In support of the short story, and specifically those talented writers who are currently “bookless,” which is to say those writers who are at that stage of their career where a collection or novel is a year or more away, I’m doing a new feature called Conversations with the Bookless, of which this is the latest installment. (See also: John Langan, Kelly Barnhill, Paul Jessup, Rachel Swirsky, Nathan Ballingrud, and [conducted by Rick Klaw] Paul O. Miles, Scott A. Cupp, and Chris Nakashima-Brown) The fact is, if you don’t have a book out, it’s harder to get attention and it’s harder for reader attention to crystalize around you. I hope these interviews introduce readers to some of the great talent that, in the coming years, will be amazingly and bountifully bookful.
Almost everythingDavid Moles writes contains a kind of roving curiosity, often wedded to a deceptive straightforwardness–deceptive because somewhere along the way in his stories what you thought was comfortably straightforward becomes decidedly less so. He uses SF tropes and settings, but doesn’t seem interested in the ideas themselves so much as the emotional lives of his characters. His prose is sometimes invisible, but then he’ll surprise you with something more lyrical like his Hugo-nominated novelette published last year in F&SF (even as there’s still a refreshing clarity to that lyricism). I caught up with Moles recently to talk about short fiction.
Where are you, right now, as you’re writing these answers?
Under a dormer window in my office in a hundred-year-old row house in Basel, Switzerland, where I’m supposed to be writing software to streamline drug research. (I’m considering myself to have taken an early lunch hour.) Basel is in many ways the crossroads of Europe, which is to say that the paths from many an interesting place to another interesting place pass through it. In itself it can be a bit dull.
What do you like most about short fiction as an art form?
That I can finish it. I’m a slow writer. For years I thought of myself as one of Nature’s novelists, despite having never completed a novel. My first sale (“On the Night”) was the epilogue to a novel I still haven’t written, and my second sale (“Theo’s Girl”) was the opening of its also-unwritten sequel. Six or seven years after my first sale, I’m still not very good at short fiction. With a few exceptions (“Fetch”, “Long Past Midnight”), I tend toward novel-wide settings and novel-deep characters, and it’s hard to fit a novel’s worth of words into a short-story bag–they tend to bulge out into novelettes and novellas. I sat down on the first of February with a hot idea for a short story that I thought I could dash off that weekend, and ten weeks later it’s at nine thousand words and climbing.
But even so, ten or fifteen or twenty thousand words is easier than a hundred thousand. A novelette I can hold in my head; a novel, for me, is still like an IKEA furniture kit that I’m trying to put together on my own even though it says in the instructions it’s meant for two to three people — pound in a peg at this end, and a peg seven feet away at the other end jumps out.
Real short story writers do something right and tight and technically sweet that I just don’t know how to do yet. I’d like to. I need to read more.
What do you most value in the fiction you love?
The fiction I love the most makes me see the world in a way that’s both different and awesome. Sometimes (Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, Meghan McCarron’s “Close to You”) it’s through the eyes of a single, fascinating narrator; other times (Maureen McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang, John le Carre’s The Honourable Schoolboy) it’s a cubist, motion-parallax picture built up from multiple viewpoints.
What issues or ideas about fiction have been foremost in your mind of late?
I’ve spent a lot of my life moving around; I’ve lived in Greece, Iran, Japan, England, and now Switzerland, not to mention a few different places in the US. I grew up in a house full of books on history and archaeology, and eventually ended up spending three months in the British National Library sifting through 200-year-old letters between corrupt bankers in England and South India. What I’ve gotten from that is the feeling that the world is both simpler and more complicated than genre fiction often makes it out to be–simpler, because people really are people wherever (and whenever) they are; more complicated, because, people being people, they get up to some crazy-ass shit everywhere and at all times. I want more fiction that captures that.
For the time being you can also read “Finisterra”, my novelette that’s up for a Hugo award this year, on the F&SF site. It’ll also be in this year’s Year’s Best Science Fiction, edited by Gardner Dozois. My first sale, “On the Night” (that epilogue to an unwritten novel I mentioned above) I put up on my own site, mainly as a thumb in the eye of some of science fiction’s more Luddite writers, who complained that free on-line fiction was chiseling in on their fix.
How do you plan to rectify your booklessness?
Figure out which 20,000 of the 30,000 words I just ripped out of my novel-in-progress I can put back, and then write 50,000 more. Either that, or destroy all publishing, so we’re all in the same boat.
(Note: Moles does now have a chapbook coming out from PS Publishing…)