Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of your debut novel, Game of the Gods, through Tor Books! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Jay Schiffman: Game of the Gods is the story of Max Cone, a respected military commander and High Judge in the Federacy, the world’s most powerful nation. Max no longer wants to have anything to do with the Federacy’s politics or wars. He wants to remain on the sidelines as the world descends into a cataclysmic war. But when his family is taken, Max has no choice but to fight.
Game of the Gods is part action-adventure and part sci-fi political thriller. I wanted to write a fast-paced story with lots of twists and turns—ones that hopefully keep readers interested in what happens next. I wanted to tell the story of a reluctant hero and a band of outcasts joining together to save their friends and family. The outcasts—a 13-year-old girl with special powers, a revolutionary turned drug addict, a religious zealot, and a math savant—travel with Max on adventures through strange political landscapes. With his band of outcasts at his side, Max must save his family, and also the world.
BD: What can you share with us about your creative process in writing the book, and what have been some of your creative influences? Likewise, how do you feel that your work as an attorney and entrepreneur have aided your writing process?
JS: Kurt Vonnegut is my all-time favorite writer, and I’ve read just about everything he has ever written. His work has had a profound impact on my own. I am also a big fan of the dystopian classics: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and George Orwell’s 1984 to name a few. More recently, the dystopian YA series of Veronica Roth’s Divergent and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games have influenced my work, as has George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.
I have had many professional lives—lawyer, political science teacher, and businessperson. All of these have contributed to who I am as a writer. In Game of the Gods, I explore a lot of legal and political themes, and my legal and academic background certainly helped me to think about the different types of nations and political actors that inhabit my novel.
My background has also caused me to think a lot about the inherent tension humans face between seeking out close personal relationships versus collective or institutional ones. This is a major theme in Game of the Gods. For some characters in the novel, personal connections to family or friends are far more important to their human experience than transcendent connections to larger institutions like churches, military forces, political bodies, or even transcendent gods. This is a central tension we all face in our lives and I think most readers can relate to this.
BD: As a first-time novelist, what has been your experience in preparing for the release of Game of the Gods, as well as to the incredible critical response to the book?
JS: I honestly had no idea to what to expect and there have been many surprises, both good and bad, along the way. But that’s life in general. I believe I will be in a very different situation when I write my next book, because I will know what to expect. And hopefully, I will make far fewer mistakes next time around.
I am very thankful for the positive reviews I’ve received, but also humbled by the negative feedback, as well. We are all “works-in-progress,” and I want to improve as a writer. I want to take the criticism, as well as the positive feedback, and use it to become a better writer.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from your work?
JS: I hope they will see the story of a flawed hero who genuinely loves his family. The most important relationship in the book for me is between Max Cone, a jaded middle-aged man who has suffered through a lot of family tragedy, and Pique Rollins, this magical 13-year-old girl who breathes life into his moribund soul.
BD: What makes Tor Books the perfect home for Game of the Gods?
JS: My wife and oldest daughter walked into a Barnes & Noble store just after Game of the Gods hit the shelves, and they saw it nestled in between John Scalzi and V.E. Schwab, two powerhouse Tor authors. What more can I say. I don’t deserve their company, but thanks to Tor, I’m smack in between them. Some of it is the luck of the alphabet, but Tor has given me this amazing opportunity to be published alongside the great science fiction and fantasy authors that Tor is known for.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
JS: I am beginning to work on two new novels, one a sequel to Game of the Gods, and one a near-future political thriller that pits revolutionary gang leaders against the political establishment. I haven’t decided which one to pursue first, so I’m developing the high-level concepts first. Then, I will be left with a Sophie’s Choice of which to pursue first.
I also write about politics in my unimaginatively named blog, “The Politics Blog,” and I write about social justice initiatives in the similarly unimaginatively named, “The Politics Project.” Both of these focus on tolerance in the political process and can be found on my website, jayschiffman.com.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Game of the Gods?
JS: I guess the best place is jayschiffman.com. It sounds like another plug for my site, but who else is going to talk about my book more than me?