We’re back with another interview, this time with Issue 035 author J.S. Veter. Go read her story “Checkmate,” then come back for some dazzling insight from our fine author.
LSQ: There is a dark humor about your piece which is essentially about the unintended end of the universe. Can you tell us where this idea came from and what made you decide to employ this tone?
J. S.: I don’t really understand half the things my mind spits out at me, but dark humour has always appealed. I love being able to laugh when things are looking very bleak, and humour has gotten me through some very difficult times. As for “Checkmate,” I’d just finished reading an article about upping the stakes for your characters. I figured that the end of the entire universe was pretty big stakes, but I tend to write characters who are just plain, regular people. What can a regular guy do about the end of the universe? And when it occurred to me that he was actually responsible? Well… that was just too good to resist, so I didn’t.
LSQ: This piece seems enormously fun to write. Was that the case? Were there elements that were difficult to write? What was the easiest part?
J. S.: It was enormously fun to write. I giggled my way through most of it because it was so deliciously absurd. I struggled most with the ending, which is unusual for me because I usually know how a story is going to end before I know how it’s going to begin. I had two different endings for a while, actually, and went back and forth between the two. It was literally the difference between two sentences (but each sentence changed the overall theme significantly!). I agonised over them for ages. The easiest part was Umam Preth’s reflections about his wife; I knew exactly what their relationship was like before the robot crashed through the kitchen window.
LSQ: Chess plays a central role to the main character. Do you have a personal interest in this game? Do you feel that sort of logic game lends itself to almost any alien culture?
J. S.: I’m horrid at chess, but have always been in awe of people who can play it (I used to play with my son, until he realised how bad I was). I have no idea if a logic game like chess would appeal to a real alien culture (I kind of hope they like games like Twister, or Go Fish, you know, something I’m good at). Choosing chess was more of an homage to the sci-fi genre in general—is it just me, or is every imagined future peopled with people who are brilliant chess players? Does being a bad chess player exclude me from the future?
Umam Preth seemed so much more likely to play Chess than play Twister. He probably has a bad hip.
LSQ: Regarding the ending and the importance of winning to the main character, who is portrayed as a male—is this a comment on that gender’s proclivities or does this truly just speak to the protagonist’s character flaws?
J. S.: I’m quite sure I’m not qualified to speak to any gender’s proclivities! I do, however, think that most of us want to go out on a positive note, but that how we define that note is very individual. And while I like Umam Preth as a character, as a person, I don’t think he’s very likeable at all. Winning matters to him overly much. I suppose the ending of the story is exactly the ending he deserves!
LSQ: Can you name a few authors you admire and why?
J. S.: Honestly, writing is such hard work that I admire every author I come across. I’m particularly enamoured of N.K. Jemisin, at the moment, for making it look so easy when I know it’s not. I’m devouring James S. A. Corey’s novels, too. I haven’t fallen so in love with a group of characters since Harry Potter! But, if I had to chose one writer’s books to take to a deserted island, I’d take C. J. Cherryh. I can read her stuff over and over again. Her world building is astonishing.
LSQ: Are you working on other writing projects at the moment? If so, can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on?
J. S.: I’m writing a HiLo Sci Fi (high interest, low vocabulary) series at the moment. My youngest is dyslexic, and really struggles to find books at a reading level he can access, but with a story that engages him. I’m aiming for a grade 1-2 reading level, but a grade 6-8 interest level. I was innocent enough to think that it would be easy writing. Hah! I’ve never sweated over writing something as much as I’m sweating over this. I’m also writing an adult fantasy novel which I’d love to finish by the end of the year, and I continue to write short stories, of course!