Jay Schiffman is joining us today to talk about his debut novel Game of the Gods. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Max Cone wants to be an ordinary citizen of the Federacy and leave war and politics behind. He wants the leaders of the world to leave him alone. But he’s too good a military commander, and too powerful a judge, to be left alone. War breaks out, and Max becomes the ultimate prize for the nation that can convince him to fight again.
When one leader gives the Judge a powerful device that predicts the future, the Judge doesn’t want to believe its chilling prophecy: The world will soon end, and he’s to blame. But bad things start to happen. His wife and children are taken. His friends are falsely imprisoned. His closest allies are killed. Worst of all, the world descends into a cataclysmic global war.
In order to find his family, free his friends, and save the world, the Judge must become a lethal killer willing to destroy anyone who stands in his way. He leads a ragtag band of warriors—a 13-year old girl with special powers, a mathematical genius, a religious zealot blinded by faith, and a former revolutionary turned drug addict. Together, they are the only hope of saving the world.
What’s Jay’s favorite bit?
My favorite bit about my novel was finishing. Bittersweet, for sure. But when a writer, especially one with control issues, hands in those final edits, there’s nothing better. It’s one of those rare feelings of accomplishment that the process of writing has to offer.
Well, that’s it. I’ve finished with My Favorite Bit and that elusive high of finishing a piece is at hand. But . . . since I’m only a paragraph in, I guess I should share another one of my favorite bits. It’s a scene from early on in the book, so I won’t be revealing too much.
The main character in Game of the Gods is Max Cone, a former military commander who is now his nation’s Highest Judge. Max has the unenviable task of deciding which teenage candidates will be granted citizenship in the Federacy, the most powerful nation in the world. Only a lucky few will be granted citizenship and a life of peace and prosperity. The rest will be sent out to miserable existences where their chances of survival are limited. Max hates being responsible for deciding which teenagers will live and which will die.
The citizenship process begins with an elaborate ceremony that is described in the novel as “something like the Old Christians’ Confirmation.” This ceremony is followed by a formal interview called the First Interview. The judge begins a five-year process of determining whether the candidate is worthy of citizenship. Each year, from the ages of thirteen to eighteen, the candidate appears before the judge for a comprehensive evaluation, and by eighteen a final decision is rendered.
One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Max first meets a citizen candidate named Pique Rollins. (She just so happens to be my favorite character in Game of the Gods.) Pique is a thirteen-year-old girl with special abilities, but I can’t say more than that.
I will let Max, who narrates Game of the Gods and loves Pique as much as I do, tell you about the first time he meets her.
I begin most First Interviews the same way. I say nothing. I wait for the candidate to speak first. I usually will remain silent for up to ten minutes. Most candidates will say something before the ten minutes pass. Of those candidates, more than half will say something that immediately demonstrates they are unworthy of citizenship. The other half eventually demonstrate their unworthiness in the next few minutes of the interview. I then proceed to waste the next five years trying to prove to myself that my initial instincts were wrong.
Pique is that rare candidate who says nothing. She politely makes eye contact with me, and after a few minutes takes out a pad and begins sketching. There is no specific rule forbidding this, but it seems wrong to me, perhaps even rude. After a minute or two of silence, I point to the pad and shake my head in disapproval. But I don’t say anything. She ignores me and continues to sketch. We both sit in silence for about ten minutes before I give up and ask her what she’s drawing.
“Your chambers,” Pique says.
“It was the most useful thing I could think of doing. I was getting kind of bored just sitting here.”
I ask her if I can see her work, and she hands it to me. I look at her sketch. It’s a meticulous drawing of the room we’re sitting in by someone who appears to be schooled in the high science of interior engineering, which of course she cannot be, because she is too young and comes from the Anterior Region. “Why are you sketching my chambers?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe one day I’ll be a judge and I’ll need to know how to decorate this place.”
I want to laugh, but I don’t. It’s too early in the process to have that kind of familiarity. “Well . . . you will need to become a citizen first.”
“Oh, I’m pretty confident you’ll want to make me a citizen.”
“And why are you so confident.”
“Because I’m a talented fighter and I don’t lie.” Pique stands up. She is no more than 150 centimeters tall. She looks nothing like a fighter and her boast about being a talented one seems like a lie. She sits back down on her chair with her legs crossed. She looks tiny. She repeats herself. “All you need to know about me is that I’m a talented fighter and I don’t lie. That’s what you Federates are looking for, right?”
Max soon finds out whether Pique is in fact a talented fighter and whether she lies. But before he does, Pique wants Max to understand that she is not like other thirteen-year-olds.
What I love most about Pique is the childlike playfulness she exhibits even when she is imparting her wisdom to an adult. In developing Pique’s voice, I was influenced by strong teenage characters like The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen, Divergent’s Tris Prior, and Ready Player One’s Art3mis.
Again, Max tells the story best.
“So,” I say before taking in a long breath. “You’re a talented fighter and you don’t lie. Presumably you have some weaknesses?”
“Sure, I already told you them. I’m a talented fighter and I don’t lie.”
“You said those were your strengths.”
Pique smiles. She then rests her chin on her closed fist and schools me with her eyes. She doesn’t say anything, but I know what that looks means. Come on now, Judge, my strengths are my weaknesses. This is true with anyone. You should know that.
Maybe it’s because I’m a father of a bunch of children ranging from 15 to 3, but I love how Pique schools Max. My favorite bit about Game of the Gods isn’t just this scene. It’s the entire relationship between this accomplished middle-aged man and the teenage girl who teaches him to be more than his accomplishments.
Done. Another piece finished. My favorite bit about writing!