Tell us about the inspiration behind “Death Every Seventy-Two Minutes” and the repeat terrors of predictable death.
“Inspiration” is for me often a tough one to answer, but I can track at least part of this down to its source. My dreams love to kill me off. They kill me off in intensely gory ways, in highly cinematic ways, in highly mortifying ways. I am well-used to dreams where I am in a car that plunges off the edge of a mountain road into water many hundreds of feet below, and indeed have them so frequently that my dreaming self is occasionally able to say, “Oh, this. I’ve been through this already. I don’t need to worry about this.” From time to time, it has occurred to me that if I ever am in the car that goes over the edge of a cliff and experiences a plunge long enough for me to think about, I might suffer the disconnect that my protagonist does at the end of the story, thinking, “Oh. This. I’ll wake up any second now.” From there it was just a short hop to the tale under discussion.
The story starts on a high note and only gets better. The vivid sensory description draws the reader into the story, from the wet crack of bone, to the taste of peppermint, to Negelein’s sigh the moment before death. As a reader, what are some of the elements that make for a strong opening? Immediacy of plot? Sensory description? Narrative voice? Do you find your impressions as a reader differ from those as a writer?
The general rule of short fiction, one I subscribe to, is that the opening scene should take place as late in the timeline as you can possibly get away with—sometimes with the initiating circumstances relegated to backstory. You don’t have to begin every tale with a stampede of camels, but you should have, in no more than the first hundred words, some feeling, some unanswered question, some narrative hook, or even some image that gives the reader reason to continue. I’ve seen writers do it, masterfully, with as little as a stranger saying hello. You can get away with a few flat paragraphs in the middle—even entire flat chapters if we’re talking novels, as some of our most beloved masters have demonstrated—but by God, readers are always looking for an opportunity to quit at the onset, and that’s what you’re fighting, with canny use of the elements cited.
I was struck by the story’s narrative voice, slipping back and forth between Negelein’s third-person omniscient deaths to the dialogue-only passages that actually carry the story along. Did you experiment with different forms of narrative structure, or did you have a firm understanding before you set down the first word of how you wanted the story to read?
Form is dictated by function. Going in, I knew that the story would be a series of outrageous ways for the viewpoint schmuck to die, and that I was going to have genuine fun describing those in vivid detail . . . but, as you note, the dialogue is what drives the plot, and it struck me very early on that while I could have designed those sections as straight narrative, our protagonist actually going to the doctors and submitting to the tests and so on, that presenting this in any detail would dilute the impact of the whole. That stuff could be cut to the bone. We could enter and leave those sections in mid-sentence just to establish that there is more before and afterward that we don’t need to hear, that what we tune into is the important part. No real experimentation was needed to decide this. Reasoning out the way the story had to work took less time than it probably did to read this paragraph, though some tinkering would be required and the last dialogue section in particular was substantially revised not long before publication.
Your work spans genres and form: novels; short stories; film, TV, and book reviews; public commentary. You’ve written about the struggles that lead to your eventually becoming a full-time writer, and how happy you are that your wife is such a staunch supporter (and occasional accomplice) of your work. Taking a page from “Death Every Seventy-Two Minutes,” what do you think your life would be like if you had not decided to take that leap of faith into the writer’s life?
First: I write in different genres, different voices, and different styles, because I get bored, terribly bored. I don’t want any story I write, any novel I write, to ever receive a shrug and the judgment, “Oh, that’s pretty much typical from him.”
Second: If I haven’t made it a hundred percent clear by now, my wife is not only my inspiration, but my hero. I’m fortunate enough to have more than my fair share of champions, but none quite as fervent or as dedicated as her, and the most I can say is that I’m not quite sure what I’ve done to deserve it.
This is a good place to note that this year she is celebrating her first fiction publication as collaborator on the story “Undiscovered Gods,” which should be imminently seeing print in the anthology Cosmic Powers.
Third: If circumstances were different, and at times this full-time gig has been a tough row to hoe with long gaps between obvious reward, I’d likely have fewer books out and be working at something I hated, while almost certainly having a lot more money.
What’s next for Adam-Troy Castro? What projects are in the works for 2017?
I’m not, as of this writing, quite certain whether the novel just completed is safe for me to plug. (This has been going on for months; the situation is complicated.) In the meantime, I have been working on something not under contract, a mainstream thriller unlike anything I’ve ever done before. Some of you, reading these words in a time far-removed from this answer’s composition, will have far more information than I do. If you can email through time, let me know, especially if it’s good news. I can use the encouragement.
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