So today I bring to you an interview with author J.M. Stephen along with a review for her wonderful, thought provoking book NOD!
Here’s the book blurb –
“And Cain left the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.” – Genesis 4:16
Nod is never mentioned again in the Bible. Where was it? Where did the people of Nod come from? What became of Cain? Now we have the story of Nod, as told through the eyes of Lailah, the first person to encounter Cain outside of his family. The story of Cain and Abel is brought alive, and the aftermath examined in a way never before told. But more than that we get the story of a primitive people becoming aware of the world around them.
Please enjoy the interview below and check out my review!
First of all I’d like to thank you for being a guest on my blog. I hope you are keeping well in these uncertain times.
Your latest book, NOD, was released earlier this month, would you like to tell us a little bit about the book?
NOD explores the Land of Nod, the place the Biblical Cain went after he was banished from home when he killed his brother, Abel. Cain is a character in NOD but the protagonist is a woman named Lailah, she’s a strong, independent woman who wants to explore her larger world. The novel really focuses on this primordial land, the world just after it ceased to be “formless and void” when people were still figuring out what humanity was. It is in many ways an exploration of humanity and explores how we got to this place with our social constructs, our economic systems, our prejudices but also our celebrations of life.
What made you decide to write a book on this subject?
I’m not a religious person but I was raised in a fairly religious household and I’ve met some compelling people of faith in my life and work and that helped inform how I looked at the subject of Cain and Abel as an archetype. I also just wanted to examine and explore primitive people and how they might have looked at the larger world. (Where do we come from?)and (Is there more out there?) are questions that truly fascinate me and I wanted to tell a story that explores those ideas fully. I also really fell in love with the character of Lailah once I started writing about her. She’s so independent and she’s not like the other women in Nod. She marches to her own drummer but there’s something caring about her that fascinated me.
I must admit I was very curious to read the book. I’m not religious but know of Cain and Abel and I wanted to see how you would approach the subject. Did you worry at all about writing a book based on biblical characters?
I’ve written a couple of books based on stories before and so I had an idea of how it was done. My first novel Betwixt and Between (under the pen name Jessica Stilling) is a literary retelling of Peter Pan and my second literary novel The Beekeeper’s Daughter (also under the pen name Stilling) looks at the life of the poet Sylvia Plath. But The Bible was a whole other challenge and I wanted to explore those stories while also building on them and creating a unique world and a unique take. I think storytelling in general has moved away from the idea that there is just one villain and they are the bad guy and there’s no wiggle room and so I wanted to create sympathy for Cain while also keeping Abel good. I wanted us to like Cain and understand him, but to also see what evil lurks inside of a man even when they try to do good. That was a challenge not only because of the baggage the story of Cain and Abel carries but because I did want to create a fantasy world that was also based on some reality.
As I read the book I found myself reflecting on life as we know it. Did it have the same effect on you as the writer? I mean, life would be so much easier if we just shared things and a value was not placed on items. At some point in time humans have decided to create the concept and we’ve went with it ever since.. I can’t imagine how it all started but NOD really gives you an idea..you can see the evolution of the people of NOD.
It’s funny you should ask that because there is definitely a subtle sense of anti-Capitalism in the book. I live in America and something the Coronavirus has taught many of us is that Capitalism is harming the people here. I won’t go into a long lecture on that right now, but I wrote this book many years ago, and edited it and then spent some time looking for a publisher and so it’s gone through many drafts. In all the drafts there is a sense that sharing and cooperation is better than blatant Capitalism. And the end, when Capitalism seems to have taken over, it feels like a defeat to people like Lailah, who just want the world to be good. This came from my research, older societies had more cooperation and more trade and I wanted to reflect that but then, I wanted to show how this turned to something that looks more like Capitalism. But when I got the final edits for the book we were deep into the Coronavirus scare and I decided that I needed to push the cooperation vs. Capitalism angle a little harder because I was seeing what it was doing to so many people in the US.
I’m always keen to know where an author draws inspiration from. Has there been anyone out there that really inspired you or is it just something you have a passion for?
I definitely feel like it’s a little of both. I have wanted to be a writer since the third grade when I wrote a short story about a horse for class and everyone really liked it. That story came out of nowhere and since then, I’ve loved stories and I’ve loved telling them. There have been people who have helped me along the way. My parents were always very supportive, some of my professors in my MFA program, especially Linsey Abrams and Felicia Bonaparte. Virginia Woolf is my favorite author. I just love her work and her life story.
What’s currently on your own bookshelf?
I own many books. I have about seven overfilled bookshelves in my New York City apartment and I know I need one, maybe two, more. My to-be-read pile for the summer consists of Morton Cohen’s Lewis Carroll biography, The Bone People, Susan Minot’s Evening, Hermoine Lee’s Virginia Woolf biography (I have read about seven Woolf biographies, but last year I went to a lecture Hermoine Lee was giving on Woolf and got her book as well) and Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. I’ve read it many times before but I also love getting inside Woolf’s head.
What would you say to convince readers to give your book a go?
The novel is simple but it will make you think deeply. The characters are real and compelling in their realness but they are also consciously and unconsciously a part of something bigger and their search for more drives them. NOD explores what it means to be human and what it means to be living alongside those who are more than human.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on a dystopian sci-fi novel set in the future, maybe about 150 years from now. It explores issues of climate change, the theme of human thought and human consciousness (and just what it is and how it drives our human understanding)…and there are aliens. I’m also working on a literary novel called Between Before and After that examines themes of nostalgia and the relationship between a mother and son. The second novel in my YA series The Chronicles of Pan (Book I is called Into the Fairy Forest), which is also published under the pen name JM Stephen, will be coming out later this year as well.
Let’s get to the nitty gritty!!!
This a story based around the biblical characters Cain and Abel along with the people NOD.
I’m certainly not religious and I’m going to state straightaway that the book really didn’t seem to be aimed to solely those who hold a religious belief.. more it just felt like a tale of a primitive group of people learning their way in life.
The story shows the people of NOD grow.. and struggle as they emerge. At first value has no meaning but as they progress you see them change.. most are happy to see things progress.. others not so.
Lailah was a joy to read. She always seems to see what others could not. She could see the good in advancements but could also see the negative effects it had on her people.
Cain and Abel, brothers.. they very much want similar things but their differences mean they come to blows with an ugly end. It’s a catalyst for the people of NOD and paves the way for new rules.. laws.. changes that again are both good and bad depending how you look at it.
Being based around religious characters I did wonder how the writer would tackle the subject, but they did a fantastic job of not alienating any reader. We hear of Adam and Eve… I felt it was written in such a way the reader can take from it whatever fits their own ideals. Cain shows up and has an almost magical effect on the people of NOD but wouldn’t that naturally happen if someone turned up with new ideas.. at one point in time fire was created for the first time.. that must have seemed otherworldly to those around at the time regardless of how Cain came to be..it must have been a wonderful time but also very scary.
After reading this book the thing that struck me the most is how it really made me feel..it had parallels with today.. there’s those who wish to take advantage..those who always want more..when life would be so much simpler if we could just share and help each other..but it just wouldn’t be possible.
I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live at a time when things were unknown..and then suddenly commonplace.. the first time a shoe was made… the first time a shelter was built that protected from the wind and rain fully.. just even a time before toilets and baths..we take so much for granted but we’ve come so far… yet….
I can’t give any less than 5*, if you can take this subject on and make me love it you’ve earned it.