Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Nancy Kress

“End Game” is the story of a man trying to set aside the static in his own brain. What drew you to write about that topic? Why is that static so important?

Have you ever tried to meditate? The whole point of meditation is to clear your mind of its constant, stray chattering at itself—and that is very hard to do. My own brain is constantly filled with the static of a hundred irrelevant thoughts: “What should I make for dinner? Who was that actress in that one movie? My nose itches—why does my nose itch? Did I call my father this week? Look at that pretty dress on that woman . . .” On and on. I got to wondering what total concentration, free of static, would feel like, and what results it might have. In that sense, “End Game” is a what-if story.

One idea that readers might take away from “End Game” is to embrace varied hobbies and interests. How does this tie in to real life and society today?

I think the whole secret of happiness, in this or in any other society, is to be deeply and genuinely interested. In anything: politics, your children, your job, soccer, quilting, collecting beer steins—it doesn’t matter. “Hobbies” is an inadequate word for what I’m talking about. The point is that when you are sincerely engaged with something, you have a reason to get out of bed in the morning with some degree of pleasure.

Why did you choose chess as Lucy’s focus as she becomes better at eliminating the static in her brain, and why walking for Jeff?

I like chess. I play a lot of chess, not very well. But it is one of the things I am deeply engaged with, and so was a natural topic for Lucy. (If I were a gardener, she’d have become obsessed with roses.) For Jeff, walking is good because he’s trying desperately to NOT have his concentration narrowed (a fight he will lose) and walking allows him to see many other things that might keep him from falling into narrow obsession (they won’t).

The story’s narrator is Jeff, but it focuses mainly on Allen and his discoveries/obsessions. Why did you choose to use Jeff’s point of view?

Allen’s POV would be too hard for me to write, and too hard for readers to identify with. For this sort of story, you want someone who can observe the horror, not be the horror.

Jeff is suspicious of Allen from the start, though he attributes it to jealousy. Why is Jeff able to see—consciously or unconsciously—that potential for danger in Allen’s theory, while Karen remains blind to it?

Jeff doesn’t see it as a danger, not at first. He is jealous—of Allen’s intellect, his ability to focus. These kinds of often irrational envies date from their teenage years together. His suspicion is just one manifestation of teenage insecurity, which later turns to irritation at Allen’s weirdness, and only much later to fear. A justified fear, when seeing Lucy creeps him out. I might wish for total concentration on chess (and I would undoubtedly play better if I had it), but what else would I have to give up to get that laser-like single focus? I’ll never know—and maybe that’s a good thing.

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Amber Barkley

Amber BarkleyAmber Barkley is a recent graduate of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She was born in Idaho and grew up in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Her favorite animals are cats and horses, and she considers it a great injustice that she is allergic to both—though that doesn’t stop her from being around them whenever she has the chance. Amber writes high fantasy with a dark twist, and is currently working on her first novel.