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.
Can you tell us who or what was the inspiration behind your book?
The setting of my book, Nantucket island, is the chief inspiration. My second inspiration comprised the physical and internal process of moving from Nantucket to Finland. I found myself straddling two countries, two cultures, two worlds. I’d had to make a hard choice to come to Finland, one that meant redefining myself and leaving some important things and people behind. The Last Ancient’s protagonist, Simon, must make similar choices between worlds—physical, spiritual, social, romantic—in order to realize his destiny.
Is this your first published book and if so, can you tell us your experiences in finding a publisher for it?
Yep, The Last Ancient is my debut. After two drafts, I pitched The Last Ancient at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association conference in July, 2012. Pitch blocks, by the way, are an amazing exercise in personal salesmanship and in understanding your book. You walk into a room full of twenty agents and editors, and you choose on the fly which ones you’ll pitch to (for just two minutes!) based on their profiles’ listed acquisition interests. Your pitch needs to be razor sharp; a book needs a hook for someone to sell it.
Anyhow, I met at my pitch-block J.Ellen Smith, publisher of Champagne Book Group and BURST Books. I knew it would work out with her. She got it immediately; kept saying, “And then what happens? And then? Really? Wow! I have goosebumps! I can’t wait to read it!” The Last Ancient garnered lots of initial interest at the conference, followed by some really nice rejection letters, and even a few tentative “Change a ton and hack out 20,000 words and maybe then” type offers. But I believed in my book as-is, and it turned out so did Ms. Smith and BURST, my imprint. In fact, they recently awarded The Last Ancient Novel of the Year for the Champagne Book Group Annual Author Awards. I am so honored. It’s really nice to have editors and publishers who believe in your work, especially when you write non-conventional genre-mashers.
Where do you live and if I were coming to town, where would we go to talk books?
I live in Finland, in a somewhat backwater town of 90,000 called Pori, three hours’ drive north of Helsinki. During the day I’d suggest we talk books over some ice-skating or cross country skiing, followed by a session in a legendary Finnish sauna (every home has one; ours has two, an electric and a wood-burning). By night we’d go to the local bar, Kirjakauppa, which means, of course, “book store” in Finnish. If it were the summer, we’d plop down on a picnic blanket, open a bottle of wine, and chat books under the midnight sun. And then go to the sauna.
When you’re not writing, what do you do to relax and have fun?
My main thing these days is singing for my heavy metal band. I love it. Screaming into the oppressive darkness of a Finnish winter provides a great release. And man, do these Finns know how to rock. I’m also an outdoorsy and active person. I like to hike, snowboard, work out, jog, boat, fish, that sort of thing.
Do you make a living off your books or do you have another job?
No, I’m not even close to making a living off my books yet. I just published with a small indie press in December, 2013 so I’m spending far more on marketing than I am making on sales at the moment. I’m a professor of communications at a local college, and I run my own little translating and editing business to pay the bills.
In your opinion, what makes a good book great?
I love this question. Good books keep you enthralled while you’re reading. Great books stay with you once you’re done. You live in them when you’re reading a great book, and you are homesick for that world when the last page is turned. Why? A great book, I think, has a soul. There are zillions of good books. They can have excellent high concepts, plot twists, interesting characters; but if there isn’t a soul binding it all together, the book can be forgettable. Having a soul often means that a book can be read differently each time it’s picked up, usually because there are several layers to it. The soul shines through them all. It’s something where you might say, for instance, “Lord of the Rings is about a group of heroes fighting evil by destroying a magic ring; but it’s about so much more—it’s about fellowship, and love triumphing over hate, and dignity and honor overcoming weakness!” Personal taste is of course involved. A great book doesn’t even have to be impeccably written. The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo books are almost laughably poorly written, but I love them. I miss Lizbeth Salander, and still think about the web of conspiracy she got caught up in.
Psychologists tell us the thing we think we’d most like to grow up to be when we’re ten years old is our avocation. What did you want to be?
I wanted to be an author. So I guess they got it partially right, although I started saying I’d be a writer when I was seven years old. And, come to think of it, I have supported myself as a journalist for many years, so I’m not sure it’s purely an avocation. But I also wanted to be a sorcerer at ten, and my spells never work.
Can you give us a short excerpt from your book?
Absolutely! Let’s try this one:
A sunray shoots through the sharp woody tangle. Lights up something beside the feathers. It glows like a golden strand of spider web. I point it out, but Fernandez tells me to zip it. I salute him.
A cloud passes over the sun. The golden thread dims. I pluck it from beside the feathers before it disappears. It lights up again in my hand. The thing’s weird resilience and luster is captivating. Probably a hair, but more like a small-gauge acupuncture needle. As I pocket it, something glows blue and then extinguishes in the brush ahead of me. Maybe the sun hit on colored glass or a butterfly or a blue bird.
Twigs snap in the distance. Then more. We share a silent what-the-hell? moment. The rustling and snapping gets louder. Closer. We discern growling. Something is crashing along the path that Dr. Driscoll just carved with her machete. I suck in breath and swivel my head. Fernandez is up, his hand on his Glock. No predators on Nantucket, right, Sergeant? Even Dr. Driscoll’s dusky face goes pale.
What’s next for you?
I’m really excited about a YA horror/fantasy trilogy I’m finishing up called The Golden Crow. The starting point–not to get dark here, but—comes from when I was fourteen years old and my mother died of cancer and, a month later, a golden crow took residence in our backyard for the duration of my high school years. I believe the albino-like pigment defect it had is called xanthrochroism, which is universally rare, and perhaps unprecedented in crows. Anyhow, The Golden Crow is, at its heart, a meditation on overcoming grief and finding meaning as a teen after losing a loved one. The Golden Crow also just happens to involve demons and a New Demon World Order conspiracy launched from a high school in a south Seattle suburb (where I grew up). Five kids from all over the world—a hulking albino Finnish exchange student, a gay teen caring for her schizophrenic mother, a New England brainiac, a Seattle beauty queen, and a psychopathic student body president– have all experienced loss and are also all visited by demons; and a golden crow, with a message from the spirit world. I haven’t submitted it to anyone yet, but hopefully it will be available early 2015.