I understand you have roots in Indiana, where this story is set. Are you Mitch? What inspired this story?
Yeah, there’s no point in denying it. I’m very much the Mitch of this story, and the premise was drawn, as you might expect, from my experiences trying to deal with a toddler in church. When you are getting glared at by a hundred old people, your mind begins searching for any escape, and somehow this story kind of appeared in my head during the course of one very traumatizing baptism. The cry room was real, by the way, and my daughter and I were really banished to it. Where real life ends and the fiction begins is probably farther into the story than you’d expect.
It seems like you’ve written just about everything: plays for the stage and screen, short stories in every genre, novels, and video games. Is there a particular format and length that feels more natural to you?
I think long novelettes are probably a good natural length for most of my ideas. I’m always excited when I come up with ideas that I can pull off at shorter lengths than that, but it doesn’t happen often. As for novels, I have several backed up in my head, so I’m doing my best to actually write them all before I die of old age, but they certainly do take a long time. Novels are kind of the opposite of immediate gratification, and you’re just sitting there at the computer as the seasons change, and the calendar switches over, and it’s still the same story, and at some point you start questioning your sanity in tackling this enormous task. But then the novel is eventually finished, and you’re staring at a book—an actual honest to goodness physical object—and all the hard work is worth it.
What’s your writing process and approach for a very short piece like “The Cry Room” as opposed to longer works like novels?
“Cry Room” was basically written in just a week or so. I started it, writing the first few pages in just one sitting, and then put it away for the night. The next day I looked at what I’d written, and I thought I might have something there, so I kept at it, and wrote more. Over the next couple of days, I came up with the ending, and then I had a story. Novels are a lot different. It’s less about a burst of inspiration, and more about remembering to bring your hammer and chisel to work every day. In the end, you’re trying to do the same thing—to tell a story that people want to read—but the process is totally different.
How are you enjoying life as a new novelist, with another book on the way? How do you balance your time with family, a full-time writing job, book promotion, and fiction writing?
Honestly, life is very much the same. I just keep my head down and write what I write, and I try to live pretty much like I always have. The main difference now is that my stories are getting published rather than just going into a trunk, like they did for the first decade or so when I started writing seriously. I’m lucky that I’ve been given this opportunity to get my stories out, so I’m very thankful for that. As for how I balance a family and full-time writing, well, that is a tough one. I don’t think I do a very good job. It seems like I’m always borrowing time for one or the other, and there’s not really enough hours in the day. This is why so many writers have cats, I think. You never feel guilty for diving into a story and ignoring your cat. Your cat appreciates it. Families, less so. Finding balance is something I’m going to really have to figure out how to get better at in the future.
It seems that many writers’ short story output drops once they start writing and selling novels, but you have a few short story publications coming up. Is continuing to write shorter fiction a priority for you?
Yes, I’d say it is a priority. When I sold my novel, I was fortunate enough to immediately sign a deal for a second novel, and so I jumped right into writing that, and the end result was that I didn’t write any short fiction for a full year. This really bothered me. In previous years, I’d had a long run of stories reprinted in Year’s Best anthologies, and now here I was not even writing anything short. I feel like I cut my teeth on short fiction, so it will always be special to me, and I hope that I’ll always be able to write it.
Please tell us a little about your forthcoming novel, The Prophet of Bones, and some of the other publications we can expect to see from you soon.
The Prophet of Bones is an alternate history scientific thriller. The quick elevator pitch is this: The story grants young-earth creationists their argument. In the 1950s, carbon-14 dating proved that the earth was really 5,800 years old. Religious and scientific orthodoxies are inverted; evolution is proven false, and creationism is taught in science classes throughout the world. But there’s still the problem of the fossil record to contend with, and when a strange new fossil on the island of Flores is discovered, it triggers a firestorm that threatens the lives of everyone involved.
In addition to my next novel, I also have another short story coming out with Sheila Williams at Asimov’s called “Haplotype 1402,” and my novelette “The Color Least Used by Nature,” first printed this year in F&SF, will be reprinted in Jonathan Strahan’s upcoming Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year.