What was your initial inspiration for this story?
To be honest, I can’t remember how it started, but at some point I came across The Jazz of Physics author Stephon Alexander. Listening to him play and analyze John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” gave me a map for this story. From there, I could record the odyssey of Dr. Charlene Jenkins and explore what it means to take risks and break free (or not) from the structures we’re born into.
“Giant Steps” feels like a very visual story. There’s lots of places here—the Orion II, Gramma’s porch, Titan itself—that evoke so many visual cues and feelings, and in turn make them feel very real. Was that something you sought to accomplish when you started to write it?
The thing is, I’m not an intuitive writer. But Charlene wanted her story told in a style that embodied the restless, boundary-pushing spirit of Coltrane’s sound. I thought the shifts in time and space might be disorienting, so I asked her for specific details: What sounds did she hear on the porch? How did it feel wading through Ligeia Mare? Her answers helped ground the story for me because I’m a journalist and screenwriter who thinks in visual terms. In the end, she said she appreciates how it turned out—even though it’s not as “boundary-pushing” as she believed it could have been. It is what it is.
Charlene is pulled in many different directions throughout her life, mostly stemming from her family and her work. It’s something a lot of us can relate to. What sorts of aspects of yourself did you put into Charlene, or any of the characters for that matter, that you think makes them so relatable?
True, I do think Charlene’s story depicts a familiar tug-of-war: Should we fall in line with what the world (family, society, etc.) expects us to be? Or choose who we want to be for ourselves? Decisions, decisions. Her leap of faith spoke to me because I’ve been there. In 2011, my wife and I got rid of everything we had and left the States to travel the world. We’ve been nomads ever since, living out of our backpacks. You discover a lot about life, about yourself, on the road, but you can’t escape the feeling of alienation. Documenting Charlene’s journey reminded me how to stay connected—no matter the distance—and that choosing yourself is not a one-time thing, but a difficult choice you make over and over.
Do have any projects coming up in the future that you’d like to talk about?
I’ve got a few projects in different stages of development: a hip-hop picture book, an alien invasion play, and I’m still trying to crack this screenplay about sleeplessness. I have a list of short story ideas, but this form is the one I struggle with most, so we’ll see what happens.
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