Interview: Parker J Duncan Author Of Cellar Door Parallax
Growing up in Montana’s rugged mountains, how did that environment shape
your love for books, poetry, and ultimately, storytelling?
My father took me hunting and hiking through the mountains at a young age, and those experiences stuck with me. There are so many magical things happening in the woods. There are discoveries to be found most will never know, because when you venture off the trail and get cut up in the over growth to hunt beasts at the risk of your own life, something primal inside you wakes up. This feeling gave me a sense of belonging with my home and my world and its creatures, and to this day this connection has played a part in all my creative processes. From the plot line of the trilogy, to the ‘mother Earth’ character’s sermons, almost everything I write about goes back to the relationship humans have with our planet and how to look at conservation efforts from a wider perspective.
Your writing has been influenced by mythology, folklore, and epic poetry. Can you
share which particular myths or tales deeply resonated with you and possibly
inspired elements in the “Winds of the Immortals” trilogy?
Each primary character in the series has a mythological counterpart which I drew from various folklore and religions. I found something in each of them worth crafting a metaphor from, and represented a radicalized version through an immortal being. I was particularly interested in Christian Demonology and also the various roles Lucifer plays, or his equivalent in other belief systems. The ouroboros in Norse Mythology (snake eating its own tail) played into Book three, so defying creation becomes an enduring theme that plays heavily on the character’s minds and conscience.
Melody and Michael, your protagonists, go through significant evolutions
throughout the trilogy. What inspired these characters, and how do they reflect or
differ from your own beliefs and experiences?
I was inspired by many people and ideas when creating these characters, particularly stories of refugees trying to reach Europe to escape the Syrian civil war when it comes to Melody, and stories about young soldiers and Marines when it comes to Michael. Melody represents the fear of weakness, but also compassion and resilience. Michael represents the desire for heroism and purpose, but also the searing anger involved with self-defeat and betrayal. They represent the duality inside all humans, and what can be done to achieve harmony when both are at their best.
How did your interactions with peers from different global backgrounds in music
school in Los Angeles shape the multicultural nuances in your novels?
I learned a lot about different cultures, particularly Japanese culture as my roommate was an extremely disciplined Japanese student who I wanted to emulate. It’s interesting to me how some cliches are true with people yet everyone is an individual with their own unique story. In school I had two friends from the same city in India. One was an atheist who saw positivity in most things, and the other and existentialist who looked at humans like a plague. In the same way I wanted certain cliches to play into the characters behaviour and dialogue, but have aspects that were either contradictory to that culture or more accurately an evolved version that came as a result of the events that unfold and thus shaped them.
Travelling through vast terrains like the Cascades, Alaska, and the Rocky
Mountains is awe-inspiring. Can you pinpoint specific locations or experiences
that directly found their way into 'Cellar Door Parallax'?
Cities like London or Washington DC are always the center of post-apocalyptic stories, and I wanted one that took place more in the wild lands and where things happened that people don’t like to talk about, and where humans have scattered and only the hardiest survive. I gave certain places having significance to the indigenous more significance than other places in the series. Babb, Montana and White Horse, Yukon Territories are such places. I worked for a federal forestry agency in twelve states, so I have been to many of the places mentioned in North America, and I slept under the stars for weeks at a time much like my characters.
Cellar Door Parallax delves into themes of democracy, religious freedom,
and even gender roles. Could you elaborate on your perspective on these
themes and why they were crucial to include in this trilogy?
Everyone right now in the US is screaming their opinion so loud no one is listening and no one can hear. There are voices being drowned out who I feel must be heard, so I use my characters to amplify those voices, and not just in the US of course but globally. It’s not about writing a narrative of my own beliefs for me, so much as it’s saying the simple fact that there are deep issues with corruption in virtually every major government on Earth and that there are issues with human and civil rights made worse by cesspools of misinformation and narrow minds. While this series is a fictional tale, perhaps it will show certain perspectives in a new light to those who hadn’t yet considered them, to inspire critical thought and the pursuance of knowledge, particularly in regards to indigenous and smaller communities who are often held hostage by corporate occupation.
The sudden shift to a chapter set 20 years in the future is intriguing. What
message or emotion were you hoping to convey with this unexpected time jump?
The sudden leap was a decision I stuck with when considering writing a fourth book. While a fourth novel would have kept to the theme of a-novel-per-time-period, and I could have put even more content into the series, I felt this was ultimately not what was best for the narrative itself, because the sudden shift and pacing is meant to be jarring for the reader, and chapters that follow explains everything you need to catch up on. That leap forward is meant to violently pull you into the post-world and make you look around and say ‘what the hell happened?’ because that’s how I think humans are going to feel one day very soon.
9. The novel begins in a seemingly utopian world, which gradually reveals its flaws.
Do you believe in the possibility of a true Utopia, given the nature of human
My grandfather said the best government to exist would be a benevolent dictator, which was partly my inspiration for one of the leaders in the series. I personally feel that whether it’s a democracy or oligarchy or dictator, nothing lasts. That was the point of my Utopia. Everything shiny and beautiful is just going to become a bounty for the first person who wants it. No violent history means no military training. No training means total vulnerability, and ultimately genocide. I think there are periods of time where peace is possible, but no system is uncorruptible, no belief system able to be de-radicalized enough. A utopia would rely on the total absence of government, and follow the original tenants of Anarchy as philosophy, as described by William Godwin. Humans aren’t ready for it, and may never be.
Having worked as a forester and journeyed through some of North Americas vast wildernesses, how do you find the balance between describing the environment in your stories and driving the narrative forward?
I find the balance by sometimes making the elements of the scene as the way forward, and sometimes movement by the character. Since the Earth itself plays a huge role in this story, I let those environmental descriptions play out as long as they need to in order to fully grasp the setting. When half of Canada is burning, I want the reader to be fully engrossed by that sensation, especially now that myself and many in my field have since prophesied it.
In 2022, you became a certified protection specialist. How, if at all, did this
training influence the conflict and protective themes in your book?
Since Book 3 was finished in 2018, it was actually the opposite. My studies into private military companies for the books years ago made me want to enter the private sector of security. I am now a full time security consultant and close protection specialist. I’m sure these experiences will play into future works though.
Winning the Authors of the Flathead poetry competition in 2008 must have been
a significant boost. How did early recognition like this shape your confidence
and approach to writing longer narratives?
It really didn’t give me the boost you’d think. At the time I was more interested in trying to play electric bass at all the local jam spots anyway. I had no intention of pursuing writing or a narrative, even when I was writing book one. It just kind of happened. I barely consider myself writer, but I’m compelled to write. I feel I’m a disciple for Mother Nature, and it’s my duty to shape a new myth for her, however dense or flawed it may be.
Cellar Door Parallax is evocative and intriguing. Could you shed some
light on its origin and significance?
I began writing this trilogy in 2013 after my first season fighting wildfires. The elements at play were so sensational. The sound of torching firs ripping in the wind with chainsaws humming all around, the smell of smoke and gasoline, the sight of the plume when you’re sleep deprived and seeing faces in the brown and purple smoke column. I wanted to make a wild fire or a hurricane a living being: Mother Earth incarnate. I wanted to think about what she would say and do in response to how humans treat the planet. This character is the epitome of nature’s range of power between nurturing growth and utter brutality and death.
Now that the trilogy is complete, how do you feel about the journey, both of your characters in the narrative and your own as the author?
I’m exhausted, sad and happy at the same time. I put the characters through so much, so I’m glad they can finally rest in me. So much of their plight was mine, and I am just glad that love is still alive in them, as it is with me. The lesson in the narrative and with myself too is to never let the flame go out. Never lose hope.
After such an epic trilogy, what can readers expect from Parker J Duncan next?
Are there any new themes or genres you are eager to explore?
I have written a psychedelic sci-fi horror called Constellation Fever and a historical fiction book based on my fir- fighting experiences called The Digging Seed that I’m going to try to publish in the next year. Check my website parkerjduncan.com for updates on those!!!