New Author Spotlight: David Stevens
What drew you to writing stories that move across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?
I just write what entertains me, but thinking about it, crossing genres is a natural fit for speculative fiction. As readers we want our genre conventions satisfied, but unlike other genres, the conventions of sf include novelty, surprise, difference and a sense of wonder: so we want the same but not the same, at the same time. Really satisfying sf can tick a lot more of the boxes by crossing genres in a more significant way than just adventure stories with some sf trappings.
The theme for this issue is Conspiracy. Please talk a little about how your story reflects that. Did you write it for the theme, or was it something that you’d already completed that seemed to fit?
The story had already been written, but I tweaked a couple of lines to make the references to a conspiracy more explicit. The MC would like to blame others for his plight, but he is the victim of a conspiracy against himself which he entered willingly. We might rage against the machine, but the vast majority of us enter compromises with “the powers” every day of our lives. I also wanted to comment on the flood of conspiracy think, where a conspiratorial world view has become a form of entertainment, and abuse and horror can now hide in plain sight. Is that the biggest conspiracy of them all?
“My Life as a Lizard” starts as a straightforward piece about an unethical science experiment gone wrong, but it quickly takes a turn for the surreal. Did you draw inspiration from aspects of Australian Aboriginal spirituality while developing this story?
The story has serious intent regarding the misapplication of science and technology, but I wanted to explore that by playing out the surreal and humorous elements. Regarding Aboriginal spirituality, I don’t want to draw too long a bow. There is more drawn from SF and pop culture, with a nod to Kafka.
I wanted the references in the story to be specifically Australian, including references to Aboriginal culture. As an outsider though, there are limits to what I can respectfully draw from Aboriginal spiritual tradition, which is living and ongoing.
There is a reference to Aboriginal rock paintings at the outset, and their twin destruction: there is no one left locally to renew the paintings, and ultimately the rocks themselves will be destroyed by developers. That is an allusion to what is being lost in Australia all the time. The MC has a great sense of loss. In an Australian context, there can be no greater loss than that suffered by the indigenous people. I wanted a reference to that that was more than tokenism, but I was conscious of exploiting ongoing suffering, when ultimately all I am doing is writing a short piece of entertainment. In the end, I decided I’d rather be damned for doing than for not doing.
The MC may think his reference to the rock paintings reflects a depth of thought and feeling, but it demonstrates shallowness and selfishness: here we have this great loss of culture and dispossession of a people, but for him it is a (sad) casual aside as he gets down to his main business of “woe is me, me, me…”
Superficially, “My Life as a Lizard” delivers what its title promises, but beneath the surface, it runs a gamut of human emotion. Did you intend this story to read like metaphor? Or did you find layers of meaning unfolding as you wrote?
I enjoyed writing this story very much. I started with the MC in this crazy situation, and riffing about him and his predicament amused me. As I went on with his “adventures”, more meaning became apparent, and I invested the story with aspects of my life. It turned out to be strangely very personal, despite that I have never been a lizard, nor eaten a cow from the inside, nor had an affair, nor been pursued through the bush by an unseen monster and his pet dog, nor tried to cut my toes off.
It is foremost an entertainment, and that was my intention all along, but I think it can legitimately be looked on as a metaphor for a number of things: alienation, especially that resulting from modern life and overuse or misuse of science and technology; our losing struggle with “the powers”; mid-life crises, where we are bewildered that the many innocuous steps we took led us here; or even a dark night of the soul, where we finally have to confront the depths, and distraction no longer works.
By staying tightly zoomed-in on the main character’s perspective, his humanity is magnified for the reader even when the MC seems most detached from it. Is this a technique you’d recommend to others to create tension in their writing?
O happy accident! Now that you have articulated it that way, it is indeed a technique I would recommend!
I felt that the story would lose any coherence if it did not have the intensity of the MC’s constant focus. His situation is ridiculous enough, that to convince the reader, it could not be told by another character, and third person would diffuse it too much. A major aim was to convey his anxiety, to show the pain of it overwhelming him. The story is driven by his anxiety, and I felt I had to look at that directly, not at it reflected in his surroundings. It also demonstrates his self-centredness. Humans in deep anxiety and depression have to be selfish to survive, and I wanted to capture that. Our hero was selfish to start with, to become involved in this project that everyone close to him warned him against.
Tell us something about your future writing projects. Are you developing more short stories? Do you have a novel in the works?
Yes, I am writing more short stories. These include a couple of stories about neighbours of the MC in “My Life as a Lizard”, including the deceased gentleman whose funeral the MC has avoided. I have been working on two novels for a very long time, one about a strange, doomed town whose inhabitants are in for a wonderfully horrible time, the other the metaphysical adventures of a policeman recovering from a terrible accident. They should be finished this year.
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?
Notes for short stories and sometimes first drafts are written in longhand while commuting to and from work on the train, or while eating lunch in a park or food hall – they transport me away from boring reality, and that’s why I concentrate on the fantastic. I have an office at home where everything else is written straight to my PC. I sit surrounded by the oppressing works of writers I can never hope to emulate!
What’s the question that you wish someone would ask, but no one ever has?
“David, this is the BBC. Would you like to take over as head writer for Doctor Who? We’ve recently tripled the salary.”
What’s the answer to the question in number 8?
Hell yes! Now that my new Terminator script is finished, I’ll just squeeze it in between my Walking Dead and Game of Thrones gigs.
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is important or that readers might want to know?
Firstly, goannas do have two penises, however neither are impressive, males and females being difficult to tell apart. Secondly, thank you to Crossed Genres for this opportunity. Of my own stories, “My Life as a Lizard” is one of my favourites, and I am very grateful it will be getting a wider audience than myself and slush pile readers. And how nice to be asked to talk about myself.