“The Infill Trait” is about a body-swapping, ex-CIA agent. Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
This will sound weird, but I was dreaming that I was a young kid walking through an airport. In the dream, the first line of the story came to me: “Every time I fall asleep I wake up in a different body.” As soon as I dreamed that sentence, I snapped awake and ran to my office to write it down. The story flowed very smoothly from that—it was one of the easiest and quickest stories I’ve ever written. I feel like all the pieces were there, floating around in the gray sea of my brain, and they just needed that one thread to tie them all together.
The line between terrorist and hero is blurred. Do you think James would be considered a hero if his training went off without a hitch?
The line between terrorist and hero is so blurred because James/Jimmy is an unreliable narrator. We only know what he thinks his training was for, but there are a lot of clues that he’s not entirely right in the head. So were people actually training him for something else or was there a breakdown inside him?
The way you sprinkled verse into the narrative gave some insight on James’ mental state. How does this technique strengthen your writing?
The rhymes reveal James/Jimmy’s pattern of free association, where his thoughts are carried along by the logic of the sounds and words instead of a rational sequence of cause and effect. It’s part of what makes him unreliable. Any tool that a writer uses to get more deeply into the head of the character or at the heart of the story—or both!—makes a story stronger.
It’s been more than a decade since 9/11. Does terrorism still strike the same chord in fiction as it did a decade ago?
America is still feeling ripple effects from 9/11 that are only partially related to terrorism. For example, Americans now accept as normal the casual, constant surveillance of our public actions and private lives. We consent to body scanners and pat-downs at the airport and warrantless wiretapping of our cellphones. Think about that: Three thousand people died and then three hundred million people lost their privacy. The result of being constantly told we should be afraid, or that we have to be searched, that we have to be kept safe from each other, creates new levels of distrust in society. That fear has to be constantly renewed so that we keep up our vigilance. I think we’re still trying to understand all of these consequences and their aftereffects, and of course that gets reflected in fiction.
What can we expect from you in the future?
My next story is “The Great Zeppelin Heist of Oz,” which I co-wrote with my wife, Rae Carson. It’ll be in the Oz Reimagined anthology that’s coming out at the end of February, [edited by John Joseph Adams & Douglas Cohen].