The stingers provide a startling first image for “Dry Bite.” What was your inspiration for them, and what came first: the stingers or the characters, namely Josephine?
The initial idea I had was to write a straightforward zombie story, where the zombies suddenly stop attacking the living, and the living have to learn to coexist with their dead brethren. As I started planning the story, I just wasn’t excited about writing it as a zombie story, so I figured readers wouldn’t be excited, either. That’s when I came up with the idea of making the dead humans hosts for aliens. So the stingers came before Josephine. Once I knew what I wanted the overall setup to be, I started thinking about what sort of character and situation might make for a compelling storyline.
As an opening, Josephine and Bella come across immediately as strong and vivid characters. Immediately, I felt the connection of admiration and respect. Did this bond between Bella and Josephine come naturally in writing “Dry Bite”? Was it based off anything familiar? Is this why you chose to begin the story with them, or was there another reason?
Bella is based on someone I know. I often have a real person in mind when I’m writing a character, in an attempt to keep the character from being flat and two-dimensional. The woman Bella is based on is tough, yet warm (she’s a psychotherapist). I wanted to begin with what felt like a fairly familiar scene: two survivors of an apocalypse sneaking into town for supplies and having to shoot their way out after being discovered by whatever caused the apocalypse. I wanted to turn the familiar scene on its ear by having them discover the deadly predators have lost interest in them.
Along the same lines, what kind of role did you initially think Josephine would play in the story behind the words, with her search and the survival aspect? How did you approach world creation for this story?
In zombie-type stories, people are often confronted with the horror of their dead loved ones coming after them. I wanted Josephine to be confronted with a different type of horror: Her dead loved ones are simply still around; she can see them, stand very close to them, but they’re utterly out of reach. I can’t imagine what it would be like to grieve for a child or spouse when they’re right in front of you; that was the burden I wanted to place on Josephine.
The world really developed out of necessity. I realized I didn’t want zombies, but I wanted something like zombies. I came upon an old note in my idea file: an alien invasion where the aliens could show up anywhere, at any time, through holes in the air. I thought that would make for a harrowing sort of invasion, so I added the connecting detail of having the aliens infect humans in a zombie-esque manner, and I was set.
The aspect of a dry bite serves a wonderful purpose to the story. In addition, young snakes aren’t familiar with this kind of control, oftentimes giving more venom than they need to on a first bite. Was this sense of maturity for the stingers—and for the journey of Josephine—always there? How did it progress in your mind?
Believe it or not, I wasn’t aware of the concept of a dry bite until I was just about finished with the first draft. Initially, I was thinking Josephine would turn into a stinger, which would have resulted in a very different story. I was brainstorming with a friend about the ending, because I wasn’t satisfied with it, and when I suggested having the sting have no effect on Josephine, my friend told me about the precedent for this among snakes. He suggested the title as well.
Is there anything you would like to share with Lightspeed about upcoming publications or projects?
My latest novel, Love Minus Eighty, was released last month from Orbit Books. It’s based on the Hugo Award-winning short story, “Bridesicle.” Next up is Defenders, coming next year, also from Orbit. It’s based on a story of the same title published here in Lightspeed, and it has already been optioned by Warner Brothers. The same friend who told me about dry bites came up with the structure to expand Defenders into a novel, so I owe him, big time.
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