Author Interviews

About novel Sleeping Giants, plus an interview with author Sylvain Neuvel

Welcome to The Not-the-Mama Book Club!

This book club celebrates the greatest stories out there by awarding a Book-of-the-Month distinction to the best books in the world today. To say it a different way, being a Book-of-the-Month means this is a book worth your time.

There’s fierce competition for our time. Added up, there are 130 million published books. There are also 817,000 TV shows. There are also 270,000 movies. We hold a device in our pockets that gives us access to 500 hours of YouTube each minute, 1 billion users on TikTok, and 1.3 billion new photos on Instagram each day. Don’t be mistaken. This is not the age of social media. It’s the age of curated media. Everything in our digital world is designed to do more than entertain us. Media is designed to captivate us. And captivated we are. We spend most of every day parked in front of a variety of digital screens. Our poor brains need a break.

And that’s why The Not-the-Mama Book of the Month exists.

These books are worth your time. These are stories that make it possible to unplug.

With that context, this first book was an easy choice. I picked it up randomly at the recommendation of my local library and read it in one sitting. It’s a science fiction story set in modern times (if not the near future), and it’s filled with rich characters facing interesting puzzles, internal threats and impossible odds. The story is told in real time through interviews, testimonials, news reports, and journals.

And now, without further ado, The Not-the-Mama Book of the Month for February 2023 is….

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel!

Originally published in 2016, Sleeping Giants opens with a young girl, Rose, riding her bike through the woods when she falls into a giant hole in the ground. Once inside, she realizes the hole is made of metal, and the walls are aglow with intricate carvings. Her rescuers discover something even more strange. The “hole” is actually a giant metal hand buried in the ground.

Years later, Rose becomes a physicist and coincidentally ends up leading the top-secret team tasked with uncovering the mysteries and (most importantly) the origins of the hand, which has remained a mystery since that day she fell into it.

That’s just the setup. What follows is a globe-trotting, page-turning adventure that follows a mysterious figure (my favorite character) as he recruits, interviews and leads a team to find the rest of the metal creature and maybe, just maybe, turn it on.

Sleeping Giants is the first of a trilogy, and each book picks up where the last left off. The whole saga took surprising twists and turns, and it all builds to an unforgettable conclusion.

An Interview with Sylvain Neuvel

I had the privilege of getting to interview Sleeping Giant’s author Sylvain Neuvel about the book and its inspiration. Some mild spoilers follow, so feel free to come back here after you’ve read the series.

Brandon: Thanks so much for taking time to talk with me. Sleeping Giants is fantastic on so many levels, but what really stood out to me was its originality. Where did you get the inspiration for Sleeping Giants?

Sylvain Neuvel: [laughs] It’s been awhile since I’ve done interviews about Sleeping Giants, but I had that one down to a tee. I was watching a Japanese robot anime with my kid – he must have been three – and I asked if he wanted me to build him a toy robot. Instead of just saying ‘yes,’ he started asking me a bunch of questions: What kind? Does it fly? Does it have pilots? Does it shoot missles? He wanted a story to go with it.

That got me thinking, and I started asking myself what would happen, in real life, if we found something like that. The answer was we wouldn’t know about it, only a handful of people would. But a project like that would leave a trace, paperwork of some kind. I started writing that [paperwork] and ended up with a novel for adults.

The kid got his robot, though.

Did you always have the story planned as a trilogy?

Not really. I planned this as an open series at first, but publishers buy in threes, so…

My favorite aspect of the series is the way they’re told through interviews and news reports. How did you come up with that approach?

I started writing from a different point-of-view for each chapter, but I didn’t like it. I needed a common thread, some glue to tie this thing together. Then I got the idea for the interviewer, and it all clicked. He was the narrative device I needed, and one of the most important characters.

That character is exactly what hooked me. He moves the story along, but he also comes preloaded with so many mysteries himself.

That brings me to something I was wondering. Was there ever a point where you wanted to ditch the interview thing? I was so impressed with the creative ways you presented details and plot points. It must have been a challenge, and I’m sure there were points when you thought to yourself, “Man, this would be so much easier if I could just write it in the traditional way.”

No, not really. Some chapters were harder than others. Action scenes, for one, or any scene with more than two people talking. It’s all the unattributed dialogue, so it gets funky. There’s a scene inside the robot with four people talking, but only two are on the page. That was fun.

The series continues with Waking Gods and concludes with Only Human. Do you have any plans to write a fourth book?

I have something in mind, but my new books are with a different publisher. So…it’s complicated. Someday, maybe.

I’ve read that you have a passion for linguistics, and that you’re a translator by trade. I see a lot of that come through in the book as the characters decipher the ways the aliens designed interfaces and approached language. How much effort did you put into “alien communication?”

I actually made a real effort not to put alien language in at first. You know, linguist, Klingon and all. When it came time for book three, I let loose. There are maybe a dozen lines of alien language in the book, but I wrote a whole grammar and a 3,000-word dictionary for it.

What’s been the most interesting or surprising reaction to (or result of) the book? To clarify what I mean: was the book more popular than you expected, or did it open opportunities you didn’t expect?

Well, no one wanted to publish it. No agent wanted to read it. I tried self-publishing and asked for a review from an online magazine. They loved it. They put the review online, and I started getting emails from Hollywood producers. A month later, I had a movie deal, and the book auctioned with 4 of the big 5 publishers bidding.

So yeah, I thought I’d sell 20 copies to my friends, and it would give me an excuse to write book two…Now it’s been translated in 26 or 27 languages.

What’s your advice to anyone wanting to write their first book?

Do it. (If you’re asking for advice to people who want to “publish” their first book, then all I have is: write something you’re proud of no matter what happens because that’s the only part you have any control over.

That’s fantastic advice. When I talk to aspiring authors, I hear them talking about finding agents and how they’re going to self publish. Ironically, the thing I hear the least about is the actual writing of the book! What inspires me about your story is how you did exactly that: you wrote the book because you wanted to, and despite the lack of initial interest from the publishing world, you still had plans to write that second book for yourself.

Okay, so what are you currently reading right now? Any recommendations?

You should read Face by Joma West. And right now, I’m too busy on several projects at once to read anything, so I bought books that don’t exist in real life. I got George McFly’s novel from Back to the Future, and the Handbook for the Recently Deceased from Beetlejuice. Both books are just blank pages inside.

Before I let you go, is there anything you’d like to promote?

I published an audiobook with Audible this year, called No Kindness Too Soon. It’s short, about 2.5 hours, and it’s my take on the signal from outer space. I’m really proud of that one. I hope people give it a try. (It’s free for Audible Plus members, or you can buy it on Amazon.)

I’d like to offer Sylvain my sincere appreciation for taking time to give us insight into his book. You can learn more about him at his website, Instagram and Twitter.

Sleeping Giants is available at book retailers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Thank you for visiting The Not-The-Mama Dad Blog, a parenting-focused website with funny stories, celebrity interviews, product reviews, and book recommendations.

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