Tony Noland, a poet, self published author, and well-respected member of the Friday Flash internet community graciously agreed to an interview about his upcoming novel, “Verbosity’s Vengeance: a Grammarian Adventure Novel.” This is his second interview on the Ganymeder website. Welcome back, Tony.
Thanks, Cathy. It’s good to be back!
First, would you please tell my readers a little about your upcoming novel.
The book is a superhero science fiction story about the Grammarian, a hero whose powers are all based on grammar and punctuation. Although the concept is a bit tongue-in-cheek and there’s plenty of word nerd humor throughout the book, the Grammarian is a serious superhero, hot on the trail of his arch-nemesis, Professor Verbosity. The Grammarian has to find out what Verbosity’s big plan is and stop it before he can threaten Lexicon City. His job isn’t made any easier by the interference from a grandstanding, second-rate superhero named the Avant Guardian, or by the distraction of an intriguing (and attractive) scientist with a strong interest in superheroes and their technology. If you want a mashup analogy, it’s Batman meets WordGirl meets Thursday Next.
What gave you the initial idea for writing the Grammarian novel? You obviously have a love of the written word, as well as a penchant for punctuation – as illustrated in your lauded ‘Ode to the Semicolon.’ But what gave you the idea of creating a superhero novel centered around wordplay?
This started with a flash fiction story I wrote a few years ago. I’d seen one of the perennial catfights online between grammar proscriptivists (“These are the Formal Rules of Grammar and thou shalt follow them, or else!”) and grammar descriptivists (“People talk the way they talk. Grammar is just an obsolete holdover of the patriarchal hegemony, dude!”). I thought it would be funny to play out a scene where a formal grammarian gets into an actual fight, literally using words as weapons. Of course, in my book, the hero’s use of language is much more complex and nuanced than a dour primary school teacher who wrinkles a nose at every split infinitive. The Grammarian can use the power of vernacular constructions right alongside strict formalism.
I noticed that the novel has a lot of scientific and technical terms, many of which I was unfamiliar with. How accurate would you say your references are in general (taking into account artistic license)?
Where they aren’t outright fabrications (such as the ability to project a string of semicolons to bisect on oncoming plasma wave), I’d say they’re pretty accurate. Self-regenerating nanomesh armor is still science fiction, as is ability to convert intelligence directly into physical strength and reflexes, but the discussions of neuroanatomy, autonomous artificial intelligence and advanced materials science weren’t too far off from reality.
Do you have a scientific or technical background, or was a lot of research involved for those scenes?
I did some research on some of the details, to make sure I got them right. Where they aren’t right, it’s because I made them fit the story better. Having a science background helps to make the real stuff sound exciting and to make the fake stuff sound real or at least plausible.
How did you approach the subject matter, knowing that your grammar would be scrutinized due to the Grammarian’s special abilities?
I’ll admit, this is something that kept me up at night. While I’m pretty good with grammar, I’d never claim to be perfect. Even with all the help I’ve had with this book, I have to assume there’s some lines in it that would warrant someone’s red pen. I’m waiting for that inevitable one star review because the Grammarian used an inconsistent verb tense or misplaced a subtending clause. I’m assuming that any grammatical mistakes anyone else in the book makes won’t be nearly so unforgivable.
As a home-educator, I enjoyed reading this to my son as a fun way for him to learn about grammar. Did you have a particular audience in mind when you wrote this?
Anybody who likes science fiction, superhero action, and funny wordplay is the intended audience. The book doesn’t have any swearing, sex or drugs (harder than alcohol or tobacco), so it would be a good for a YA audience or even younger. I can’t claim it’s a YA book, though, since none of the characters are young adults. However, in his civilian life as Alex Graham, the Grammarian has to negotiate awkard first dates, strained friendships, conflicting ambitions and complicated emotions.
Why did you decide to self-publish? Do you have any advice for others who might wish to pursue this route?
Even as I was finishing Verbosity’s Vengeance, I was on the fence about how to bring this book to the marketplace. I’d self-published a couple of books (anthologies of short stories and poems), so I was familiar with that route. I queried this book for a while and collected my share of rejections from agents and publishers. Ultimately, I decided that since I couldn’t persuade any of them to take a chance on a hero who uses the strength of supple syntax and the power of perfect punctuation, I’d have to carry the ball forward myself. My advice to anyone else is to learn as much as you can about the business side of publishing so you can make informed decisions with your books.
Would you mind sharing your contact details for your blog and social media, as well as where my readers can purchase “Verbosity’s Vengeance: a Grammarian Adventure Novel”?
Thank you again, Tony, for agreeing to this interview. It was a pleasure reading your wonderful novel, and I wish you the best of luck!
Thanks for having me, Cathy!