An Interview with E.B. Dawson about Ahab — Jillane E. Purrazzi

I am a great lover of Classics, and a (more recent) equally great lover of Science Fiction. So when they blend together I can be pretty opinionated. If you don’t do it just right, you can lose the best of both and potentially damage the reputation of both.

In fact, I rarely like retellings. There are times when they are beautifully done, but I find most of the time when I’m reading a retelling, most of my excitement comes from spotting “Easter eggs” from the original.

There is one consistent author who breaks those expectations, it is E.B. Dawson. She has done a few Sci-FI retellings now, and she has a way of making something entirely new with a concept without breaking the soul of the story. Her own voice comes through so clear and so beautifully, while maintaining the feeling of her predecessors.

E.B. Dawson’s Moby Dick retelling, Ahab, is not as much a retelling as it is a reimagining, in many ways. It is heartbreakingly beautiful, highlighting the best pieces of the human heart and the complexity of tragedy, self sacrifice, and redemption.

That, and it’s just really really cool.

I am so excited to have E.B. Dawson join me today to talk about her Science Fiction Moby Dick retelling, Ahab.

Hey, Beth. Welcome back again. Would you like to introduce yourself again and let everyone know who you are and what you write? Yes, hello! I’m so thankful to be on your blog again. You are always an excellent host. How shall I introduce myself? I am a bit of a nomad. I have lived many places and I love to travel when I can. I have way too many interests and too little time to pursue them, but writing helps me focus those interests. I love hot beverages, rainy days, long breakfasts with good friends and my cat Maximus. I tend to write thematic, character-driven science fiction and high-tech fantasy, and sometimes I write retellings. How is Ahab different from your previous novels, and in what ways have you found it similar? It is so very different from my previous novels, but I’m sure the astute reader can still identify my fingerprints all over it. The most obvious differences are the prose and the darker fatalistic themes. In order to make the story feel more authentic I opted for more old-fashioned language. It took quite a while to get used to. Drafting can be hard enough when using language that comes natural to you. There was one particular time where the dialogue was killing me so I lapsed into modern slang just to help keep my momentum. My critique partner was rather amused by it. The themes and character arcs were both challenging and exciting because they were anchored in Melville’s original work. It took me outside the bounds of where I would usually go. But I would have never attempted this story if I hadn’t made a strong emotional connection to the original story and its characters. One of the biggest changes I made was turning the “man vs nature” element of whaling into a war. Not only does this reframe the main conflict in terms that are easier for readers to immediately comprehend, but it took the story into familiar stomping grounds for me, as I don’t think I will ever tire of exploring the implications and consequences of war. I know you are a proud discovery writer. What did you find in this book that was unexpected, or that surprised you? I am a proud discovery writer, but this book felt like it had much more of an established outline because I was working with someone else’s story from the beginning. But who am I kidding? There were still surprises. Some of Ahab’s softer moments surprised me. He has hidden layers of kindness and empathy. I was also thoroughly surprised by the backstory on Starbuck’s wife (who is mentioned briefly in Voyage of the Pequod). You obviously pulled inspiration from Moby Dick from this story, a book you told me was a favorite within a few months of meeting you. What other stories have inspired this story? Believe it or not, my own inspiration can be extremely difficult to trace. I take in a lot of ideas from a wide variety of sources, chew on them, reimagine then, and by the time they find their way into my work I often forget where exactly they came from. But I recently remembered what may very well have sparked my interest in writing a strong male friendship. About the same time as I first read Moby Dick, I became intrigued by the relationship between Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel. One the leader of one of the greatest civilizations in human history: strong, fierce, and powerful. The other a slave from a conquered nation, raised to a position of responsibility: thoughtful, patient, wise. Despite their vast differences Daniel is respectful to Nebucahdnezzar, and the king, in turn, listens to and values Daniel’s judgment. The dynamic between them is fascinating. Ahab and Starbuck are very different characters, and yet there is a small element of that dynamic in their relationship. Ahab is accustomed to making quick decisions and having his word taken as law on his ship. One of my absolute favorite things about this book is the depth of the characters you created. Who were some of your favorite characters to write, and what were some of your favorite character moments? Ugh. I love them too! Ahab and Starbuck are the obvious stars and I think I adore them equally. I shall try to share a few character moments without giving spoilers. There is a scene which I love where Ahab is determining whether to take a certain young man onto his crew. It shows some unexpected aspects of his character. I gave Starbuck an aristocratic heritage after doing some research and discovering the last name Starbuck was prominent in Nantucket during Melville’s time. Starbuck finds himself caught between two worlds after he befriends Ahab, but he navigates it all with such humility and authenticity that you can’t help but love him for it. He has some great moments with his family. And of course I love all of the challenging conversations between Ahab and Starbuck. Ishmael was another fun character to write, though he has significantly less screen time. He’s difficult to portray in a mostly-omniscient third person as the original story is told from his perspective. So I took some liberties with him and infused him with all the humor which you find in the opening chapters of Moby Dick. Name a song you listened to while writing this book? Umm, just one? Rude. I will name several: -Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down -Battle Cry by Imagine Dragons -The Highlands by Marcus Warner If you could have tea with any of the characters in this story, who would it be, and what do you think you would talk about? I would have tea with Starbuck in his study in the Starbuck Mansion (ideally on a stormy spring day like one in the book). We would talk about philosophy, ethics, and leadership and anything else that came up. I would probably confide in him and ask advice on personal matters, because he is a good listener and completely trustworthy. There was something incredibly soothing about writing his scenes. And my final question. What have you learned through writing this book? Big or small, anything goes. I learned that I am capable of more than I think.

This book was a joy to read and I can’t wait for it to make it’s debut. The characters are incredible, the story touching and heartbreaking, the world gorgeous. So what are you waiting for! You can find E.B. Dawson at her website. There you can find links to pre-order Ahab there, as well as links to her social media and more.

Originally published at http://www.jillanepurrazzi.com.

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J.E. Purrazzi

Beloved, Speculative Fiction Author, Artist, Acquisitions Editor for Phoenix Fiction Writers. Collector of Epic Music. Story Seeker. Barrel Rider...no wait...