New Author Spotlight: Verity Lane
What drew you to writing stories that move across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?
I think genres can be useful for readers, but are less useful for writers. As a young reader I was drawn to fiction that introduced me to something beyond my own experiences, no matter the genre. I found all sorts of stories in children’s books and was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t as much mixing on the adult shelves. My own fiction has always been on the weirder side of things. I want to write about things that can’t or don’t happen. We are all living everyday life every day. I find the stories that reach outside that more interesting.
The theme for this issue is Year: 2065. Did you write “The Springwood Shelter for Genetically Modified Animals” for the theme, or was it something that you’d already completed that seemed to fit?
This story has been rolling around in my head and in various notebooks for at least three years. At first it was set much farther into the future, but as I wrote I realised that the things I wanted to talk about would have more impact set closer to our time. Most of the technologies in Springwood are loosely based on things currently in development. When I saw the theme, it was the kick I needed to finally get the story into a finished form that I was happy to let go. So I owe you my thanks!
One thing we liked most – though “liked” seems the wrong word, somehow – about your story was the how clearly you bring forward the grim similarities between the child and animal welfare systems. It’s depressing how much your main character has in common with the animals she tends. Very pointed; almost as if you wrote it that way on purpose. Why draw attention to one of society’s more painful, lingering defects?
How society treats animals and children, two groups with little power over their own lives, is very telling, I think. About halfway through writing Springwood, I had an, “Aha!” moment when I realized there was a parallel between Mel and the animals. After that the story really started to flow. From there it made sense to create a backdrop of a society that took our worst tendency to put profit before people and push it a little further. I guess I’m not shy about looking at the more unpleasant aspects of society. Ignoring problems doesn’t help solve them.
Your story is set fifty years from now, but at least one of the genetically modified animals at the shelter will, by then, be about thirty years old. The basic premise of the story assumes that humanity won’t solve the problem of abandoned designer ‘pets’ before they market them. Isn’t that a little cynical?
Humanity doesn’t seem very good at solving problems. Humans are, but humanity as a whole, not so much. Maybe I am cynical, but this story grew out of observations I’ve made about our own society. Think about how many Furbies and old model smart phones are now in landfill or forgotten in closets. Combine that with how many thousands of animals are abandoned and put down at animal shelters every year. We’ve been living with animals for thousands of years, but we still haven’t solved the problems we cause for them. Companies aren’t exactly the best at considering the end of a product’s lifespan either. The focus is on making you desire the latest model. That was part of the inspiration for Springwood. The people at Springwood didn’t cause these problems, but they are trying to make the best of the situation, much like people who work in animal rescue do now.
I’d like to think that in 2065 we will have solved a lot of problems we face today, especially when it comes to child welfare. And I hope that as we develop new technology we will also create new morality to go with it. I think humanity has the capacity, but I also think it’s improbable that we’ll live up to that capacity. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our best though!
Tell us something about your future writing projects. Are you developing more short stories? Do you have a novel in the works?
I’m muddling my way through a novel about magic, plate tectonics and slavery. I’m also trying to wrap up a short story on the difficulties of teaching English as an alien language. I want to return to the world of Springwood too. So many ideas bubbled up while I was writing, like the disastrous incident with the bear, where Eva comes from, and why Mel is so scared of the labour farm. I’m trying to work out what those ideas should become, whether they’d work better as short stories or a novel.
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 wherever I find myself with time. This story was written partly on my 6-hour bus commutes in Japan (definitely not my favourite place) and partly here in Canada. I like to do my first drafts in places where other people are also working like cafés or libraries. When I need to get lots of words down, I like the feeling of working alongside people who are working hard too. It keeps me focused. The coffee and excellent cookies at my local café don’t hurt either. However, for revising, I like to work at home where it’s quiet. I share a rather small apartment with my partner and our cat John Montague, the 4th Earl of Sandwich (not genetically modified as far as I know). I tend to steal my partner’s desk because it’s bigger than mine. That leaves space for Montague to sit and provide important petting breaks. One day I’d like to have a dedicated writing space, but that’s a dream for now. Until then, I’ll just put in my headphones, turn on some instrumental music to create a little sound bubble, and write.
What’s the question that you wish someone would ask, but no one ever has?
That’s a tough one since I’ve never been interviewed about my writing before. Perhaps a question about writing with dyspraxia.
What’s the answer to that question?
My dyspraxia certainly affects my writing style, but in a way that I quite like. When I was little I loved writing. Then I fell into the class of a teacher whose head looked like a mushroom. She said I was lazy because I couldn’t spell. I started writing fewer and fewer words. The fewer words I wrote the lower my chance of making a spelling mistake. Thankfully that teacher didn’t kill my love of writing altogether. Eventually another teacher realised that I was dyspraxic. That explained not only my idiosyncratic approach to spelling, but also the fact that I couldn’t tie my shoes or catch a ball. Dyspraxia is sometimes called ‘clumsy child syndrome.’ That was a pretty accurate description for me. I learned lots of tricks to help me at school and in life. I even ended up going to Oxford University (and learning to tie my shoes). If there were a way to get rid of my dyspraxia, I wouldn’t take it. It teaches me to look at the world in different ways and to be resilient. Writing sparsely has stayed with me too. My second and third drafts tend to require more words added than taken away.
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you think is important or that readers might want to know?
If they’d like to read my articles on Japan (featuring socks, bears, and nakedness), they can find them at http://www.tofugu.com/author/veritylane/ and if they’d like to read my blog, it’s at www.veritylane.com. I’m also on Twitter @OstensiblyMe. Thank you for interviewing me and thank you to the readers for reading my story. I hope you enjoy it.