The opening paragraph for “Soccer Fields and Frozen Lakes” contains one of the most poignant lines I have ever read in a speculative short story: “Except for the return address, these envelopes look like something from the bank, or perhaps an offer for home insurance, the kind we throw away.” This tiny, familiar detail cements the reader in the familiar, a stark contrast to the nature of the story. How conscious are you of establishing a reader’s perspective in relation to the narrative of a story?
Anchoring the reader’s perspective is something I know is important, but not something to which I give much thought. I drop myself into the story and let it flow as best I can. Even during editing (ninety percent of the process) I don’t consciously examine each detail with the thought of how the reader will react. In fact, I rarely think of the reader at all. During editing, I’m the reader, and my reasoning goes: If I can relate, so will others.
What was the inspiration behind “Soccer Fields and Frozen Lakes”?
There really is a Douglas MacArthur elementary school in Chicago, Illinois. And there really are some lakes behind it that look deceptively like empty fields when snow-covered in the winter months. There was a mother once, new to the area, who didn’t know there was enough water to drown in under all that snow, and led three small children across on a walking trip to the grocery store. The ice didn’t crack that day, thank God, which is why I get to tell this story. That wintry hike, and what might have happened, was the original seed of the story. That’s not the only seed, though. I wanted to write an alien invasion story, so that’s in there too. I know it doesn’t look like an alien invasion story, but under the covers, it really is. It’s just that the aliens aren’t who the story tells you they are.
Fear of “The Other” permeates the narrative. We becomes You and I. All becomes Us and Them. Embrace becomes Divide and Conquer. Fiction has been called a respite from the harsh realities of the world. How do you think fiction’s reflection of our world allows us to process what is happening around us?
I’ve heard it said that readers of fiction have a greater capacity for empathy than non-readers. I have no idea how true that is, but it feels good to say. We can read facts all day, but we won’t necessarily understand how a situation might feel until it happens to us. Imagination helps with that, but where our own imagination fails us, fiction steps in and leads us around for that proverbial mile. In short, it exercises our empathy.
What first stirred your interest in speculative fiction? How did you come to read the stories of stars and dreams?
My older brother Michael started me reading fiction in the third grade. Dad had a deal with Mike: He’d pay for half of any book Mike wanted to read. Mike wanted to read fantasy, and a lot of it. In a short while, he had a sizeable collection, to which he never denied me access. Eventually, Dad tired of that deal and got Mike a library card instead. If Mike hadn’t been around, I probably wouldn’t have read much of anything but Sunday comics and cereal boxes. Michael was killed by a mountain in 1998, when he was twenty-six years old. He never got to read any of my stories, but I honestly believe he would have liked most of them, and certainly would have helped me make them better.
If you could speak directly to new writers trying to get their feet out from other them, what would you say to them about the joys and realities of writing?
I would say this: It sucks, you’ll love it!
What’s next for Greg Kurzawa? What projects do you have coming up in 2017?
I’ve got more short stories in the pipeline, and I don’t expect to stop writing until I’m dead. I’ve also completed my second speculative fiction novel, The Sickness of Silas Traitor, and I’m in the process of finding an agent.
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