Madeline Ashby is the author of the stellar novel, vN: The First Machine Dynasty and the soon to be released, eagerly anticipated sequel, iD: The Second Machine Dynasty. I’ve been lucky enough to get Madeline to grace my blog and answer a few questions, since she is most assuredly extremely busy with the upcoming launch of iD.
TS: First thing, how did you come up with the premise for vN and then subsequently iD?
MA: The first novel came about more slowly and organically (pun intended). At first, I started writing a short story about a man who discovers that his wife and daughter are robots. Then I realized that was a Twilight Zone episode, so I figured I should take it from another angle. And then I wrote the prologue to vN. At least, a version of it. And everyone in my workshop basically told me that I wasn’t finished, yet, that what I’d written wasn’t really a story. But I could see the story, and so I wrote it.
With the sequel, it was a lot faster. A lot of things had changed in my life. I was sitting with my partner (horror writer David Nickle), and we were eating French fries with honey-wasabi sauce at a bar in Toronto’s Greektown, where he lived at the time. We were about to move in together. We were ragged from packing, and we both had books to write as soon as we set up our new office. I had most of the opening of iD sketched out and written, but I needed to go further and I was stuck. So we talked about it, about what that story needed to say and the places it needed to go. And later, when I was still a little bit scared of where it was going, I spoke with my therapist about it. He’s counseled a lot of artists, so we discussed how to invert some of the things I’d done in that first novel, and really show the world from a different perspective.
TS: In vN, Amy appears as the centralized main character and Javier the “sidekick” ( a very enjoyable one). What made you decide to switch the focus towards Javier in iD?
MA: I felt like I had gone as far as I could, with Amy. At the end of vN, Amy has gone through a metamorphosis that I wasn’t ready to depict just yet. I wanted to see her from the outside — I wanted to see how other people, especially those close to her, would perceive that change. And I thought Javier would be the perfect vehicle for that. He’s such an active character. He always moves the plot along so fast and so decisively. So I knew he could carry that weight. I knew he could dance his way through a whole book, and I knew he had more to say about himself.
TS: One of my favorite scenes in vN is the way that you could tour the different time periods of the destroyed city of Cascadia. Can we expect similar wonders in iD?
MA: I think you can. False environments, themed environments, branded environments, have always fascinated me. And I really wanted to pick up on that in the second novel. One word: Stepford.
TS: With writing the sequel, was it difficult trying to match the same tone and setting as that in vN or did it come naturally?
MA: I would say it was difficult, but only in the sense that it was difficult for me personally. The actual process was easy, but the mental game was hard. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, because the first book had done so well. I thought there was no way to make lightning strike twice. I had to let go of that expectation first, before I could move forward. And when I finally did, things were a lot easier. The thing about Javier as a character is that he’s terrifically strong — once he’s with me he’s with me, and so I really don’t have to worry about achieving the right voice.
TS: If you could sum up vN, iD, and the entire “Machine Dynasty” so far, in one or two sentences to those readers unfamiliar to your world: What would you say?
MA: Imagine a world in which robots replicate themselves, like a set of Russian nesting dolls. Imagine that they’re programmed to love us, to care for us no matter what, to fulfill our every need and desire. Now imagine that they start to learn what we’re really like as a species.
TS: What is your biggest surprise since the publication of vN?
MA: I think the emotional reactions of the people who read the books are always a surprise. I didn’t really think of the first novel as all that disturbing. I recognize, now, that says more about me than it does about other people. But I have people tell me that they were a little scared, a little disturbed, a little swept up. And that’s always a surprise, because they weren’t in the weeds with me, and they didn’t see all the time spent agonizing over word choice. It’s always weird when someone tells you that they read it in a single sitting, or a single day. On the one hand, you’re so very pleased. On the other hand, you almost wish they would read it again slower this time, so they could see everything you did. The first impulse is obviously better: a second, slower read would doubtless expose all the mistakes you made.