Still making your way through Issue 047? Have you read “Revenant” yet? Do go treat yourself to this eerie read, then find out what author Lisa Short had to say about the writing process and her inspirations.
LSQ: The setting, along with the narrator’s identity, isn’t directly given to the readers, but rather hinted at throughout the story. What is your advice for revealing just enough information for readers to piece together without giving the mystery away?
Lisa: Recently, I was engaging in a round-robin group critique exercise in a writing group that I’m casually part of–one of my critiquers came back to me (about a different story, not the one published in LSQ) with an observation that I found pretty interesting: “You definitely write for readers who really dig that immersive vibe, where they’re dropped in and left to pick up the clues while folding themselves into the world.” And it’s true, that’s definitely my preferred style of writing! My two biggest pieces of advice for anyone who wants to write this way in particular, are (a) commit to either first person or one single, limited third person point of view for the entire story and (b) when you’re writing it, as much as you can, try to be the narrator–imagine that this entire event is unfolding before your very eyes, heard through your own ears, smelled through your nose, etc.–it’s happening to you, and share that experience as comprehensively as you can with your words.
LSQ: How did this story come to you? Was it the eerie setting that begged to tell a story, the image of a woman becoming an operating mechanism for a shelter? How did it all come together?
Lisa: I’ve had this story idea for a long, long time–so long I’m not even sure where the original idea sprang from! Part of it does spring from the unavoidable observation that whenever we have humanlike AIs in stories, whether humanform AIs or not–whenever they’re ostensibly “female,” and if they have any kind of individuality at all, they’re almost inevitably sexualized in some way. (There are a few notable exceptions to this–Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time does an excellent job confounding this.). Only ostensibly “male” humanlike AIs seem to get to often break that mold–and I wanted to break it with this particular character. And then–I work with databases a lot in my day job, and I started to wonder, what would it really be like to share your consciousness with an enterprise data warehouse and analytical reporting tool? (Clearly I spend too much time with them, to be wondering that…)
LSQ: The empty Enclave, while tragic, also has great horror vibes. Do you have experience writing horror stories? How might this story have been different if Selina could remember what happened to everybody?
Lisa: I do have experience writing horror stories! My very first pro-market sale was actually horror flash fiction, and I am a member of the Horror Writers Association. I think the character of Selina would have been very different if she had fully regained her sense of self, her consciousness, at any time point in the past–since she didn’t, all she had for past memories were in the database table, stored as objects, not instinctively indexed in any way easily accessible to her, so she hasn’t really changed as a person from the moment of her “death.” If she had been alive and aware for all those centuries–who knows who she might have become by the time the story takes place?
LSQ: Who and what inspires your writing?
Lisa: This is such a hard question to answer–I’ve been an avid reader all my life, and the homes I lived in were always full of speculative fiction. I think my stepdad’s comic book and paperback collection were probably my first true “writer” inspirations–in fact, the first full-length story I ever wrote, at age eight, was a gender-swapped and shameless plagiarism of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. So I was definitely heavily inspired by those (often pulpy, but still!). My mother, on the other hand, was a huge Stephen King and Ursula K. LeGuin fan, so I absorbed everything I could from those masters of the art very early on, as well as melodramatic tales of broadswords-and-blasters science fiction and weird fantasy.