New Author Spotlight: Priya Chand
What drew you to writing stories that were moving across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?
I wouldn’t say it’s new, but it did take me a while to realize that there wasn’t one genre that encapsulated everything I like. It’s surprising how tight genre constraints are when you look closely, and there’s great work within them, but it’s not where I want to be – my writing reflects an amalgamation of the works I grew up reading. Monica Hughes, Garth Nix, Edgar Allan Poe and Tamora Pierce come to mind, and I’m not sure you could say any of them stayed completely within a single genre.
The theme for this issue is “Stranger.” Can you talk a little about how your story reflects that? And did you write it for the theme, or was it something that you’d already completed that seemed to fit?
The two main characters are from another story I wrote, one that takes place a lot later and which I did write for fun. The stories started out thematically similar, but I edited this story to better fit the ‘Stranger’ theme.
How? I zoomed in on the narrator’s alienation, starting with the crowd he thinks he’s better than and closed it on the other side, where he’s just walked away from everything that was familiar, essentially becoming a stranger to his old self (which isn’t gone yet) and associates.
I can’t say I’ve ever made such a drastic choice, but I do think entering a community with traditions you’re not familiar with creates this awareness of being ‘other’ – estranged, whatever you call it – even when they welcome you in, and I tried to get that in there.
While reading Adrenaline, I kept finding myself getting nervous, as though my own adrenaline was actually being affected. I think it has to do with the sense of unease and pressing expectations. How did you craft a story where the reader response so perfectly imitates the title and theme?
I studied neuroscience in college and worked in the field for a couple of years. Being familiar with the response to neurotransmitters and their associated pathways is a big part of it. (Who knew systems theory could be so useful? Granted, I’ve had to stop my inner pedant from calling the story ‘Epinephrine.’) I tried to make sure the voice sounded in the middle of an adrenaline high – roller coasters, near-death experiences on the highway, mosh pits – and I’m glad to hear it worked!
I loved the line, “I did my first humanism” because it’s such a nice twist on that word. It also seems to really showcase this idea of the humans being strangers to the main character – and vice versa. Do you think that as he had the experiences in the story, he became more of a stranger to himself, to humans, to his kind or was it something else entirely?
Thank you! (Confession: they were originally ‘humansims.’) The first one is absolutely the case – imagine if you pressed the power button on your computer and instead of booting up, it reaches out and slaps you in the face. No way that isn’t going to wreak havoc with your worldview.
That’s what’s happening here. The narrator is no longer able to calculate what will happen, or what he’ll do. Even though it’s less absolute since we aren’t defined by algorithms, we expect our lives to follow certain patterns. When they don’t, it’s unbalancing. We become unreliable narrators to ourselves.
As far as humans go, he thinks he’s getting closer to them – us – but I don’t think we would agree. In fact, I think we would find it revolting, given the mixed reactions to more ‘human’ robots, not to mention the popularity of media where AI goes wrong (Skynet, HAL, GlaDOS, the geth). We find the uncanny valley offputting, temporary humanity would be so much less appealing. Five minutes of depression or excitement or love or whatever and then cold, hard logic? We’d best keep our monopoly on neurochemistry.
The idea that humans will destroy their world and leave it is something that we see a lot of in science fiction stories, and yet “Adrenaline” takes an unusual approach to the topic. What did you want to explore about that idea in particular?
I wanted to conceptualize an era past humans. A world where the layout would be the same overall (albeit with shifted coastlines). They’d use existing infrastructure for efficiency’s sake, but now it’s devoid of organic life.
We – this includes me – are hung up on the notion of preserving the Earth as it is now, with its currently living species and climate and water levels. I imagine a sentient computer would take one look at that, decide it was a huge waste of time and resources, and go drop the DNA in a safe place and move on.
Look at biology from the outside: what if experiencing the ecosystem didn’t matter? What if it was good enough to know you could bring it back, and then never do it because sustainability would harm you? I imagine the atmosphere is a lot more toxic in this world, for starters.
The last issue was about deadlines and I always wonder this about writers: Are you a deadline writer? Do you need a deadline (either internal or external) in order to finish things, or do you find them constraining?
Yes, I love a good deadline! It’s got to be externalized: either I tell a friend I’m going to finish X by Sunday, or the magazine will have one.
Somehow, internal deadlines don’t hold up against the allure of video gaming.
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?
Ergonomic comfort goes without saying, but it so very much depends on the project and my headspace. There are pieces I’ve drafted on my teeny netbook but edited at my desktop, and vice versa, not to mention the ones that started off on paper. The important thing I find is having a change between drafting and editing.
Aside from that, if I’m into the work, I like it quiet.
What’s the question that you wish someone would ask, but no one ever has?
To whom should I make out this check for a million dollars?
What’s the answer to the question in number 8?
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is important or that readers might want to know, either about you or about the story?
I’d just like to thank you all again for this amazing opportunity.