You’ve mentioned in another interview that you were inspired to write “They Called Him Monster” in Barcelona. Can you elaborate on what inspired you? Was it simply being surrounded by those gorgeous cathedrals?
I was actually in Parc Guell, where a big chunk of the story is set, when the story mugged me. I think you really do have to have been there to understand it. It’s this perfectly sculpted and landscaped park in the middle of a city, and it’s completely unhooked and wild. It reminded me of the moment in The Fountainhead when the kid comes over the hill to see the community Roark designed and it’s so sublime it changes the kid’s life—except that anything Gaudi touched is so inherently whimsical and weird Ayn Rand would have a brain hemorrhage if she heard me make the comparison. I was giggling about that when the mugging occurred. The cathedrals didn’t come until later when the Summoner needed a reason to capture the Sprite. Gaudi was already haunting the background of the story, and there’s the Sagrada Familia, still under construction eighty years after the architect died. It seemed the natural vector for how the Summoner would wind up in Parc Guell.
How did the story develop from that original spark? Did anything shock or surprise you?
I don’t plan stories or generally have any idea what they’re about when I sit down to write them, so most of what winds up in them is pretty surprising to me when it’s over. The second scene was what mugged me originally, but when I finally sat down to write it I knew that the first words in that scene weren’t the first in the story, so I started somewhere else. The rest of it was me trying to figure out how the two time lines related to each other.
Before sitting down to write it, there was a scene I was pretty sure was going to wind up in the story. It would have been a post-jungle flashback, a cocktail party the Sprite and Summoner were at where the Sprite winds up defending their current non-hostile relationship as the best they can hope for, given their origins. It didn’t wind up ever getting written, in part because it didn’t fit anywhere, mostly because it was an atrociously bad idea. But it’s still lurking at the back of my head feeling petulant and excluded whenever I reread the story.
You’ve also called this your favorite story that you’ve written. Is that still true? Why this one in particular among your many other terrific stories?
Yes, this is still my favorite, and is probably going to be hard to displace. It does everything I really want my fiction to do—the prose is pretty, the characters are unquestionably “bad guys,” and I get away with presenting something brutal and depressing as if it’s a happy ending. I hope that in the future when they’re writing papers about obscure 21st century spec fic writers, this is the kind of story I’m known for.
This story is brutal, with some vivid, disturbing descriptions of physical and psychological violence. Was it difficult to write about such darkness and get into the heads of these characters, not to mention make them sympathetic? What challenged you most in writing it?
I feel like I should nod quietly and talk about how I struggled to conceptualize the kinds of people in this story, but honestly, it was easy. People are people, people do really vicious stuff to other people all the time, and some of the most destructive cruelty I’ve seen was sincerely done with good intentions. I don’t really believe in “evil” people, so I don’t find it harder to make the characters filling those roles sympathetic. They still want things, love things, they still hurt and worry about getting hurt. Sometimes it’s actually easier to make them sympathetic, because at least when things are getting hard for the good guys, they have the sleep of the just and the confidence that God’s on their side or that history will laud them or they’ve nobly sacrificed themselves to the greater good. The bad guys get no such reassurances.
What are you working on now, and what can we expect to see published soon?
Right now I’m starting work on a novel about a woman who drags her two boyfriends to Virginia to take care of her aging grandmother. It’s a bit fraught because, well, two boyfriends in Virginia, but also because the women in her family tend to have useless visions about little moments of their future lives, and the only vision she’s ever had is of her grandmother’s funeral.
As far as published soon, I have a story coming out from Lightspeed in the next several months about a girl with an alien living in her neck, and I’m putting up the last chapters of a serialized space opera novel on my blog this month.
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