Unlike the story itself, which uses a nonlinear structure we’ll get to soon, let’s start at the beginning. What you can tell us about the spark of inspiration behind this story? Which of the images or scenes came to you first, and how did you build it out?
I’ve had this image in my head for a long time—two old friends, moon colonists and blue-collar workers, whacking golf balls off a lunar escarpment and jawing about the first time anyone (Alan Shepard, Apollo Astronaut) ever teed off on the moon. I’m not particularly a golf fan, but the image was so compelling I was determined to build a story around it.
The second inspiration was decidedly less fun—the heart-wrenching experience of watching my mother-in-law slowly decline with dementia over a period of about fifteen years. To help process my grief, I wanted to write a story around dementia, and I spent a few years researching and considering ideas. I had a flash one day, where I realized Noah hitting golf balls with Gord was one of his last good memories, and the story grew from there.
The events in the story are entirely fictional, of course, and my mother-in-law and Noah are nothing alike (she never tried to swindle gangsters, at least not to my knowledge!), but there’s a commonality to their struggles that I hope speaks to everyone who has been affected by the disease.
A colonized Moon is a fascinating setting. Here you use actual historical events (Alan Shepard) and science (the Moon’s exposure to radiation) as a basis, but populate it with a wonderful collection of blue-collar workers, gangsters, and billionaires. How did you decide to set the story on the Moon? Did you find that choosing that setting influenced the shape the rest of the story took?
Thanks! I’m certainly not the first writer to be fascinated by the idea of the Moon as humanity’s first “second home,” so I took a lot of inspiration from those who have come before.
Because that initial image of the two golfers was so strong, there was never any question that the story would have to take place on the Moon, so I started to imagine who these characters were and what they might be doing out there. Taking their lunch break, it turns out! Nothing’s more human than killing time.
I did a lot of research on golf ball dynamics in lunar gravity, golf ball materials under lunar conditions, and possible side effects from staying out on the Moon’s surface for too long, and all of those things suggested story cues, too.
Most of all, the Moon to me as a setting evokes strong feelings of isolation, even desolation. With a colony, you’d probably have a lot of people living in habs and tunnels underground to escape the radiation. How isolating that would be, to rarely see the sky? To live in a series of constricted corridors. We’d adapt, no doubt, but this physical isolation mirrors the interior isolation of Noah’s dementia. He’s trapped in a warren of memory and grief that he can’t escape.
While the events of your story are nonlinear, it still builds up to a moving climax. Despite the time shifts and memory slips, it feels like it follows the tried and true narrative arc of tension and release for the reader. What influenced your choice to tell a chronologically nonlinear story? Were there particular difficulties it presented or possibilities it offered?
I’m a fairly linear writer, so my process definitely influenced how I began to write Noah’s story.
Because the story is about someone suffering from dementia, there was an opportunity to play Noah’s memories against his muddled present. Attempting to capture that raw, unfiltered interiority was what drew me to his story in the first place.
Dementia patients often retain their long-term memories and can remember their early lives with amazing amounts of detail. Those memories can still become confused with the present. Stories about parents mistaking their kids for a deceased spouse are heartbreakingly common, for example. Until her dementia rendered her speechless, my mother-in-law would regale us with intricate stories about growing up in the Depression, but she often seemed confused about who I was.
The hardest part of structuring “Miles and Miles and Miles,” was ensuring the reader follows Noah as he skips through time and memory while living his physical present. Noah’s sort of the ultimate unreliable narrator—he’s not fully in control of how he tells his own story. I think—I hope—I managed to balance Noah’s raw and confused experiences with the linear narrative of his long unraveling.
This story and its structure seems to tease out the relationship between cause-and-effect, on the one hand, and the meaning we ascribe to events, on the other. At the end, although Noah perceives that the orderly is there to punish him for cheating Thornton, Noah’s final words suggest that he instead accepts what he thinks is death as a fitting atonement for all of his faults—failing Mimi, betraying Gord, selling out to Arkady, hurting Gabi. Rather than mere submission, by imbuing this event with his own meaning, Noah manages to wrest back control even though he can’t change the outcome. How do you see the interplay between causal relationships and ascribed meaning in this story?
A question I kept returning to while writing this story was “Does Noah deserve his fate?” Fiction, unlike real life, often demands that a character experience consequences for their actions—even if those consequences are metaphorical or merely revelatory—in order for the reader to feel satisfied at the end of the story.
Did Noah earn his fate through his failures and betrayals? Maybe, but there’s a lot of ambiguity in the nature of his deeds because he’s incapable of remembering exactly how it all went down. Dementia is such a cruel affliction, and I definitely wanted to maintain sympathy for Noah even as I suggest he might not have made ethical decisions earlier in his life. No matter what actually happened, Noah seeks redemption, some kind of peace, at the end. Don’t we all?
For a last bit of linearity, what’s coming up next for you? To cast linearity aside, however, where can readers that enjoyed this piece find more of your previous work?
I have a lot of plates spinning right now! I’m working on the final act of a trilogy of space-opera-horror novellas titled The Mosquito Fleet for Broken Eye Books. Part one, “The Stars How Different, From Night to Night,” is currently available through their Eyedolon Magazine Patreon. Part two is coming sometime this summer. In the meantime, I’m working on a different space opera project that’s a little bit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a smidge of Les Misérables, and a dash of Star Wars. It’s the most ambitious project I’ve tackled to date, so stay tuned on that one!
Besides my previous story for Lightspeed, “The Parting Glass,” I’ve published over a dozen stories in various other publications and anthologies. You can find links on my website, andrewpennromine.com.
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