Q. THE VOID is set out in deep space. Why?
A. The books in this series are murder mysteries. For each I needed confined, claustrophobic locations. A station around the sun for THE FURNACE, and a station on an ice moon for THE FREEZER. The events in this book occur on a research vessel stranded out in interstellar space.
Q. Tanner is trapped on this ship?
A. Yes. I can’t overstate how important the settings are in this series. Not only for the nature of the mysteries and my desire to write classic murder scenarios and transform them into science fiction thrillers, but also because they are allegorical. The setting of each novel is a metaphor for Kyle Tanner’s own inner journey. Consider this: in THE FURNACE he nearly died around the sun. The mission was a descent into hell. In the next novel an event at the beginning of the mission crushed him emotionally — hence the chilling and icy setting of Europa. It mirrored his emotions. He had lost faith in humanity and all hope for his future. Then in THE VOID he’s out in deep space, confronting potential loneliness and isolation — and death, of course. Also, his journey away from “Home System,” or Earth, is a metaphor for his own feelings toward the military dictatorship of which he’s a part. He’s growing and changing during his journey, and also trying to escape this brutal life of his.
Q. He’s a Homicide Investigator in a military dictorship. He sees pain and gore and suffering all the time?
Q. But he’s a good person.
A. Absolutely. He wants to solve crimes and give families closure. He wants to do what’s right. But the things he experiences on a daily basis torture him. At the same time, however, he sees the fear and hostility in the people around him. They hate him for what he represents — a weapon of dictators. The military in that type of society is meant to create an environment of fear and tension, to prevent uprisings as in any dictatorship. This gnaws at Tanner. He doesn’t want to be seen as a villain, and yet you could say that because he serves a dictatorship, he is one.
Q. I’m sure there are examples of this in history.
A. Without question. Not every German was a Nazi. Not every German soldier worked at concentration camps. And yet there were millions who served in the army and fought the Allies and they were doing it to protect their families and their country. Tanner is in this situation, and he is able to view it objectively. He has to make some very serious decisions in this book.
Q. You did some interesting research for THE VOID.
A. Yes. It was mind-blowing. It changed my life actually.
A. I went to the morgue. I went to the anatomy lab. I saw dead bodies and the facilities where forensic pathologists conduct autopsies. The equipment they use. I interviewed these people as well. What they do every day … it’s just astonishing. I respect them so much. Thankfully the nearby university has been extremely welcoming and accomodating. The Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry in Southwestern Ontario and The London Health Sciences Centre. I’m grateful to the people there who helped me.
Q. Why did you research that?
A. An important element of THE VOID is that Tanner is stuck with a victim but is unsure of the cause of death. He has rudimentary medical skills only — just enough to determine the obvious method of murder — but there is no one nearby to help him. He’s stranded in deep space with the crew of this other vessel and has to figure out what’s going on. A large portion of the book involves autopsies and I wanted to get things right. The anatomy and the methodology. When it comes to creative writing, however, sometimes liberties are taken, but I did want a level of accuracy and description that paints this picture.
Q. A gory picture?
A. In part. This is the most graphic of the Tanner novels. More blood, more killing, more sex, more everything. But I want to keep things relevant and realistic, hence all the research.
Q. Do you conduct a lot of interviews when preparing for novels?
A. Yes. I want to talk to the people who are on the front lines, basically. Even when I’m not prepping a novel, I am looking for opportunities to learn and experience new things related to my writing. I interview doctors. Visit labs. Visit the morgue, for instance. I just explored a city I’ve never been to for a different project.
Q. What are your dream research locations?
A. I don’t have any one thing that stands out, but I’d love to visit NASA (the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Mission Control at Houston), USAMRIID (Biosafely Level 4 labs), CERN, or any place where they are conducting cutting-edge research. I enjoy large engineering projects as well. The Hoover Dam was really interesting. I like the military, so facilities like The Pentagon would interest me. For obvious historical reasons as well.
Q. Let’s get back to THE VOID. It is graphic, as you say. Is the villain different from your previous books?
A. The beginning features one of the worst serial killers the Confederacy and Tanner have ever dealt with, yes. But then Tanner gets stuck out in deep space, and other things happen … the sh*t really hits the fan, you could say. It really is the most sustained mystery I’ve written. And the journey Tanner goes through … I have put this man through a brutal hell, but the ending is quite something. I’m really proud of it.
Q. Does he find peace, finally? A way out?
A. You’ll have to read it. I find THE VOID dark and gritty at times, and gory, but also extremely uplifting. People who read early drafts told me that it’s the best of the Tanner novels. That surprised me, because it is graphic. I always want to keep a high level of emotion, so the journey for the reader is a roller coaster. I want it to be experiential — hence the first person perspective — and Tanner’s road to this point was rough but exhilarating. It’s a different type of novel, however. THE FURNACE was a scientific mystery and thriller. THE FREEZER was more thriller and less science. THE VOID is more of a pure mystery. I think readers will be blown away by Tanner’s path in this series, and by the ending of THE VOID.
Q. The ending of THE FREEZER was … stunning, frankly.
A. Thanks. That’s what I was going for. A shock.
Q. And you say this is more powerful?
A. I think so. Emotionally, yes.
Q. What inspired you for this book?
A. Wow. There’s no simple answer to that question. THE FURNACE was clearly an homage to the imposter theme and past iterations of it on screen and page. THE THING, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and so on. THE FREEZER was a bit of Frankenstein and more claustrophobic mystery. THE VOID is that type of story as well, but medical mysteries also inspired me. COMA by Robin Cook, for instance. I find them so compelling, perhaps because we all face the medical field in some way during our lives. It often involves a lot of pain and anxiety. We have an innate fear of the medical community because of it. I looked deep into Tanner’s soul for this book. The setting was so important for his journey … from the heart of the Confederacy to the vast loneliness of deep space. I took a lot from history — from other dictatorships — and tried to put myself in the minds of those people living within their borders. When you know that evil is going on all around you, but you are absolutely powerless to do anything about it. There are people in that situation right now. If they risk exposing themselves as not supportive of the regime, then they die. It’s a horrible dilemma.
Q. What else influenced or inspired you for this?
A. Movies that took place in deep space, where no one else is around. You’re on your own, help is not coming. Figure it out or die. ALIEN. GRAVITY. I’m also a fan of Agatha Christie.
Q. According to your bio, you’re quite a lover of film. What’s the best movie you’ve seen recently?
A. This year the movie that surprised me most was EDGE OF TOMORROW (read TSJ’s review here.) It was great fun and everything was exceptional up until a slightly flawed ending. I think the best movie I saw was THE IMITATION GAME with Benedict Cumberbatch. I have been building a BluRay library as well: ROBOCOP (1987), ALIENS, TERMINATOR, THE FLY (1958), THE ROAD WARRIOR, PREDATOR, AVATAR, SATURN 3, and the list goes on.
Q. Why Blu? Why not digital download like iTunes?
A. The extras such as director commentary and the making of featurettes make the disks worthwhile. Nowadays you can buy a new release that comes with a BluRay, a DVD, and a digital download for about $23.00. That to me is totally worth the money. Most John Carpenter disks have incredible commentaries. The ones with Carpenter and Kurt Russell are amazing. Just listen to the commentary in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Kurt Russell laughs hysterically about 2 seconds in, and you can tell right there that it’s going to be as fun as the movie.
Q. Any last minute comments about THE VOID?
A. I’m just incredibly proud of the adventure and mystery. The killer was fun to write. There are many twists and turns, and assumptions are shattered. The relationships that Tanner develops strengthen and grow, and the journey that he began in THE FURNACE has culminated in a fascinating conclusion.
A. We’ll see. I love the universe I created here — which was based on totalitarian history and my studies of military dictatorships — and I am interested in setting more stories in it. I’m curious what will become of the Confederacy.
Q. So what’s next for you?
A. I have a few projects on the go. I’ll tell you soon.
Q. Thanks for talking with me today.
A. I love this genre, so it was my pleasure.
*** For further reading, an interview with TSJ on THE VOID at Booklover Book Reviews.
*** For further reading, an interview with TSJ on his quest for authenticity for THE VOID at Western News.
Purchase THE VOID by Timothy S. Johnston wherever eBooks are sold!