Interview with Author Jeff Provine

By now, you’ve heard the name Jeff Provine a few times if you hang around here. I reviewed his book, Hellfire, a while back and he recently reviewed The Other Side of Hope as well. Today, I’ve got two more reasons to mention his name. First, I got the chance to interview him and ask some questions about Hellfirehis other works, and what he’s got coming in the future. But that’s not even the best part. What I’m really excited about is that he’s agreed to give a signed copy of his steampunk adventure Dawn on the Infinity to one of you. More details after the interview!

RF: There are lot of changes to the timeline, all stemming from the Newton’s Catalyst, in Hellfire. Can you tell us where the idea started for you? What was the original spark that got the whole thing rolling?

Jeff: Heh, “spark,” I like that! Steampunk has always been a huge source of interest for me, mixing the past with enormous new tech. The problem that keeps steampunk from being a reality, though, is that steam engines are so indirect with their energy consumption, something like 5% efficiency. That’s a lot of fuel to carry! So, I asked myself, “What if there were some kind of gateway that could just port in the heat?” It was a fun idea, and then it came with a great twist. What would have more ambient heat than the Lake of Fire?

RF: One of the best things about Hellfire is that you don’t spend countless pages telling us the whole alternate history of your world. But there is this one tantalizing tidbit where you mention Napoleon invading Britain with airships. Any chance we’ll get to see that time period explored in a future book?

Jeff: A prequel would be a lot of fun! There are a few bits dropped here and there about the influence of Newton’s Catalyst on the timeline, but they weren’t pertinent to the plot, just thought-experiments about what might have changed. One of my other favorites was the use of tanks in the Mexican-American War. Both of these could easily merit a short story at least. Perhaps there’ll be a Catalystverse out there someday.

RF: Tell us a little bit about Dawn on the Infinity. Why should we read it?

Jeff: Dawn on the Infinity is an adventure across the multiverse. Dawn’s your average fourteen-year-old: braces, contacts, and enough of a spitfire to headbutt a troll right in the solar plexus. She’s kidnapped by a space-pirate crew of doppelgangers, robots, vampires and more as part of a plot to steal a power generator from another timeline, but soon she learns that nothing is as it seems.

RF: Seems like you write in a few different genres. Is there one that you consider “your” genre or a favorite? If so, why?

Jeff: I’m all about asking, “What if?” That sums up why I tackle so many genres, from alternate history to fantasy, since they are all taking a world and seeing what we can do to twist it. My absolute favorite genre is Magical Realism, but it is a very narrow field and super-hard to write for. Always worth it, though!

RF: Where should we go to learn more about you and stay connected to your work?

Jeff: Check my website out at www.jeffprovine.com and on social media @JeffProvine and www.facebook.com/AuthorJeffProvine

RF: What are you working on now?

Jeff: I’m tackling some new alternate history and a middle grade horror project (Remember those Goosebumps books? Ask yourself, “What if it all happened to the same kid?”). As a side-project, I’m following up on my love of board games with a whole series of twists on existing games I’m calling, “New Rules for Games You Already Have.” 2017 should be a busy year!

Thanks, Jeff for answering my questions and for providing a copy of Dawn on the Infinity!

For those of you just itching for your chance to win that signed book, just click here!

Review: Hellfire by Jeff Provine

The Bottom Line

An alternate history/steampunk adventure with a touch of supernatural thriller and strong spiritual themes that will hold your attention with its intriguing premise and interesting plot. Held back primarily by weak character development.

C

The Review

I was excited to get to Jeff Provine’s Hellfire because it’s the first alternate history we’ve reviewed on The Wrambling Writers. It’s also got a healthy does of the supernatural mixed in with the alternate history and that’s something I’m always down for.

The premise is that a crystalline fire-enhancer known as Newton’s Catalyst has jump started a steam-driven industrial revolution ahead of schedule. It’s set in an 1856 filled with airships, steam-driven wagons, powerful locomotives, and an abundance of steel technology. But there’s a catch. The catalyst is also opening doorways to another dimension and monsters are coming through. The resulting story is a supernatural, alternate history, steampunk adventure that tackles issues of faith, technology, and government corruption.

On a broad level, I really enjoyed it. It’s an interesting concept, the story is intriguing, and I was never bored. When you get down to the details, though, I found it lacking in a few places.

Hellfire’s biggest weakness is its characters. I wanted to like them, but never really felt a connection with any of them. Provine does a good job of not ambushing us with character backstory early on, mostly working their histories in throughout the story. There is however, a lull in the action near the book’s final act, during which we get exposed to one character’s story in more detail. It’s done through conversation, so it’s not awful, but it comes too close to info dump for my tastes.

The biggest problem, however, was that the characters simply didn’t feel alive to me. Perhaps because their battle against the evil Rail Agency has little connection to anything personal in their lives. They go on their quest because each of them is thrust into it and they have to either fight to survive or die. There are no real personal stakes or goals tied directly to the large scale events of the story. That leads to a cast of characters who all feel more or less the same, so that it’s sometimes easy to forget who’s talking.

If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you’ll know that I’m really picky about dialogue. Really picky. The dialogue in Hellfire is not bad by any means. It’s just not great either. It’s solidly average. There are some good moments, a few bad ones, and mostly just middle grade, passable dialogue. It gets the job done.

Another big point for me is a book’s ending. I haven’t decided what I think of Hellfire’s ending yet, even though I finished it a few days ago. The very final pages do a good job of wrapping up the immediate story while making it clear where the characters are going from here. That combination of resolved-yet-open-ended can be difficult to strike and I applaud Provine for hitting it. What I’m less sure about is the actual climax a few pages earlier. The story is full of the supernatural, with God and demons playing important roles. So the divine intervention required to save the day isn’t wholly out of place. But it is a bit convenient and takes some of the thrill out of the high point. Again, it’s not awful, but it didn’t knock my socks off.

Like I said, I did really enjoy this book. The alternate history elements are very well done and we get small hints about what’s different in the world without ever being subjected to a boring (alternate) history lesson. The passing reference to Napoleon’s use of airships to invade Britain was brilliant. I absolutely love those subtly dropped details. They create a world that was fantastically built and which plays an integral part in the story. I love world building and Jeff Provine nailed that part of Hellfire.

The story itself, in the sense of plot, is also very interesting. Even though I wasn’t particularly invested in the characters, I still cared enough about what was going to happen to keep reading. And that’s because the plot was interesting and the twist was surprising, while not coming from so far off the radar that it felt implausible.

To Read Or Not To Read?

If you enjoy alternate history at all, you should read this book, no doubt. The biggest caveat is that if you’re easily turned off by spiritual themes, it’s probably not for you.