How did this story come about?
At the risk of snottiness, I aver that it came about the same way most stories come about: out of my personal interest in spending some time in its given universe, wandering about and finding the story. This was a case of pantsing, not outlining, and I made the various discoveries, including the main character’s rocky relationship with his father, in the process of my explorations, sometimes not finding out stuff until I was almost upon it.
Your characters are so rich in telling detail, I imagine you as a close observer of the humans around you, making notes on possible character details to use one day. How do you build your characters? Does the stereotype about “Florida Man” give you an infinite trove of character details to use?
I don’t think I’m a particularly close observer; I am sometimes thoroughly blind, to the point where I am surprised by explosions that end with me protesting, “I didn’t know you were upset. I’m not telepathic.” I never take notes, but some of what I do retain is internalized, and winds up on the page. Here, it was a case of realizing, “This man and wife cannot exist in a vacuum and it already feels like they do, so I better give them a hint of a larger existence; here, I’ll have the protagonist visit his father, and whoops, that means I have to create a little bit about his father. And hey, I’ll throw in a brother, but to keep him out of the narrative I’ll establish that he’s dead,” and from there I find a way to connect them to the premise. But it’s an adjustment to an adjustment, a way of doing the things that must be done and then re-connecting them to the premise.
As for “Florida Man,” a description that technically speaking does apply to me, I have found as explanation that we are no weirder or more nuts than anyone else. You will find just as many examples of the kind, per capita, in Connecticut, or in Arizona, or for that matter in Sri Lanka. We are just better at reporting them to the police, and publishing them, so they can receive national attention, than most other localities.
Why did you choose the ending you did? I was sure it would end with Analise returning to footsteps in the sand and the little crab waving its claws.
See, this is where the “exploration” part comes in. I had more or less planned precisely that ending, by default, but as I drew closer realized it was facile, obvious, and an unsatisfying conclusion to the story’s contemplations on mortality, belief, and the life at hand as something that needed to be paid attention to, above and beyond the life to come. As I approached the ending, I realized that the last thing I wanted to do was accompany our protagonist on his mortal journey; I certainly didn’t want to show him blinking, falling, and experiencing his transition to a crustacean afterlife. So I provided a paragraph or two that provided a model of that ending, and then moved past it, to absolute peace, to the benediction he provides the angry crab at his feet. That, I realized, is a conclusion that both wraps everything up and provides the readership with the opportunity to decide the next page for themselves. Does the narrator drop dead in the very next heartbeat? Maybe. Fully possible, even likely. But alternatively, he might survive the night, make passionate love to his wife, return home and live for another year with no further symptoms of his degenerative illness. I don’t know, and what’s further, I don’t care. I am satisfied with the ending I found by exploration.
Alan spends his time thinking about the details of his next life, next lives in general, but not about whether the whole thing could be something else, just a type of hallucination, rather than a preview of the future. Is that lack of curiosity his own character or true of his people/population or true of how humans may shy away from the possibility of harder truths?
In this story, people know exactly what afterlife awaits them. They may seek to bargain for another, but I am cagey about whether that has any efficacy. I don’t think there’s much room for theological debate in this world, as nobody doubts their “previews,” but I note that our protagonist does come up with the Heaven vs. Hell model at one point in his contemplations and shudders at the world that would have resulted if people believed in such a silly thing. Certainly, he finds out in the course of the story that his future as a crab has its darker elements, but it is the world he will be stuck with, as we are stuck in ours.
What’s the best story you’ve read recently?
Most recently, as within the last two weeks, the novella “The Dark Ride,” by John Kessel, from the Jan/Feb 2021 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
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