What inspired Mindguard?
Well, the human mind, first and foremost. Obsessions. Borders. Individuality. Identity. Togetherness. Separation. And, as is often the case…my wife.
The whole concept came to me one day in 2012, while Ioana and I were taking a walk. She was sad and upset over something work-related and I remember thinking how great it would be if I could somehow make that sadness just vanish in an instant. I mean, I could cheer her up, but that’s a gradual (and often painfully slow) process. Instead of taking away her sadness, I wished it could be possible to make it so that she never got sad in the first place. I imagined somehow placing an essence of myself between her mind and whatever was making her sad, like a bodyguard intercepting a threat. You can see where I’m going with this.
The concept of “mindguard” came with a face. It was the face of Sheldon, my main character. I remember reading an interview with Dean Koontz a few years ago, where he said that the Odd Thomas character, along with the opening line of the novel, came to him while working on another book. He said he had to stop and just start typing the first chapter of Odd Thomas, as if the character and the story existed as separate, individual identities somewhere outside the realm of his mind.
I thought that’s a load of s**t, just something a writer would say because it sounded better than admitting he toyed around for hours with names like Buff Longhorn, Billy Cardinal White or Jim Bolia.
Well, as it turns out, the same thing happened to me, because life is funny like that. When the word “mindguard” popped into my head, good ol’ Sheldon appeared to me crystal clear, with his black shirt, his cherished light-brown leather jacket and his expressionless face. I instantly knew that his name was Sheldon Ayers, that he was a mindguard and that he was going to be the main character of my first sci-fi novel.
What are the major themes of Mindguard?
Obsessions. Borders. Individuality. Identity. Togetherness. Separation. But mostly human nature. I think any story is at its best when it’s a study of human nature. Good stories can make you understand the minds of the characters, empathize with them and their individual motivations, discover their secrets. Not-so-good-stories give you a bigger dose of the author’s personal convictions, but that’s still a study of human nature, because you get to understand the author’s psychology.
My ambition as a writer is to create worlds populated by characters that aren’t burdened with any moral “weight”, so to speak. They think and live and act driven by their obsessions, desires and motivations, not by clear-cut concepts of good and evil. I feel like they all have the same moral value, if you can call it that, and they all have the same creative value for the story.
I describe Sheldon as the main character because he is the actual mindguard to which the title refers. But really, there is a great number of characters. They all come into conflict with each other and they are all are equally important. I want the reader to pick a side based on the character with whom he or she empathizes the most, not based on some notion of whether the character is “good” or “bad”. I tried to construct Mindguard like a chess-game where all the pieces are queens. Most of my readers describe Sheldon’s antagonist, Tamisa, as the novel’s actual heroine. She does appear in more scenes than he does, so there you go.
As a reader, maybe you like Sheldon and you want him to successfully complete his mission. Or perhaps you love Tamisa and you’re rooting for her to stop Sheldon before he delivers the information package. You are also aware that both cannot succeed in their respective quests, which, I hope, adds a bit of an edge to the whole story. Like Tamisa says to Sheldon in a particular scene: “One of us has to lose!”
I think of a good story as the constant rearrangement of patterns of conflict. This conflict, I feel, is most effective, when the parties are evenly matched.
For example, my all-time favorite novel is Frank Herbert’s Dune. It changed my life. There would have been no Mindguard if it were not for Dune. However, there was one thing I didn’t particularly enjoy. You were immediately told who you should be rooting for. Paul Atreides was noble, brave, very smart for his age, destined to become the ruler of the universe. Baron Harkonnen bore every single negative trait that Herbert could think of. It never felt like they were evenly matched. I didn’t particularly like that. God Emperor of Dune was much better in that respect.
Why science fiction?
Because it’s larger than life, as is every genre that deals with things beyond the realm of the physically possible. I enjoy stories that transcend the human condition. You get to place people in situations which test the fabric of their psychology in ways that other forms of literature, not to mention real life, never do. To me, it has to be about the people. The fantastic worlds and situations are just elaborate environments for the characters to discover and inhabit, but the focus has to be on the human condition, in order to keep me interested. That’s what made Garden of Rama such an incredible experience for me. It was the first sci-fi novel I ever read and, to my thirteen year-old imagination, it felt like a cooler, more modern version of the Wizard of Oz, one that I could completely relate to. From that day on I’ve been in love with sci-fi. It cleanses my mind and my soul, allows me to dream of bigger and greater things. It also allows me to ask philosophical questions that would never arise within the boundaries of the real, physical world.
Can you describe your creative process?
I think everything I do is part of the creative process. Writing is always in the back of my mind, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. That’s why many of my ideas appear when I’m working out, drinking coffee, waiting in line at the supermarket or taking a walk. You find out what you were meant to do in life when you learn to recognize that little piece of “software” that’s constantly running in the back of your mind, no matter what you’re doing. It’s that one thing you constantly think about, even when you don’t want to. To me, that’s writing. I love stories, information, I love reading anything I can get my hands on. Writing seemed like a good way to capitalize on my love for reading. It also helps justify the long time I spend with a book in my hand. That way I don’t feel guilty for my reading binges. But the actual writing process happens almost exclusively in my little home-office, listening to jazz and drinking wine in the company of my Netherland dwarf bunny.
Will there be a sequel to Mindguard?
Yes, I plan to turn it into a trilogy. Right now I’m working on an unrelated novel called Skyborn, which I plan to release in serial format starting December. Simultaneously, I’m developing the sequel to Mindguard, which will be released sometime next year. I have the plot almost entirely finished, scribbled over twenty-or-so pages in one of my notebooks.
About Andrei Cherascu
Andrei is a full-time author with a passion for science-fiction. He studied Letters and subsequently pursued an American Studies M.A, writing his thesis on the music of Tom Waits. After working in I.T support for a couple of years, he decided to dedicated his entire energy to writing. His debut novel, Mindguard, was published on September 2nd and chosen Book of the Week by SciFi365.net exactly one month later, with the comment:
“Careful, intricate plot lines reminiscent of Greg Bear combine with characters whose fates you will care about - no matter their motivation. This is the type of novel that you might find in an independent bookstore with 'Staff Recommendation' and a hand-written review. One for all Science Fiction fans.”
Andrei also maintains the jazz-themed blog, The Music and Myth, where he reviews records and live shows and features artist interviews. When he is not writing or reading, Andrei likes to spend time listening to jazz and drinking wine in the company of his wife, Ioana and their Netherland dwarf bunny, Picky.