New Author Spotlight: Chad Williamson
What drew you to writing stories that move across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?
I’ve always been drawn to storytelling which crosses genres. I think when you look at some of our finest writers, their work rarely stayed boxed within one particular realm. Personally I think genre is far less important than the characters you’re writing about. Genre is the machine for storytelling, for expressing that particular character’s journey, and I think mixing and playing with genre removes some of the box that you would otherwise impose on yourself. To me, Peter Beagle is one of the greatest fantasy writers ever, and it’s his urban-based works, such as A Fine and Private Place, or “Lila the Werewolf,” that are most interesting because while they’re obviously fantasy, so much of it almost feels incidental, in spite of characters being ghosts or werewolves, because it’s all grounded in this urban setting, and ultimately they’re individuals trying to find connection and understanding and love. This is a direction that I find myself more and more drawn to, because it lessens the moving parts of the machine, so to speak, and instead brings the characters front and center.
In “gone,” even those who can escape still seem trapped by circumstance or time or society. Can you talk a bit about this theme that runs through the story?
I’ve lived my entire life in Appalachia, and there’s a joke that, whenever you land at an airport here, the pilot says, “Welcome to West Virginia; please remember to set your watches back 30 years.” Escape is often seen as almost an impossibility here, because of the weight of family, of obligation, of tradition. It’s not always looked at kindly to look outside of the mountains, and while that brings a great closeness for many, it makes escape difficult, and I believe my characters feel the weight of a desire to escape, but are unable to fulfill those dreams and desires. Even those who manage to break free always return, which is a very cyclical thing within Appalachia.
One of my favorite parts about the story is the way that the reader’s understanding continues to grow and change, paralleling Agnes’ understanding. Was this a purposeful choice on your part?
To be honest, so much of the story in “gone” remains a happy mystery to me, and I hope that means that readers can have an open interpretation of the story’s events. The story began with a kernel of a concept: a child with a miraculous ability. As I wrote the story, Miranda, the child, faded more and more and Agnes, her mother, stepped up into her place, so in many ways, the story’s secrets were revealed to me as they were revealed to Agnes.
Escape is a theme that is central to so much sci-fi and fantasy fiction. Why do you think it’s a good fit for exploration in those genres?
Science fiction and fantasy present the ultimate imaginary world. Even when you ground it in the here and now, we’re always, as fantasists, building worlds that could never exist, and there’s so much fun in that. Readers, I hope, want that escape, even in a thematically heavy story like “gone.” Even if you, like me, grew up in an Appalachian coal-mining community, you probably didn’t know any girls who mysteriously and randomly vanished (though really wouldn’t the movie OCTOBER SKY been more interesting if that had been a plot point?), so taking an adding subtle tweaks create a very different view.
If you could disappear to anywhere, and know that you would always return to your own life, where would you go?
A lot of writers would say the 1920s and the Algonquin Round Table, but I’m not sure my livers could hold up against Parker, Benchley, and the rest, so I’d say I’d love to hang in L.A. with the pulp writers from the 1930s, like Lester Dent and Walter Gibson.
Is writing an act of escape for you?
Writing is always an escape, especially when it’s flowing. When it’s not, it’s Sisyphus, pushing the boulder up the mountain.
Where is your favorite writing place? Can you draw us a visual picture of the kind of space you create for yourself when you write?
My favorite writing space is wherever I happen to be at the time I’m writing. Sometimes that’s in my office at work during my lunch hour. Other times it’s when I’m sitting at a coffee shop somewhere, or leeching the wi-fi at a fast food restaurant. For me, and this may sound horribly cheesy, but my visual writing space should be wherever it is that my characters are, and my job at that point is essentially taking dictation.
What’s the question that you wish someone would ask, but no one ever has?
“Why do you think what you have to say matters?”
What’s the answer to the question in number 8?
I don’t know that what I writes does matter, but I know as a writer, I’m compelled to keep on writing, with the hope that someone connects with whatever tale I’m telling, whatever world I’m building, whatever cloth I’m weaving. Certainly in this day and age, there are more and more avenues for writers to be able to put out their work, and I’m eternally grateful to a magazine like Crossed Genres for being interested in a little story like “gone,” which is such an odd creature I don’t know the home I would have found for it otherwise.
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is important or that readers might want to know?
I just hope people enjoy “gone.” It’s possibly the story I’m most proud of, because it’s completely different from my usual bailiwick, but I think beneath the sadness in it, there’s a lot of heart.