his first classes as a freshman at Cornell. Born with a brilliant mathematical mind, he balances life as a research assistant with that of a student athlete.
But Jordan also has a quest. He must find the Black Tower, a monolithic edifice housing a thing that defines the very structure of the universe. Jordan believes it is buried somewhere in Antarctica under miles of prehistoric ice.
October finds Jordan earning a starting position with the Cornell hockey team. But a dark cloud gathers over his rookie season. Unexplained deaths, whispers of a cannibal cult, a prophecy, and a stone known only as the Oculus, cast a shadow over his athletic ambitions. It is the start of a terrifying journey down a path of mystery, murder, and to a confrontation with an Evil more ancient than the stars.
Read a free short story that’s a lead-in to the book series.
Cally: I’m interested in your thoughts about Michael’s question – do you think it’s okay for authors to use real societal issues as plot devices for our novels? A lot of successful authors do it (Jodi Picoult comes to mind, though I know her genre is very different to Michael’s), but does that make it a good idea? Keen to hear your thoughts!
Also, as part of Michael’s blog tour, he’s giving away six signed copies of Oculus – just enter your name into his competition rafflecopter to win. AND I get to give away an Oculus bookmark (pictured); all you have to do is comment on this post! So what are you waiting for? Get commenting! 🙂
If you’d like to hear more from Michael, you’re in luck! You can find him on Twitter, Facebook or his blog. You can also find his books on Amazon and Goodreads (and a host of other places – check for his work at your preferred e-distributor), and you can check out the artwork he’s produced relating to the Slipstream series.
P.S. Did you miss the post about my Goodreads review competition, where anyone who writes an honest review of my novel The Big Smoke can go into the draw to win a $50 book voucher? If you missed it, never fear. You can find more info over at the Goodreads competition page!