The exclusive cover reveal of The Caledonian Gambit and Q&A interview with author, Dan Moren.
Do you love sci-fi adventures and discovering lives of secret spies? What if there was some intergalactic politics in there as well? If all of this appeases you then look out for The Caledonian Gambit! You will be thrown into an out of this world story trapped between two superpowers, the Illyrican Empire and the Commonwealth. Follow a spy and a soldier trying to save the galaxy before Caledonia is gone for good!
Q&A with Dan Moren
The Caledonian Gambit is a really terrific story, and your first novel. What initially prompted you to consider writing this book?
Well, I’ve wanted to write a science-fiction book basically since the first time I watched Star Wars. But the impetus for The Caledonian Gambit actually came from a different sci-fi series: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. When I first read it in college, I was blown away by not only the world she created but the oh-so-human characters that populated it. I’ve also long had a love for Cold War spy stories, from John Le Carré to The Hunt for Red October; my personal favorite is a cult classic British spy series The Sandbaggers. I love the cat-and-mouse games, the tentative alliances, and the wheels within wheels of intrigue and plotting. A Cold War spy story in space seemed like chocolate cake with chocolate frosting (i.e. the best thing ever), so I decided to take a whack at it.
We always hear that some writers are able to knock out a book in a few weeks, while others spend months if not years fine-tuning their work. How long did it take you to complete this work?
Oh, wish I were one of those writers who could knock out a book in mere weeks. I first started jotting down notes for this story back in 2002, when I was a senior in college, but I didn’t sit down to really start writing in earnest until probably 2009. Just the other day, one of my earliest beta readers found an email I’d sent him in 2010 in which I said I thought all the plot lines were pretty much nailed down, which I guess is the writer’s equivalent of saying “What could possibly go wrong?” But I’m very fortunate to have had really incisive beta readers as well as an agent who saw promise in the book and was willing to help me keep refining it until it lived up to its potential. The good news is that I learned a lot from that process, and every time I write a book it goes just a little bit faster and a little bit smoother.
There are a lot of terrific characters in this book, with my favorite being Simon Kovalic. Do you see any of yourself in Simon, or anyone else in the book? Did you take inspiration from your personal life to help develop certain characters?
Simon Kovalic is kind of an aspirational character. I don’t think I see much of myself in him, precisely, but I think there’s a little bit of him in all of us: the best version of ourselves, where we’re cool under pressure and extremely competent. There’s probably more of me in the book’s other protagonist, Eli Brody: he’s cocky, a bit of a smart-ass who doesn’t know when to shut up. Ask any number of my teachers from over the years if that sounds familiar. Or my dad.
I think characters always pull at least somewhat from the experiences that shape us, even if it’s subconscious. In this story, I think it was mainly the relationships between the characters where I ended up drawing from real life. In particular, there’s a sibling relationship in the book that was largely inspired by watching friends and family members who have siblings, since I don’t have any of my own. It’s a hard thing to write about when you have never experienced it first-hand but, then again, I haven’t flown a spaceship through a wormhole either.
The dialogue in The Caledonian Gambit is very quick-witted. Some authors have admitted to struggling when writing dialogue. Did you find any trouble in doing so, or was it able to flow freely?
I love dialogue. Absolutely love it. If I could write a story that was only dialogue, I would do that. Something about cadence and diction and the spoken word has always resonated with me, and it helps that I’ve always been drawn to books, movies, and TV shows with dialogue that just sings. Comedy is a great place in particular to learn about writing dialogue, because word choice and delivery is so integral to landing a joke.
With characters that I’ve spent as much time with as those in The Caledonian Gambit, I actually end up hearing the dialogue in their voices. To me, the lines aren’t interchangeable: Kovalic’s words would never come out of Eli’s mouth, or vice versa. It’d be like AC/DC playing a Mozart sonata.
You include a lot of scientific elements into the story, including spacecrafts and wormholes. Did you do a lot of research on these topics during the writing process?
As I’m sure my more science-minded friends will say, probably not enough research. I do have a cousin who is a physics teacher and I consulted with him about some of the more key elements—but mainly to ask if I could get away with taking certain liberties. In general, I’m more interested in telling a good story than in the science being completely accurate. The good news for me is that while there’s been a lot of theoretical research on wormholes, nobody’s ever seen one, much less traveled through it. So maybe my portrayal of them is totally right! (Spoiler: It probably isn’t.)
I really enjoyed the world building you included. Were there any current events that inspired you when creating Caledonia?
I suppose that depends on your definition of “current.” Obviously, the planet and culture of Caledonia is largely drawn from that of Scotland and Ireland, which in turn was sparked by the time I spent traveling in those countries and learning about their histories and cultures. You certainly don’t have to look very far back to see where I pulled from to flesh out the people and political reality of Caledonia. I don’t think there’s anything “ripped from the headlines,” as it were, but current events and the way they shape our reality are always going to leak into a story.
During the writing process, did you discover anything, either internally or externally, that surprised you and/or changed the course of the book?
I make no bones about it: I’m a pantser—someone who writes by the seat of their pants rather than planning everything out in excruciating detail ahead of time. It’s just the way I work, even though it gets me into trouble rather more often than it gets me out of it. As a pantser, there are always some things that change during the course of writing a story; it’s just a question of how major they are, and how much they affect the rest of the book.
There is one character in The Caledonian Gambit who is not exactly who they appear to be and when that was revealed, I found myself quite as surprised by it as the other characters, even though it made perfect sense. In early drafts, there was also a close compatriot of Eli Brody’s who kicks off the entire plot, but you’ll find him exactly nowhere in the final version. (I’ll admit that I’ve saved him for another story down the road.)
If there’s one thing from The Caledonian Gambit which you think might appeal to readers, what would it be?
Sure, there are space battles and there’s intrigue and spy action, but I think the most appealing thing about the story is the characters and their essential humanity. My fundamental belief is that people are still people, no matter how far forward in the future you project: they love (often unwisely), they fight (often about stupid things), they have virtues and flaws. This book may take place in the future, on spaceships and far-flung planets, but the characters are still relatable as people; the conflicts and problems that they deal with aren’t so different from what we experience today.
While your book has not yet been published, what has been the reaction from your friends and family on you soon becoming a published author?
Whew. Well, I’ve never been shy about wanting to be an author—I started writing stories when I was in first grade. For me, it’s tremendously exciting to see all this hard work pay off with something that I’ve aimed for since I was a kid. But, frankly, I think it might be even more exciting for some of my friends and family, in large part because I have an awesome, incredibly supportive network of people who genuinely just want to see me succeed. But, then again, they also haven’t spent years writing, eating, and sleeping every word of this book—it just comes out and they get to read it. I’m going to be honest: I’m a little jealous of them.
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