By Corey Fanelli
We were lucky enough to land an interview with author Dan Tello Spahr, who’s just released his third novel, Drowned World on Fire. Click here to check out the book
GG: Hi Dan, my name is Corey Fanelli and I’m with The Geeked Gods, thanking you so much for doing an interview with us today. We’re going to be talking about your novel Drowned World on Fire, which was released just last month.
DTS: Nice to meet you Corey, the novel was released on July 24th.
GG: To start out, what can you tell us about the book? Is there anything you’d like your audience to know or be aware of before jumping in?
DTS: It’s my first attempt at a mystery novel but still maintains a strong social message that I want to make people aware that we all need to do our part in helping the environment and making our elected officials work too. It still has gay characters as all my books do but this time, sex, AIDS, or psychology is not the focus any longer for the characters, they have evolved to more pressing matters.
GG:Where did you get the inspiration behind the idea for Drowned World? The subject matter deals with climate change and what seems to be a government conspiracy covering up what’s really going on? Obviously your book is fiction but do you think there might be something to that idea?
DTS: As I was writing Draw the Stars, I was staggered by the reports on World News about the abundance of time the weather was now getting on the global news while watching every night with my husband. It led me to start talking to friends and my mother. She sent me a video one-day of an ex-marine who became a whistle blower for the truth about the smoke from planes that seemed to start and stop in certain places. The smoke never diffused quickly and seemed to spread across the sky and didn’t dissipate. The plastic snow test videos also led me down a path to believe we are not being told the entire story. Researching the amount of funds given to the EPA with little changes to show progress. Now just two weeks after publishing the Colorado River is full of toxins in the same region I wrote about in the climax of my story. It was eerie to watch it actually happen in real life.
GG:In a similar vein climate change has been a hot-button issue for some time yet there are still those who are skeptical of its existence. What are your ideas on that and how do you think your book comes down on the issue, if at all? What do you think can be done to finally make people realize what the realities of climate change are or do you think there will always be a small sect that can’t be convinced? In your book there is a nefarious corporate interest influencing the government to perpetrate the cover up, so do you think there could be real-world actors doing these kinds of things and making sure the veil remains firmly in place, so to speak?
DTS: The climate crisis is real.
Editor: Kivalina, Alaska: A Disappearing Town
At the tip of a barrier island 80 miles above the Arctic Circle, the town of Kivalina, Alaska, is melting into the sea because of climate change, meaning locals will have to move. In 2008 the Village filed a lawsuit against major U.S. energy companies. Meanwhile, life looks a little like this.
DTS: Ask anyone who lived through hurricanes in the 80’s and they will tell you these are different beasts. Katrina and Sandy changed America and sadly to say they probably won’t be the last ones too. There is no comparison, the storms now are. We have always had tornadoes and storms but nothing to the magnitude of today. Right now a third of the country is dealing with forest fires because the west coast is drought ridden. We are not the cause of the storms but our inactions are driving Mother Nature to act out more and stronger because the government and the some people refuse to acknowledge that this is the only issues that affects every person on Earth; not gay rights, not the right bare arms, not war, and not even Betty White.
The climate crisis and ways to recede the advances in technology by using the Earth to work for us is the only solution as some countries have gone totally green. Hawaii just announced it became the first state to use all natural resources to generate clean energy. Melissa Etheridge wrote a song that won an Oscar for Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth that first brought this issue to my attention a decade ago.
Everyone needs to find their own path to realize that this issue affects them, but the news has been out there for many years starting when I was a kid and we started recycling. I am sure there are naysayers and those will probably be the unprepared people when the time comes to take cover. I think there will always be a ‘wizard’ trying to mask what is really going on but until the people stand up and demand answers the curtain will remain closed. People need to realize how powerful their own voices are; demanding changes and one-day persistence will pay off.
We have been able to win every social cause thus far, and even though this one involves the entire planet, we can do it, if we are unified in a simple clear message that sustainability is the key to our survival as a people. We have one world we need the message to be unified.
GG: On a personal note, you identify as a gay man and you’ve written about your life and experiences in earlier works; The US has made many strides in a relatively short period of time, with many states legalizing gay marriage on their own, huge shifts in public opinion, and of course the landmark Supreme Court case earlier this year, so my question is how have your experiences informed your views throughout this process of our moving towards a more understanding and accepting society? What are some of the areas in which there’s still progress to be made and what would you say to those who believe that most of the “hard work” is behind us?
DTS: The Supreme Court decision is huge. It altered my entire way of thinking about myself and reaffirmed my ability to be finally being proud to be an American. All of my friends and family contacted us to celebrate the historic moment.
Chris and I were married in New York October 2014 surrounded by all of our family and friends of over 150 guests. I just don’t think that would have been the case a decade ago. I am going to be the last generation of homosexuals that remembers the world before gay marriage was legal. It took a lot of work to get there.
Just before I had planned to come out in 1998, Matthew Shepard was murdered and that scared me off for about six months before I came out in the summer of 1999 to some people. Even then it wasn’t as accepting. All we had was Ellen DeGeneres and Will and Grace. Now every show or film has inclusive characters so we have made many advances but personally I don’t see a finish to the work as there are will always be a minority who choose to spread hate as it is still the case for Jews and African Americans albeit lessened.
We need the new focus on teaching tolerance in states that never passed equal rights to begin with. We also need to show off the broader scope of what gay people actually look like in real life that will alleviate the tension and they will end up seeing more connections to us than differences beyond the media’s representation. My marriage to Chris is wonderful but the same mundane tasks of laundry and grocery shopping have to get done. We aren’t partying every night and now after adopting a puppy we’re in bed most nights before the late news.
We have crossed a huge hurdle but progress is always an option. Next we need to help our women friends get equal pay.
GG-All of the proceeds to your books go to the Tello-Spahr Scholarship at Hofstra University. What can you tell us about this scholarship, its goals and accomplishments? Where did you come up with the idea and what is your vision for the scholarship going forward?
DTS-During my summers at Hofstra, I decided to continue my education studying in Italy first as I thought it would look good on my resume but that Montepulciano trip changed my life. I even wrote my first memoir about my five weeks there and having the strength to finally come out after falling in love with my straight friend. I told a few of them I was gay and the amount of love and acceptance I received from strangers became life long friends. I knew that that trip and the three study abroad trips that followed were so special to me. I wanted to use the books for good to help other students find themselves abroad with the help of Maria Fixell who is in charge of all the study abroad programs and runs the Venice Program, which is where the scholarship is given to.
GG-Drowned World on Fire is your third novel. This question may be a little self-serving but as a writer who hopes to be published one day what can you tell me and any of the writers reading about your process? How have you developed as a writer from your first book to now? What are some misconceptions you might have had that have be quashed as you’ve become more experienced? What do you believe are your most important practices and do you have any “pro tips” you’d be willing to share?
DTS-My process starts when there is a topic I feel passionate about and haven’t been explored fully to my generation in the media form I’m writing in. I start with a rough idea of a plot and then flesh out the characters all before I write the first sentence. Then I plow through and write as much as I can until I have a working draft. Then I edit, edit again, and then edit before letting an actually editor rip it apart, and edit twice afterwards until I realize I’ve loss touch with reality, friends, and my husband and realize I need to let it go and let others read it. The best advice I ever learned was to never be afraid to make a mistake, because the best ideas come from a free write experience. I also love to take 5-6 mile hikes while listening to music that tends to mirror the topic I am writing about that helps ideas flow more naturally.
Also never underestimate the silliest conversation that you may have about a totally unrelated topic will suddenly spark an idea for you hours or even days later. A title for my next work dawned on me in the shower after a conversation with Chris about a friend of his and Chris has yet to know what I am exactly working on next at that point.
GG-As we close our interview, what are some thoughts regarding Drowned World on Fire that you would like to leave the audience with? I know it’s still new and fresh but did you have any thoughts of a sequel or will your next work be original as well?
DTS-I just hope people come away with their own questions about what is really going on with the environment and we help to continue the conversation through many mediums as it is a problem that we still need much work to do. I don’t really plan on writing any sequels to any of my novels.
And as the novel market continues to diminish I am leaning towards writing a play next, about a modern take on a gay male version of a ‘golden girls’ storyline and of course with a message.
Many thanks again for interviewing with us Dan Tello Spahr and we wish you lots of luck with Drowned World on Fire. If you’d like to pick up a copy of Dan’s latest book you can find it on Amazon.com in print or kindle or kindle app versions.