Science Fiction & Fantasy

Null States

Advertisement

Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Sean Williams

How did “Death and the Hobbyist” start for you?

This story has a complicated genesis. The short answer is that it’s a tie-in to my new novel, Twinmaker. I’ve been writing a bunch of these stories to explore aspects of the world and the main characters (including “The Missing Metatarsals” and “Face Value,” also published by Lightspeed). “Hobbyist” sprang in part from speculation regarding how death from illness is treated in a post-scarcity society. It would be easy to regard it as a vile injustice, but modern humans have always had a nuanced relationship with mortality, and that’s something I was keen to look into.

At the same time, “Hobbyist” was conceived and written while I was stuck in a sleep research facility for a week, exploring how fatigue and lack of control altered my creativity. So much of this story comes from what happened in that study, particularly the parts where Juliet is confined and raging against her decreasing cognitive abilities. In many ways, it’s a story I would never have written out in the real world because I had never experienced anything like it. So while it started with idle speculation regarding one particular facet of the world I was building, what really got it going was a very personal and very difficult experience that I am still to a large degree processing—much like death, really, although thankfully not permanent.

Do you think Juliet’s mental illness is a common one, given the world? Do you think many people are left behind because of technology?

I think the mind is a very complicated organ that we will struggle to fully understand for generations to come. Its relationship with our environment, an environment that, thanks to technology, is undergoing accelerating change, makes this quest even more difficult. Some people have always felt left behind by technology, and to a large degree my new series is an exploration of this kind of feeling. In its most severe forms, is it a symptom of profound psychological illness, or could it even be the cause? I don’t know, but I expect to see new kinds of illnesses as our technologies change even more. For that reason I never name Juliet’s illness. It’s new, and yet at the same time very old.

What subject would define you as a hobbyist? The act of writing can—in essence—become an obsession, so what, from the terminology you’ve given us, might you identify with?

I am a writing obsessive, so that is definitely my hobby. The way I write, too, is increasingly outdated. I don’t like voice recognition, or Scrivener, or any of the other fancy tools some of my peers have taken to. Give me a word processor and I’m as a happy as a bean. But if you gave me a pen or a manual typewriter, I’d go crazy within the hour. There are limits to my obsession.

The d-mat has aspects of incredible potential, so what was your process in researching the device? What came first, the characters or the technology?

The technology has been the back of my mind ever since I wrote my first short story, so in a sense that came first. There are ideas I’ve always wanted to explore. But ideas aren’t stories. Stories are driven by characters, so until I have them, I don’t have anything at all except for notes. The voice that came to me first was Allison’s. She narrates Juliet’s story from the point of view of a daughter dealing with love and loss, and also the growing awareness that her own daughter (the protagonist of Twinmaker) might experience similar conflicts with her mother, one day. It’s a universal story, really, one that plays out differently here because of the world it’s set in. I hope that everyone who reads it will see glimpses of themselves and their own losses, as I do, although Juliet is not based specifically on any of my family members who have died.

What’s next for you?

I’ve spent this year mostly working on Crashland, the sequel to Twinmaker. And now Twinmaker is out, I’ve been doing blog tours and travelling hither and yon to support it (times like these I just wish d-mat was real). Coming out in 2014, as well as Crashland, are two books from me and Garth Nix: the latest in our Troubletwisters series for MG readers, The Missing, and the third book in a multi-author series called Spirit Animals, also for middle graders. Between book projects, I’ll be working on more Twinmaker-related projects, which you can find over at twinmakerbooks.com.

Enjoyed this article? Get the rest of this issue in convenient ebook format!

Patrick J Stephens

Patrick J Stephens recently graduated from the University of Edinburgh and, after spending the entire year writing speculative fiction, came back with a Master’s in Social Science. His first collection (Aurichrome and Other Stories) can be found on Kindle and Nook.