It’s said that strong stories need strong openings, and with “Pinono Deep” you prove that to be true. When writing, what elements do you consider a must for a story, ones that stir the blood and hook a reader’s interest?
If there’s a “hook,” I don’t actually feel it’s some event, or threat itself.
The action is just the action, but unless we can identify with and care about the characters involved, the hook element—whatever it is—doesn’t stick. There’s a murder, there’s a volcanic eruption, there’s a storm of some kind coming, but none of those things matter unless the audience cares about the people involved. It’s not the storm at sea, it’s that you’re invested in the crew and don’t want them to die in it.
What can you tell us about the inspiration behind “Pinono Deep”?
Ever hear that song about the whale? “’Twas in eighteen hundred and fifty-three on June the thirtieth day?” No? Okay, it’s a little obscure. Anyway, the upshot of the song is that whaling is really dangerous and that the industry cares more for the product than the workers. The song’s about a whale encounter, where a boat capsizes and they lose five of the crew. “To lose those men, the captain said, / It grieves my heart full sore, / but to lose that whale, that five hundred-barrel whale, / It grieves me ten times more, brave boys . . .” That’s harsh. That’s a really harsh world, all that and then the whale tries to eat you.
I also spent a lot of time as a kid snorkeling around a hole in the reef around the Samoan island of Upolu. The hole, the hole’s called Palolo Deep, and depending on who you ask, was either created by a meteorite, a volcanic sinkhole, or Samoans fishing with dynamite. The coral had all grown down into the hole and you could snorkel for hours around the edge looking at beautiful coral and fish. Sometimes sharks got caught on that side of the reef, in the hole at low tide. We saw a great white out there once. That’s when I found out I could walk on water.
Run on water, actually.
Your prose with ”Pinono Deep” is very sparse and given to a rhythm of an angry sea. Even the dialogue has its own sharp rhythm. How do you choose the voice of a story? For each character?
I write a lot about the working class, and a lot of my characters aren’t formally educated. Many of them have dialects. I grew up around so many languages and dialects, as an expat kid. That’s the soundtrack of a place, the rise and fall of how its people speak.
I don’t consciously choose, honestly. It’s just how I describe a character, probably more than how they look visually.
Life on a whaling vessel or deep-sea arctic fishing vessel is dangerous, and unrelenting in its hardships and rewards. Have you ever spent an extended time on a seagoing vessel?
I crewed on the tall ship Hawaiian Chieftain, at that time out of Sausalito, CA, for a couple of summers. She’s a three-mast schooner and a real honey of a vessel. I’d started out on the Potomac, which was formerly a USN cutter that FDR had overhauled to be his presidential yacht—he was concerned about fire and getting caught belowdecks, and it was easier to install an elevator for his wheelchair in the larger cutter anyway—but the first time I saw the Chieftain, I jumped ship. So to speak.
She was gorgeous. Red sails, against the blue sky. You can’t help but fall in love.
This story combines elements of both near-future science fiction and fantasy. Publishers and retailers often rely on genre labels to sell books. How do you feel such labels affect a writer’s work? Do you find yourself writing to fit the expectations of a specific genre?
Wait. There are genres? Shit.
You have a wide range of interests, from hockey to fiber craft, to caring for your family and animals. Amidst all the chaos of the day-to-day, how do you carve out specific time for yourself and your words?
My business takes up a lot of my time, but the good thing about being an indie dyer is that, although I feel like I’m beholden to the business twenty-four/seven, in fact I do get to make my own schedule. Not being in an office job and getting out of the game design industry means I’m captain of my own vessel (see what I did there?), and I make time to write because it’s important.
In general that means leaving the house, going down to the Kilkenny bar in Milford, buying a pint or two, and getting to it. The Kilkenny’s a cell service black hole, and I’ve made the bar staff promise never to give me the password for the Wi-Fi. That leaves drinking and writing, occasionally surfacing to commune with the locals, who tolerate my weirdness, then getting back to work again.
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