Today the spotlight is on Robert Rosell, author of Virtually Yours, Jonathan Newman. He was born in Montreal, Canada and, being a bit restless, he ended up graduating from three universities and bouncing through a number of careers. These included stints as a high school teacher, theater director, university instructor, writer, video director, and children's media producer. While serving as the president of three educational media production companies, Robert wrote and directed over 50 award-winning films and videos. Robert is the author of the Civitas Rising series and a non-fiction book to be released in March, 2013. He lives with his family in spectacular Washington State.
What role do you believe speculative fiction plays in society?
There are many forms of speculative fiction, and they each influence us in a plethora of ways. Some stories activate our social conscience, others allow us to dream fantastic fantasies, while still others challenge our most fundamental beliefs. All forms of literature lead us through the author’s imagination into the realm of story, but with speculative fiction we are invited to explore distant worlds, bizarre universes or preternatural alternative realities.
Taking us away from the familiar frees us to think bigger thoughts. It changes the filters through which we experience our day-to-day existence, perhaps opening us to challenge conventional wisdom and established norms. Its impact can be revolutionary.
Why do you write in this genre?
I’m a political person. I always have been. As a teenager I used to have screaming matches with my father about the Vietnam War and racial issues. As a young man I was a campus activist and troublemaker. Writing speculative fiction has given me a platform on which to dance. It’s also fun.
How did you come up with the idea for Virtually Yours, Jonathan Newman?
Virtually Yours, Jonathan Newman began as a screenplay over 10 years ago. I was concerned about balance in my life, and balance in the lives of those I cared for. I sought to explore the impact of a life out of balance by taking an ad absurdum approach. How far out of balance can one man get? Jonathan Newman was that man, and living his life on a table, working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, literally selling his blood and organs for his employer was as extreme as I could imagine. The task then became to envision the world in which such a life was possible.
What was your biggest challenge in writing it?
Something strange happened when I got about one third of the way into writing the story. A major character died. Having someone die in a novel isn't unusual, however it wasn't part of the narrative I had imagined. Besides, I loved this character. Once the deed was done, I sat in my little office weeping like an idiot. Everything had suddenly changed.
I tried to rework my outline, rethinking how the story should now unfold, but was unable to find the new narrative. After several frustrating weeks I decided to set my planning aside and simply write. It took me over a year to finish, and most of that time I had no idea what was going to happen each day as I stared at my blank screen, waiting… waiting… waiting for the words to arrive. I didn't know how the book would end until I actually wrote the final pages. For someone who likes to plan things in advance, this was a healthy though often scary voyage outside my comfort zone.
What are you working on now?
The sequel to Virtually Yours, Jonathan Newman was published last August. Civitas Island – The Birth of Hope was fun to write, and I’m happy with how it turned out.
There will be at least one more novel in the Civitas Rising series, but I thought I should take a short break from the narrative to keep things fresh. Right now I’m finishing a non-fiction book on making better relationship choices. If all goes well, that one will be released by the end of June, 2013.
About Virtually Yours, Jonathan Newman
Work, sex and the meaning of life - in the future.
What is a good employee? Is he one who contributes everything he has to help his company succeed? All his time? All his energy? How about his kidney? His wife? If a virtual life feels real, looks real, tastes real, and smells real - is it real? What happens to your real life when your virtual life appears to be an improvement?
Welcome to the bizarre world of Jonathan Newman, who lives at a time when the government is weak, the powerful are playing dirty, and life is no tea party.
Nineteen years after the Freedom First Party sweeps Democrats and Republicans from power in an American election that shocks the world, government departments, regulations, and programs are gone and free markets rule.
With medical care now beyond the reach of all but a fortunate few, musician Jonathan Newman must find a way to pay his gravely ill son’s hospital bills. In desperation he takes a sales job with QualLab, a global laboratory supply company that offers a generous compensation package. Once there, a web of wires, tubes, and sensors connect him to a table in a secluded cell where he works day and night selling bio-laboratory tests made from human materials - his. To keep him sane in his tiny chamber, Jonathan is immersed in a thrilling virtual world – part of a clandestine effort to transfer his loyalty from family to Company.
Virtually Yours, Jonathan Newman chronicles a tug-of-war between competing values. The novel presents a funny but credibly dark view of America’s future. It is fiction that will make you think.
"Rosell’s novel is a consistently fun read with a strong message at its core." - Kirkus Review