I recently read a novel, written and released in 2021, that has characters navigating the “new normal” with masks and vaccines while they solve or perpetrate crimes or do the various things that characters in thriller novels do. I noticed that the reviews for the novel were divisive, but they were split not because of the plot or quality of the book but because the author had included the existence of COVID-19. With Synchronous Online, you were able to capture the unique particulars of the virtual learning environment in a pandemic without ever explicitly mentioning Zoom or COVID-19, which gives the story a slightly surreal quality but still implicitly acknowledges that there has been a cultural shift; many readers will be intimately familiar with those little boxes, for example. How important was it to you to keep the specifics of the pandemic off the page?
To be honest, I didn’t even realize I kept the specifics out of the story. I think that’s because there’s no pandemic in a box. When I teach in person, which I’ve been doing this last academic year, there’s a pandemic. It’s visible. We wear facemasks. We keep our distance. No one eats breakfast in the classroom anymore. It’s a real thing. But synchronous online teaching, by its nature, is surreal. It’s like the absurdity of assigning gender pronouns to geometric shapes.
The real horror of this piece, for me, was not the escalating behaviors of the people behind the little boxes but the inaction of the narrator. What made you want to take this less-worn path, and what do you think it is about technology and the internet that still scares us in the twenty-first century?
Yes, I was so excited that the professor was the villain of the story! That the students took their power back, so to speak, by stepping outside the box. As far as fears, I don’t use social media, so that probably keeps the tech anxiety down. I’m not sure we’re as afraid of technology as we are bored by it.
In addition to writing great stories, you also have worked in academia and studied the literary history of werewolves. How does your academic work inform your storytelling?
My work in academia, as an adjunct English professor, currently takes up most of my time. This semester I’m zipping around between three universities, eating granola bars in my car and switching out teaching bags, then bolting across campuses to make the next class. I don’t have much time for writing, and my chiropractor says I need to wear lower heels. Both bum me out. As far as werewolves, I’ve recently recorded a course with Audible Originals on Wolves and Werewolves in History and Popular Culture—it was a wonderful gig that also let me get off my feet for a while.
What does your writing process look like? Do you start with an image? A line of dialogue?
I don’t have much of a writing routine, but this story started with an image—120 of them, actually—my classes of black boxes in 2020. One day, a box turned on her camera and asked if we were real and also if she was real. She sounded panicked and I understood why. I wrote the story in one day, then edited it the next. It was the easiest and fastest story I ever wrote.
What else can we look forward to from you in 2022?
In 2022, I have a novella, “Joyride,” coming out from Crone Girl Press in a collection called Objectified. It’s a story where a bunch of rape kits escape from a storage facility to have a joyride. It’s a little like Toy Story, except with rape kits. Also, I should have another lecture series from audible on themes in horror literature and film. You can find my other publications on my website (sf-scott.com).
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