How did this story come about?
I sometimes struggle with this question, because stories often are a simmering combination of ingredients that don’t really matter until they’re soup, but I know the answer this time! Beneath Ceaseless Skies editor Scott Andrews and I were chatting at Capclave in fall of 2014. I don’t remember the exact conversation leading up to it, but I said the line “the rock star washed ashore” and he said, “That’s a story. You have to write it. And then, unfortunately, you can’t sell it to me, because it won’t be secondary world fantasy.” We discussed how “the bard washed ashore” would be secondary world fantasy, but didn’t have the same ring to it. And lo and behold, he was right. I did write the story, it wasn’t secondary world fantasy, and I couldn’t offer it to Scott.
In the first draft, the rock star washed ashore in another reality, but ultimately I liked the idea of tossing her off a cruise ship ark into something less alien.
Which came first: the title or the last line?
The last line. This was a hard story to title. Sometimes I have a title before I even begin a story, but this one went through about a dozen names. A couple of them I had to give up on because they were already taken. A couple were too generic. This was one of the titles I had toyed with, but I went with another when I sent the story off to Lightspeed. John Joseph Adams sent back the acceptance with a suggestion to use this title instead. He’s good with titles; he was right.
Can you talk about the role of the framing device (the imagined interview with Inside the Music as opposed to straight flashbacks) within the larger story?
I liked the idea of two strangers meeting and putting up layers of protection, telling their stories to each other unreliably. Gabby is unreliable even to herself, telling herself stories that justify her own actions, and telling them in a way that denies the situation she’s in.
It’s hard not to look for parts of you in the protagonist—is there anything Pinsker-y of interest that was fodder?
Other than the fact that she’s a queer musician who would prefer to go through life never playing “My Heart Will Go On,” not really. She’s nothing like me in personality, her path was entirely different than mine, and I wouldn’t get onto a cruise ship ark if John Cusack was dangling from a tiny plane, shouting it was the only way to survive.
Who gets musicians right in literature? What are some of the things writers can get wrong?
I just read Elizabeth Hand’s lovely Wylding Hall, about a seminal 1970s band and the summer they spent recording their best-known album. I had to fight my urge to look the band up online. They felt real, lived-in. The ways they interacted, the ways their songs came together. Lewis Shiner has written some great musicians, too, real and fictional, though I haven’t read his books in a long time.
I can’t even articulate what’s wrong when writers get it wrong. It’s the ring of falseness that is the opposite of the ring of truth. I think anytime you’ve got experience in something or working knowledge of it, you can suss out who is faking it. You get pulled out by false details or bad logistics.
What went into how you wrote dialogue for two such different characters?
Bay was one of the most fun characters I’ve ever written. I absolutely loved writing her because her voice was so distinctly her own. Basically any time I was telling her story she let me know exactly what was going on.
Writing dialogue for characters who are different is way more fun than writing characters with more similar voices. You don’t have to worry as much about the voices getting confused. If I stripped all the dialogue tags away, you could still tell who was who in this story, I’m pretty sure. That’s an interesting way to test whether the characters you’re writing are distinct, but it doesn’t have to work. In this case, I’m pretty sure it does.
What else would you like readers to know about this story?
Helping a turtle cross the road is sometimes harder than you might think. They snap, and they’re surprisingly quick about it. I’m not sure if that’s really about the story, but it’s related, I guess. Also, the research for this story taught me more about edible plants to forage than I knew previously. I don’t really want to get stranded on a coastal island, but if I do, I’m more prepared.
You’ve published a few near-future stories now that take place after some fairly big changes to the way people live. Do you want to talk about that at all?
I think I’m a hopeful writer, but I’ve written a fair number of stories that might be called soft-apocalypse. They focus on the ways people come together rather than the ways people are broken apart. I’ve read a lot of post-apocalyptic stuff, and I feel like there’s a lot of fear that we’ll devolve in the face of water shortage or zombies or disease, and I’d rather write about the ways people come together. I loved Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven—oh! and I think she did music really well, too—but I couldn’t figure out why people weren’t planting instead of scavenging twenty-year-old tinned food. Anyway, I’m more drawn to the stories that come out of “people panicked for a week, but then worked together to get the electricity back on” than “we couldn’t find any electrical engineers so we had to start eating people.”
Any news you want to share with us?
My fourth album is fully recorded and mastered. Hopefully it’ll be out a month or two after this story.
Spread the word!