Questions written by James La Salandra
The first of your stories to be published was “Game Over”, which I actually felt to be one of the more ambitious stories included in Dark Doses. Was it the first story to be submitted, or were there others? What was it like making the transition from simply writing to submitting and, ultimately, being published?
“Game Over” has a special place in my heart as an earlier version of it took a prize in a contest run by my writers guild. I actually submitted that earlier edition to a few markets and lucked out by receiving some feedback from a few editors. No sale. Great suggestions though, one of which led to me completely rewriting the whole VR scene in the game. The editor felt the original inner VR scene was too disassociated from the tension in the outer story, so that’s what I concentrated on tightening up. It worked. I thus had two editors to thank when “Game Over” sold: the one who bought it, and the one who took their precious, in-high-demand time to offer their insight into why the original story didn’t click for them.
I had my first two short story sales happen fairly close together. The bug bit me for sure; I wanted more. Still do.
The first story I ever wrote and submitted made the rounds through a number of markets before I trunked it. For good. Occasionally I look back on it and offer thanks to the many people who have helped me grow tremendously as a writer since then.
BTW, though I didn’t include it in DARK DOSES, that original VR scene is available in the extended edition of “Game Over” for sale on the Kindle store.
As stated in its preface, your most recent story to be published, “The Fisherman”, is your first to be accepted by a major printed periodical. Has that experience, a major milestone for any burgeoning author, had any impact on your approach to the craft?
So I have to confess that since Dr. Henry Gee purchased “The Fisherman” every flash story I’ve written since then I’ve wondered if Dr. Gee might like first dibs. But that’s not what you asked.
Though I thought for a while my mentality, attitude, and perhaps outlook might change, I honestly can’t say I’ve noticed any tectonic shifts in my approach to writing or my styling myself as a writer. Don’t get me wrong, it was a huge milestone in my career, one I very much hoped to achieve. But I don’t find myself writing from the perspective of: now I must concentrate and sell to major markets because I’ve hit that level. No, I still keep it simple. I try to write the best story I can that will please an editor and ultimately work for a (hopefully large) number of readers. To me that’s a recipe for success in any market.
Some of your stories, particularly “Shadows in the Mirror”, feature references to many easily-recognizable brand and company names, an element not often encountered to such a degree in works of fiction. Is there a particular reason you chose to use existing products so prevalently in your stories?
A mentor I once had gave me some advice on this. He said (paraphrasing here), “People don’t drink soft drinks. They don’t drive cars. They don’t shop at stores. They don’t play a computer game. Real people drink Coke, drive Mini Coopers, shop at Trader Joe’s, play Words With Friends. Keep your characters real. It makes them real for me as a reader.”
I didn’t think to ask my mentor at the time if I should invoke a famous brand if my words were about to disparage it somehow. So I try to avoid those circumstances. Should one happen to slip through, I’ll just go on record right now as saying it should not be construed as a pointed commentary on behalf of the author. That’s my story and I’ll stick to it.
The stories involving children and teenagers feature a substantial degree of conflict with, or rebellion against, sometimes surprisingly callous parental figures. Is this in some way a reflection of your own experience as a child, or is there another reason you favor this dynamic?
Did you ever see FRIED GREEN TOMATOES? There is a scene of conflict with two great lines in it:
(Girls) “Face it, lady, we’re younger and faster!”
(Evelyn, after wrecking the girls’ car) “Face it, girls, I’m older and I have more insurance.”
I love that scene.
The conflict and tension between generations offers so much fertile ground for a writer to plow. It can seem like an endless supply of material, though there are dangers of overuse and too much reliance on worn out cliches. I find when it’s done well, it hits home because each of us has so many ways to relate to it personally in our lives. I’m certainly no exception to that.
There are absolutely outstanding stories featuring families and different generations living in total harmony. None bear my name. Nor will they.
Though your biography is brief, you come across as a bit of a technophile. Science fiction history is, of course, riddled with technophile authors who wrote technophobic stories. What are your thoughts on this oft-repeated theme?
I’m a huge technology fanboy. You could say I expect a lot from technology. To an extent I consider it a measure of our greatness, not just what particular gee-whiz coolness we invent, but how we ultimately use it across our society. Sure, some of it is frivolous or a better distraction or a more effective escape from reality. Some technology is vital or has a direct bearing on quality of life. And, of course, some raises serious ethical or moral questions–questions that don’t have easy or appealing answers.
Personally, I think technology defines the future of our race. For good or bad. I’m pulling hard for the good. I find it all too easy, though, to write stories about the bad. I suppose that might make me seem like a pessimist. I’m not. I’m a hopeful but conscientious technologist.