You establish “Nine Tenths of the Law” with a fairly intimate domestic scene and then tumble into the unexpected with a smooth, light hand, keeping the balance to the end. How do you manage such a balance in writing? Do you find the line between the real and the surreal easy to cross?
I wanted this story to be all about juxtaposition and disorientation—the closest to home and the most distant thing imaginable coming together in strange ways with unexpected (though inevitable) consequences.
This one, for me, was all about the quick and slow. I drew on my history writing Mythos and Weird fiction, where things often start off fairly normal and then go abysmally awry, to create that sense of disorientation and “what’s real?” But in the end, this story is probably the most classically SF story I’ve ever written, up to and including riffing on Robert Silverberg. His story “Amanda and the Alien” is a great one for “how would we deal with actual, literal aliens?” so I studied it and even included a small tribute (a cat named after one of T.S. Eliot’s).
I was intrigued by the “X-Files-style rumors” that form the core of the story. Are there really such rumors about the Denver International Airport? How did they shape the inspiration for the story?
Oh gosh yes! There really, really are. One need only google “Denver International Airport Conspiracy Theory” to find a wealth of amazing stuff. I learned all about them when I moved to Colorado, and then became semi-obsessed with cataloguing what people believe about the place.
Here’s what’s true: DIA is far away from everything (yes, even Denver!). Like, queerly so. There are layers of tunnels beneath it. It has a ton of weird art, including a mural of a Nazi with rainbows and doves, and a statue of a giant angry horse that (in reality) killed its creator. (“Blucifer,” as we call him, has his own FB fan page.)
What’s proooobably not true is that beneath DIA lurks an alien research facility, or that its murals predict the rapture or the end of the world (one of the dedicated conspiracy bloggers insists that this painting [bit.ly/2fKP2zh], featuring a leopard and two cubs, while done before the Obama presidency, reflects the rise of Michelle Obama, Sasha, and Malia), or that it’s where they’ll send the president in the event of a world event that would send him into hiding. But, just the same, people believe it. And not just locals—I was once taking a shuttle to a tiny airport in Utah when the guy asked where I was flying into. When I mentioned Denver, he got very excited and asked me, “So, what do you know about . . . it all?” Not the first time I’ve experienced such excitement from a rando about the place, either.
Because I wanted “Nine Tenths of the Law” to be a story about real life, I wanted to set it somewhere very familiar to me, but I also wanted to riff on the uncanny and the doubt people often feel about conspiracy theories, the “well . . . what if it was true?” Denver International Airport therefore seemed like the ideal setting for that.
To me, certain elements of the story—Gleerak’s curiosity about humanity, its efforts to control and redirect conversations, how the alien and the human minds slide in and out of control—touch on mental health issues as well, Dissociative Identity Disorder in particular. Was this an intentional effect or did the story shape itself?
No, it was definitely intentional, even if I wouldn’t go so far as to say I intended to make it about something as serious as Dissociative Identity Disorder. For me, this is a story about the way people react to the end of a marriage. Divorce is often an identity-shattering time for people, where they re-evaluate who they are—and who they wish they could be. Some people feel elated, only to crash; others start low and realize that in the end, all the pain is for the best. There’s no predicting what will happen, and no way to know how aware people will be of how they’re changing.
One of the things that impressed me most about the story is how you address Jared as a character, taking into account his personal feelings and needs, even his desires. His reactions force Donna to admit that they have both grown out of their marriage. How do you approach such character development so that a character does not become a caricature instead?
I never wanted Jared to be a caricature. I wanted him to be a real person, a real victim, who experiences real consequences within the story. That’s how I approached his character. Sure, he’s awful—but so is Donna, honestly. And he had a hand in his crappy marriage and his wife’s feelings of dissatisfaction—but so did Donna. It takes two to tango, and Jared is obviously not happy, either.
Basically, I knew I wanted to tell this story from Donna’s perspective, but just the same, I knew Jared shouldn’t—couldn’t—be “just” a terrible husband or a villain for it to work the way I wanted it to. I didn’t want anyone to feel comfortable with his being stripped of his life—his body—his agency, even if it was providing Donna with something she needed/wanted. Or at least felt she deserved.
What’s next for Molly Tanzer? Are there any up and coming projects in store for 2017?
Oh yes! I’ll have two books out next year. First, I’ll be celebrating the release of Mixed Up!, an anthology I’m co-editing with Nick Mamatas, which will be a gift book featuring flash fiction and cocktail recipes. I’m also excited for the release of Creatures of Will and Temper, which will be my third novel. It’s a feminist, woman-focused retelling of The Picture of Dorian Gray, but with sword fighting, demons, sisters who can’t get along, and other fun stuff. I’ll also continue with my magazine, Congress, where I publish “thoughtful erotica,” and put out my usual trickle of short stories.
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