K.M. Szpara talks with us about Shimmer#16’s cover story, “Ordinary Souls.” Beth and I fell in love with the dread this story contains–it grabs hold of you and will not let go. And yet, it’s an impossibly romantic story, too.
1. Tell us how the story came to be.
“Ordinary Souls” is a combination of three things, the first being sex. I remember being down on my writing at the time. So, I decided to get back to my roots and write an erotica. And not just the kind you write alone in your room and revisit it whenever you want a good jerk. I wanted to show people tasteful (hot, gay) sex, with an engaging plot and characters worth caring about.
The second part of “Ordinary Souls” is loss. Not long before this story, a good friend of mine had passed away. Her name was Judith Christopher, but we all knew her as “Pod.” She was in her 60s, a feminist, a lawyer. She said things like, “Every mother should have a gay son,” and always asked to read my stories. When I wrote the ending of “Ordinary Souls,” I thought of her. I cried the last pages of that rough draft out. Endings are the worst. They hurt. Especially when it’s the end of a person’s life. So, I wrote a story about endings.
The last part is probably the most notable: experimental form. I had read The Lies of Locke Lamora recently, and loved how Scott Lynch had played with time. I wanted a weird timeline. It took lots of rearranging and strategy, but was fun to craft.
2. On your blog, you talk about how you blindfolded yourself to better write a blind person in a story. How did that experiment work out? What did it teach you about writing?
I don’t know why I’d never tried it before. I try everything! This experiment re-enforced that notion. It was scary, though. Every step really did feel like my last. My very rude imagination placed monsters around corners and black holes under my feet.
I did try to boil water, but discovered when I’d “finished” that I’d lit the wrong burner–whoops! I got bored before I lit my apartment on fire, though. Luckily, the character in question has more pressing issues than making pasta.
3. If you could talk to any author, living or dead, who would it be? Would you talk about writing or something entirely different?
I’m such a Harry Potter nerd, I should say J.K. Rowling, I would love to get inside her head with regards to plotting out series and world building. I think, after a couple rounds of Firewhiskey, I’d yell at her a little for not putting more queer teens in Hogwarts.
4. Red wine or white?
I used to swing exclusively towards white wine, but lately my poison has been sweet red. Never has less writing been done than after a few glasses of red wine.
5. What is your favorite Bradbury story/novel?
Is it too cliche to pick Fahrenheit 451? I remember reading it in high school alongside Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron and Lois Lowry’s The Giver. The trio had quite an influence on my sense of individuality.
6. What’s next for you?
I’m an advocate of dreaming big. So, in my dream world, I finally finish and sell my novel. It reaches people around the globe. They love its characters and want to live in its world, just like I wanted with my favorite books. But, more than that, my protagonist makes a difference–and not just in his own story.
I am tired of walking into bookstores in search of queer protagonists and baffling the sales clerks. I know that if I expect change, I need to make it. I write queer characters because queer people exist and should be able to see themselves in fiction, too. I’ve been frustrated my whole life reading heterosexual pairings and not identifying with them. So, hopefully, “next” is a novel with a gay protagonist, by yours truly.