Welcome to Barren Island Books, an interview show in no way related to a popular music-based radio programme. Every Thursday, I will be exiling my latest guest to a remote island with only five books for company, selected from the categories I give them. It’s up to them to make sure they choose wisely, because they’re going to be stuck with these books for a long, long time …
My interviewee this week is Dean Lombardo, author of Vespa and Space Games. When he's not being banished to a desert island, Dean can be found at www.deanlombardo.com.
Dean, thanks for joining us. First of all, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself – just so we know who it is we’re sending into exile. Illogical fears, unusual birthmarks, whether you’d rather wrestle a bear or punch a shark, that kind of thing.
Thank you. I’m pretty much a poster child for Generation X America: a latch-key kid who grew up bitter and with disdain not only for authority but for being told what is good and what is not good. I prefer to make my own decisions and to not blindly follow other people’s tastes. So, knowing this ... and knowing that I have a short attention span ... you’ll excuse me for saying my worst fear is being stranded on a remote island with nothing to read other than the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I find to be extremely overrated. Hmm, although I suppose thousands upon thousands of gastropodian-paced, eye-bleedingly dense pages (just get to the volcano already, hobbit!) might be handy in starting a fire and keeping predators away. Sharks – I am frightened to death of sharks. My palms are sweating now as I think about them.
Shock, horror – a spec-fic writer who doesn’t like Tolkien! This is going to be interesting. So what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
My first novel, Vespa, was loosely inspired by the movie Alien, which I saw when I was far too young. I left the theater traumatized, and for many years after my dreams were filled with creepy-crawly things meaning to do me harm in ways previously unimagined. Writing Vespa and finding a publisher for it gave me the catharsis I needed to put those nightmares behind me.
Space Games (published May 15, 2013, by Kristell Ink) was a change of pace for me in that it’s more character-driven and less of a monster tale. I’d always had this desire to write a novel about an estranged couple (man and woman) stuck in space together – if you recall the 1989 film The War of the Roses, I was imagining a War of the Roses aboard a cramped space station. But then I read Discover Magazine’s 2006 interview with retired U.S. astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who was asked what the privatization of space travel might mean for the future. When Aldrin mentioned “television game shows”, a game show-like bell went “ding, ding, ding” in my head. I restructured my outline and then wrote a shocking (NOT astounding) satirical tale about a man and woman in their twenties who are contestants in a televised game show aboard a next-generation space station. The station is equipped with an arena room and a device that can create artificial gravity. With the cameras and nearly everyone down on Earth watching their every move, the two contestants compete in events such as partial-gravity basketball and full-contact combat. Only a retired NASA astronaut is up there to keep the fiery, martial artist woman and the powerful brutish man apart. Let’s just say, things get out of control and the people watching the show are a bit sickened by what they see. This is just me sharply poking fun at the one-upmanship of reality TV, our society’s thirst for drama and fame, misogyny, misandry, Internet addiction, Hollywood, and more.
Wow. That’s quite some tale you’ve got there – it sounds awesome. So now let’s move on to the books you’re going to take to the island with you. First up, it’s your favourite childhood book – perhaps the one that got you interested in reading in the first place, or the one you read over and over when you were young. Which will you choose, and why?
I don’t care; just don’t make me read The Fellowship of the Ring again. I’d rather take my chances with Sharkie out there. I’ll jump right in the lagoon – I mean it. Don’t do it!
You’re still waiting? All right, how about Scott O’Dell’s Island of Blue Dolphins? I figure I’m going to have to eat a lot of shellfish on this desert island of yours, so I might as well learn from Karana how to prepare it.
Next, the book that made the greatest impact on your life. This could be one that inspired you to become a writer, or one that made you look at the world in a whole new way – maybe even one that resulted in real-life romance or adventure.
Definitely one of the Travis McGee novels by John D. MacDonald. My mom subscribed to one of those Book-of-The-Month clubs; I was a reader, but most of the paperbacks that arrived for Mom in the mail failed to catch my interest. Then, one summer day in 1979, a paperback arrived that I picked up off the counter and stared at. The Green Ripper – by an author I’d noticed a few different men reading in the past: John D. MacDonald. I opened the front cover and started to read. The narrative came at me in fast, lean stream-of-consciousness style … no more wading through a lot of fat.
Travis McGee is a Florida beach bum turned private investigator/vigilante, a self-professed salvager of lost souls and lost assets. He has to go up against some rather nasty bad guys in order to succeed. In The Green Ripper McGee, a regular ladies man, had a serious girlfriend, Gretel. McGee was in love with Gretel … until someone shot a dart into Gretel’s neck and killed her. Then, McGee went a little nuts. Counseled by best friend, Meyer, McGee followed the trail leading to Gretel’s murderers – a hateful, well-armed cult (very topical today in the U.S.) – and dealt with them.
For your third book – and you’re probably going to need this one, all alone on a remote island – I’d like you to choose your greatest comfort read. You know, the one you turn to when you’re sad or ill or just need a little pick-me-up.
Oh, that would be Pompeii, by Robert Harris. It’s an amazingly vivid, yet lean, historical novel written for anyone and everyone. It’s also a detective story, with the main character – Attilius, an engineer – racing to discover the reason for the Roman resort city’s polluted water, all the while foiled by a crude and vicious antagonist, Corax. Finally, it’s a love story, and for me a satisfying one that made my Italian heart go “boom-boom-boom” and then die a little before coming back to life. I’d like to add that I’ve been to that part of Italy to explore the ruins and climb Mount Vesuvius so I could really visualize the landscape, with the maestro Harris and my imagination filling in the rest.
Fourthly, it’s your unexpected treasure: a book you didn’t expect to like but did, maybe one outside your usual genre or that you picked up with low expectations but were pleasantly surprised …
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Hey, I’m going to need a long book, too. Who knows when that rescue ship is going to arrive. I enjoyed the story (which was required reading in middle school), although I didn’t expect to enjoy it, and to this day I can remember the catchy ways Dickens started his chapters throughout, giving us so much about the period, the places and the characters – for example, “If Sydney Carton ever shone anywhere, he certainly never shone in the house of Doctor Manette.” And it was cool when Miss Pross killed Madame Defarge. I did not see that coming. Not one bit. Good for you, Miss Pross.
I think Two Cities is one of the shorter Dickens novels, but I guess for a man with a short attention span … ;-) Finally, I’d like you to choose your instant classic – the book you think most deserves to be read and reread by future generations. It’s up to you whether this book is already considered a classic or is something more obscure.
Let’s roll with John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, which is another shorter novel that got me interested in fiction.
Right. We’ll get those five books packaged up ready for your journey. Since we’re not completely heartless here at Barren Island Books, we’ll also let you take one song/piece of music, one film and one other item of your choice into exile with you …
Oh, thanks. In that case, I’ll bring Pink Floyd’s Echoes (a great selection of hits by this legendary band), The Godfather, and a Starbucks’ barista stand.
Ah yes, a man’s gotta have his caffeine fix. Now, before we whisk you away, you have one last decision to make: where you want your remote island to be located. You can choose anywhere you like for your exile, in this world or another.
Somewhere where the sharks won’t bother me when I try to fish for my supper. I once swam with some nurse sharks off the coast of Belize, some of them nine-footers, but they were pretty docile, so maybe Belize.
That’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
If you are an author and would like to take part in a future edition of Barren Island Books, please get in touch with me via the Contact page.