New Author Spotlight: Luna Lindsey
What drew you to writing stories that were moving across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?
I’ve always seen the speculative fiction genres as difficult to define. It’s why they never try to separate sci-fi and fantasy shelves at the bookstore. I’ve written several stories that tweaked genre expectations. My favorite of these is Guardian at the Gate, which starts out as cheesy fantasy, then takes a cyberpunk turn, and ends up being a first contact story involving a gnome. Why do anything simple?
The theme for this issue is Touch. What are the concepts and tropes of touch that you’re playing with in “Touch of Tides”?
I had already been thinking about what life might be like on Europa when I saw this theme listed. Europa is so different from Earth. Because of the thick ice over the ocean, any life there could never depend on light. Energy-production would necessarily be kinetic. In a place where life had never felt warmth from the sun or stars, but only from the surrounding tides, it follows that touch would be the primary sense, the way sight is the primary sense for most species here. I worldbuilt starting with that assumption. In search of a main character, I had to ask what kind of scientist would have a unique advantage in that environment. Which leads us to the next question.
In “Touch of Tides,” the narrator has synesthesia, which is a wonderful way to explore the idea of touch. What gave you the idea for that, and did incorporating it into the story turn out as you expected?
I also have synesthesia. Not in a form as dramatic as Mara’s. I’m a grapheme-color synesthete, meaning letters and numbers have color (and by extension, words), and I’m an associator, meaning I only see these colors in my mind. Mara is a touch-color synesthete, and she’s a projector, which means she sees the colors as if they exist externally. I very much wanted to write a story where synesthesia was central to the plot, where only a person with synesthesia would be able to make the big discovery, and I think I pulled that off.
The narrator of your story is often alone and seems to prefer it that way. Can you talk a little about the absence of contact, and why it’s an important element for this story?
While I don’t spell it out in the story, Mara has Aspgerger’s Syndrome, which is a type of autism. There may be a connection between synesthesia and autism. Mara can be lonely sometimes, but she also hates how other people are unpredictable. They can create stupid rules, cause her sensory overload, and distract from her work. When she floats alone in Europa’s ocean, it becomes a comforting sense-dep tank, where overstimulating sights, sounds, and feelings are blocked out by the kilometers of water surrounding her. There she can intently focus on her chosen field, her special interest of xenobiology. It’s the perfect job.
I didn’t plan it this way, but these traits fit naturally into the theme, which was a pleasant surprise from a storytelling angle. Autists frequently deal with extreme dichotomies, both in dealing with sensations and in relationships with others. In many ways, this story was personal, since around the time I wrote it, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s myself. Through it, I was subconsciously exploring my own relation to the world, where I sometimes feel like an alien.
There are many beautiful lines in “Touch of Tides,” but one of my favorites is: “And me. I am a contaminant, the most foreign body imaginable, hovering in this world.” You’ve created a world that is so unlike earth. Do you believe it’s possible for living creatures to touch across such great voids, despite such great foreignness?
I sincerely hope so. The idea of communication between separate minds, even other human minds, has long fascinated me. We are so isolated, even from each other, even from those we are most intimate with, which I find frustrating. As I expand my circles into wider rings outside myself — outside my family, outside my nation, outside those who share my language, then outside my species, and off-planet — the complexities of understanding increase exponentially.
Any alien species we are likely to encounter will be incomprehensible. In our fiction, we need to see relatable aliens, which is why they will always be tropes, but reality will be quite different. The very assumptions we make about communication may have to be adjusted before we can discover an off-world civilization.
The proof is right here. Outside scientific circles, people continue to assume humans the only self-aware life on Earth. Yet Cambridge scientists just declared that all mammals, and some non-mammals, have consciousness (the Declaration of Consciousness). India just legally classified cetaceans (marine mammals) as non-human persons with rights.
Until we come to recognize other sentient species on our own planet, and learn to communicate with them, we will have no luck finding them in outer space. I think we’re finally starting to do that.
Is seems to me that one of the jobs of stories is touch another human being in some way. How do you think touching others comes into play (if it does) for you as a writer?
Storytelling is a form of communication that, if done well, bypasses the upper levels of consciousness. It is not analytical or logical; it is vivid and emotional, which makes its power of persuasion is all the more potent. I create them in the same spirit. I can’t just sit down and say, “Today I will write a story that persuades people to X position!” Rarely do I even know what position I’m writing to. I just think of some interesting elements, and maybe one aspect of life I’d like to portray, and then out comes a story. The themes that emerge are often surprising, and thankfully, I usually agree with the message. It’s like dreaming with intent, and it amuses me to see the common themes that appear across multiple stories in a given period of time. (My accidental theme this year seems to be ocean settings where non-human characters get upset over cultural misunderstandings. What does it mean? Where is Jung when you need him?)
What I love most about this medium is that people will see themselves in the story. No matter what I put in, they will pull out elements from their own beliefs and experiences. They may draw the opposite conclusion than I intended. I’m okay with that. When I want to be clear, I write non-fiction.
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?
I have a long bedroom that was once a porch. It is divided in half by shimmering fabrics in red and black. My desk is covered in a tie-die cloth. Behind my monitors, I look out onto a large forested Washington backyard. I am surrounded by objects I have collected because they seem to hold some magic: A sandstone Buddha, a robotic butterfly in a jar (named Lorenz), a plastic Toki-Doki unicorn, dangling colored glass suncatchers, dried flowers hung upside down, red star lights on a string, paintings of fairies, a lamp wearing steampunk goggles, artificial autumn-colored vine leaves, and a ceramic skull. Candles stay lit while I’m writing. Lest the scene become too glamorous, add piles of books & poorly stacked papers surrounded by a terrific amount of clutter, and that’s where I write.