Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Author Q&A With Shawn Proctor

It's amazing how being busy can make you look like you're not doing anything. With 2014 came a beefed-up commitment to Elephant's Bookshelf Press, but as a result I had less time to work on the blog that in some ways is its public mouthpiece. So, while I have a minute (and if you don't mind my typing while I knosh on a sandwich), let me start to catch up with some of the posts I'd begun in 2013 and didn't get a chance to set loose upon the world.

First up: an interview with Shawn Proctor, whose story "Just a Perfect Day," appeared in Summer's Edge.

Elephant’s Bookshelf: Lots of us writers don’t like this question, but I’ll ask it anyway: what genre do you feel is the best fit for your writing?

Shawn Proctor: There’s big a shift toward a style that uses literary fiction’s craft and mixes it with genres like horror, science fiction, fantasy, and neo-pulp (think superhero stories.) That’s me in a nutshell… Now please let me out of the nutshell now before I suffocate!

EB: You’ve had several stories published over the years, including a few in 2013. Is “Just a Perfect Day” a fairly typical Shawn Proctor story or was this an example of you experimenting?

SP: In some ways typical, but in others it’s a departure. I visited Berlin in 2007 and loved the city, especially the weird mix of urban heaviness from the Cold War and the hopefulness of the future. Originally, I had conceived of this as a horror story, but it never wanted to be that. Ultimately, the romantic arc felt stronger and truer to this piece so I went with it and cut a huge overblown Lovecraftian ending.

All writing is an experiment—this was certainly one of my more risky ones.

EB: I have to say, I don’t think any first line of a story from the summer anthologies caught my attention like yours (“At sunset, they returned to shave each other’s pubic hair.”) Was that your original opening or did you shape that over time?

SP: I had it from the start, but needed to really figure out who the people were, why they were there. Writers are drawn to the taboo. We love to explore where we’re told not to go.

When I was a kid, pubic hair was not an acceptable term. It just unnerved my parents to hear it, and I could tell that it is something that people don’t want to talk about at all. Naturally, as a writer, I’m drawn to that. Tell me not to say it, not to talk about it, and I will completely fixate on the idea. But more than trying to shock, I wanted to pull you into this intimate scene where they are making themselves physically -- if not emotionally -- vulnerable. I hoped to take this shocking sentence and make you question why it shocks…after all, hair is just hair.

EB: The characters in your story are difficult to like, yet there was something compelling or at least curious about them that made me want to find out what was going to happen. In general, do you like the characters you discover in the stories you write, and does it matter to you whether you think they’re likeable people?

I tend to write about people who are flawed or broken, and this couple is in trouble from the start because they are blind. In one respect they are blind to understanding one another in a deeper way and blind to the city they choose for their honeymoon. The image I return to over and over again is a tunnel—they only see the bricks, not the tunnel, and when the train comes toward them they are helplessly unprepared.

So, to answer the question, I may not like them, but I love them. I identify with the blindness they have because I see it in others and see it in myself at times. It’s like, “Why didn’t I know that person was toxic for me?” Because we’re all trying to see the world as it is, but we have our own ideas and perspectives blinding us.

EB: I find that really interesting. What are you working on now?

SP: I’m always balancing two things: a novel-in-progress and new short stories. I was raised a short story writer, and I can’t let go of that fun of sitting around a campfire and telling scary stories. It’s in my blood. But I recognize that there is power in building a world and crafting a long narrative, like my novel Stand-In Heroes. It’s about two thirtysomethings who rekindle a friendship one night. Unfortunately, it happens to be the same night that someone murders the world’s only superhero. They each end up with half of his powers, which they have to learn to use before the killer finds them.

It’s a challenge to take a hybrid medium like comics and translate it into a non-visual medium like prose. I’ve only got 26 letters and a couple pouches of punctuation in my Utility Belt, and I have to leap off that building to fight crime. Some days I think I should sew myself a writing cape.

EB: While I look for some thread so you can get sewing, let me say thanks for sharing some time with us!