Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Manichean, Augustinian, Jinxed and a great adventure for young readers

I reviewed The Jinx by D.F. Lamont recently (read my review of the Jinx here). It's a really fun young readers' adventure that mentions in passing, among other things, Manichean and Augustinian philosophies! So, of course, I had to ask...

Today I'm delighted to interview the author, Dougald Lamont, on my blog:

The Jinx tells of the amazing trials and tribulations of an eighth-grader called Stephen whose life seems suddenly "jinxed" after a bike accident. Is Stephen based on a real person? He sounds so real, and his bike accident, plus he reaction, seem so very true-to-life.

Stephen Grayson, (the 13-year-old hero of my book The Jinx) and I do have a few events in common in our lives. 

We both caught our shoe (with foot inside) in the front wheel of our ten-speed on the first day of Grade 8; we both have a brother who did karate, who would jump out and say “defend yourself” and force us to fight; we both spent a gym class getting playing dodgeball where we got hit in the face over and over again. 

But Stephen isn’t me, and his family isn’t mine. 

Where did the idea for the story of the Jinx come from? I loved the surprising directions the story took me indid you know where it would go when you first started writing?

The kernel of The Jinx came from a dream I had - that I was having very bad luck, and the bad luck was catching, and affecting the people around me, and I ran away to protect my family, only to find that creepy monsters were coming after me and I had to use the “bad luck power” to fend them off. 

That is the basic core, and I built the rest of Stephen’s story, around it. 

So the next step was that I had to figure out how someone could “catch” bad luck. And I had the idea that Stephen was being affected by probability changing, like it was a natural phenomenon like air pressure, or a build-up of static electricity, and it was like a slow-motion lightning strike, and Stephen is the first one to get hit, and be affected, but it is only part of something much worse that is to come. 

I also remembered a story by the great sci-fi writer Stanislaw Lem, in his book the Cyberiad, called “The Dragons of Probability.” In it, scientists have a machine that adjusts probability, and he had the idea that some mythical animals are more probable than others. When you turn up the probability a little bit, dragons start appearing. If you turn it WAY up, really unlikely things start happening. 
So I had Daedalus actually make reference to it, explaining it as “Lem’s principle.” In his story, it’s dragons. In my story, it’s these creatures called chaons. 

I love that name chaons! But please go on...

Stanislaw Lem is one of my favourite writers, and although my style of writing is very different, I was inspired a lot by Lem in this book. The Cyberiad was one of my favourite books as a kid and is still one of my favourite books today. 

When I read it as a child I thought of it as funny science-fiction fairy tales about robots and skimmed over the tough stuff. When I grew up, I realized that he was often illustrating genuine problems in higher mathematics, physics, philosophy, and information theory. 

When I wrote it The Jinx, I wanted to do the same thing. I like the idea of a kid reading this book when they are 8, or 12, liking it because it is a fun adventure story, and then sitting in a class when they are 20 and realizing, “Hey, that guy was actually talking about information theory, or philosophy”

I like that idea too—a story that grows with the reader. So now I have to ask you about the Manichean vs. Augustinian debate—I love the way you included it in conversation without sounding like school… just a cool, intriguing question…

I specifically included the Manicheaen vs. Augustinian debate because it comes up in a book by Norbert Weiner, who with Claude Shannon one of the fathers of cybernetics, which is an extension of information theory. 

It is two incredibly different views of the universe - basically one where it is actively working against you, and another where if you can’t figure out the secrets of the universe, it’s because of your own shortcomings.

And there are other ideas I tried to weave into the book, and it’s gratifying that some young readers just like the adventure, and other ones have realized that I am actually playing with these bigger ideas. I hope it makes it a book that people can return to. 

I’m sure it does—I certainly enjoyed reading it.
Thank you so much for visiting my blog and answering my questions here. I hope lots of young readers find and enjoy your book—and keep enjoying it as they grow older.

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The Jinx is available in paperback from Lulu.com, Amazon.com and in digital formats from most online retailers - iTunes, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and more. 

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