Today I am interviewing Robert Repino, author of eme new science-fiction novel, D’Arc, the latest book of the War with No Name series.
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DJ: Hey Robert! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Robert Repino: Thanks so much for talking with me. The short version is that I grew up outside of Philadelphia, where most of my fiction takes place. After college, I spent two years in the Peace Corps in Grenada, and then earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Emerson College. I currently live in New York, where I work as an editor with a scholarly publisher, and I occasionally teach creative writing classes with Gotham Writers Workshop.
DJ: What is D’Arc and then the War with No Name series about?
Robert: In short, the series is about an apocalyptic war between humans and sentient animals. In this world, the nearly immortal Queen of an ant colony tries to wipe out all the humans. In their place, the animals rise up and build a new civilization. In the aftermath of the war, a cat named Mort(e) searches for his long lost friend, a dog named Sheba.
Spoiler alert: he finds her, and D’Arc picks up from there. In the sequel, Mort(e) and Sheba try to live the quiet life on a remote farm. But soon, they get pulled back into the conflict—largely because Sheba yearns for a life of adventure.
That’s the plot, but the bigger themes involve the folly of people—and by people, I mean humans and animals—who assume that they are somehow at the center of the universe, above the rest of nature. The story also comments on the tension between dogma and ideology on the one hand, love and loyalty on the other. Over and over, the characters are forced to choose between some nebulous ideology and the people in their lives. In other words, they choose between some hoped-for future or the here and now.
DJ: What were some of your influences for the War with No Name series?
Robert: I just published a little bibliography with Fiction Advocate that goes into detail about the books I read to learn a little more about animal behavior, religion, apostasy, and conflict. At a surface level, I think the pop culture I consumed as a child made me want to create an epic adventure series like Star Wars or something like that. In particular, I really love the zaniness of the 80s science fiction comedy, like Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, or Innerspace, and the premise of the series reflects that.
At a deeper level I was also intrigued by discussions of the problem of evil, like Camus’s The Plague, as well as stories of oppression and upheaval, such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Things Fall Apart. I’m also interested in how the process of evolution affects the way we see ourselves and how we treat each other, often in ways we do not recognize. After all, we are animals who have only just begun to remove ourselves from the meat grinder of natural selection, and it shows. To that end, I did a lot of reading about evolutionary psychology as well as animal behavior and intelligence.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers will sympathize with them?
Robert: First, there are no human POV characters in my book. The entire story is told from the perspective of the animals, with humans as the mysterious other. As a result, the characters have different experiences with the humans. Culdesac the bobcat blames them for the destruction of the forest in which he grew up, and thus derives great pleasure from hunting them. Wawa is a pit bull who was raised as a dog fighter, believing for years that she fought to protect her master and the rest of her pack. She enters the war conflicted—angry with humans, but still driven by her instincts to protect them. Mort(e) is neutered and declawed, having been raised as a simple house cat. His platonic love for Sheba, and his desire to see her again after she disappears, drives him to insane acts of recklessness that his fellow soldiers mistake for bravery. Finally, Sheba is burdened with all of the expectations and prophecies surrounding her, and yearns to break free and choose her own path in life.
DJ: What is the world and setting of the War with No Name series like?
Robert: The series opens at the start of the war, with giant “Alpha” ants overrunning the planet, and various animals turning on their former masters. Mort(e) finds himself conscripted into the Red Sphinx, an elite unit of feline assassins led by the bloodthirsty Culdesac. They prowl the forests and abandoned towns of the Northeastern United States in service of the Queen.
Years later, as the war winds down, Mort(e) returns to his old home, which is now an outpost called Wellbeing, where the surface animals try to rebuild under the watchful eye of the Colony. Though the animals believe that they are creating a new world, free of human failings, they cannot help but repeat the same mistakes. At a basic level, the community uses a mixture of rehabilitated human technology as well as “Colonial” advancements in farming and renewable energy. A council of animals runs things, but the Colony has final word on security. And with a looming outbreak of the pandemic known as EMSAH—a human bioweapon—the Colony reserves the right to “quarantine” the entire settlement. Everyone is on edge with rumors of a human infiltration.
DJ: How have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers for Mort[e], the first book of the War with No Name series? Is there anything that your audience seems to be particularly enjoying or is eager to find out more about?
Robert: I’m very lucky that most reviews have been positive, even from people who admitted that they didn’t know what to make of the book or its premise. Most were surprised (some even pleasantly!) at how violent and dark the book is. Because I touch on religious belief and politics, there has been some discussion about my handling of those topics, which I was hoping for. Some people liked those aspects of the book, while others were thrown for a loop.
Many reviewers pondered the issue of how the animals would react to being “uplifted.” Mort(e) and Culdesac deal mainly with the animals who fight the humans, and many people responded by saying, basically, “But my dog loves me—he wouldn’t kill me!” D’Arc has a little more to say about the post-conflict relationship between the humans and the animals—an uneasy alliance that’s rife with allegory.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing D’Arc?
Robert: To be honest with you, this was a very difficult book to write. Most days I wrote only about 250 words. At one point the book grew to 500 pages, so you can imagine how futile it felt at times. That being said, I think building the character of Sheba was the most satisfying. She was not much of a presence in the first book, and she needed to be dropped into D’Arc as a major character who drives the plot. I also enjoyed creating the culture for the beavers and the bats. They are two of my favorite animals now.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Robert: Along with the themes I mentioned above, I’m hoping for some robust debate about the decisions that Mort(e) and Sheba make. Both of them do things to assert their identity and carve their own paths, but these decisions also hurt people—both directly and indirectly.
DJ: What was your goal when you began writing the War with No Name series? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Robert: I would like people to think more about humanity’s place in nature. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should go vegan tomorrow, but this idea that the planet simply belongs to Homo sapiens is killing us. Many of our traditions, systems of government, dogmas, and superstitions encourage this terrible idea, and we should reconsider them; if necessary, we should even throw some of them away. On top of that, we should put the people we love ahead of any national or ideological loyalty. That won’t solve all of our problems, but it would be an improvement.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from D’Arc that you can share with us?
Robert: The beavers in my story like to sing, and they tell their history through song. A repeated song of mourning and hope, one that speaks to Mort(e) and Sheba’s journey, is this:
We will meet again
In the darkness
Where you and I
Will be the only light.
DJ: Now that D’Arc is released, what is next for you?
Robert: I’m working on a few projects, including a middle grade book that I would describe as Toy Story meets Poltergeist meets The Dirty Dozen. I’m also trying to finish a novel that’s slightly autobiographical, and takes place in Delaware County, Pennsylvania—affectionately known as Delco. After that, I want to return to the War With No Name series. Maybe in 2018. That’s the plan, and I’m hoping to stick to it.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Robert-Repino/e/B00PD2O8XK/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about D’Arc and the War with No Name series that we haven’t talked about yet?
Robert: Mort(e) (formerly known as Sebastian) and Sheba are based on real animals. Sebastian was the family cat, and Sheba belonged to my godparents. They were friends, and I think Sebastian began to think of himself as a dog. So many of their memories are “real,” in that sense—including the time Sebastian tried to “guard” the house from a babysitter.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** D’Arc is published by Soho Press and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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About the Book:
After the War With No Name a cat assassin searches for his lost love, a female canine heroine, in Repino’s strange, moving sci-fi epic that channels both Homeward Bound and A Canticle for Lebowitz.
In the aftermath of the War With No Name, the Colony has been defeated, its queen lies dead, and the world left behind will never be the same. In her madness, the queen used a strange technology to uplift the surface animals, turning dogs and cats, bats and bears, pigs and wolves into intelligent, highly evolved creatures who rise up and kill their oppressors. And now, after years of bloodshed, these sentient beasts must learn to live alongside their sworn enemies—humans.
Far removed from this newly emerging civilization, a housecat turned war hero named Mort(e) lives a quiet life with the love he thought he had lost, a dog named Sheba. But before long, the chaos that they escaped comes crashing in around them. An unstoppable monster terrorizes a nearby settlement of beavers. A serial killer runs amok in the holy city of Hosanna. An apocalyptic cult threatens the fragile peace. And a mysterious race of amphibious creatures rises from the seas, intent on fulfilling the Colony’s destiny and ridding the world of all humans. No longer able to run away, Sheba and Mort(e) rush headlong into the conflict, ready to fight but unprepared for a world that seems hell-bent on tearing them apart. In the twilight of all life on Earth, love survives, but at a cost that only the desperate and the reckless are willing to pay.
About the Author:
Robert Repino grew up in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. After serving in the Peace Corps, he earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. His fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize among other awards, and has appeared in The Literary Review, Night Train, Hobart, The Coachella Review, and more. Repino is the pitcher for the Oxford University Press softball team and quarterback for the flag football team, but his business card says that he’s an editor.