One of the goals of SPFBO is to give a chance to self-published authors to get more exposure. This year I’m taking part in the competition as an advisor for Fantasy Book Review’s judging team. I decided to offer a spot to the authors in our group and will post them throughout the year. To see all of our content regarding the competition, check out my SPFBO page!
Born in Edinburgh, Justin spent a decade of his childhood bouncing around the US, following his dad’s professional football (soccer) career. He returned to the Scottish capital in his teens and, after a few brief sojourns to Dundee (for an English degree) and the South of France (for his family), settled back in the city that’s always been ‘home’, where he lives with his Brady Bunch family in a permanent state of happy chaos.In over 15 years of writing and editing for a living, he’s done everything from restaurant, theatre and comedy reviews to training manuals and magazines, including four years as the writer, editor and photographer for an Edinburgh guidebook.He has the same initials as the Justice League of America, and his favourite writers are Neil Gaiman, Aaron Sorkin, Joe Abercrombie and Joss Whedon, in no particular order.He misses Firefly.
Welcome to the Asylum! Take a seat by the fire, have a glass of beverage of your choice and tell me something about yourself!
Thanks! I’ll have a single malt, please. An Islay if you have one. I’m Justin and my debut novel, Carpet Diem, was published in 2015. It’s about a hermit whose living room carpet drops him in the middle of a bet between God and Satan. It’s a comedy urban fantasy in the vein of Tom Holt or Good Omens. I’m currently writing the first in a straight fantasy trilogy called Eidyn before I go back to the world of Carpet diem for a sequel.
Say, you can live in the fantasy house/lair of your dreams. What would it look like?
Ooh. There would be a home cinema, an indoor/outdoor pool, a gym, a bedroom where the entire floor is a bed with cushions/pillows scattered everywhere, a gothic dining room with an elaborately carved wooden table. In fact, in many ways, it would be like Faunt’s home in Carpet Diem – a mix of high-tech and old-fashioned, wooden furniture, with stone floors (though they’d have underfloor heating, obviously).
What is your favorite fantasy creature and why?
I’m not sure I have a particular favourite. I have discovered that I have a tendency to create fantasy monsters that are a sort of hybrid of humans and insects. I’m not sure what that says about me, as I’m not particularly afraid of insects. There’s definitely something unsettling about the idea, though, for me. Maybe I watched too many B-movies as a kid…
Why did you decide to become an author and how did you end up choosing self-publishing?
I think I always wanted to write, even when I didn’t realise it. My favourite part of English class was always writing, just ahead of reading a good book. I think I wrote my first fantasy story when I was about 9. It was two pages of A4 for a school project, when I’d only been asked to write a page. I ended up being asked to read it out in class. As I remember, it was about a couple of characters being attacked by wolves. In my first attempt at editing, I later scribbled out ‘wolves’ and replaced it with ‘hellhounds’, because I had just heard about hellhounds and they sounded cooler.
I actually went through a spell in my teens and early 20s wanting to be an actor, though. I did a lot of am-dram and was in my university theatre company. But that didn’t work out, due to a number of things, including a lack of anything more than the most basic acting ability (and even that may be generous – I think I was from the Jim Carrey school of acting – good at mugging for laughs and that’s about it…) So I came back to writing via getting a job in a small publishing company.
I started writing a number of things, including a deeply pretentious, post-modern thing at university, but I don’t think I ever believed I would be published, in honesty. I think there was always a glass ceiling in my head – that I wasn’t ‘special’ enough to actually be published. I now know that’s not uncommon amongst writers, but I wish I had known it 20 years ago!
Im my 30s I had some success in a BBC script-writing competition and got distracted by that for a long time, before I finally came back to my long-neglected idea about a hermit and his carpet. Carpet Diem was first published by a small indie press in 2015 and did pretty well, I’m told by people who know better than me about sales numbers. But last year, a friend of mine who loved the book approached me with an idea to invest in setting up our own publishing company to take control of my own books and publish them ourselves, with money to invest in marketing and a chance to write full-time. Obviously, I took ages to come round to the idea, because I’m an idiot, but once I finally did, I’ve loved every minute and haven’t looked back!
Which author would you say is your greatest influence as a writer?
Ooh, I’m not sure I can pick one. Lots of different ones have influenced me in different ways. Tom Holt is a huge influence on the style and humour of Carpet Diem. Neil Gaiman is a huge influence in getting me to think laterally and tap into my imagination. Jo Nesbo has been a big influence in terms of teaching me how to build atmosphere. Joe Abercrombie was a big influence in getting me to try writing a more straight fantasy. Jasper Fforde, Piers Anthony, Terry Pratchett – they’re all in there too. I genuinely can’t pick one, I’m afraid! It would be like picking a favourite child.
If you could go back in time and offer any advice to a younger Justin prior to releasing Carpet Diem: or How to Save the World by Accident what would it be?
Start writing the next book right now.
What SPFBO means to you? What do you hope to gain (fame and wealth aside)?
I had honestly never heard of SPFBO until the day I applied for it. I came across it while looking into marketing options and thought it seemed like a brilliant idea, and a really great example of a successful author like Mark putting a hand down to help others up, too. Looking at what else was entered and had done well in the past, I debated over whether to enter Carpet Diem or not, because it seemed heavily focused on traditional fantasy, but in a ‘what the hell’ moment, I decided to go for it. I didn’t hold out much hope of winning (beyond that tiny little golden ‘who knows?’ that I’m sure everyone who enters has tucked away in their soul), but I have to admit it stung a little to be amongst the earliest group to be cut. But, as I’ve always said, when dealing with the 1-star reviews or any criticism, really, all art is subjective, but especially comedy. Some people just aren’t going to like it, and that’s OK. It’s introduced me to a new community and flagged up some other titles I’m definitely going to pick up, notably Orconomics, Hero Forged and, like everyone else, I’m sure, The Grey Bastards.
What inspires you/your world?
Good question. The idea behind Carpet Diem was inspired by part of a storyline in an issue of Sandman, which got me thinking laterally about ideas. I like Gaiman’s answer when people ask him where he gets his ideas from: “I make them up, in my head.” I’ve actually been accused recently of lifting the carpet idea from ‘The Big Lebowski’, but I’ve genuinely only seen it once, years ago, and I couldn’t even have told you there was a carpet in it until I was reminded!
The Eidyn trilogy was inspired by characters my friends and I role-played for over a decade, mixed with a lot of the etymology and history of my hometown, Edinburgh. The plot has a lot to do with my thoughts on politics, currents events and society in general. I think, basically, inspiration is everywhere, and the people who become creative with it are those who are open to it and paying attention.
Which character of your book do you identify with the most and why? Who would you like to live with in an asylum?
Simon, I think. He’s sort of my Id. Outraged about injustices but a bit unsure what to do about them all beyond being angry about it. Could I live with him in an asylum? Not a chance. We’d kill each other.
Of my characters, I suspect Faunt would be the best to live with. He knows everything and is a perfect host – and I think I could get over him spending half his time as a small deer. Having said that, I might not want him knowing everything I’m thinking. Maybe Cherry, then. Since she’s a teleporter, we could nip out to Italy for lunch and be back before we’re missed!
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the good or the bad ones?
I do. I think most people do. Creative people are generally rather insecure. I’ve been lucky to have a majority of good reviews, but it’s very easy to look at the one and two-star ones and decide they’re the people who really matter, they’re the connoisseurs, the rest are just being kind… And you just have to get over it. Art is subjective. Always. Nobody will ever write a book everyone will like. I think that does make any artist’s life a bit harder than people whose skills have an objective measure of good and bad, but then I think the rewards of a creative life are worth the insecurity. If Aaron Sorkin and JK Rowling are still suffering from imposter syndrome, I think it’s safe to say the rest of us are doing OK.
Are there any books that have been/ are being released in 2018 that you are excited to read?
In a humorous vein, I’m really looking forward to Jasper Fforde’s ‘Early Riser’ (though I wish he’d write a sequel to ‘Shades of Grey’, which I think was his best work). In straight fantasy, Ed McDonald’s ‘Ravencry’, Anna Stephens’ ‘Darksoul’ and Vic James’ ‘Bright Ruin’. I read all of their work after meeting them at Fantasycon last year, and really loved them all, so I’m looking forward to these three. They will have to wait, though, since I spent £100 worth of Amazon vouchers on a dozen books when I left my old job in April, and I’m still working my way through them. Mr Lawrence is in that pile! (Though I’m currently reading ‘Kings of the Wyld’, by Nicholas Eames, and I suspect ‘Bloody Rose’ will be added to this list by the time I’m done.)
While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you one book – what would you choose?
Buggeration. ONE? What could I read over and over again? Maybe Lord of the Rings. I’m not a huge fan of Tolkein’s prose, but it’s a great story and so long that at least when I’d finished it and come round to starting again I might have forgotten what happens at the beginning!
Well then, we hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? *locks door*
Why are you smiling like that?
If you’d like to get in contact with Justin Lee Anderson, you can find him on social media:
Read an excerpt below and get Carpet Diem by clicking on the cover:
Read an excerpt of Carpet Diem:
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO
Harriet woke on the floor; wet, confused and reeking of whisky. This was not unusual.
She wiggled her fingers and toes. They all seemed to be there. With a deep breath, she raised her head off the floor.
Carefully, she rolled onto her side to look around. The gentle crunch of shattered glass made her stop. The off license sparkled under a layer of the stuff. Rivulets of booze ran from the shelves, escaping shattered bottles to pool on the floor.
Harriet pressed herself up onto her elbows.
No glass in the window frame. That explained the floor.
Something was burning. Something big.
She grasped the counter, grunting with the effort of pulling herself up. Fragments of glass rained musically onto the floor. From the new angle, Harriet could see that the wet patch on her stomach was the Lagavulin she had been about to buy. She only briefly considered sucking it.
Her head pounded as her heart forced blood upwards; eyes black, ears squealing in protest. She waited, head hanging. After a moment, black turned to red and the world returned.
There was no sign of the assistant who’d been serving her.
She hobbled to the window. Her balance was less than perfect anyway, and the floor was slick as fresh ice. And her back hurt. A lot.
At least six fire engines across the road.
Blinking, she leaned against the door frame. The air reeked of acrid smoke and this wasn’t the only building that had lost windows. Outside, scattered pockets of hushed witnesses held each other and stared at the chaos across the road.
Across the road.
The hotel restaurant.
The building where she had left her entire family yawned a gaping wound of flame, breathing thick black smoke into the night.
Harriet lifted the nearest intact bottle – Malibu, more’s the torture – and choked down a glug. She coughed so hard it almost came straight back up. Instead, she snorted black mucus over her hand.
Mindlessly wiping it on her trousers, Harriet sat on the destroyed window display.
Faced with the fact that she was probably the only surviving member of her family, and that she had been perilously close to joining them all in the choir immortal, Harriet muttered the only phrase that accurately reflected the gravity of the situation:
“Fuck me ragged.”
Simon is falling.
This is not in the plan.
Of all the things he had expected to be doing this week, falling off a cliff was low on the list.
Though, to be precise, he isn’t exactly falling off a cliff – he’s falling beside one. He hadn’t been on it to begin with – he’d been above it, and then been dropped. Quite unreasonably. In fact, the whole situation was unreasonable. What had he done to deserve a smashy death on huge, slimy rocks?
Still. It could be worse.
He could have been burned alive in his own living room, or had his head lopped off. At least he’s still alive.
Sighing, Simon resigns himself to his helplessness and waits patiently for a sudden and messy stop – or for someone to catch him.
At what point should he have said ‘no’? This afternoon? Yesterday? Tuesday?
There is no escaping it; the answer is clear. Simon had made one fundamental mistake a week ago, whence all of the ensuing tortures, misfortunes and calamities had emanated.
He should never have answered the bloody door.
Simon Debovar had come to a conclusion: he hated other people. Not any specific other people; just everyone who wasn’t him.
He hated their demands on his time. He hated how they made him wait behind them in queues; got in his way on the street; filled up the bus before he could get on it; asked him questions and then expected answers. But most of all, he hated how they smelled: sweaty and sweet and spicy.
Simon Debovar had two baths a day and never smelled of anything but clean, and that’s exactly how everyone else should smell, in his opinion. Anything else was inconsiderate. And lazy. Most inconsiderate people were lazy and most lazy people were inconsiderate, in Simon’s experience. And most people were one or the other. Usually both.
Having given up hope of finding a quiet corner of Edinburgh that he could have entirely to himself, Simon had decided to lock out the rest of the world and create his own kingdom: the Royal Burgh of 42 Queen’s Drive (“just past the Post Office with the two oaks outside, if you hit the Shell garage you’ve gone too far”, as it was known to the local pizza, Chinese, Indian and Thai restaurants).
For thirteen years, Simon had lived a hermit’s life in the middle of one of Scotland’s busiest, most throbbing metropolises. Of course, he had to have some communication with the outside world, but he kept it to a minimum. When delivery drivers or repairmen necessarily came round, he would hide upstairs and shout directions. Had any of them ever challenged him as to why he remained a floor above, he was prepared to feign illness and/or injury as an excuse. In fact, he enjoyed dreaming up a new ailment each time such a visit was expected: “Today I shall have a broken toe, caused when I dropped a small antique clock in the shape of an elephant on it whilst visiting my Auntie Agnes.” He hadn’t dropped his Auntie Agnes’ clock, of course. He didn’t have an Auntie Agnes.
His living family consisted of, to his knowledge, a distant cousin called George, who’d married an Australian and moved to Switzerland (why an Australian would want to live in Switzerland bewildered Simon, sometimes keeping him awake at night wondering what Switzerland might have that Australia lacked), another called Sabrina, a lesbian who lived in New York, and Great Aunt Harriet, who, despite seeing all her peers and most of the generations after her pass on, had stubbornly refused to shuffle off her mortal coil.
Fifteen years ago, the rest of Simon’s family had been killed in a tragic, pudding-related accident.
A huge family reunion had been organised for the Debovar clan. Simon’s mother came from an unusually small Irish Catholic family, so they had been invited, too. The meal had been a huge success and everyone was just about drunk enough to throw themselves onto the dance floor when dessert was served.
Tragically, the chef had overloaded the flambés with alcohol at Harriet’s insistence. When he set the first one alight, the fumes in the air went up like the Hindenburg.
Luckily for them, Sabrina and George were outside, in the back of George’s car, being seventeen. George was a second cousin once removed on Simon’s father’s side, while Sabrina was a great niece to Simon’s mother’s mother – or something. Suffice to say that, had they not been interrupted by the explosion and gone on to procreate, the fruit of their union would not have had to worry about its eyes being overly close together. George had later confessed to Simon, at one of the funerals (he couldn’t remember which), that it would have been Sabrina’s first time with a boy, and that they had been at a fairly crucial stage when the building exploded.
Simon had wondered whether it was psychologically significant that an Irish Catholic girl had turned out a lesbian after her entire family was blown to pieces the first time she touched a penis.
George and Sabrina had been saved by their rampaging hormones. Simon found that oddly romantic. But then, Simon found a lot of things odd.
Harriet, on the other hand, had fancied a whisky with her dessert. When the waiter offered her a choice of what she called “cheap, dirty water”, she had barged out of the hotel and across the road to the off license for a bottle of Lagavulin. She had barely put her purse away when the fireball burst, shattering both the window of the shop and her newly purchased bottle. It took a protracted letter writing campaign, but Harriet had eventually managed to make the chain’s head office accept that, while she had paid for the bottle, having not yet picked it up she had not, in fact, taken ownership of it and that, as such, they were obliged to send her a replacement. They eventually sent her a case, just to make her stop.
Harriet had been saved by her refusal to drink cheap whisky and her determination not to go without it. Or, as she liked to describe it, by her high standards and a steadfast refusal to compromise.
Simon had stayed home to watch Friends. He didn’t like crowds. In the end, it had turned out to be a flashback episode, so he almost wished he’d gone, just for the hell of it.
Until the police arrived.
He sometimes wondered whether the officers had stood outside debating how to break the news to him.
“Son, we’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is: Christmas will be cheap this year…”
Fortunately for Simon, his mother’s brief resuscitation in the ambulance had made her officially the last to die, helpfully leaving him as the main heir to most of the wills, including his inexplicably wealthy Uncle Marvin. Thus, Simon hadn’t had to work a day since. He largely survived on interest from the stupidly large sum of money in his account, and if he ever ran a little low, he only needed to sell one of the hideous ‘artefacts’ Marvin had ‘collected’ throughout his ‘archaeological’ career. (Whenever Simon’s father had discussed his brother-in-law, there was always a proliferation of implied quotation marks left dangling in the air.)
George, Sabrina and Harriet were the only people Simon had any sort of normal contact with, and it was mainly to ensure the safe passage of regular payments he had promised them all after The Explosion. It only seemed fair that, with only the four of them left, he should share the wealth. Without the need to earn money, Sabrina had opted for life as a poet. Harriet had retired a few years before The Explosion, so only George had decided on a traditional career – as a lawyer. He had once tried to explain to Simon that he just couldn’t accept not earning his own keep, even if his salary was effectively just a top up on the significant monthly allowance Simon paid him. Simon couldn’t understand why anyone would choose an office over the comfort of their own living room, but there were a lot of things about people that Simon didn’t understand.
He was probably closest to understanding Harriet. His great aunt had a unique vision of the world. She imagined herself much like Jimmy Stewart in her favourite movie, Harvey – bumbling around the screen effortlessly while chaos cavorted around him. In reality, she bumbled around chaotically while the world occasionally stopped to scratch its head in bemusement. Sometimes, it got a black eye for its trouble.
Of all the people in the world Simon almost liked, he almost liked Harriet the most.
Simon kept the necessity for anyone other than himself to be in the house to an absolute minimum. Food shopping had initially been a problem. To begin with, he had paid a local child to get some groceries for him once a week. He would use the same child for a few years at a time, until they became curious beyond his tolerance. When Tesco announced home shopping over the internet, Simon threw himself a small party with a bag of 50 mini sausage rolls and a bottle of Dr Pepper.
Then he bought a computer. By phone.
During these 13 years, Simon became something of a mythical figure amongst his neighbours. Nicknamed ‘Herman’, after Herman’s Hermits, they saw him as a comical, disgruntled little gnome. Rumours spread that he had a rare skin disease, which prevented him from coming out into the sunlight. Others said that he was a vampire and, thanks to the imagination of 8-year-old Mikey McCormack, that he was half goat and didn’t want anyone to see his hooves. The neighbourhood children could sometimes be heard taunting each other with cries of “Herman’s going to get you” or “You’re going to be goat food”.
Suffice to say, Simon Debovar was not about to appear on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, unless the FBI actually wanted a slightly tubby, greying man with a penchant for Eggs Benedict and an allergy to other people.
Incidentally, Simon did suspect Harriet might be the ‘Mozzarella Mugger’ who’d been terrorising the suburbs of Melton Mowbray this last year. Apparently, there had been a rash of pensioners knocked unconscious by a sharp blow to the back of the head with a blunt object – possibly an umbrella or walking stick – who later woke up to find their noses stuffed full of Italian cheese. Harriet seemed a likely candidate. She lived in Melton Mowbray, owned both an umbrella and a walking stick, and abhorred old people, since they reminded her that she, herself, was old. There was also the fact that she constantly referred to her peers as “stinking old cheesebags” and had vowed one day to make them all suffer as she did. Simon wasn’t sure how seriously she meant that, but she was almost as committed to the cause of antisocialism as he was, and he respected her geriatric nod in his direction. Were she slightly more antisocial, Simon might even ask her round for dinner. Of course, he wouldn’t, because she might actually come, and then he’d have to buy a load of new stuff: another plate, another fork, another knife – the things people selfishly expected a person to own purely for times when they came to visit.
Simon secretly hoped Harriet was the Mozzarella Mugger of Melton Mowbray because he was a big fan of alliteration. He respected her choice of cheese because of this. Ideally, she probably would have gone for a more pungent nose filling, but she’d have had to move and resort to murder to make the ‘Camembert Killer of Cambridge’ work, and even Simon agreed that was extreme.
Besides, people only smelled worse after they died.
It was not so much a surprise, then, as cause for serious alarm when Simon was awoken from his mid-afternoon siesta (as opposed to his mid-morning, mid-evening and mid-bath siestas) by what seemed for all intents and purposes to be the ringing of his doorbell.
He sat bolt upright in bed, shook his head in an attempt to inject some clarity into his still dozy brain, yawned and stretched.
Of course he hadn’t heard the doorbell.
The doorbell didn’t work. Simon had had it disconnected ten years ago as a birthday present to himself. (He’d enjoyed awarding himself the ‘no-bell’ prize and briefly lamented having nobody with whom to share the joke.)
Thus, having logically decided the noise that had awoken him was nothing more than a lingering dream, Simon swung his feet out from under the covers, stood up to his full 5 foot 9 inches and stretched for the ceiling.
He nearly threw out a vertebra when the doorbell rang again.
There was no denying it this time – it was definitely the doorbell. Could doorbells repair themselves? He really had no idea how they worked.
Was there such a thing as a door-to-door doorbell repairman?
Every fibre of his being was screaming at him to stay quiet; to pretend not to be in, just as he always did.
But the doorbell had rung.
Unfortunately, he had to know why.
Thus, despite desperately wanting the unexpected doorbell fixer to go away, he crept down the stairs in his dressing gown, carefully avoiding the squeaky steps – numbers 8 and 11. Slowly and carefully, he placed a foot onto the hall carpet. It was soft and welcoming. He liked a soft carpet. The fashion for hardwood floors was inexplicable to him. Why would anyone choose a cold, hard, slippy floor over a soft, warm, lush carpet? Especially on cold winter mornings. He was definitely a comfy, soft carpet kind of guy. He’d chosen the hall one because its slightly toasted cream colour reminded him of Andrex puppies. Of course, that meant he’d at least once pondered how many puppies would have been needed to make it.
Placing his second foot on the carpet, Simon took a deep breath and steeled himself for the short but ninja-like creep to the door, to see what his tormentor looked like.
“Mr Debovar? Hello?”
Simon jumped like a startled butterfly at his name and nearly fell back onto the stairs. They knew his name! What kind of trickery was this? Now, in a panic, Simon had to decide what to do, quickly. Quick decisions were not really his forte – so he did what came naturally.
“Go’way!” he grunted, hoping his local reputation would be enough to see off the interloper.
“I’m sorry?” the voice politely answered. “What was that?”
Definitely male. Simon couldn’t decide whether that was a good thing or not. It might not be a thing at all. Either way…
“F’koff!” he grumbled, croakily. Surely nobody hung around after that. He could investigate the doorbell once the nuisance caller had gone.
“I’m sorry, Mr Debovar, did you say you have a cough? Perhaps I could offer you a sweet?”
This was not going well.
Simon did not take sweets from strangers.
He decided on a new tack – take the initiative. It was not something he was used to, but then he’d never had someone refuse to leave the front step before.
“Whadayouwant?” he splurted.
“I have a proposition for you, Mr Debovar.”
Ah. A salesman. The world made sense again.
“I’m not buying,” he called decisively, heading for the kitchen. He had some hazelnut coffee he was looking forward to trying this morning.
“Oh no, and I’m not selling. Quite the contrary, actually.”
Simon stopped. What was the opposite of selling? Buying? How could he know what Simon had that he might want to buy? Unless he’d broken into his house during the night, had a good look around and then left everything, in order to come back the next day and purchase it legally?
No, that was ridiculous.
Did he want to buy Simon? The thought of a troupe of white slavers barging down his door made him slightly light-headed. He suddenly longed to return to the comfort of his bed, where there were no people to confuse him and doorbells didn’t ring – exactly as they were supposed to not.
Wait a minute.
“How did you ring my doorbell?”
“I… pressed the button.”
“That bell hasn’t worked in ten years,” Simon answered triumphantly. He even had a little ‘Ah-hah!’ to himself, in his head.
“It hasn’t?” Pause. “Oh.”
Simon heard what he thought was another, softer voice whispering.
“I’m sorry to have bothered you, Mr Debovar,” the male voice finally said. “We’ll come again tomorrow perhaps – or maybe Monday.”
Footsteps faded away down the path, then the gate swung open and shut.
Simon was elated. Having accidentally stumbled across the right question to make the possible white slave trader go away, he could get on with breakfast undisturbed.
Later, when the elation had passed, he would try the doorbell, which persistently would not ring.
Around the corner, a tall, thin man in a white suit, with mismatched eyes, turned to a dark-haired young woman in black leather and said: “How was I supposed to know the bell didn’t work? Who has a doorbell that isn’t connected? If you ask me, that shouldn’t count.”