... Cliff Dunbar
1. Tell me about your book Silver’s Treason and where you got your inspiration for it?
A lone American soldier gets swept up in a conflict among guerrillas, narcotics traffickers, and the Colombian Army. The US believes he has turned on his own country and also sends a team after him. The soldier’s only friend is Silver, his paranormal military dog. But even Silver cannot completely control her own abilities.
I was taking classes in Comparative Psychology at the University of Florida, learning about evolution and selective breeding, when I first got the idea for breeding an animal with “special” abilities.
My professor, who wrote the textbook for the class and whom I admired greatly, had a grant to study the reproductive behaviour of voles (field mice) and he hired me as his lab assistant. For eight months I started out my day by taking vaginal smears from rodents and spreading the results on microscope slides. When the time came to write about my hypothetical paranormal animals, I decided they would not be rodents.
I chose military dogs in order to get the army involved and have some big resources available. I set the story in Colombia, a country I have never visited, because there is a lot of conflict there, which is great for a writer, though not too good for the people who live there. Also, I speak Spanish fairly well and knew I would enjoy sharpening my skills by researching Spanish language web sites and other publications, as well as interviewing my Colombian friends and acquaintances.
To bring verisimilitude to the book, I studied canine evolution, physiology, communication, intelligence, etc. I studied the history of animals in the military. I ordered so many books on the cocaine trade from Amazon I thought the FBI was going to knock at my door (I slipped a few poetry books into my orders to throw them off the track). I reviewed many articles on paranormal testing. Silver’s Treason has a three-page bibliography at the end that lists everything I studied.
When the novel was published, I sent a copy to Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, authors of Dogs: A Starting New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution. They were kind enough to email a response; here is part of it: “You got the dog behavior down really well . . . you showed how closely you have paid attention to real dog behavior”.
This mountain of research is why the book took me ten years to write. The next book won’t take that long.
2. Where do you gain your inspiration/ideas from in general?
Anything that impinges on my consciousness is fair game for a story or poem.
For example, my poem “The Anomaly” (http://theopinionguy.com/OG14.pdf) draws its inspiration from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which predicts that the universe’s current course of inertia, entropy and decay will lead in the far future to its eventual heat death, when everything is a uniform temperature (no heat at all). The poem is directed toward an anomaly, i.e., a phenomenon which does not fit a generally accepted pattern. The poet asks, with so much entropy going on, why does the object of the poem look prettier every day? It makes no sense.at all, and “no mere scientist can explain why”. The poem uses a law of physics to emphasize a romantic feeling.
I could go on with examples from other things I’ve written, but the point is that my inspiration generally comes from putting different ideas together and playing with the result.
3. When did you first become interested in writing?
I was in second grade when I knew I wanted to be a writer. The class was assigned to write a story based on that week’s vocabulary words. My story was about a flying saucer that landed in the field behind my house. I was very comfortable writing it. The teacher said it was very creative. Writing then seemed the natural thing to do.
4. Was there ever a time when you nearly gave up on becoming an author?
When I was 19, after receiving my third rejection slip without a single sale to my name, I was in such despair that I threw away everything I had written up to then. I thought that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this writing stuff after all.
A few months later I was writing again.
5. Who is your favourite character/s you’ve created?
My favourite character is Bingo. He is another paranormal dog, not big and fierce like Silver, but a clumsy little runt who was rejected from the breeding program because his abilities were too erratic and uncontrollable to be of any use. He was scheduled for euthanasia when he escaped. He constantly confuses his orders, he trips over his own feet (paws), and he has the attention span of a butterfly. He’s adorable. I wrote a short story about him, here: http://nanobison.com/nanov3n9.pdf and he is the subject of my next novel.
6. If you could hang out with one of your characters, what would you do together?
I would love to hang out with Bingo. We would get into all kinds of trouble together.
7. Is there anything you particularly like to write about? Is there anything you don’t?
There is something I would like to do better, and that is romance. I think I do fairly well in the action/adventure arena, and I’ve written a few erotic pieces, but I want to create stories that make the heart flutter, put butterflies in the belly, and elicit tears of goofy happiness. That’s a long-range goal of mine after I get through a few more novel ideas I have.
8. Have you ever had a dream that to you would make a great book or short story?
Probably, but I never remember my dreams and don’t care that much about them.
9. What was your favourite book as a child?
My favourite book then is still my favourite book of all time, and its eponymous main character is still my favourite character ever: Tarzan of the Apes. Tarzan is a man who is able to move seamlessly among many cultures, even across species boundaries. As a kid, I memorized the entire glossary at the back of the book. This childhood inspiration led to a degree in linguistics and a fascination with animal behaviour.
10. What was the last book you read?
I recently read The Hunger Games, all three novels. I was curious to see what the kids are reading these days. I saw the movie, too.
11. If you could be a superhero what kind of super powers would you have?
I would have some Brainiac power which would enable me to run along the corridors of libraries, my fingers brushing the bindings of the books, as knowledge and stories spilled effortlessly into my head. And stayed there, and formed new patterns, and spurred new creativity.
12. What two fictional characters would you put into a boxing ring and who would win?
He’s not fictional, but I would put Morihei Ueshiba in the ring against pretty much anybody. And yes, he would win, though he might not consider it a victory.
I studied aikido for six years. You see a little of that in my earlier novel, The Manna Trail.
13. If you could have one piece of technology from a sci-fi film or book what would it be?
The helmet in the Stargate series that dumps huge amounts of knowledge into the puny human mind.
14. If you were offered a free ticket to anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I would love to go to Israel. I studied four years of Hebrew in college, at first with the goal of understanding Kabbalah and then, after I lost interest in that, just for the admiration I developed for the country and its people. The knowledge and productivity that comes out of that tiny nation is amazing, even more so when you consider that it is completely surrounded by enemies and hostility. How can it even survive under those circumstances, much less flourish? But it does. I want to see that. And then I would set a story there.
Caught in the crossfire between paramilitaries, drug dealers, rebel guerrillas, and the Colombian Army, US Army Private Jeff Thompson and Silver, his K9 companion, are forced to make their way through the jungles of southwestern Colombia to rescue a drug lord's daughter held captive by rebel guerrillas. Silver, the product of a decades-old breeding project overseen by the American military, possesses supernatural abilities that are barely under her control. When Jeff is surprised by a payoff from the drug lord and seduced by his beautiful daughter, the US Army believes he has gone over to the other side and sends a Retrieval Team after him, with a powerful dog of its own.
“I just want to see Silver again,” the American said. “I want to see her fed and watered.”
“First you must tell me if the DEA will attack again,” Ariana said.
Thompson closed his eyes, as if he might fall asleep. He spoke so softly Ariana had to lean close to him to make out the words. “I don’t know. I’m not DEA. Jeffrey Thompson, US Army, Private First Class, 965-26-4381. Name, rank, and serial number. Now will you bring Silver?”
US Army? For a moment Ariana took pity on the American soldier. To die so young, so far away from home, and for what cause? There was nothing noble about making war on international market forces with a gun and a dog. That was just stupid.
“No,” Ariana said. “The men tell me that the dog’s eyes change color, and that she stirs up the wind and that bullets cannot harm her. Why would they say that?”
“How could you believe such nonsense?” Thompson whispered. “She’s just a dog.”
Clifford W. Dunbar has published short stories, poetry, and novels. He works in the IT field by day and teaches some college courses in the evening.
He maintains a blog at cliffordwdunbar.wordpress.com to discuss his writing and whatever else comes up. He also welcomes emails at email@example.com.
He lives in Miami, FL.