Jason A. D. MacDonald’s short story, Neighbor, appears in the Winter 2006 issue of Shimmer.
Questions about the story
Where did the idea come from?
My roommate. A few years ago, he thought that our upperstairs neighbour was playing with the faucet when he took a shower, resulting in a cold experience. The idea was kind of funny so I took it to an absurd extreme. The more fantastic elements developed in the writing process.
Do you work with a critique or writers group?
I used to workshop my writing through Imaginaries. Neighbour was among the pieces I submitted. Currently, I am exchanging dedicated critiques with a fellow writer who is dependable and perceptive.
How did the story change as you developed it?
I wrote the story slowly over a period of three years, taking long breaks to work on a novel. When the urge struck, or I lost interest in the book, I’d return to the story. For the longest time, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with the climax. I toyed with having the upstairs neighbour be a vampire but rejected that as too cliche. The final concept derived from an Encyclopedia of Fantasy Literature my brother gave me for Christmas. I was fascinated by the history of Jack figures in folktales. I developed Mr. Clean with an eye toward the archetype and made him specifically interested in the psychological problems of my protagonist.
You know the advice “Sometimes you have to kill your darlings.” Was there a scene or line that it really hurt to cut, but cutting it made the story stronger?
Frankly speaking, I tend to be an egoist where my own writing is concerned. When I’m pleased, I feel like Shakespeare reincarnated and can’t fathom how someone else couldn’t be comparably excited about the material. It makes cutting my story a very painful and pragmatic exercise. If I get a lot of feedback concerning a particular segment not working, I throw a childish fit and then consider how I can preserve the original intent without compromising what I consider to be valuable. If I do my job correctly, I may please both myself and others with the revision but I’m never wholly convinced that the original wasn’t better.
Questions about writing
Who do you write for? Yourself or someone else?
The first audience will always be myself. I have to be excited about the creation or there’s no point in moving it out of that narcissistic space. Ultimately, my goal is always to share, of course. Writing that is purely confessional need never evolve from diary to publication. I don’t remember a time in my life when writing wasn’t my uppermost goal in life and, more particularly, to share my excitement and fun with others.
How long had you been submitting before you made your first sale?
If we’re talking about poetry, I had made several submissions (I forget the exact number) before I struck a small vein of publishing gold. As for short fiction, I got lucky. I did my market research well and found Shimmer on my first attempt.
How did you celebrate your first sale?
I told everyone I love.
What writing projects are you presently working on?
I have a short story entitled Marrow of Common Being in consideration at The Book of Dark Wisdom. The narrative is set in ice-age Canada and concerns a young tribesman’s transformation into a spirit of revenge. Another short story in development revolves around a security guard posted to a burned-down hotel and its mysterious inhabitants. My long term project is a novel tentatively called Shroud of Tears. Set in a fictional fantasy milieu, the plot involves a man who has angered Death and is fighting to protect his children from its wrath.
Does popular culture/entertaiment influence your writing?
If you read through Paradise Lost, you’ll discover a universe of classical allusions that today’s world largely can’t relate to. Throw away or not, pop culture forms a common metanarrative that people use to communicate in a similar way. I’ve been fascinated in using those symbols in my writing and did so to a large degree in Neighbour. As a big video game player, I especially wanted my POV, Adam, to relate metaphorically to his world through gaming symbols and ideology.
What time of day do you prefer to do your writing?
Whenever time and mood coincide, I’ll write. I do think it is important to try to write in a regimented way, every day if possible.
Favorite book read when you were a child?
Probably The Hobbit. I have a hard time picking favourites. I’d also cite the Asterix line of illustrated books and DC comic books, although they aren’t quite what was asked.
Do you believe in ghosts or the supernatural?
I believe ghosts probably exist, although I’ve never seen one. I think a bit of haunting is good for the creative imagination. Otherwise, I don’t believe in rejecting phenomena on the basis that I’ve never personally experienced them. Logic says that you can’t prove a negative. Imagination profits from a healthy suspension of disbelief in everyday life. Childlike wonder is too precious a resource to lose.
What are some of your hobbies?
Video games, reading, music, and pipe smoking.
Cat or dog person? (or something else, like birds, iguanas, or even evil robot monkeys?)
I grew up a dog person and ended up a rat person. The humble rat has a much undeserved reputation. They’re intelligent, attentive, cute as hell, and possess a degree of personality that is startling in a little rodent. And I have never known one to bite intentionally. I still love dogs, though.
If you had a working time machine what advice would you give a younger self?
Stop wasting time and focus on what means the most to you. Make a plan for how you intend to acheive that and get cracking. The years fly by faster than you might think.
Quiz: How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb?
One to call the electrician. Who has time to learn such an esoteric skill?