A.M.: I love stories that span multiple genres, especially when the story has sci-fi roots. Technology is fantastic—I love it as much as anyone—but I’m much more interested in characters, and characters are going to have things going on in their lives. Suspenseful, horrifying, mysterious, romantic things. Sci-fi is a fantastic way to explore potential futures or to use an alien setting to analyze our present, but in order to get any of those messages across, the characters still need to be doing interesting things. This is a long way of saying that I’m not sure I really thought about mixing suspense and mystery into Aza’s story—it seemed to belong in her world as much as the sand and wind.
LSQ: The idea of a bio-shield against a raging desert storm is such an interesting one, seeming to link technology with nature. Where did the concept originate for you?
A.M.: The idea for the bioshields initially came from the fact that trees are a natural sound barrier, and they do a great job of cutting wind, as well. I’m continually impressed with nature’s adaptability and variety, and I love nature-inspired engineering solutions. I like the idea of a moss-like substance acting as a natural filtration system and shield, and it seemed to meld well with a raw, plant-based society like the Capital’s in “After the Storm.”
LSQ: A turning point for Aza was when she conceded she had been sent into the desert to die, regardless of her skills. It was also when she began to see the people before her in an entirely different light. How did you come up with the idea of the story’s caste system as it applies to Aza?
A.M.: This is a hard question. There have been several points in my life in which I’ve realized that, no matter how good I am or how hard I try, I’m never going to fit in with some group. I don’t think this is a unique experience. It can be exclusion due to gender, appearance, race, sexuality, age, class, whatever—but you can’t change, and the group isn’t going to accept you the way you are, no matter how great you are. Every time I’ve had it, this realization hurts. It really hurts. (Probably less than being abandoned in the desert to die, but I can’t speak to that specific experience.) I guess that is where the idea for the class/caste system in “After the Storm” came from—being separated into a different (often less valued) group due to an inalterable characteristic isn’t right, and it isn’t fair, but it is a common experience, which makes it worth exploring in a story to me.
LSQ: The addition of the other cruiser and the mention of more people in the nomadic group seems to end the piece with a hopeful future for Aza. Do you prefer to end your stories with positive outcomes for your characters? Or does it depend on where the story takes you?
A.M.: I don’t usually write “happy endings.” I think, so far, I’ve written a few stories that end ambiguously at best, but mostly I tend to write darker endings. This is a bit ironic since I prefer to read stories with happy endings. Then again, one of my favorite endings in the world is the conclusion of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which I read as mostly terrible with just a splash of hope. I definitely like ending with a hint of positivity at least, but I haven’t yet had a story that led me to a full-blown “happily ever after,” either. I guess I like ending stories similarly to real life—things so rarely wrap themselves up in nice, neat packages with all the ends properly tucked away and all the emotions in a pleasant, cohesive line. I think I like my story endings to be a bit open, to ask the reader what they want to happen next, and to give them a wide spectrum of emotions to choose from.