Open Book Society is back this month with an all new interview! OBS reviewer Scott sits down to chat with author of The Beholders, Ivan Amberlake, where they discuss the books genre, its writing style, the characters, its readers, sequels, and more. Enjoy!

  • Read our review for THE BEHOLDERS here at OBS.
  • For more information about the author and his book visit him at his Official Website here.

the-beholder-ivan-amberlakeScott: Although firmly entrenched in the urban fantasy/ urban paranormal genre, you seem to pace the books more like the action-adventure pulps of the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, never letting up on the action and writing in a terse concise style with tight word economy. Was this a conscious decision, or would you consider it just a facet of your writing style?

Ivan Amberlake: The Beholder is my debut novel, and as any writer, I wanted it to be as perfect as it can be, therefore it took me quite a long time—more than three years—to complete the first draft and make a few rounds of editing. I had no idea how to write a novel at first. I just sat down and started typing. When I finished the first draft, it was around 100,000 words. After submitting the novel and getting polite rejections I knew there was something wrong. Not about the agents, about the book.

I joined the Authonomy community and met lots of great writers there who helped me understand what was wrong with my draft. I owe them a lot as they spent their precious time with my chapters and provided invaluable feedback that helped me improve my writing skills. During the rounds of editing I had to cut a lot of background information about the characters that at first made sense but then turned out to be superfluous (so the book is around 65,000 words now). I do know there are parts in the novel that may be rewritten, condensed or expanded, but at one point I just had to stop and publish the book, and then move on to something new. As a result of cutting and adding a few new action scenes, my writing style came off as rather concise. Whereas it was an unconscious decision back then, I resort to the same style while writing the sequel of The Beholder.

Scott: I mentioned in the review that the background characters and locations were transparent but in a good way. You could substitute your friends names, or home town (as long as it had an office building), into the story without disturbing a thing. Would you care to comment on this?

Ivan Amberlake: I’ve always wanted my first book to be set in New York City, even though I’ve never been there. New York City’s glamour has always appealed to me so The Beholder is set there. I wasn’t aware of the problems I might face when actually describing the places I’ve never visited. To tell you the truth, I was about to change the characters’ names and place names and set the book in Moscow instead, which is a much closer location than NYC to me, but then I decided to leave things as they were, and I’m glad I did.

Scott: The one part of the book that always comes to mind is the reader-response mechanism when the “author intrudes in his works.” You invoked this response when Jason realizes he might be the lead character in a novel without knowing the ending – the precise state, both he and the reader are in at this point. What are your views on invoking the reader at this level?

Ivan Amberlake: I’ve always wished to give my readers the freedom to interpret the events in their own way, at times intentionally misleading them, and I hoped it would make The Beholder into a more unpredictable and enjoyable read. I invoked a similar response in my stand-alone YA novella, Diary of the Gone, so I think I’ve developed a habit of “intruding into my work” and some readers seem to appreciate it.

Scott: The paranormal aspects of your novel are stark black and whites, with only a hint of gray. Tyler, Pariah, and Jason (and possibly Emily) representing the three types. Is this harkening back to the duality of positive vs. negative, ultimate good vs. ultimate evil, the darkness vs. the light trope, as most novels today are entirely shades of gray?

Ivan Amberlake: The Beholder dwells primarily on the duality of light vs. darkness, good vs. evil, although Emily is somewhere in between and I hoped the readers would be intrigued to know where she actually belongs and why. Shades of gray will certainly be added in the sequels. One of the main reasons I didn’t introduce them in the first book was that I didn’t want the readers to be confused by too many threads started and left hanging.

Scott: I have to ask this: The characters of Jason and Pariah, seem very familiar to the characters of Starman and the Shade in the formerly published Starman comic, or Neo and the Agents in The Matrix. Were these types of work an influence?  

Ivan Amberlake: The Matrix, and The Night Watch series by Sergei Lukyanenko influenced me a lot. I can’t deny it. Jason is to a large extent an amalgamation of Neo and Anton. I’ve watched The Matrix and Night Watch a few times and each time the movies impressed me and inspired me to create a Neo/Anton-type of character but in a different kind of reality.

Scott: The story structure takes place in a five-act play format. Could you have envisioned the novel in any other style without detracting from the narrative?

Ivan Amberlake: The narrative structure of the novel was another subconscious decision, I think. I didn’t have a detailed plan of what was going to happen and when. The five-act play format made the most sense for the novel. If I used a three-act structure, the book would be much shorter than it is now, and then it would be a stand-alone novel, not a first book in a series.

Scott: Matthew, Debbie, and Jason are all interior designers, however, that background information is only used once or twice over the course of the novel. What was the impetus behind giving them this background? Was it the “Sight” aspect you were playing upon; That the beauty of the world of the “Sighted”  was far more grandiose that only a “visual” profession could appreciate it?

Ivan Amberlake: The trio’s background information is sparsely provided throughout the novel as I wanted Jason, Debbie and Matt to be thrown into the whirlwind of action from the very beginning, but your observation is spot-on – I’ve chosen the three of them to be interior designers as it’s a visual profession, and I thought interior designers would make great Sighted.

Scott: Finally,  the book seemed to end on a high note. Will we be seeing more of Mr. Walker’s exploits later on, or do you feel you have achieved closure on this narrative?

Ivan Amberlake: Jason has become The Beholder, but parts of the Prophecy haven’t come true yet. Jason will try to decipher the Prophecy’s meaning, so his adventures in the world of Sighted are not over yet. There are quite a number of threads in the story left to be explored. In the books to come Jason is going to face with new dangers. There will be more points of view, not just Jason’s and Debbie’s, but some of the Darksighted as well. Book 2, Path of the Heretic, will hopefully be published by the end of the year.

Thank you so much for the chance to be interviewed!

Thank you to author Ivan Amberlake for an amazing interview. Until next time!