You’re primarily known as a science fiction writer. Why did you delve into the supernatural for “Miss Nobody Never Was”?
I am always surprised by questions like this! Although it’s true that most of the stories I’m best known for have been science fiction, I’ve been writing fantasy since the beginning of my career. Of the first ten stories I published, four were fantasies. Over my entire career, maybe a third have been. Of course, almost all the fantasy I’ve published has been contemporary, weird, supernatural, or slipstream. I’m afraid I don’t do wizards or dragons. While lots of my stuff has some personal connection, I think that my own life issues are most transparently realized on the page in my fantasies. I even wrote a fantasy once in which I was the main character! Understand, that doesn’t mean you should waste too much time mapping me onto Chaz Mariano in this particular piece. But if I tell you that my grandfather was a bartender, do you get what I’m saying about personal connections?
The bar banter was spot on. What’s your approach to writing tricky dialogue like that?
I have a side career as a playwright and from that I’ve learned to pay particular attention to different speech patterns. Nobody speaks the Queen’s English, not even the Queen, and deviations from the standard can be a rich source of characterization. But I have to say that I really enjoy having different conversations between groups of people impinge on one another, because it’s so hard to do. I think it has something to do with the fact that I’ve written more than a hundred stories and that I like technical challenges to help me engage in a fresh way with the action.
Young Adele sometimes takes a back seat to make room for the characters’ other issues. How important is it to strike a balance between interwoven conflicts?
I am very aware of the story clock that ticks in the background of all fiction. The shorter the story, the faster the clock ticks. So Young Adele can only get as much time as there is. But besides this, the story has a kind of ambivalence about her reality. It privileges the issues of Chaz and the older Adele, because they are clearly “real.” This piece began as a note that I wrote to myself many years ago. It read, “A story about the ghost of somebody who isn’t dead.” As I began to write, young Adele became something more than a ghost—different anyway—but her exact nature is unclear, even to me. But that’s why this is a fantasy story and not a science fiction story about a time traveler.
You sold your first story almost forty years ago. Speculative fiction has evolved a lot during that time. Where do you see it heading in the future?
It should come as no shock to readers of Lightspeed that the tent of speculative fiction has grown very big indeed over the decades. And within its shelter, the boundaries of the various subgenres are blurring. Although some might decry the loss of genre rigor, I am not among their number. Mutation is the engine of evolution and writers need to make stories that are fit to survive in our changing literary environment. But I think the biggest shift in our little corner of letters has happened since the beginning of the century. Although there may not be as many readers as there were in the golden age of science fiction and fantasy magazines, the success of Lightspeed and its many worthy digital competitors has created a newly lush short story landscape. My bet is that it will continue to flourish.
What can we expect from you down the line?
I am working on a novel, which I hope to finish by the end of the year. And I have a new play in development. Then lots more stories, some of which I hope will appear in these pages!