Eliot Baker lives in Finland. He teaches communications at a local college and runs an editing and translating business, but would be content singing for his heavy metal band and writing novels full-time. He grew up near Seattle, got his B.A. in World Literature at PitzerCollege, and got his M.S. in Science Journalism from BostonUniversity. He was an award-winning journalist at the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror, and before that he wrote for the Harvard Health Letters. He spent four years pursuing a career in the sciences while at the HarvardExtensionSchool, during which time he spun old people in NASA-designed rocket chairs and kept younger people awake for 86 hours at a time in a sleep deprivation study. He likes good books, all music, and bad movies, and believes music and literature snobs just need a hug.
His latest book is the supernatural thriller/historical mystery, The Last Ancient.
Visit his blog at www.eliotbakerauthor.blogspot.com.
About the Book:
Around NantucketIsland, brutal crime scenes are peppered with ancient coins, found by the one man who can unlock their meaning. But what do the coins have to do with the crimes? Or the sudden disease epidemic? Even the creature? And who–or what–left them?
The answer leads reporter Simon Stephenson on a journey through ancient mythology, numismatics, and the occult. Not to mention his own past, which turns out to be even darker than he’d realized; his murdered father was a feared arms dealer, after all. Along the way, Simon battles panic attacks and a host of nasty characters — some natural, others less so — while his heiress fiancee goes bridezilla, and a gorgeous rival TV reporter conceals her own intentions.
Would you call yourself a born writer?
Writing is in my blood. My mother, Sharon Baker, published three science fiction novels in the 1980s before she passed away. Growing up, I loved going to writer’s conferences and sci-fi conventions and meeting authors. I’d like to think that my writing passion is completely my own. Writing gives me deep personal satisfaction, and at times I can get full-on writer’s high. My brain is wired to feel happy when I’m writing. I love it. But I’m sure there was plenty of nurture in addition to my writer’s nature.
What was your inspiration for THE LAST ANCIENT?
My inspiration for The Last Ancient started off as something darker than the final product. Some people very close to me were having their lives ripped apart by addiction, and I began writing a parable about that downward spiral. Then I basically went down a creative rabbit hole myself, found some incredible stuff, recorded it, and realized the story I needed to tell was a much different tale than the one I’d intended. It would be more personal. I’d just quit my job as a reporter on Nantucket and moved to Finland to raise a family with my Finnish wife. Having given up career and country to make the move, I felt stuck between two worlds, living in one but missing the other. Staring out my office window at the pale winter sunlight, I suddenly thought back to our former home on the island. I got homesick. I recalled one of my first field assignments as a reporter where I’d shadowed a deer hunter at sunrise, and how amidst a chorus of shotgun blasts the red island sun rose over the cold, windswept island. I remembered seeing truckloads of dead deer at the weigh-in station, and some illegally butchered carcasses discarded on pristine trails and beaches. Looking back down at my laptop, out of nowhere, I typed, “Shotguns crow across Nantucket.” The Finnish sunlight outside just seemed to turn golden. A gateway to this darkly fantastic Nantucket opened. It was a pivotal moment.
What themes do you like to explore in your writing?
I’m drawn to growth and transformation, be it for better or for worse, literal or metaphorical. The Last Ancient became what it is once alchemy came into the picture. Alchemy is a three-thousand-year-old study into transforming base elements into precious ones, especially gold. It’s about finding immortality and godhood, via the Philosopher’s Stone. We’ve all read or seen Harry Potter. But have you read C.G. Jung’s work on alchemy and symbolism? Jung, I discovered, was obsessed with how neatly alchemical processes and symbology aligned with his own theories on the transformative states of man. He found that, like alchemists with metals, people were trying to turn their own base elements into gold, to become better, to become gods, immortal. He’s a pretty far-out guy in his own right, owning some legitimate claims to mystical abilities. I looked at his work and held it up against the ancient works of Hermes Trismegistus and then the much bloodier stuff of the some ancient alchemists and started playing with the literal and figurative interplay of the transformative process, of becoming something more, as an individual or as part of a relationship or a community. My original working title was, Until a God You Become; but my publisher said, Sounds Like Yoda It Does. And they were probably right.
How long did it take you to complete the novel?
The first draft took me about six months of on-again-off-again writing. The next two drafts took another six months, but those re-drafts were pretty heavy, requiring tons of changes and even more intensive writing. I kicked off writing The Last Ancient by holing up in a secluded cabin in the woods of Finland in October, 2011. I pitched it at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association conference in July, 2012, got a bunch of manuscript requests, and submitted my re-draft in February, 2013. Champagne Book Group accepted it in April, 2013, and it was published in December, 2013. So that was my timeline for it.
Are you disciplined? Describe a typical writing day.
I wish I were more disciplined. My typical writing day begins with shoving my two kids into their clothes and dragging them to daycare. Then I return home, and take care of whatever business I must. I start writing or researching around 9 AM. I try to devote specific days for writing or for research, because research is important to me and writing requires an uninterrupted block of time. It can take me two hours of plunking at the keys before the world gets vivid and the characters start speaking to me. My wife is very supportive, and every so often I’ll get a long writing weekend at the cabin or home alone. Those writing vacations are vital. I’ll type for sixteen hours at a time. I prefer to write obsessively. By the end of the weekend I’m talking to myself and my eyes are wild and my hair is disheveled. I’m basically a crazy person. But that’s when the writing really crackles.
What did you find most challenging about writing this book?
Remember how Keanu Reeves had to first decide which pill to take to enter the Matrix? And once he’d made that decision, he then had to learn how to fight and fly and teleport and choose the perfect black leather-and-sunglasses ensemble? Writing The Last Ancient was kind of like that: swallowing the pill was pretty easy, but dealing with the consequences was really hard, requiring tons of effort and training that were absolutely necessary and infinitely rewarding.
I knew my story required a complex conspiracy, but I’d never designed a mystery before, much less one involving mythology, peak resource theory, alchemy, and history. At times I felt like I was juggling flaming machetes. So much research, so many interlocking subplots and historical anecdotes. And yet the characters always spoke to me and the story always flowed. I rarely got burned or cut and never dropped the blades. How? I found the sweet-spot between hard research and outlining, and creative release. You see, I’m a natural pantser who’s reformed into an outliner. I’d set aside days – sometimes weeks – for research and outlining, while dedicating other time blocks for hard-core writing, often in a secluded cabin away from all my soul-sucking electrical gadgetry. Cliché, yes, but it worked. Folks, once you’ve done your internet research, dropkick your tablets and bury an axe in your TV. When it’s just you and the rapping of your keyboard, amazing things will happen.
What do you love most about being an author?
Knowing at the cellular level who and what I am, and being proud of it. While writing is a craft, some people are just naturally wired for that craft. I discovered my write-sided brain upon finding that writing yields a bigger rush than almost anything else–at least anything that can be done legally, in public, fully clothed, and on a daily basis. Writers write because they have to. It’s an obsession and an addiction. Life is joy when writing is involved, and dull when it’s not. Also, you’re never too old to write. It’s a dream that can never die. A writer always has hope. They’re never failing but always developing.
Did you go with a traditional publisher, small press, or did you self publish? What was the process like and are you happy with your decision?
I went the small press route. I didn’t really consider self-publishing because I don’t have the social platform to make that a successful option, and because I really wanted the validation of being accepted by a house and having a great editor, which I received in Nikki Andrews. I pitched my novel at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association in 2012, and got interest from some New York agents and indie publishers. BURST Books was the one house who wanted my book as-is, no substantial changes please, and they praised my writing and story right off. The larger houses were worried the book was too long and combined too many genres. I went with the house that believed in me. And have they ever. They named The Last Ancient Novel of the Year for their Champagne Book Group Annual Author Awards. I’m honored.
Where can we find you on the web?
My blog is eliotbakerauthor.blogspot.com. Follow me on twitter @eliotebaker. My website is coming, stay tuned!