The weeks fly by and so do the pages of LSQ‘s current issue. Please enjoy our chat with Issue 039 author Kate Sheeran Swed about her short story “Recovery.”
LSQ: In the world you’ve created, everyone has a card that, when used, gives them back four minutes of their life. This raises so many interesting societal questions. What inspired this idea and what made you specifically settle on four minutes?
Kate: In most cases, it’s hard for me to pinpoint a precise inspiration for a story. But this one actually does have a very specific origin. I was heading to a write-in at my local library, where I get together with other authors a few times a month for focused writing time, and I stopped at Starbucks to grab coffee. Something happened with my drink–I don’t even remember what it was, but some minor customer service mishap occurred. I don’t tend to get bothered about these things since I’ve worked in customer service and I know mistakes happen. So I was surprised when the barista handed me what she called a recovery card, with four dollars of store credit on it to use toward a future purchase. I thought four dollars was a funny amount (not enough for a latte at the ‘bucks, right?) and I spent the writing session exploring what exactly they thought I was supposed to be recovering.
I settled on time and Penny appeared in my mind to share her opinion on the concept. Since then I’ve Googled the recovery card system to find out that they mean customer service recovery, whatever that means. Such is the brain of a writer, taking me on the oddest possible tangent! 🙂
LSQ: The main protagonist, Penny, refers occasionally to the time travel paradox. Did you know how you were going to navigate that before you wrote the story, or did Penny’s voice sort of naturally decide on the work around?
Kate: I dealt with it by deciding what story I wanted to tell–and Penny’s voice absolutely played a part in that. I’ll admit I’m still a Lost fan at heart, and I always appreciated the way they acknowledged the paradox of time travel without letting it get in the way of the core story. Same with the latest Avengers films. I didn’t want to go too much into it, but I couldn’t ignore it, either. The ripple effects that would happen if we really each had a chance to go back and change four minutes of our lives? It would be complete chaos. That wasn’t the story I wanted to tell, so I let Penny acknowledge the question right away so I could move on with her story.
LSQ: Is this the first time travel story you’re written? Are there any other time travel stories out there you admire?
Kate: Yes, I’m pretty sure it is. I haven’t read too many. My husband adores Connie Willis, but I’ll admit I haven’t picked up her books yet, though I have enjoyed some of her short stories.
LSQ: Penny and Molly are a delightful pair and ultimately, this is an uplifting story about empathy and selflessness. Are Penny and/or Molly modeled after anyone you know? Or do you identify more closely with one over the other?
Kate: They’re not modeled after anyone I know specifically, mostly because that doesn’t tend to work for me. Whenever I start with a premise like this, I can’t begin the actual story unless I know who the story should belong to–which character will tell it. I’ve been wanting to write about a couple of old ladies on an adventure, and the premise matched that pretty perfectly. I love writing cranky characters, but even so I’d say Penny’s probably one of the crankiest I’ve ever written. I’m probably more of a Molly myself, in that I’m a little more optimistic in general. I like to write people who are really different from me, though. If this happened to me I’d probably pull the blankets up over my head and go back to sleep!
LSQ: What was the most challenging aspect of this story to write and why? Can you contrast this with what was the easiest aspect to write?
Kate: The easiest part was Penny’s voice for sure–if something like that lands, it’s like walking straight into another person’s head. I knew exactly what she’d say, from page one. For me, the challenge is usually figuring out exactly how the action will play out on the page. Sometimes it just comes together in the moment, and other times I need to sit and consider it for a while. In this case, that was the final confrontation with the Well Dressed Man. I think it came together pretty well in the end.
LSQ: Are you working on any other writing projects at the moment? If so, can you tell us about them?
Kate: Yes! I’m in the middle of releasing my sci fi novella trilogy, with the final book due out at the end of October. The first book, Parting Shadows, came out in July. It’s a sci fi imagining of Great Expectations, only it centers on Estella’s character, with a vengeful AI playing the part of Miss Havisham (or, as my mother-in-law puts it, “kind of like the Dickens novel, only the bride is Alexa). The second book came out in August, and that one plays on the story of The Phantom of the Opera. I’m working on the third now. It was originally supposed to be a take on Treasure Island, but it’s veered away from that story pretty spectacularly. Still, I think it might be my favorite! If folks want to know more about the series, they can visit my website: http://katesheeranswed.com/