How did this story come about?
I’ve actually been trying to write this story for a while. I started with my fear of flying—which I’ve always thought is a bit of a misnomer, because I’m fine with flying. What I’m actually afraid of is the constant potential of falling. But I believe in trying to write about what scares you, so I tried to turn the idea of free fall into a story. I scrapped several versions and nothing quite worked out, so I started thinking about what really frightens me about falling from that height, and the answer at which I arrived is the fact that—provided you’re conscious—you have time to think about your extremely impending death and your utter inability to do anything about it.
So then I started thinking: What if you could communicate in those final moments? What if you could send a message to a loved one—maybe even have a conversation with them? What would you say? How would that go? That was the missing piece I needed to make this thing work. I stuck it all in space—which of course automatically makes everything cooler—and it all came together.
What is the “first horrible exit”?
Birth. That was a quick throwaway line that came to me and then pretty much got lost in the rest of the story, but in retrospect I think it’s important; the moment you begin to live is the moment you begin to die. It’s the moment you start falling. I seriously doubt anyone wants to be born while it’s happening, but everyone who gets a lifetime, however short, goes through it. And then everyone dies. What matters is what happens in the moments in between, however many or few.
What drove the choice of second-person point of view?
I’ve made a lot of use of second person lately, and I think one of the reasons why it attracts me is that it’s direct communication with the reader in a way that no other POV is. I know a lot of people aren’t overly fond of it, and I think a lot of the time it’s not done particularly well, but as a stylistic tool I love it. This story felt very immediate, and of course it’s an old idea that one thing that happens in the moments before death is a turning-inward, a taking of inventory. You have your last moments of communication with yourself as well as others. So it felt natural to go that way. I didn’t really think about the specifics of why until now, honestly.
Whose SF writing do you return to?
There are naturally a number of people, but I think the one writer I always come back to in the end is Ray Bradbury. He’s written what is probably my favorite short story of all time—“There Will Come Soft Rains”—and his stuff was my earliest model for writing that really hurts, that gut-punches you with how beautiful and vital it is. He was one of the first writers who made me truly want to write, and he never stops amazing and inspiring me.
Any upcoming projects/news to share?
I have a couple of novels coming out in the next couple of months that I’m very excited about. The first is Rookwar, which is the third and final book in my Casting the Bones trilogy—in addition to featuring blood magic, Corvid shapeshifters, trans-dimensional travel, and the magically reanimated dead, I think I’ve managed to do some neat things in it with gender and sexuality, which is cool. That one is due in December from Masque Books. The second novel, Labyrinthian, is coming in January from Samhain Publishing and is a queer retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in spaaaaaaaaace. It was a lot of fun to write—it’s a bit goofy, but I think there are also some genuinely interesting things going on in it. Looking forward to its birthday!
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