Tell us a bit about “The Sound Of.” How did you come to write it?
Well, as people might have guessed, the story was partly inspired by recent events. This was actually the first story that I managed to write after November 2016 and, well, that probably shows. And it started with the title, which is not the title that it ended up with. The full title was originally “The Sound of Silence,” riffing on the song and basically asking how silence can be loud. Which is something that interested me then and interests me now. There was such a sense of . . . betrayal, maybe, after the election. Or maybe deception. The feeling that so many people were saying ahead of time that they wouldn’t support this person, that they couldn’t, but that, in the end, they did. That they knew, knew, it was wrong, and yet they did it anyway to protect their own position, because they felt that they could sacrifice others and still be okay. That they would get by. And their silence leading up to the election and in the aftermath was deafening. Was a violence done. And that’s where I came to this story from. From a place of hurt and fear, shame and guilt. Again, that probably shows a bit, and it made this story very difficult for me to feel comfortable with. I nearly didn’t send it out. Eventually I revisited it, though, and changed the name to what it is now, submitted it, and here we are.
One of the things that made “The Sound Of” such a tense read for me was because of how plausibly little it takes for Diego to give in. Is there really such a fine line between resistance and acceptance?
I think (I hope) that the story is about increments. It’s about exhaustion. Here again the story leaps from this fear and shame and disillusionment I felt and still feel. It’s not a very hopeful story. It offers no alternatives or solutions. But it does explore this idea of resistance and acceptance. Diego has every reason to resist. The setting of the story is actively toxic for him, erasing his bisexuality, erasing his past, erasing so much about him. He has no job, and the system is designed to ensure that in order to live he has to lie constantly, which only feeds into his own doubts and insecurities, his own erasure. It isolates him and it makes him take small steps away from his ideals and his identity. In essence, it makes resistance seem like an all or nothing decision. Either give up everything and fight and die, or give in and accept what you can do within the system, which here seems very little. It manages this by making Diego’s entire life about navigating the system, being abused by it but depending on it. Eventually, in that sort of scenario, I think that there’s a level of burnout that can happen.
I worried when I was writing this (and hell, I’m terrified still) that I made it seem like bisexual people are too privileged, that being able to pass as straight is some sort of corruption. Being bisexual, I know that there’s plenty of portrayals of us as cowards or traitors or duplicitous. That we can’t be trusted. That we’re not real or not really queer. And again, part of this story is about my own personal fear that if things got really bad I would fail. I would let people down. In some ways, this story was me trying to exorcise that fear. Expose it in order to cast it out. To remind myself that resistance is a constant struggle to listen to the damage being done even when it’s not being done directly to me. It’s about stepping forward, even if the story is about Diego giving in.
And back to that burnout. Abuse is a terrifying thing. Diego is harmed every day. Harmed and told that how hard he is hit depends on who he is. That he can change it just by renouncing who he is. That all he has to do is say that he believes, and he will be treated like he believes. He can keep his beliefs as long as he changes his actions. As long as he submits. I see this sort of rhetoric all the time, and it’s a tragedy that it’s so condoned in our society. But it’s a very effective way of maintaining control, especially if the people, like Diego, are under the power of their abuser. Dependent on them to live. So I tried to construct the story, the situation, where while it seems like such a small step that Diego takes here, there’s a whole string of steps behind it, that the line is really very wide but he’s now on the edge of it, and it only takes that final little push for him to go tumbling over.
For the last couple of years, you’ve been a prolific reviewer of short fiction as well as a writer. Do you find that reviewing fiction has any effect on your own writing? Any favorite stories on the darker side you’d like to share with us?
I like to think that being a reviewer is my own way of continuing my education, but tailoring it very specifically to speculative fiction. I’m not really in a place where I can afford to go back to school, but I love to learn. I love to read and to analyze. I hope that this informs my fiction, encourages me to improve. I hope that while I can’t afford to go back and get more formal schooling, I’m still pushing myself to grow, and to expand in what I can do. Part of that is reading and reflecting on what I read. So reviewing is definitely a part of that. It’s also writing in its own right, so for those who find writing fiction every day impossible, it keeps the fingers limber and the mind on task.
As for favorite stories on the dark side? Well, if you want to know my favorite stories in general, I encourage you to check out The Sippy Awards, which I started for 2015 and continued for 2016. There are five categories that I look at, and one of them is specifically my favorite horror stories from the year in question, though there are a number of dark tales sprinkled throughout the other categories as well.
What are you working on lately? Any exciting projects or upcoming publications you’d like readers to know about?
I’m not going to lie, I’m still struggling to write much. I have a few short stories that I have started and need to get back to. I have a sequel to a novella that I’ll hopefully have coming out later this year kicking around in the back of my head, too, which I’d like to start. I’m writing quite a bit of nonfiction, both for my Patreon (where I am drunk-reading the entire Goosebumps series and also spending 2017 gushing about Garak from DS9) and for my review work.
Upcoming projects and publications is a bit easier. I have a story out in the most recent issue of Shimmer Magazine, and have a piece out later this year at Diabolical Plots. And, like I said, I’ll hopefully have a novella full of mech suits, knights, and plenty of steam coming out soon. I’m very excited about that!
What’s your favorite horror trope? One you’d rather never see again?
I guess I’m weird, because for me it’s rarely the case of favorite or least favorite tropes. I think that pretty much all tropes can be complicated, can be presented in an interesting way. I guess I’m not the hugest fan of slasher horror, but even that I think can be twisted and bent and made into something beautiful. I try to keep an open mind when reading horror, and I guess I’m really a fan of horror that does something I’m not expecting. That gets under my skin. That I can’t shake. What that is specifically, though, I’m not sure.
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