New Author Spotlight: Iain Ishbel
What drew you to writing stories that move across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?
I don’t consciously think about genre when I’m writing – I work from a situation and an individual in that situation, and develop conflict from there. But I still know I’m profoundly influenced by the genre I grew up immersed in, just like my life is shaped by my own family culture. Genre – and human culture – are in theory artificial and unreal groupings, but in practice we act like they’re real, so in practice they are real. Luckily, a living culture – and a living genre – evolves and changes with use, so there’s still room for improvement. Seems to me cross-fertilization is probably a major mechanism for that evolution.
The theme for this issue is Failure. Did you write it for the theme, or was it something that you’d already completed that seemed to fit?
I had mostly completed the story, based on the idea of a different history that could have been. When this issue’s theme was announced I realized another implication of that idea: our entire world is a giant failure.
It fit better than I could have intended.
“The Corpsman’s Tale,” beyond fitting this month’s theme, and being a Time Travel story, also deals with some heavy philosophical points. Specifically, we are thinking of the comment by one of the invaders that the Christmas Peace had created an “oatmeal world,” without honor or heroes. This reminded us (a bit) of the Leibniz argument for why evil must be allowed to exist in God’s perfect world – how else to have heroes, and free will, and so on. Your story, as it stands, seems both to argue for and against this paradox. Can you speak to that? Is it possible to have beauty and truth (and heroes) in a world at peace?
In the wise words of the Paper Bag Princess: Leibniz is a bum.
His argument seems like a rationalization to me. I’d guess most people who have actually suffered from a real war, or even significant hardship, would gladly trade heroes, honour, and glory for a peaceful world where their children were safe and happy. The villain in my story, who speaks up for honour and heroes, is not to be trusted.
Beauty and truth are both surely available in a world without suffering. All you need, apparently, is a Grecian urn.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, right? People simultaneously fear the unknown and contemn the familiar. We conflict, even in the absence of open war. So why write a story in which peace seems inevitable, in spite of humanity’s persistent dissatisfaction? Why write about the triumph of camaraderie over enmity while people still ignore facts and each other?
I think we’d all like to see the world improve. To keep trying, we have to think about both sides: how things could get worse, and how we can make the world better. Too much “disaster porn” may damage our desire to keep trying.
I once asked a new author exactly the opposite question: he had written a powerful and disturbing novel about a city destroyed by earthquake, and how the facade of civilization collapsed quickly and irreversibly. I asked him why on earth he’d done it.
I think I really hurt his feelings.
Tell us something about your future writing projects. Are you developing more short stories? Do you have a novel in the works?
I wrote an alternate-history-fantasy-naval-adventure novel (crossing a few genres in the process) entitled HMS Invisible. It’s currently in the slush pile for several agents and a couple of publishers. After finishing and rewriting it I realized I would improve faster if I worked on short stories. So I’ve been focusing on that, and starting to feel like I’m getting better at writing, and at understanding the source of the improvement.
It’s more like performing in bars for a while, instead of trying to start out with a gold album and arena tour.
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 write on an iPad tablet with a portable keyboard, so I’m really very mobile. I do have a comfortable chair in my living room, but I also have two small and very vocal daughters. I’ve written in a variety of locations: the space is mental.
I use headphones to establish that mental space – every story I write owes a debt to a different soundtrack.
What’s the question that you wish someone would ask, but no one ever has?
Why do we think this is true?
What’s the answer to that question?
I think a lot of times there won’t be an answer. Plenty of times I catch myself believing something and not really knowing why. There may be a broad social trend against doing this sort of thing, but I think we’d be a better society if we were more rigorous.
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is important or that readers might want to know?
It’s been a pleasure; thanks for asking me!