Jonathan Ballagh is the author of the middle-grade science-fiction series, The Quantum Worlds. He has been writing software since he was five, created his first online game at fourteen, and has a deep love of all things A.I. and robotics. He currently lives in Virginia with his wife and three kids. Visit his website jonathanballagh.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Talking with Jonathan Ballagh
Sci-Fi & Scary: Where did you get the inspiration for your Quantum Worlds series?
Jonathan Ballagh: Quantum Worlds is a fusion of childhood experiences that captured my imagination in one way or another. When I started writing The Quantum Door, I described the plot to a friend of mine, and he said it sounded like a cross between The Magician’s Nephew, The Iron Giant, and Blade Runner. There’s no doubt these works, along with a slew of books and 80s science fiction films roiling around my subconscious all these years served as the inspiration. Plus, an unhealthy dose of Transformers cartoons.
Sci-Fi & Scary: How closely did you work with the illustrator for books? (The illustrations in Quantum Ghost were amazing!)
Jonathan Ballagh: Thank you! Ben Adams (http://benjadams.com/) is the genius behind the covers and illustrations for both books, and having the opportunity to work with him is one of my favorite parts of self-publishing. Days when he sends over proofs are always good days.
Ben is quite detail oriented—you’ll always find something deeper in his art. He works with you to understand the mood, style, and overall narrative before diving in. It took me a long time to find an artist who could capture what I was going for, and he managed to hit it out of the park with a style that is entirely unique.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Ben, especially for his work on the Quantum Door cover. It was my first book, I was a complete unknown, and I think it really helped the story gain traction.
Sci-Fi & Scary: Did the experience writing Quantum Ghost differ in any way from writing Quantum Door?
Jonathan Ballagh: Way different. I would have thought Quantum Ghost would be easier to write, but I had a much harder time with it. I felt encumbered by some perceived mistakes I made the first time out, writing lessons I should have known before writing the Quantum Door. There were a bunch of things I wanted to get right the second time around, and this made me more self-conscious throughout the process.
Sci-Fi & Scary: What is the hardest part about writing for you?
Jonathan Ballagh: I struggle with a few things. One is the problem of finding the time to write, which I often do late at night or very early in the morning. The second is focusing on a single idea. I’ll start down one path, think of another idea, and wander off on a tangent. Usually I’ll get pulled by multiple threads until I’m far enough along with something that I’m forced to commit. My hard drive is full of unfinished projects languishing in dusty bytes.
Sci-Fi & Scary: In our conversations, you mentioned that you appreciated constructive criticism. What’s the best piece of constructive criticism you’ve ever been given?
Jonathan Ballagh: I’m grateful when anyone is willing to give one of my stories a try. Even more so when they take the time to send feedback. I’m not that thick skinned creatively, but so far, it’s always come from a positive place, and I appreciate that people care enough to help. It would be far easier to dismiss it and move on.
I received a lot of constructive criticism after I released Quantum Door, and did my best to keep it all in mind while writing Quantum Ghost. I stuck with limited 3rd person POV, tried to keep the narrative tighter, and hopefully did a better job with pacing. It took longer to write, but I think Quantum Ghost is stronger as a result.
Sci-Fi & Scary: Can you give us any hints about the next book you have planned in the Quantum World series? Have you already got it written?
Jonathan Ballagh: I wish I was that prolific! I’m still working on the outline—hoping to bring Remi together with Felix, and Brady, with much of the book centering on a major event that happens in their home reality.
Sci-Fi & Scary: How much of yourself is in your characters in the Quantum World series?
Jonathan Ballagh: I tend to worry and overthink stuff, and I wrote Brady (one of the brothers from Quantum Door) with a similar mindset. But then I worried that he came off kind of irritating, so I ended up switching protagonists to someone more removed. I think it’s unavoidable, though, that a bit of the author works its way into every character.
Sci-Fi & Scary: What’s your coffee mug say about you?
Jonathan Ballagh: Hmm. My mug is a blank slate… I don’t know what it says about me that I like to stare at an empty cup. It’s probably the closest I’ll get to Zen.
Sci-Fi & Scary: Do you ever see yourself writing ‘adult’ fiction, or are you happy with the genre you’re writing in now?
Jonathan Ballagh: Absolutely. I published a short science-fiction story a year back called Stone & Iris, and it’s written for an older audience. And I’ll probably work on a few other short stories, most likely adult fiction, before revisiting The Quantum Worlds series.
Sci-Fi & Scary: What’s your support system like?
Jonathan Ballagh: My family is an endless source of encouragement (and a captive audience). Making friends with other authors and reviewers in the Indie community has a been another highlight of self-publishing. Knowing other folks who are going through the same roller coaster ride, and sharing experiences with them, really helps keep me motivated.
Sci-Fi & Scary: What is your favorite book, personally? Do you have a go-to book that you’ve read several times?
Jonathan Ballagh: Picking one would be impossible, but there are a few books I like to revisit. Most of these are books I read when I was much younger. Not classics, just books that made a serious impression—the right book at the right time. One of my favorites is a lesser known, coming of age horror story, Shadowland, by Peter Straub. I read this the first time when I was fourteen, and its heavy doses of creepy surrealism stuck with me. I went back to it a short while ago, and really enjoyed some of the nuances I missed (I missed most of them). What’s great about letting a few years pass between reads is that you’ll get something different out of it each time through. You change and the book changes with you.
Sci-Fi & Scary: What’s your favorite science fiction movie?
Jonathan Ballagh: This is even harder than the favorite book question! Robocop is up there for me, but my answer will change depending on the day. Three current science fiction films I’ve really enjoyed are Predestination, Coherence, and The Machine.
The Quantum Ghost
On a cold autumn night, twelve-year-old Remi Cobb makes a startling discovery—a mysterious object floating on the pond in her backyard. With no idea where it came from, or how it got there, Remi is compelled to unravel its secrets. Her quest for answers takes her on a perilous journey across realities, where she finds a crumbling world—and the dark forces behind its ruin. Here she learns the truth about her connection with the strange object, and of those that will stop at nothing to destroy them both.
But even if she can find a way to survive, can she find a way home?
Read our review of The Quantum Ghost.