This story has a mythical, almost parable-like feel to it. What were the inspirations behind the story? Did it require any special research?
Alvaro: The idea itself was all Adam-Troy’s, and I talk more about our collaborative process below. In terms of research, I relied mostly on the Penguin Classics edition of Pu Songling’s wonderful Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. I’d just picked it up before the story got underway—talk about fortuitous timing—and besides reading some of its captivating stories for tone and flavor, I worked my way through most of the ancillary material (intro, notes, etc.). Hence the story’s epigraph.
Adam-Troy: I, on the other hand, did no special research. Honestly, none, except for looking up Alvaro’s email address. Aside from the opening premise of an assassin who always expended the least amount of effort entirely, to the point of eschewing outright murder if he could, I was the one who had the idea that this sounded like a moral fable, and like a (vaguely) Asian fable at that, though I confess I was after the flavor more than the actuality, and Alvaro carried it the rest of the way.
It’s interesting—and a bit refreshing, really—to see an assassin who sees killing differently than most. Su reminds me of other supernatural beings in literature who grant wishes that don’t always turn out to be how the wishee desires them. His moral complexity makes me wonder if what he did to Dou and Gan was either a wonderful gift or truly vile. What was writing this character like? Did he change or evolve from the first draft to the final draft?
Alvaro: Adam-Troy excels at the kind of moral complexity you’re talking about, and at showing how something that appears fantastic may in fact be horrendous upon reflection (see, for example, his recent kicker of a story, “James, In the Golden Sunlight of the Hereafter” in the May issue of Lightspeed). I think we were both on the same page about Su’s character from the start and didn’t feel the need to change it much from draft to draft.
Adam-Troy: Yes, we proceeded directly from the premise that this was going to be a story about the abandonment of murderous impulses.
What was collaborating on this story like? What challenges (if any) presented themselves?
Alvaro: This marks my second collaboration with Adam-Troy, and the process was quite different than on our first story, “Shakesville” (Analog). In that instance, I became aware that Adam-Troy had the first half of a story but was finding it challenging to figure out a suitable second half, and I knew he was going for a certain voice which I felt comfortable pulling off. I suggested he let me take a crack at finishing it and he was pleased with the outcome. We then went through a few rounds of edits for stylistic consistency. In “A Touch of Heart,” Adam-Troy approached me with a synopsis for a proposed story. He was busy working on several other projects at the time and asked if I’d be interested in writing a first draft. I loved the summary and jumped at the chance. The only real changes I proposed were the story’s title, and an elaboration of the ending; nothing major. He’d had the idea of hitting a “grace note” at the end of the story and I suggested turning that into a full scene for heightened effect. His response was enthusiastic, and we were off and running. After I handed in my first draft, he expanded on and enhanced a number of passages, and we did this a few more times until we were both satisfied with the results.
Adam-Troy: Extremely so. Alvaro is a terrific writer as a singleton—and I am damned lucky I read these comments over before sending them, as autocheck just changed that word to “simpleton”—but he is also a great story doctor, even when working with those of us who fall well below the category of grandmaster (though, of course, he’s collaborated with a grandmaster as well). Our collaborations appear to be becoming a habit, as we already have a third completed story in the electronic can.
Do either of you have any upcoming projects we can look forward to?
Alvaro: My nonfiction book Traveler of Worlds: Conversations with Robert Silverberg is a current Hugo finalist—vote early, and vote often (or however that goes)! I’m continuing to write the book review column for InterGalactic Medicine Show and to review films for Words (Hex Publishers). I’m also looking to launch a new interview series, primarily with horror writers, over at Words. I have a story titled “Morphing” coming out in the anthology Blood Business, edited by Josh Viola and Mario Acevedo. I’m working on several other new stories. I’m also coming up on the final third of my first novel, titled Equimedian, and hope to share more about that soon!
Adam-Troy: Alas, after multiple delays, the latest novel long-teased as a reply to Spotlight “What are you working on” questions turns out to have been a career wrong turn; the completed book exists, but for various sad and boring reasons having to do with permissions and various equally dull-to-recount editoralia (a freshly-coined word), is doomed to remain on the shelf, forever. Alas! But this happens, and so I’ve moved on. I am now about 40,000 words into another, a mainstream thriller. I have multiple stories coming out here at Lightspeed and in this magazine’s sister publication Nightmare (most recently, last month’s rather creepy “The Narrow Escape of Zipper-Girl,” (nightmare-magazine.com/fiction/narrow-escape-zipper-girl) Already in the Analog pipeline, but not yet scheduled are the next two novella-length installments in the continuing adventures of the vengeful operative Draiken, the first of which will be called “Blurred Lives.” I am also still doing book reviews at the glossy magazine Sci Fi, and have just recently begun my review column in Nightmare (nightmare-magazine.com/nonfiction/book-review-june-2017), which will cover books and movies, depending on my mood in any given month. There’s other news brewing, which include a couple of genuinely exciting developments, but none of it is yet public; I can only say, helplessly, that it’s there, really.
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