Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Interview: Scott Fitzgerald Gray

Our interview this week is with Scott Fitzgerald Gray, who is, in his words, "...a specially constructed biogenetic simulacrum built around an array of experimental consciousness-sharing techniques—a product of the finest minds of Canadian science until the grant money ran out." That may or may not be true (although I suspect the former), but I do know that he also happens to be the author of the novel We Can Be Heroes, which will be tomorrow's Book Feature. Be sure to check it out!

Michael K. Rose: What role do you believe speculative fiction plays in society?

Scott Fitzgerald Gray: Without trying to sound like a total dweeb, I think speculative fiction is the place where philosophy comes alive in the modern world. The preferred use of “speculative fiction” as opposed to “science fiction” kind of sums up my take on the genre, which at its best is about wrapping the live wires of raw ideas in the protective sheath of narrative so that we can grab onto them without killing ourselves. Outside of a college philosophy department, I think it’s pretty rare for a group of people to come together to talk about Cartesian metaphysics just for fun—but it’s pretty damn easy to get into a lively debate about the ending of Inception. At its best, speculative fiction inspires not just a reaction to the work (which I think is a quality of all great literature) but an active questioning of the work and the principles it’s built on.

MKR: Why do you write in this genre?

SFG: Because I love that interface between idea and emotion, event and character, that speculative fiction does so well. There are plenty of good examples of speculative fiction that are more about the ideas than the characters (including a lot of the golden age science-fiction, as entertaining and enjoyable as it is to read). But to my mind, the greatest speculative fiction walks a razor-thin line between exposing and exploring the wonders of the fictional world and peeling back the inner workings of the characters who live in that world. That dedication to forging real character story alongside world-building and the explorations of technology and sociology that are SF’s most common touchstones is the great challenge of speculative fiction, and I’m driven to throw myself at that challenge. I’m not entirely sure I’ve been successful at meeting it yet, but I’m happy to still be working at it. :-)

MKR: How did you come up with the idea for We Can Be Heroes?

SFG: There are kind of two answers to that question, but on the side of the character story, We Can Be Heroes grew out of a desire to write a novel that would touch on some of my own experiences as a geek and a gamer and a kind of awkward intellectual in high school. I wanted to address the importance for me of the friendships I forged in my late adolescence and how those friendships helped me figure out my life, even as I made use of the actual set-pieces of that life in the fiction. As such, the story is built around my impressionistic sense of the small town I grew up in, my high school, my friends (or specifically, gestalt characters inspired by my friends) and the important philosophical lessons that were driven into me at that age.

On the more metafictional other side of the story, the inspiration for the archplot actually comes from one of the endless roleplaying game sessions that my friends and I used to engage in as we were all figuring our lives out in high school. (No major spoilers, hopefully, but that archplot concerns the group of young friends ending up on the wrong side of a private paramilitary group with some stolen technology.) For me as a writer, the story thus incorporated a number of different levels of inspiration from my own life, and it was a lot of fun welding them together into a cohesive whole.

MKR: What was your biggest challenge in writing it?

SFG: Trying to tell myself that I could shape a story incorporating so many personal touchstones into something universal. And at the risk of trying to make myself sound like a person of any skill or talent, I think this is really the essential challenge of all speculative fiction and fantasy. On some level, no matter what their inspiration, starting point, or allegorical weight, the worlds of speculative fiction all spring fully formed from the minds of their creators. The problem is that all our amazing ideas are inherently interesting to us because we’re the ones who came up with them—but it takes serious literary chops to find the points of universal interest and drama that can make the personally meaningful into the universally meaningful.

MKR: What are you working on now?

SFG: “Working” always seems like a relative term, but most of my creative energy right now is going into two fantasy novels in progress, both extensions of earlier works. Three Coins for Confession is the overdue second part of the trilogy that started with last year’s Clearwater Dawn, while The Chaos Gates is the first book in a dark epic-fantasy trilogy that builds on the backstory, characters, and magic introduced in the anthology A Prayer for Dead Kings and Other Tales.

I’m also in the process of prepping for publication a young-adult speculative fiction series about a young girl from the Canadian hinterland who discovers that she’s the heir to ultimate cosmic power and the unwitting central figure in an interstellar civil war. Sidnye (Queen of the Universe) is one of the few so-called “trunk novels” in my canon, as it was written a few years ago, had lots of people liking it, and ultimately could find no publisher with enough imagination to run with it. I’m hoping to do a polish on it in the fall (because no book is ever good enough that it can’t handle one more pass) for release shortly thereafter.

MKR: Thank you for the interview! Interested readers can find out more about Scott at his website.

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