Friday, September 29, 2023

Age of Rust

Age of Rust

by Thaddeus Yeiser & Conrad Bair

Genre: Dystopian War Fiction

 Age of Rust is a tale of displaced youth, the struggle for life, and the peril of love in war-time.


No records show how it happened, though everyone has their beliefs as to why the golden age of man fell seven hundred years ago. Since, humanity has managed to rebuild a modest civilization from the ruins. Now a medieval war begins to ravage the land once known as America. The lives of six young men become ensnared in the violence as they serve the Eastern army. Chief among them are Tavin, the son of a respected general and Seneca, a physician drafted away from his studies.

Loved ones left at home are threatened when Kayzitt, the zealot Western officer, leads his marauders behind enemy lines. His cruel methods devastate every community he encounters and the East seems doomed to fall under its own weight as he makes a name for himself in the legends of the militaristic West.

But the six heroes notice that something has changed inside themselves. Their minds are subtly connected in a way that cannot be explained but lends them increased prowess on the battlefield. Inevitably, their skills place them on a collision course with Kayzitt that will shape the future of the nation.

Age of Rust is a tale of displaced youth, the struggle for life, and the peril of love in war-time. It is an ode to masculine vainglory and the valor in conflict as it bridges with the feminine witness of human corruption and loss of innocence.


Where did you come up with the names in the story?


-This world is supposed to feel like a place out of time, so I took a bunch of different world cultures and threw all the names in together. You’ll see names ranging from Greek to African to modern American.

What makes a good story?

            -It’s a bit of a cliche, but a good story should create an emotional response. More specifically I think there’s a bit of a contract between a writer and their audience. The audience agrees to follow the writer on their journey. They invest themselves into the storyline and the characters, and they begin to form expectations. In exchange the writer should “pay off” those expectations to at least some degree. Subversion can also be a great tool in modern stories, but there always needs to be some reward for the audience’s time and attention.

 Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

            -This ties in well with my previous answer. There has to be a balance between delivering original ideas (which often means subverting audience expectations) and giving readers what they crave. Readers don’t want to be able to predict everything that will happen in a story, but they also don’t want their time wasted. I struggle with threading this needle at times, but here’s an extremely simple example. Let’s say that a story has a mailman for a main character. One of his struggles is that every day he is worried about being attacked by a dog. If you don’t eventually pay off that plot thread, by having him confront a dog, your readers will be disappointed, but at the same time you can be original about it by having the interaction with the dog go completely against what the audience is anticipating.

What is your writing process? For instance, do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first? What are common traps for aspiring writers?

            -A consistent writing process is absolutely critical when working with a partner. We have always tried to get a 30,000 foot view of a story first. Where do the characters begin and most importantly where do they end up? Then we like to zoom in a bit and go through the events chapter by chapter and figure out what the main story beats will look like. Finally, after we agree on how everything will play out, we can start working through the actual writing. We like to focus on the main action and the dialogue first, and then work on prose second. The first draft will resemble a fleshed out screenplay and the second draft will finally take the shape of a novel, and then from there comes the back and forth of editing.

            A common trap would probably be the resistance to plan out their stories. It can seem tedious and it's so tempting to just get right into the story, but often writers will write themselves into a corner, and end up creating more work for themselves.

Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?

            -I find that most of the characters will reveal themselves during the initial storyboarding. A few more will come along later, but it's rare that I am writing the meat of the story and discover a new character that should inhabit a scene. That could be a flaw in my writing where I might have tunnel vision and not want to stray from my initial plan, but other than a few minor inclusions it hasn’t really occurred to me that I was missing a key character.

More often than not I have included too many characters. As a matter of fact, while writing the first book, we deleted an entire villain from the first half of the book because the character was a redundancy.

What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?

            -For Age of Rust I had to do a considerable amount of research on the American landscape, and geography. The story’s technology is horse and buggy and the characters move around a lot so understanding distance is critical. I want to make sure that the time it takes for characters to traverse from point A to point B is at least plausible. I would also have to take into account terrain, obstacles, and the time of year. Would there be snow on the ground in this part of the country? What time is sundown in March? These elements could be tedious to collect but it’s amazing what little details will pull a reader out of a story.

What is your favorite part of this book and why?

            -I don’t want to spoil anything so I will just say that my favorite part of the second book is that we didn’t end the saga after two books. We originally wrote a complete end to the series after this latest book, and felt like we’d run out of ideas. I had always envisioned at least a trilogy so I was fairly disappointed, but thought it was a solid ending. Eventually inspiration struck and we formed a third story that both expanded on the first two books and brought the story to a much stronger and more satisfying conclusion.

            We ended up rewriting the last quarter of book two into the story we have today and we couldn’t be more proud.

Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick?

            -The one consistent element with our main characters is that they’re young people who are completely over their heads. They’re all part of this generation that had its life upended by war. No matter who they are, danger is lurking somewhere. Sometimes the danger is frantic and right in front of them. Sometimes danger is something they’re heading towards, or running away from. Sometimes the danger is far away on the horizon but they know it’s only a matter of time. I enjoy exploring how different people react to these pressures. Some people collapse, some people rise to the occasion. This is a collection of characters who feel the wolf at the door almost every moment of their life and it makes for a harrowing existence.

            The fun thing about these characters is that the quiet moments, those rare times that the wolf is nowhere to be seen, are beautiful scenes to write.

What book do you think everyone should read?

            -And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. It is the perfect mystery novel from the perfect mystery writer. Forgive me if I spoil anything (though it was published in 1939 so I think the statute of limitations is up). The way she structured the events made it virtually impossible to solve the crimes, and at the end of the book you are left guessing who could have been the murderer. She actually had to add an epilogue from the perspective of the killer, confessing their crimes, for the audience to have any clue what really happened. I think a huge struggle when constructing a mystery is telegraphing your moves to the audience, and she never made that mistake. Riveting novel. 

Do you have a favorite movie?

            --Yes, Blade Runner. I first watched it in High School and my love for the film has only deepened with time. Blade Runner is a full sensory experience. The visual elements are astounding and the sound track basically invented a genre, but the ideas it presents are simply profound. The idea that an android, designed to kill and given no emotions, could discover its own humanity in the face of annihilation is staggering. The movie blurs the lines between hero and villain better than any other story I’ve ever watched/read. I cannot recommend the movie enough.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

            -I would tell my younger self that comparison is the enemy of joy. Obviously many things that I’ve written have not worked as a story, or they were missing critical elements. They could never measure up to better works but they still had value. I practiced, I made mistakes, and I got a tiny bit better as a storyteller. No writer should ever feel ashamed of their work.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

            -We’re currently at about 9 months or so to go from the storyboard to completed work. I don’t know whether we should speed that up or draw it out, but the timeline seems to be fairly consistent.

How long have you been writing?

            -I’ve been writing since I was 11. I started out writing Star Wars fan fiction. Yes, you read that correctly.

Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?

            -I am easily distracted, so silence is a must, but I also enjoy sounding my dialogue out at times, and music or TV can interfere. That said, some nature sounds in the background can be a plus. 

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

            -This series has given me an opportunity that not all writers get. It’s been a chance to craft a book series with my best friend. Every idea, story beat, character, has to be agreed upon, and has made us better writers than we would have been on our own. There were many three or four hour phone calls spent discussing chapters, or trying to figure out how to make certain plot points work. The feeling of finally getting past a hurdle never gets old. Those conversations are some of my favorite memories, and I will cherish them the rest of my life. I don’t necessarily think it would work for everyone, but I’m glad we’ve had this opportunity.

If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?

            -Just one day? Well, traveling the world is out so I would try and talk to as many family and friends as I possibly could. I would apologize that I didn’t spend more time with them, tell them my favorite thing about them, and tell them I love them. Then I’d spend the last part of the day with the love of my life and make sure she knew how much she made my life better.

 What kind of world ruler would you be?

            -I would try to be the kind of ruler that can admit what I don’t know (There is quite a lot). I would try to bring experts together and listen to people. In the words of Nelson Mandela, leaders talk last.

Where were you born/grew up at?

  -I was born in Butler Pa and lived in a little town called Saxonburg. My father was a Lutheran minister and my mother raised children and eventually became a social worker.  Butler was a tiny farm community 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. I lived there until I was 8 and then we moved to Erie Pa by the Great Lakes. I lived there until I was 14 and then we moved to central PA in a town called York. All in all I’ve lived in 7 places around Pennsylvania and Delaware. Pennsylvania is, oddly, one of the most unique states in the country. Not because of the way that it looks but just that it doesn’t fit into any one specific region. It’s not in New England, it’s not on the coast, it’s not in the Midwest, it’s not in the south. It’s entirely its own thing.


Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?

--Much of my inspiration comes from the story of my grandfather. He lived a classically great American life. He survived all the communicable diseases that we take our immunity to for granted. Was drafted into the second world war, was a hero, and a surgeon afterward. During the war he was slated to be on the first wave of the mainland invasion of Japan. The army estimated an 80% death rate. He very well might have lived because of the atomic bomb forcing the Japanese surrender. This is contentious historically, but still. It always made me feel like my existence was connected to the devastation of thousands of people, and the heroism of one. On top of that, I’ve always had a fondness, like many, for the stereotypical hero's journey. From a young age I always hoped that I might be whipped away into some fantastic adventure of unparalleled importance. Of course that usually doesn’t happen. But I think those things, among others, developed in me a fondness for inspiring stories that defy tragedy.

Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!

— By today’s standards it is really strange to have a “most beautiful baby award”, maybe even insulting. But nonetheless, the hospital in which I was born had such a thing. And I happened to win it when I was born. By coincidence, I was also given to the wrong parents shortly after being born and cleaned up by the nursing staff. My parents like to joke that they knew they had received the wrong baby back when they noticed it was an uglier baby. I just hope the good looks last, I certainly didn’t keep the same nose. But at least I have the correct parents… I think.

What are some of your pet peeves?

--Everything related to cars and driving. Driving itself, other drivers on the road, car issues, buying cars, selling cars, fixing cars, traffic, the sounds, the smells, the rushing, the speeding, the drunk drivers, people falling asleep and doped out on opiates. I just hate everything about driving.

Where were you born/grew up at?

— I was born and raised in Wellsboro, PA. A place still dear to my heart. It's a small town that has been largely abandoned by industry, but luckily has a tourist draw that keeps it alive. The outdoors there are great thanks to the “Pennsylvania Grand Canyon '' properly known as the Pine Creek Gorge. The hiking and hunting keep the area alive and also make it a beautiful and peaceful place to grow up. WIth its real gas street lights lining the main street, and old-timey charm, it is a perfect Christmas town. Wellsboro is like a Norman Rockwell painting, especially when it snows. But in the summer it's like a 1950s summer movie. It's a special place, surrounded by the rest of reality.

Who is your hero and why?

— As I’ve hinted at, my hero has always been my grandfather, though he is gone now. He’s as close as I’ll ever get to meeting a jesus--like figure, or Abraham Lincoln. He was a war hero, a celebrated surgeon, philanthropist, a benefactor to orphans, a teacher and storyteller. But he was also incredibly humble and patient, without high needs, but with high standards, that you always felt inspired to meet. It would be hard to really define just how special he was to our whole family. But what I think anyone could understand is just that he was a great grandfather.

What are you passionate about these days?

— Antiestablishment politics, and building momentum into political movements that will hopefully undo the two party system in America and allow us to get at the subjects that really matter, which are mainly around class and economy. I would like to see the country move away from wasting time on demographic arguments to focus on why the Military Industrial Complex and Intelligence Agencies are able to embezzle trillions of dollars over my lifetime without having to answer to the American people, while our tax dollars are spent on war and our own infrastructure and human services crumble.

What do you do to unwind and relax?

— I go for long runs and lift weights. On a great day this is usually combined with some kind of podcast, either comedy, educational, or related to professional American Football. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of leaving the shower after a good workout and slipping into some pajamas for relaxation. And then just hanging out with my wife and our cats is as peaceful as it gets.

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

— Only one really. My wife and I took a road trip from Phoenix up to Utah and Nevada, and then on to Oregon and back down through the California coast. One part of that trip involved stopping over at the famous sand dunes along the Oregon Coast. I had spent much of the previous summer reading as much of Frank Herbert’s Dune series as I could get a hold of. And to this day I still think the first and fourth books are some of the best I’ve ever read, in my opinion— the best science fiction. We took some time to explore the Oregon sand dunes and try to appreciate the ecological quirks that inspired Herbert to write Dune and perhaps inspired some of his other fascinations with dry land ecology. Looking back it did add a special angle to the trip, to be able to appreciate something for oneself, but also try to see it the way someone else saw it after reading their inspirations and imaginations. And there’s no doubt that Herbert had a fine imagination and a passion for learning.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

— My co-workers have told me that my spirit animal is a Stallion. And I think that’s just great, I’ll take it.

Stuff about the Book:

What inspired you to write this book?

— By this point you’ve almost certainly heard me talk about my grandfather, who on my part is a massive inspiration for my writing. He had many war stories, and was happy to talk about them, which isn't always common for veterans. But the inspiration is deeper than that as well. As Thaddeus and I got to know each other, early in our friendship, we talked a lot about our common ancestry. We both had grandfathers in WWII, who were fine talking about their experience, were treated as heroes, and were part of the “Greatest Generation.” But we also both had maternal grandfathers that were in Vietnam and Korea. Those grandfathers were not merely so keen to talk about their experiences. They seemed scarred, and were indeed scarred. They seemed disturbed and even nervous, certainly sad. This dichotomy in our respective forebears we found fascinating, both in terms of our personal histories but also in terms of the history of the country. We talked about it enough that we eventually got to talking about a fictional story that might somehow capture some of these grand and humbling themes. After some years, “Age of Rust '' is our attempt at capturing some of these stories and feelings in a setting that is original and imaginative.

What can we expect from you in the future?

— We are looking forward to completing the whole trilogy of Age of Rust. While the progress is slow, it has been steady. After that we have several other science fiction and fantasy ideas on the table. We would love to keep writing together. As we get older, this obviously is more difficult, but we really feel like the co-writing strategy we have invented is so unique, efficient, and creative, that often just the process alone is fun enough to keep us going.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

— I really enjoyed the setting, we thought it was fairly original and allowed us to work with many different kinds of characters, themes, and battle mechanics. The present world is long gone, and it is truly an “Age of Rust''. The old world skeletons are still visible in the rotting ruins of the cities. But the old is also new again, as a medieval society has emerged, with steel once again ruling the day in terms of weaponry and power. Feudal forces struggle against the fading aspects of democracy and republic. We were able to put our characters through many different tribulations to explore family and friendships and how these relationships are affected by war. Like many books it is an “anti-war” book at its heart. But it doesn’t hold punches, it admits that war has been necessary in the development of humanity, if not at least unavoidable, and that some people cannot help but have their lives defined by it, through no choice of their own. War and struggle are forced upon many throughout human history and the march of time is marked by those battles in our collective memory. We try to explore this through the more intimate perspectives of characters that approach their situation from a multitude of different starting points in their lives, some poor laborers, others rich and pampered, some middle class, and some academic.

Who designed your book covers?

— Jenny Eikbush designed the first book’s cover and I’m pretty sure she did it all from freehand, we really love it and feel it captures the feeling in our character’s hearts.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

— If given a chance, I would probably always want to change and edit the first few chapters. The beginning is so important, and I’ll never believe that i’ve ever gotten it perfect. But I think Thaddeus would agree, eventually you have to let the ink dry and see what happens.

Anything specific you want to tell your readers?

— We really appreciate the read! We love the feedback, both praise and criticism. It's always interesting to hear how many people hate or love the same character, or agree and disagree with the course of a character's story. We’re glad people are interested in the story and characters, for whatever reason hooks them. Please share it with your friends and leave a review!

What is your favorite part of this book and why?

— When the characters eventually accept that there is no going back home. It really captures the sentimentality I have about my own childhood in a great small home-town. Growing up feels like a loss of that special time, and that loss is felt by many people in different ways. But there’s a point in everyone's life, most especially in our characters, when one realizes that it's all in the past now, and that all you can do is look ahead, and look around.

Are your characters based on real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?

— Both! I’d be surprised if anyone writes characters without thinking of people from their own life, at least a little bit, even if it's people they barely actually know. There’s just nothing quite like reality. But of course everything is embellished and expanded upon, and exaggerated.

Have you written any other books that are not published?

— Thaddeus has written some screenplays that have yet to be picked up in any way. I was lucky enough to help him with one of these. A baseball story of all things. I don’t even care for baseball, but I really like the story we made, and would love to see something become of it some day. The other screenplays are some sci-fi stuff that Thad has largely carried by himself.

What did you edit out of this book?

— A whole bunch! Probably a whole separate book’s worth of material. Looking back it's funny. We originally started the story way earlier, in the childhood of some of our characters. That just ended up being way too much fluff and too much material in general. But I like to think it was good practice. One has to get good at editing and knowing when to cut down, afterall.

Stuff about Writing/Reading:

What book do you think everyone should read?

— The Fellowship of the Ring. The first good part of the book is just so comforting and quaint. It's like staying in a comfortable log cabin to me. People often get hung up on the grandiosity of the war aspect and battles, but there is some real treasure in Tolkien’s appreciation for the gentle side of nature, the streams, moss, and a nice fireplace.

What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?

— For this series? Mostly geography, a lot of logistics of military movement, ships and horses, and medieval armor and weapons. But definitely a good deal of geographic technicalities and making sure that the story we are telling is a feasible one.

Do you see writing as a career?

— Yes, I see my day-job as a hobby, hahaha.

Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?

— I prefer science fiction, but I tend to shy away from hard science fiction. I like a touch of esoteric science, or science that almost feels like magic, but not too much to actually be magic. I thought Dune did this perfectly. I also enjoyed The Left Hand of Darkness.

Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?

— it has to be silent, maybe only the slightest white noise, preferably something natural, like a window open to a quiet yard or garden, but I’m too distractible for much else, and people who need music or other loud sounds to work are an enigma to me.

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About the Authors

Thaddeus Yeiser was born in Butler, Pennsylvania and later lived all over the Keystone state including Erie, York, Selinsgrove and Harrisburg. He studied broadcasting and film in college and helped run a sports radio station. He now works in Sales Management in Delaware. When he’s not writing, you can find him soaking up nature or following his favorite sports. He is a student of history and a lover of scotch.

Conrad Bair was born and raised in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. He studied biology and philosophy in college and has worked in Healthcare ever since. Primarily he enjoys hiking around the country, but visiting family in Pennsylvania is a close second. He lives in Arizona with his long-time partner and two spoiled house cats. He loves writing, painting and music.

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