This story tackles a very touchy, emotionally charged topic in a way which makes it approachable yet still vibrant. Do you feel like SF as a genre is particularly adept at handling issues? Is there anything different about genre in terms of socio-political or social-concern discussion?
I think SF as a genre is well suited to handling issues—whether that’s actually done deftly all the time is open to debate. But what it boils down to is that as authors we’re taking our current society/science and playing a giant game of “What if?” What if we did outlaw guns? What if we don’t manage to stop climate change? What happens to the world when the aliens come? What if we all had innate magical powers, and our society was stratified based on the amount of magic a person possessed? And so on.
Because our readers have the expectation of that element of “What if?”, it gives SF authors a bigger sandbox to play in. We’re not quite as confined by the rules of the everyday world, especially in terms of whatever science fictional concept we’re exploring. And I’m not saying that a novel needs to hit you over the head with a sociopolitical message, but there are plenty of works that subtly incorporate them. Even in terms of worldbuilding—if you’re creating a secondary fantasy world, there’s absolutely no reason not to have racially diverse characters or characters with diverse genders and sexualities. One of the true beauties of SF is that we don’t have to model everything on our current world and society.
This piece works really well in second person—and even then, it’s a different kind of second person than a lot of stories which use second. Did you play around with different iterations or tenses? I can see how this might have also been a first person at some point?
It was always written in second person, which is unusual for me to use. I think I’ve written three stories total in my life using it. It’s a narrative that ended up having a lot of me in it, in certain ways. I think as writers we always put parts of ourselves in our work, but some stories have more than others, which might be why you’re getting the first person feel to this one. I showed the first draft of the story to a good friend who never reads science fiction, and she came back with the comment that she liked it, but if it didn’t sell as a story, she thought that I could rework it into a personal essay. Which I’m going to take as a compliment.
Can you talk a bit about the development of this story? How did it come about/how was it inspired, and how did the writing progress go?
This story literally attacked me. It was one of those pieces that I had to write; I didn’t have much of a choice because my brain was going to explode otherwise.
Basically, in March 2019, there were the horrible mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. I was heartsick that these people had been attacked this way in a house of worship that should have been safe. As more news came out the next day, it was even worse, because all of a sudden we were talking about young children who had been thoughtlessly murdered.
I have young children myself, who attend a religious preschool. The morning after the shooting, I took my two-year-old daughter to a Parent and Me class there. We sat there singing the “ABCs” and the “Wheels on the Bus,” and it was such a disconnect from what was happening half a world away. Yet, at the same time, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that my kids have security drills at their preschool. That they have to do this before they’re even in kindergarten is not normal. It’s not a normal society that we live in, that this is viewed as a necessary evil.
And I just got so very, very angry about the world we live in, that shootings like Christchurch happen with such frequency, and that there are so many guns in America. So, I wrote the story, partially as a way to process all that anger. It took me a weekend to write and the first draft was almost identical to what you see in Lightspeed, except for a change to the ending and some line edits.
The POV seems almost disconnected from the things shifting and changing throughout the story, in a way, except at these kind of really grounded anchors/focal points at beginning and end. In a sense, it’s like saying, yeah, all this crazy stuff is happening, but what’s really important are these two moments: the initial question and the result. As a narrative it feels unorthodox and kind of experimental in that way. Was this a different style for you? For folks who are reading you for the first time and loving it (which, I think, will be many people), what should they read next; what is the story that really represents you as an author?
For people wanting to read more of my work, let’s see . . . if you enjoyed the second-person POV, my story “Doors,” which was just published in Factor Four Magazine, also uses it. If you want to try a slightly more conventional POV in third person, I’m very fond of my story “The Sweetness at the End,” which was published last year in Escape Pod. I think both of those are representative of what I’m currently writing.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about this piece?
The lollipops in the beginning of the story are real. They really do give them to the children during the security drills to keep them quiet. Which is truly terrifying to me as a parent. Also, as is probably obvious, I am very much in favor of stricter gun control, and have been ever since I was given an assignment in the seventh grade to write an argument for a gun control amendment. I continue to remain hopeful, despite being disappointed by American politicians in that regard for the past twenty-five years.
Your Publications page at jennyrae.com shows a number of short pieces out; is there a book in the near future? What are you working on now that new fans can look forward to?
I have a completed first draft of a novel, which I’m hoping to revise this summer before I send it out to potential agents. It’s based around the idea that time travel has been invented in NYC in the 1920s, but the technology is very limited, and you can only go three years into the future and three years into the past from your starting date. When three children go missing via an illegal time travel device, it’s up to my main characters to find them, before the timeline ends up being irrevocably damaged. It’s a historical fiction novel that’s injected with a good dose of science fiction and a dash of romance. I had a blast researching the historical era while I was writing it.
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