“Biographical Fragments of the Life of Julian Prince” features a Wikipedia article from the future. What made you want to tell the story this way?
I recently read a soon-to-be-published short story that as part of its structure included an indirect way of telling its story—a eulogy. I thought the way that the story was revealed from a distance was very powerful and actually drew me closer to the subject. A few things entered my mind. Could I use this same technique to tell an entire story about an individual? Without writing any traditional narrative and only illustrating and describing him from a distance, could I get close enough to a person that readers would care about him and, in fact, perhaps care about him more than otherwise? Similarly, could I use a background that we would normally consider a centerpiece of a story—a global catastrophe—and not even focus on it all while also making its horrible nature clear in the reader’s mind?
In short, I wanted to tell a personal story and an epic story without directly telling either one. We would see them both from a distance, in relief.
One of the things that I think is powerful about this is that it requires the reader to fill in so many blanks, that the experience requires more reader collaboration. The reader is given no guidance as to what Prince looks like or was like as a friend or a significant other or any number of other things. All he or she has is this distant view requiring them to bring to bear their own imagination. This is one of the things that I think can be very powerful about a story told this way. The reader can make the story even more personal because he or she is required to take part. This goes for the catastrophe, as well. We see glimpses of its aftermath, but there is very little detail of what actually happened. The horror can either be provided by the reader or just passed over. Again, the collaboration of the reader is critical.
I liked that a lot.
You stitched together several kinds of sources to put this entry together. I enjoyed seeing Prince’s wit come out in the talk show transcript. Was there a specific source that stood out to you?
Of the entire piece, it is a single line quoted in one of the Wikipedia entries that sticks in my mind: When Prince is quoted about his return to North America and says, “It was like performing an autopsy on your own parent.” It’s a simile that in one line really captures the personality of Prince and the world he lives in.
Do you think an author could start a literary movement and then completely contradict it in today’s increasingly polarized social climate?
There are plenty of examples of this at the individual level—Bruce Springsteen’s bitter anti-war song “Born In The USA” used as a pro-USA political anthem being just one example—that I don’t think it is unrealistic to think that in the uncertain atmosphere of a global catastrophe there will be a whole art movement that becomes popular despite the underlying intent of the artist. One of the reasons for this is that governments and corporations like to co-opt art for their own interests. So to my mind it is not surprising that, post-catastrophe, the governments and relatively untouched populaces of the world are looking to calm the rest and support optimism, while there is this shock and depression from those that barely survived. That stark chasm of differing interest and experience is where Julian Prince’s life really begins.
Why is it important to explore telling stories in unconventional ways?
The importance is telling the story the best way, not the unconventional way. So it is important not to limit ourselves as writers and readers to the standard narrative form. Because while that works for a lot of stories, it doesn’t work for all of them.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m currently working on my first novel, which is an examination of memory. If you could go back and relive the best moment of your life, would you do that? What if it wasn’t as great as you imagined? What if something you remembered as being wonderful turned out to actually be awful? How does time change our perceptions of the experiences in our past? I use a science fictional method to follow a number of characters as they experience just these things.
Beyond that, I’m sure I’ll write a few stories. I do so love writing them.
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