The fiction that lingers with us longest is that which uses reality itself to play on our fears and worries. It takes an idea that exists somewhere beneath the general hubbub of society and draws attention to how sinister it could really be.
Inspired by the testimony of women around the world, Réal Laplaine’s latest book, WomanEX, explores the real impact that a patriarchal history has had on society. When disaster after disaster topples the status quo, the world is forced to rebuild itself from the toxic ashes.
We spoke to Réal to find out more about his new novel and how he feels existential thrillers can influence the world.
Kirstie: How did you get into writing?
Réal: In 1987 I was on a business trip to Copenhagen, Denmark. There, I read a book, The Bridge Across Forever, by Richard Bach. When I put the book down, I knew then and there that I wanted to be a writer. I think it was that very day, or the next, when I started to pen my first story.
However, my career and my life simply did not permit me to pursue the dream, and while I continued, off and on, to write, in fact, penning nine complete novels, I never edited them or made them publish-worthy.
Not until 2009, nearly 22 years after the decision to become a writer, would it become reality for me, and actually, it was during my mid-life crisis if you will, when I decided that it was time to start living the life I wanted to live and to pursue my dream, and not compromise my happiness any more.
Kirstie: Who were your earliest influences?
Réal: My greatest influences as far as writers go were those in the existential genre: George Orwell, 1984; Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz; Tolkien, The Hobbit; and Richard Bach – who wrote a book that changed my perspective, called Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
In terms of reaching for dreams, Walt Disney probably played the greatest role in that regard, as well as Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon. They convinced me that anything was possible.
Kirstie: Who are your predominant influences now?
Réal: In a current sense, I am inspired by people who are making positive changes in our world. Elon Musk, Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs … really anyone who creates positive change and who refuse to give in to the mediocrity, hate, racism and war which seem to dominate the media. I am inspired by people who are cleaning up our oceans, saving the wildlife, fighting for justice, protecting our rights – these people are heroes and they inspire me every day.
Kirstie: What is the first piece of work you were really proud of?
Réal: The first book I wrote and published, in earnest, is Finding Agnetha, published in 2010. The book was inspired after watching the film Mamma Mia. I sat down and wrote the story, about a young man who is so inspired by the Swedish pop band, ABBA, that he decides he will get them to come back for a reunion concert some 30 years after they broke up.
Of course, everyone thinks he is dreaming the impossible, and in fact, when I released the book, some avid ABBA fans criticized the book as unreal. The book continued to sell, and interestingly, just this past week, ABBA announced that they are recording new songs. So, in fact, dreams do come true no matter the naysayers.
Kirstie: How have you changed as a writer since then?
Réal: Since my first book I have learned the importance of character build-up after some readers suggested that they had a hard time connecting with the protagonist in my stories. I went back and fixed all my earlier books to remedy this.
I have become more eloquent in my writing and I attribute this to having read classic authors over the years and seeing the tremendous beauty in their writing. It has always been a goal of mine to preserve the beauty of our language and I have made considerable effort to bring out more colour and more depth through the use of words not often heard or used, but which give a new dimension to the story.
I have always agreed with Noah Webster of lexicon fame, that the language must be preserved if we are to preserve our freedom.
Kirstie: What drew you to the existential thriller genre?
Réal: I struggled for some years to find my niche in the author world. I didn’t want to just write in one conventional genre, considering that several of my books are geopolitical thrillers with a very contemporary scenario, plus a crime-thriller series and a couple other books which could be called sci-fi, but which I consider more like “reality just waiting to happen”.
The existential thriller genre allowed me to blanket all of these books under one umbrella where I could continue in several sub-genres, while still getting my message across and proactively doing something to possibly change the world. I consider authors like George Orwell or Walter Miller, to be masters of the existential thriller genre.
Kirstie: What do you think are the most important elements in writing a good existential thriller?
Réal: First and foremost, you have to have a clear message – you must know what it is you are trying to get across to the reader and then, secondly, you have to design a story-line that dresses it up in such a way that it is a true thriller, whether crime, geopolitical or sci-fi, and doesn’t sound like you, as the author, are standing on a soap-box trumpeting your own views about things.
I learned early on in my career, that the key with an existential thriller, is to present it in such a way that the reader can decide for themselves what they think about the issue. In other words, don’t force ideas down their throats, present them in such a way that people can easily assimilate them as they will.
Kirstie: Tell us about your latest book, WomanEX.
Réal: WomanEX is story that takes place in our contemporary times, when Korea and America go at it with nuclear weapons. The resultant catastrophe barely has time to settle when news comes that two asteroids are Earth-bound. In the wake of these two cataclysms, the world radically changes, women are forced to pick up the pieces of a broken world and take over the reins as men have or are largely dying from a virus introduced by one of the impacts.
Most of the story picks up 16 years after these debacles occur, when a team of astronauts return from a Jupiter mission only to discover a world where men are now expendable, where women rule, and where the game has changed quite radically. Again, as with my other books, the story is weaved with contemporary triggers and buttons which point out the ills of a gender-dominated world, and in a brutal way, it shows us just how oppressive the culture becomes when one gender holds down the other.
Kirstie: What gave you the idea for the book?
Réal: The book was inspired by #metoo and other contemporary movements for women’s rights and equality. My wife, being a Swede and a staunchly independent woman, suggested to me that it was time to write a story that shifted the paradigm, and showed us what the world would look like if men were treated the way they have treated women over these many decades.
With that mandate, I set off on the story and to my own shock, as I detailed the story-line, it became evident to me that the imbalance in our world is a powder-keg just waiting to go off, which in fact, WomanEX lucidly reveals. I am happy to say that the reviews so far show that the message is definitely resonating with readers.
Kirstie: What elements of reality did you draw on in crafting the world of Woman EX?
Réal: Everything in our current society. I took the fact that there are over 15,000 nuclear weapons in the arsenals of eight nations today, and that basically, eight people, nearly all of them men, could change the course of humanity if they decided to unleash them. I took contemporary material from astrophysicists showing the likelihood of asteroid impacts on Earth, large enough to change or even destroy our world.
I took everything I could find about inequality and injustice of women, the imbalance of power, the fact that only 10% of the world’s nations are headed by women today, and none of those, bar one, possess the means of weapons of mass destruction, nor are they military nations.
Kirstie: What do you hope people take away from the story?
Réal: I hope to make a change. I want a world without nuclear weapons – man cannot be trusted with them. I want wars to end. I want equality for everyone. Unfortunately, in our male-dominated culture, it is men, largely so, who start wars, who build the machinery of war, and who profit from them – so if WomanEX can catalyze change, just like Orwell’s 1984 or other writers who inspired change, then I am happy for the book.
Kirstie: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Réal: Yes – just DO IT!
As far as I am concerned, if you dream of writing, just write. It took me some 22 years before I finally landed on my feet and started publishing, but I never let go of that dream, and I wrote until I knew I was ready to cut loose and let my stories out there. I think writing is soul-food, but you have to love it and you have to be willing to live the lifestyle. It requires discipline and you need to learn to live with yourself. It is not a job that involves others for the most part, not until it is ready for distribution, then you can bring in the rest of the team. There can be a lot of disappointment if you expect instant gratification and great sales. You have to believe in what you do and write.
We’d like to thank Réal for taking the time to talk to us! You can check out WomanEX and his other novels on his website.
Check out the book trailer for WomanEX below: