Monday, January 21, 2013

Picking the Author's Brain: Collin Tobin, Author of Upload

Upload by Collin Tobin is a suspense filled novel that plays to the technology minded population (and even those not so tech savvy).  

From Red Adept publishing:

Jay Brooks’s life is in chaos. His mother’s sudden death has unhinged his father, making Jay a stranger in his own home. He seeks solace by spending his spare time with his best friend, Bennie, but matters are further complicated by his crush on Chloe, Bennie’s older sister.

A wheelchair-bound hacker, Bennie Welch practically lives in his basement computer lab. Longing to make genuine connections to the outside world, he secretly films people’s precious memories for later sale and surfs the crowds at rave parties, despite the danger to his frail body.

One night, Jay’s hobby of Wi-Fi hotspot hunting turns serious when he unwittingly blunders into the scene of a crime and downloads a mysterious transmission. When Jay brings Bennie the contents of the transfer, Bennie embraces the opportunity to use his skills to investigate.

As Jay and Bennie dig deeper into the world of electronic secrets, they find that the simple video has far-reaching implications that not only threaten their lives, but society as they know it. Tracing the mysterious coalition responsible leads them on an inexorable journey that will change them forever. 

While this fantastic read will keep the pages turning for hours on end, I wanted to take a bit of a different approach with my blog this time. I wanted to talk to the author! Writing suspense is such a foreign concept to me I needed to know just how he sets the scene and what creates suspense a reader will follow. Tobin did not disappoint! Even if you are not a writer, I encourage you to read through this well-thoughtout and truly poetic response. He is clearly a man in love with words and reading even this technical piece, I found myself absorbed in the moment.

My question: How do you create suspense a reader will follow?

Collin Tobin:

A pencil sketches a rose.
This is the most terrifying, suspenseful nightmare I ever experienced. To this day, I still struggle to convey the full measure of fear and dread I felt in that dream. What could compare? I imagine watching a live execution might be its equivalent. I can still summon the same horrible, queasy mix of emotions when remembering the dream. I invoke it again, and can usually do so at will, but only in brightly lit rooms: a writer-less pencil moves independently, sketching out the complex inner folds of an exquisite rose, moving along with dream-like ease. The paper is the scratch-paper sort we used to get in school: penitentiary gray, slippery, and somehow embedded with what seems like unrelated organic matter (Are those seeds? Is that a hair?). The graphite of the pencil scratches dryly along, making its way down the stem. What seems at first to be artistic indecision turns out to be sharp thorns, the up and down stroke depicting a razor-sharp thorn that catches on something soft and exposed inside me, each new thorn only adding to the unbearable impression of further suspense, threat and menace.
            I take this bizarre dream as a lifelong lesson in writing. It’s not necessarily the subject of the scene that matters, but the underlying emotion. If the writer can work her suspense via the emotional route, then the reader’s tension is hers to play with, and she can manage her reader’s response with all the confident ease of a master puppeteer. Donald Maass, in his book, The Breakout Novelist, speaks of the same technique as instilling “Micro-tension”, the ability to string along the reader with nearly constant suspense, and not reserving suspense for major plot developments or when threatening harm to her characters. The best kind of micro-tension is derived from emotion, specifically, conflicting emotions.
            That must have been the key to my suspenseful rose dream. On its surface, the dream sequence seems to be a pretty pleasant one. In fact, as nice as an episode of Bob Ross’s The Joy of Painting (still my favorite soundtrack for mid-afternoon naps). Of course, the directory of our dreams gets to cheat a bit, and is allowed to use a bit of stage direction, with a mere shout from the footlights, “You’re scared! You hate this! This is horrible!” Without question, or requiring any evidence for our emotional response, we immediately obey in our dreams. I am scared. I hate this. This is horrible. But with a reader, the author doesn’t get off so easy. The author has to convince the reader, through her characters, to share in these same feelings. And the best way to do that is to demonstrate to the reader the conflicting emotions of your characters.
            Just as with music, what keeps a reader reading is the promise of tension and resolution. The author can keep her readers in near-constant suspense as they turn the pages, waiting for the delivery of a resolving note that seemingly never comes. In my book, Upload, there are of course several plot-driven moments of tension. Moments where I had deliberately written myself and my characters into a corner, just to see if I could get out. This is an obvious ploy for tension, believing the reader will share in the tension derived from what appear to be seemingly hopeless circumstances for my main character, Jay Brooks.
            But the prolonged and arguably more interesting suspense can be found in the relationships in the book. These are emotional tension points that can’t be resolved with a bullet, a knife, or an explosion. These are more difficult problems, emotional ones, that if realistic, are in and of themselves very complex problems that require complex solutions. For instance, why has Jay’s father grown so distant that he almost appears to want to disown Jay? Why had Jay’s mother’s anxiety grown so intense in her last days before her death? Had she known of her tragic fate in advance? Will Jay’s best friend, Bennie, be able to overcome his jealous and protective relationship with Jay enough to let his sister develop a relationship with Jay? Will Bennie’s family continue to hold back a dire secret form Bennie, and for how much longer? Will Jay be able to overcome his grief for his mother enough to rebuild his relationship with his father?
            As with suspenseful, plot-driven scenes, the emotional suspense should also continually raise the stakes. The author should demonstrate a degree of mercilessness throughout, to demonstrate to the reader that not all emotional conflicts will be resolved satisfactorily, or even at all. Just as a writer can exhibit to the reader a certain authorial viciousness in order to create true tension—by killing off or harming what seemed to be a major character—so can she be just as ruthless with her character’s emotions. The world doesn’t always resolve our emotional conflicts, and neither should a realistic, suspenseful story.
THE WORD YOU'RE LOOKING FOR IS WOW! I want to express my deepest gratitude to Collin Tobin for his response. It far exceeded my expectations and I look forward to more work from this author.
And now you want to know where you can buy this great novel written by a clearly great writer? I'm going to tell you!

And better yet, there's a giveaway with this blog. GOOD LUCK!! 

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Did I mention he was cute, ladies? :-)
About Collin Tobin:

Collin Tobin lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two daughters. He holds a bachelor’s in English and master’s in Education (Um yes...I think this is AWESOME!). He has worked in the software industry for the past twelve years.

He was the lucky recipient of the Mississippi Literary Festival’s 1st place in poetry and has also published poems in “character i” and “The Drum”.

When he’s not writing, he enjoys re-reading Nabokov’s fiction in chronological order, eating very hot salsa, and dreaming up inventions with neither the capital nor the initiative to see them through.

His greatest accomplishment is his wonderful family. 

His greatest fear is losing interest. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much, Cresta, for the opportunity to try to tackle such a difficult question. I really enjoy the passion and enthusiasm you demonstrate on your blog!