This interview originally appeared on PUYB Virtual Book Club
Welcome to the book club, Russ! First, I am so in love with that cover. I don’t know if it’s the colors or what but it just pops. Before we get into the meat of the interview, can you tell us who did your lovely cover?
Russ: Glad you like the cover for Genius de Milo! It’s really exciting. The design concept is actually mine, including the color scheme and all of the bubbles with the DNA helixes inside. That’s significant to the plot, by the way!
But my pal and fellow author Roy Mauritsen is the creative genius and art designer who brought it all to life. This is his baby. And it was his idea to add the hand with the pin about to pop one of those bubbles. It ties the entire concept together. He did a fantastic job. Roy does covers for lots of people. I hope to work with him again.
In your book, Genius De Milo, two teenagers – Jason Medley and Theo Barnes – are backpacking through Europe and New Zealand and they find something interesting. Can you tell us more about that?
Russ: When we first meet Jason and Theo in Finders Keepers, the first book in the trilogy, they are both actually in their early 20s, with Jason from New York and Theo from New Zealand. They not only come from opposite corners of the world, but they have entirely different personalities. Jason hasn’t traveled much, is kind of a nervous Nellie, and has no idea how to get himself from one place to the next! But Theo is more mellow, and an experienced traveler. They meet unexpectedly inVenice, and become fast friends. Together they just seem to fit.
Yet while still in New Zealand, Theo found a jar that causes these hallucinogenic side effects he can’t explain. (The jar contains the Universe’s DNA, but he only discovers that much later). In any case, it makes him feel like he’s winding through the fabric of the Universe, so he’s compelled to find answers, and finds his way to Europe.
Jason knows none of this when they first meet in Venice, but by the time their adventure is over, they’ve pretty much saved the Milky Way from disaster.
My new book, Genius de Milo, picks up a few years after that. The Universe is fluxing in and out of Existence, Theo’s twin three-year-old girls are teleporting, and Jason can’t tell which version of his life is real. That’s because Milo – the Universe’s gremlin — got his hands on that jar of DNA and is causing trouble.
That sends Jason and Theo across America to put things right, and keepMilo from destroying the planet. Again. Along the way they are joined by Jamie — a hotel clerk from Eternity — who may or may not have their best interests in mind.
Take us into the lives of Jason and Theo – what are their strengths and what are their weaknesses?
Russ: In Genius de Milo Theo is now a family, but he still has that travel bug in him. He almost always wishes he were out there in the world going on adventures, so he’s not as focused on the here and now as he probably should be. But because of that innate adventurer’s spirit — and the temperament to just kind of roll with the punches if those journeys don’t go according to plan — he’s able to keep them on track, even when he and Jason veer way, way, way off course.
Jason, meanwhile, is far more grounded, and in fact is about to propose to his girlfriend. He’s building a career, and genuinely wants to help other people. But he still inherently seeks the approval of others, and has trouble trusting that he’s on the right path. What confuses him most — but may in fact be his greatest asset given the predicament they are in — is that despite his generally conservative nature he seems to be in tune with the shifts in the Universe.
Meaning … he’s really quite intuitive about the sense that things aren’t ‘quite right’, and even though he’s not sure what that means, and that nobody other than Theo could possibly understand him, he’s learning to trust those instincts more, and make decisions accordingly. And sometimes that means sacrificing what he wants for what others need.
How did you come up with such a cute storyline?
Russ: The Finders Keepers series is loosely based on a series of backpacking trips I’ve taken over the years through Europe and New Zealand and my travels across the U.S.
Separately … years ago I had been tinkering around with some story ideas and one day, out of nowhere, a line popped into my head:
“Jason Medley had on his night stand a jar that contained the essence of the universe.”
And I said to myself: “Who in the heck is Jason Medley and what on God’s green earth is the essence of the universe?”
I really didn’t know the answer to either, but my own travels where so outrageous that I started to see the narrative coming together, linking my trips around the world with this tale of cosmic lunacy — an Earthbound backpacking adventure meets Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Also … I read a lot about philosophy, mythology, and spirituality, which have become core tenants of my personal life. Those ideas are very much a part of this series. And don’t worry … these are fun and funny popcorn books and are meant to put a smile on your face. But there’s real substance too.
They say that all books of fiction have at least one pivotal point where the reader just can’t put the book down. What do you think is that one pivotal point in Genuis De Milo?
Russ: I know it would be totally lame of me to say that I think there are tons of pivotal moments! Ha! But early on The Minder of the Universe — that’s the omnipresent character who basically oversees the Universe — discovers that the Earth is fluxing in and out of its existence, and that if something isn’t done about it soon, the planet he loves most will be wiped out forever. He also realizes that Milo, his ultimate eternal foil, is the cause. So it’s game on!
And, of course, Jason and Theo end up right smack in the middle of this galactic smack down.
If that doesn’t give you an idea of what you’re in for with Genius de Mio, I’m not sure what will.
What’s next for you, Russ?
Russ: I’m already working on the third and final book in the Finders Keepers trilogy, which I’m hoping will be ready by Fall 2016. I’m also contributing a short story to Pangaea, an alternate reality anthology my author pals and I at Crazy 8 Press are writing. Pangaea was actually successfully funded through a Kickstarter campaign. After that … lots more books!