Interview with Greg Ripley, author of Voice of the Elders

From what I understand, writing is something you came to later in life, when did it dawn upon you that you wanted to be a writer?

It was only in the last several years that I really started to write more frequently and discovered the more I did it, the more I enjoyed it. I started writing non-fiction while working as an acupuncturist. I wanted to write a book that would help people reconnect with nature, which I feel is at the heart of many of our modern world’s health problems, as well as the crux of our destruction of the environment. I turned to writing novels when I realized I wanted to explore similar themes in a fictional setting. I also just couldn’t stop writing. I had caught the writing bug.

How much of yourself do you put into your books?

A lot. In some ways each character in my novel is a version of, or a facet of myself. Their thoughts, feelings, memories, could all have some aspect that I’ve drawn from my own experience, or at least me trying to inhabit that character and what their experience of the situation would be. The subject matter and themes of my writing are also a reflection of my own interests and values. I know some writers try to maintain a very neutral point of view as a narrator, I’m sure my readers will not find that to be the case with my books. But I think that is probably the case with any writer who sees themselves in the eco-fiction or cli-fi space. We wouldn’t be writing these stories if we didn’t feel strongly about it.

What was the inspiration for your debut novel, Voice of the Elders?

As I mentioned before, I wanted to explore some of the themes I had written about previously. Nature connection and resilience in the face of climate change. I also wanted to explore how traditional Daoist ideas about these things could help people deal with the climate crisis, and what that might look like. At the same time, I had read some science news articles in the last few years that I had tucked away in the back of my mind that gave me the initial idea of how aliens might travel to earth without technology. I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say, these aliens, while much more technologically advanced in certain ways than earth have chosen a more spiritual and less “high tech” way of life. The first thing I actually wrote down for the book was a monologue from one of the aliens talking about the structure of the universe and how that related to their ability to travel through it.

How many of the historical references are real in Voice of the Elders?

Quite a few, actually. I drew a lot of inspiration from real historical characters and events. I also took some creative license with them when it related to the secret society.

You mean the secret society in the book isn’t real?

Well, of course if it was, I couldn’t tell you. now could I? (laughs) I based the secret society in the book loosely on what have come to be known as the Triads or the Chinese mafia, or I should say I based it on the historical predecessors to the Triads. Throughout Chinese history there have been secret societies which have risen up and later faded into obscurity. Many of these were religiously based, or based on patriotism, or some combination of the two. In the book I made the secret society a very ancient one connected to Daoism and, as it turns out in the story, aliens.

You mentioned eco-fiction and cli-fi, can you explain a little about those for people who are unfamiliar with these genres?

Sure. These are often thought of as emerging genres, and they are certainly growing in popularity, but they both, I think, began as a way to describe books in many different genres that dealt with the environment or nature, and humans’ relationship with it. That’s especially true of eco-fiction. Cli-fi, or climate change fiction is a little more recent, being coined by Dan Bloom about 10 years ago. Cli-fi also has a bit broader use. It’s often applied to movies as well as literature. A lot of sci-fi and dystopian novels and movies can fall under the umbrella of cli-fi as they often deal with futures on earth or other planets where the climate has been greatly impacted by humans.

So anything from Ecotopia to Mad Max?

Right. Actually, I had Ecotopia in the back of  my mind when I thought about Voice of the Elders. I haven’t read it in years, but I sort of had in mind a Daoist inspired Ecotopia. I suppose how that eventually manifested itself in the book was with the secret society’s compound, which was sort of a Daoist permaculture monastery, but even there, I drew inspiration from traditional Daoist monasteries which were often fairly self-sustaining enterprises. So, I tried to blend the speculative elements with historically accurate elements to envision what that might look like in the near future.

You also drew on a lot of myths and legends in the book as well.

That’s right. There are many layers to this book which different readers, depending on their background, may pick up on. The location of the secret society’s compound for example draws on mythological landscapes that go back thousands of years in China. While I tried to describe the actual physical landscape the characters travel through accurately, there are references to this mythic landscape as well. There is also another layer which some readers might pick up on if they are familiar with the texts or art of Daoist meditation or internal alchemy traditions. There are also parallels between some of the characters and mythic figures. Some are more overt, like Zhongkui and Guanyin but others aren’t spelled out quite as plainly. While I hope the main plot of the story keeps readers entertained, I also hope they dig into some of the deeper aspects of the story they might gloss over at first glance. Just as the Elders (the aliens) aren’t completely forthcoming in the book, there is more than meets the eye in the story as well.

Thanks so much for talking with us today, Greg.

My pleasure.

Voice of the Elders is published by Calumet Editions and is available in ebook and paperback on Amazon. You can read it for free with KindleUnlimited.

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