5 Questions with Leah Petersen, Author of Cascade Effect
JP: The Fighting Gravity and Cascade Effect universe are set in a future where homosexuality has reached complete acceptance. Currently, there’s a bit of turmoil around the issue, to say the least. Can you talk about the culture of your novel in context with the events of today?
LP: I didn’t write this universe to make any particular point, in fact I was well into writing it before I realized it was even going to have a homosexual character. But looking back, I can see how the issues of the day probably influenced me unconsciously. It was around 2008. I’d moved out of California a few years earlier, but I remembered feeling just stunned when California of all places banned homosexual marriage. I felt…betrayed somehow. And I’m straight.
I think that’s what made it so satisfying to write a world that didn’t just accept homosexuality, they didn’t even notice it as something to accept or not accept. Jake makes a lot of enemies, and has a lot of people who hate him for who he is, things he was born with and can’t change, but none of them ever notice or care about the gender of his sexual partners. The human race still had plenty of prejudices and issues, but that one was so far in the past no one even remembered to mind about it.
JP: Jake is endlessly frustrating as a character – unable to get out of his own way, yet remaining endearing at the same time. What kind of relationship do you have with your main character?
LP: I’ll forever have a weak spot for characters like Jake who you just want to strangle for being so damn sure they’re right and so damn stubborn, that they end up with twice the problems because they cause half of them all by themselves. This is another one that, looking back, I see a lot of the unconscious influence of my own life in his development. I was finally responding the the treatment that worked to control the bipolar disorder that had taken over the last few years of my life. I was intimately familiar with making stupid choices because you felt you HAD to, or that you couldn’t stop yourself, that made no sense to anyone else, or even you, later.
JP: Describe your relationship with writing.
LP: It started out as a way to dump emotion somewhere more productive and has developed into a passion. I always loved writing but felt I didn’t have time for it, or didn’t have good reason to spend my time that way. Once I realized that other people could enjoy my writing too, it became something I wanted to do and be, for myself and not anyone else.
JP: Tell me one thing nobody knows about you. (or, at least, something most people would never guess about you.)
LP: A lot of people who know my secret identity (real-life-Leah) know this one, but it’s not something that comes up in my author persona:
I breastfed both of my children until they were at least three years old. Yep, I’m one of THOSE moms. 😉
JP: What’s next for you?
LP: As far as writing goes, I’m working really hard on finishing up a second draft of a YA fantasy I’ve gotten obsessed with. After that, I’m writing the third in this trilogy, the conclusion of Jake’s story. I’ve got a good bit of that outlined, or written out in my head, and a little of that on paper. I have to give a story a lot of head time before I write. Once I start, it all pours out pretty fast. I’m hoping to see that one out next April.
Was super excited to get my hands on an early eBook of Leah’s sci-fi sequel, Cascade Effect – I’d read a version of it long, long ago before it got picked up by Dragon Moon Press, so I was curious to see what it’d turned into.
Petersen seems to be following a similar structure to cinematic comic book trilogies. The first tale (Fighting Gravity) is a pure origin story. Where our hero, Jake, came from, and the process of stepping into a role larger than anything he could have imagined. The second installment explores the consequences of his choice to marry the emperor of the universe.
In case you haven’t read my review of Fighting Gravity, both characters are men. And gay.
Odd that I’d be reading this as the Supreme Court hears cases on marriage equality – but Jake’s world and our world are years apart, both literally and figuratively. In Cascade Effect, the question of whether or not two men can be married isn’t even an issue. Instead, the conflict comes from Jake’s birth and upbringing in the lowest of the slums in Mexico, and the emperor’s high birth.
The strongest part of this book is Jake’s character. After the events of Fighting Gravity, he’s left with demons and secrets he can’t tell even his husband. And everything about his new life wants to reject him. It’s obvious throughout the entire book that Jake is out over his skis, with no idea how to maneuver the political whitewater around the emperor. Couple that with the fact that Jake is maddeningly dense in that he can’t get out of his own way. He’s trying to do the right thing, but he truly is his own worst enemy. In many books, this might lead to an unlikable, annoying character, but Petersen handles it masterfully. You want Jake to turn the corner and be happy, and you root for him, despite his flaws, the entire way.
The are moments of genuine tenderness in the book. Despite the interplanetary sci-fi themes, the political intrigue and the story being set far in the future – at its heard, Cascade Effect is the story of a relationship between Jake and Pete. It’s messy, it doesn’t always work, but it feels real. It’s huge and epic, yet intimate at the same time. Their journey in finding a way to have a child of their own is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time, something that could have easily been lost in the less capable hands of other authors.
One thing I’m not sure I liked about the book was how much Jake seemed to lose who he was. I suppose that was part of what he was dealing with – in Fighting Gravity he was a brilliant scientific mind, one of the youngest in the universe. In Cascade Effect, he’s little more than the Emperor’s arm candy to many of those around him. I felt it as a reader, but it didn’t seem to come through in Jake’s internal battles. There were a few times when he tried to lose himself in research, but I didn’t feel like losing that aspect of his life was truly an issue for him. Even when one of his scientific endeavors goes horribly wrong, Jake doesn’t question his choices.
Any sci-fi fan would be well served to pick up Fighting Gravity and Cascade Effect. Personally, I can’t wait for the next installment.