I’m a bit behind schedule this time, but here’s an interview with the very talented Gary Emmette Chandler, author of “When the Mountains Broke Away”–one of my favorite stories in Plasma Frequency‘s 15th Issue. The story is free-to-read and this interview may have a few spoilers, so please stop on by and read Gary’s beautiful story here before continuing.
Now on to the fun part!
Gary Emmette Chandler works from his apartment in Portland as a copywriter and web developer, mostly in pajamas, with a cat nibbling at his leg. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Bastion, Pantheon, and Daily Science Fiction, among others. You can follow his hungover ramblings on Twitter @TheWearyLuddite, if you like.
Alexis A. Hunter (AAH): What inspired you to write “When the Mountains Broke Away”? Tell me how this story began to take shape.
Gary Emmette Chandler (GEC): When people ask where I grew up, I tell them “the middle of nowhere.” The middle of California is a bit more accurate, perhaps, but it definitely felt like nowhere as a kid, when the nearest major city was almost an hour away. To keep me occupied during those long drives, my mother would point out various makeshift landmarks, like “Dinosaur Rock” or “Dragon Tree.” I lived in the valley, and beyond the flat, endless stretches of farm land, there were these strange outcroppings of rock along the hills. That’s probably where the image first took shape: staring out at the foothills in the distance, and imagining that they were the spine of some great slumbering beast. I’m not sure why it took ten or twenty years to end up on the page, but it did.
AAH: Early on in the story, the grandmother mentions the importance of sharing the story with her grandchildren so that they can pass it on. I didn’t get the sense that they had ways to record stories—or at least not easily—so how do you think the tale will be affected by being passed down verbally from one generation to the next?
GEC: It may change, and grow in size, becoming more myth than history. I’m awful at telling a story from memory, but I like to think that oral storytelling is the sort of tradition that will persist along with humanity, regardless of what sort of technology we have access to. My earliest memories are of my mother reading books like The Hobbit aloud. I think there’s something powerful and resonant in the spoken word, which doesn’t always come through on the page alone, so I like the idea of this story being passed down – at least at first – verbally, alone.
AAH: Of the two children, Jamie seems much more interested in the tale. He knows how it starts, he always asks one thoughtful question at the end, while his sister fell asleep at some point. I couldn’t help but notice that Nadia also seemed less interest in the tale than she was in busying herself with practical things. Were the differences between these characters’ reactions to the story intentional? What, if anything, do you think it says about their personalities?
GEC: I suppose I saw Briana (who’s only seven at the time of the story), as taking closely after her mother, Nadia. As the head of the household, Nadia’s more concerned – like you said – with practical matters. She’s also heard the story countless times; first as a child herself, and then as her mother tells it to her own children, again and again. As for Briana falling asleep during the story, it felt natural for her age, and I liked the image it conveyed of how close the siblings were. For Jamie, I suppose it’s similar to how obsessed I was with dinosaurs as a kid: these enormous, awe-inspiring creatures from the past, that he wishes he could have seen.
AAH: There’s a bit of lovely description about Jamie, about his eagerness being so like to his father’s. It’s mentioned briefly that his father is dead. And the grandmother worries—briefly and not in a spotlight-stealing way—that Jamie may be too “vibrant and eager.” As you were writing, did you have an idea of how Jamie’s father died? And how that might connect to the grandmother’s worrying for her grandson?
GEC: I have seeds of it in my head: an accident where he was reckless, overconfident while working or scavenging. There might be a frozen lake somewhere in there. Mostly, though, it was there to convey the grandmother’s concern for the boy, and to provide a bit of suggestion, without going too far off course, while also paving the way for Nadia’s role as sole provider for the family.
AAH: One thing that struck me the first time I read this story was how strong the women in the story are. Was that intentional or do you often find yourself writing these types of women into stories?
GEC: Writing strong roles for women is definitely something I aim for in my fiction. I grew up surrounded by some incredible role models: my grandmother, who supported her family through truly difficult times, including the death of a child; my mother, who is an amazingly accomplished artist, and one of my closest friends; my sister, who owns the business that I work for, and continues to impress me all the time with her ability to juggle five billion things at once. Still, I’m sure there will be (and have been) times where I could do better in writing strong, believable women into my stories, and it’s an aspect that I hope to always keep improving.
AAH: For a somewhat apocalyptic story, this piece certainly has a lighter, more hopeful tone. Do you feel the story has any sort of special theme or meaning? If so, did you write that theme/meaning intentionally or did it sort of come about naturally?
GEC: I write post-apocalyptic fiction far too often. I think half of my published stories at this point have a post-apocalyptic setting – and most of them are bummers, even when I try to include a bit of light at the end. This story definitely had hope at its core as a theme. I have a tendency to focus on the darker things in life, and I think that sometimes comes through a bit too heavily in my stories. This was one of my attempts to shine a somewhat brighter light within my fiction – even if it still includes a partially destroyed earth.
AAH: What upcoming stories or projects are you most excited about at the moment? Where can our readers find more of your work?
GEC: December and January were actually pretty awesome months for me in terms of publication, with – I think – five stories out, altogether? For now, I’ll just mention two, as they’re sort of companion pieces, in terms of where they came from internally: “The Waters of My Mind” in the Winter issue of One Throne Magazine, and “This Life Without Wings” in the January issue of Pantheon. I have a few more stories accepted for publication right now, including one in Daily Science Fiction, but I don’t think those stories have dates scheduled just yet.
And that’s the end of our January/February interview. This segment of my blog should resume in March with Issue 16–our special Anti-Apocalypse issue!–of Plasma Frequency.