I am stoked to have Nina D’Aleo stop by here at Literary Escapism. She is fresh off the release of her science fiction novel The White List.
Chapter 11 is watching you. Silver is an intelligence operative working for an agency that doesn’t officially exist—beyond any government and above the law. Chapter 11 is the kind of place a person can join but never leave. And it keeps a third of the world’s population under constant surveillance. At work. On the street. In their homes. Why? Because of Shaman syndrome. One in three people are born with Shaman syndrome, which endows them with abilities they cannot control and do not even know they have. It is Chapter 11?s responsibility to cap and surveil these walts—as they are known—to ensure their talents don’t turn ugly for the ordinary people around them.
Literary Escapism: What was the catalyst behind The White List? What made you write this story?
Nina D’Aleo: The catalyst was the idea of the secret ‘other’ existing behind the normal of our society. It’s been done a million times before, but I think there’s always room for more takes on it :)
LE: Your story starts out like a police procedural and then takes quite a different turn. What inspired you to take the hunter being hunted approach? Which came more natural to write, Silver as a member of the organization or against it?
ND: Hunter being hunted came from the idea that supressed groups will eventually rebel. I like the idea of that – of people fighting the system. Silver against the organisation was a lot more natural. I think at heart that’s how she’s always been, but had to come to a point of realisation.
LE: The world of The White List is eerily familiar and plays out like a conspiracy theorist’s nightmare. How did current society impact the setting? Do you think The White List is a good indication of what may come to be?
ND: Individuals under surveillance is also not a new idea either (since Orwell’s 1984 and before that), but I think it’s also one that people keep coming back to and one that’s really, especially in our day and age, not too difficult to believe. Will it happen in the future to the extent it does in the story? Maybe it’s already happening (just to freak the conspiracy theorists out a bit more :) )
LE: Within the story, people and places have codenames. This makes it so the reader may only have an inkling of where everything tales place. What was the motive behind using codenames for both people and places? Which real world settings made the most impact on the story?
ND: Code names are used extensively for military and intelligence agency purposes, often to protect confidential information or operations. So for me when we’re looking at an agency as deeply buried as Chapter 11, code names just went without saying.
The motivation behind leaving the setting open for possibilities was to make the story accessible to as many readers as I could. Maybe the story is taking place somewhere else but maybe it’s happening in their own city. I don’t mind at all when writers put in a specific city, but I also like the idea that it could be closer to home.
The real world setting that made the most impact on the story was not so much a specific place as the concept behind cities in general – especially a city at night, full of lights and shadows, people and energy.
LE: What made you choose to make genetics such an integral part of the plot? Do you think The White List would have been fundamentally different if it was a more recent evolution?
ND: I think knowledge of genetics is something that is always evolving, and there’s still so much unknown about the human body and brain. The fact that minor changes to our genetic makeup can have such monumental effects on our behaviour and abilities has always fascinated me, and I think it will continue to be something relevant into future.
There’s a definite rank system amoung those with the Shaman syndrome. It seems to be partially ability based but said ability is determined genetically. What made you choose to have this sort of system?
I wanted to have a system where the skills are genetically determined, but that there is also a sense of free will as well. If the shaman work on their skills, they can strengthen and change and go up in rank. I saw it very much like human abilities – some people are born with innate skill in one area or another, but there’s still room for others to practice, develop the skill and excel.
LE: Gifts or powers in The White List seem to be somewhat random. You hint to what one can do naturally and what talents one must learn. What’s the major difference other than power level? In the world you created, would it be possible to have people of the same rank who still have a specialty?
ND: Probably the answer above is also relevant to this question – just like humans, shaman are born with strengths in one or more ‘supernatural’ skills/abilities, but learning and practice can still strength them and broaden their skill base. That said, they may never be as high ranking or as competent as those who are born naturally talented in a particular specialty (such as telekinesis). I think it’s still possible for people of the same rank to have a speciality because even though they may be equally skilled (or unskilled) across the board, there will still be one, two or more abilities that are their strongest.
LE: The reader always seems to be five steps ahead of Silver, the protagonist. Why did you choose to write it this way? Was there a specific inspiration and if so, what was it?
ND: I wanted to make her real. Most of us don’t have skills of precognition or foreseeing, we fumble around a bit in life and look back with twenty-twenty vision. It’s really easy to look at other people’s lives and know all the answers, and also so easy to miss what’s right in front of our own faces, for whatever reason. And I wanted to bring a sense of that to Silver. Although she’s a ‘secret agent’, she’s also a real person, who is flawed and at times, struggling and misjudging those around her.
LE: Without spoiling too much of the ending for the LE readers, I must ask something that’s been bugging me ever since I read The White List. What made you choose to have a female be the best healer? Did the stereotype of females with supportive powers in science fiction and fantasy impact your decision to do the same?
ND: I don’t see that character as the best healer so much as just the best across the whole range of abilities. The motivation to tap into her skills, which she is reluctant to do, comes from needing to help first Rocco and then free the trapped shaman. So while at the end of the story, she’s only been seen to use her skills for healing, that’s just the very beginning of what she can actually do.
LE: Which character is the most like you? How so?
ND: Probably all of them in little ways, but none of them in particular, if that makes any sense :)
LE: Which character was the most difficult to write?
ND: I think Omen, because he is just so unstable and I had to tap into what it feels like to lose a loved one and all the dark places that drags us down to.
LE: What is your writing process?
ND: Sit down wherever I am, whenever I can and put down as many words as possible before one of my kids calls me. Sometimes that’s only five words!
Meet Nina D’Aleo!
Nina D’Aleo wrote her first book at age seven (a fantasy adventure about a girl named Tina and her flying horse). Due to most of the book being written with a feather dipped in water, no one else has ever read ‘Tina and White Beauty’. Many more dream worlds and illegible books followed. Nina blames early exposure to Middle-earth and Narnia for her general inability to stick to reality. She also blames her parents. And her brother.
Nina has completed degrees in creative writing and psychology. She currently lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband, George, their two sons, Josef and Daniel, and two cats Mr Foofy and Gypsy. She spends most of her days playing with toys, saying things like ‘share’, ‘play gentle’, and ‘let’s eat our veggies’ and hearing things like ‘no’, ‘no way’ and ‘NEVER!’.
The Last City, Nina’s debut novel, was nominated for an Aurealis Award for best science fiction novel. Nina is the author of three novels including The Last City, its sequel The Forgotten City, and The White List.
Want to purchase Nina’s novels?
Demon War Chronicles