How did you come up with this idea? Were there any particular Beautiful Boys who inspired you?
I think we all know Beautiful Boys. We probably knew them in high school, the ones who were in a band, and smoked during lunch period, and mothers warned their daughters about. There were certainly boys like that in my high school, and I dated several of them despite my mother’s warnings. And then you never hear about them again, unless it’s years later and they’re doing carpentry in Montana. Or something with horses.
In a way, I was writing from the perspective of that high school girl, to whom some men seemed like aliens. And in my story, they are. Maybe.
The distant, omniscient POV that you chose for the story works perfectly. How did you decide on that? Did you try any other ways of telling the story?
It’s actually not an omniscient POV: the entire story is from the POV of the main character, whom Oscar calls Dr. Leslie (although Leslie is actually her first name). But parts are her personal story, and parts are her presenting the research she’s done, the conclusions she’s come to, the questions that remain to be answered. They’re both the same voice, speaking in different ways. In dialog with one another, and with us.
I’m not sure how I decided on it — I think I always heard the story in her voice, whether it was the personal or scientific voice. I didn’t try to tell the story in any other way — once you have the voice, I find, the story more or less tells itself. She tells the story, through me.
I don’t see any hard evidence that the Beautiful Boys, as described, have to exist, or that Dr. Leslie’s proposed tests could definitively prove her theories. Did you intend for readers to draw any conclusion from that ambiguity?
I’m not sure you can draw conclusions from ambiguity, and that’s pretty much what I meant to leave the reader with: the ambiguity. Here is a scientist, a Ph.D. or M.D., confronted with the things her science doesn’t understand. Like human relationships and emotions. Yet she’s still trying to understand them the only way she knows how, rationally, by quantifying. That’s what the story is about, really.
It’s my way of writing science fiction . . .
What was your biggest challenge in writing this story?
This particular story sort of wrote itself. I’ve had stories that are difficult to write, but this one wasn’t, I think because I know that way of thinking so well. Both my parents are scientists. And here I am, the writer, understanding things in a very different way than they do, by telling stories. My narrator is trying to construct a story that allows her to understand her own experiences, in the only way she knows how . . .
Perhaps the hardest part of writing this story is actually explaining it? It’s a story about someone who desperately wants explanations. Also about what it’s like to lose people.
What are you working on now?
I’ve just finished a novel about the daughters of the classic mad scientists, based on a novella of mine written several years ago called The Mad Scientist’s Daughter (which you can read online in Strange Horizons). I seem to be interested in scientists, particularly mad ones! I suppose as the daughter of scientists myself, it was only a matter of time before I would start writing about characters like Mary Jekyll, Diana Hyde, Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein . . . Next, I may take time off to write a few fairy tales, and then it will be back to the second book in the series!
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