What made you decide to write about death?
I accepted my inner Morticia Addams at a fairly young age.
As a boy, I slept beneath the mounted corpse of a 9-foot dusky shark and ate my dinner in the same room as a mummy and a pair of death masks. My parents are lovely, cheerful people whose love of travel and history made them accidental necromancers, and their only child was a cross between Pugsley and Wednesday Addams to begin with, so… I was steered toward questions about death early on.
My mother isn’t Jewish, and my father isn’t Catholic, and between the two I never quite belonged to either religious world, which set me up nicely for a cross-cultural survey course of the afterlife with no real attachment to any belief system, but baked-in respect for them all. I survived lions in Kenya and snakes by the banks of the Nile before I hit puberty, not to mention that I explored more tombs, ruins, and caves than most kids have in their nightmares.
So I guess I’ve been preparing for The Waking Engine (and the books that will continue the story) for my whole life. As my studies brought me closer to shamanistic practices and other animistic viewpoints, I started to realize that this business of being interested in (and not upset by) death and the transition we will all make, one day, wasn’t just my own weird idiosyncrasy. It was a role that men and women have played throughout history, for the benefit of their communities. We need people who are willing to discuss death, and work with it creatively—it will happen to us all, and yet we spend most of our life pretending that it won’t. But our ends deserve as much emotional investment as our births, don’t they?
Not only is death a fertile ground for storytelling, it’s also a part of our individual stories. And as is perhaps fitting with its taboo nature, our concepts of the afterlife are relatively lackluster. Be bad, suffer; be good, enjoy yourself. Life is a complicated and fuzzy creature—I never understood how the thing that comes after it could be so one-dimensional. Harps? Virgins? Coming back as a cockroach? Are you kidding me?
I have always imagined what kind of afterlife could match this beautiful, brutal life we lead. The answer I found, for myself, was that only life could match life: give us dozens of lives, hundreds of scenarios, and see what becomes of us. Suddenly, the possibility of reuniting with those who’ve gone before becomes complicated, rather than generic—what has your grandfather learned, in his next life, as a sailor? That’s so much more fascinating to me than harp music and swan wings and peace. Peace is the death of the interesting, and that’s the one thing I’m afraid to see die.
That said, I knew I was wading into heavy territory, so I tried to fill the story with as much joy and light and living as I could—which, in my head, is exactly the sort of lesson that Grandpa is learning on his successive lives. What if death isn’t the end? What if you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep walking down the highway? That’s a sunset I’ll ride into.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, DAVID EDISON grew up reading and traveling, both to excess. David was 15 years old when he began his study of creative writing at the college level at Bennington College under Rick Moody and Helen Schulman. He graduated from Brown University with a degree in English Literature in 2000. In 2006, he co-founded GayGamer.net, the first video game news site and community presence for LGBT gamers—which has been reported upon by everyone from The Advocate to MTV to the Canadian Broadcasting Bureau, and was named one of the video game industry’s top 20 most influential game news sites in 2008 by Official PlayStation Magazine, #20 in a similar ranking by Wikio, and one of 1UP’s top ten favorite game blogs in 2010. He divides his time between New York City and San Francisco. The Waking Engine is his first novel. Visit him online at www.davidedison.com and on Twitter @DavidEdison.