Talk about a quick turnaround! I sent off the fan/reader questions to Paul Jessup on Saturday and, this morning, I found his responses sitting in my inbox. What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon! Still, the effort is much appreciated. Those of you who’ve been following this blog’s online Book of the Month Club (which, really, should be nearly all of you) know that Paul’s novella, Open Your Eyes, was our October selection (check the right sidebar for info on November’s selection, Emissaries from the Dead by Adam-Troy Castro). And just because we’ve already read it here doesn’t mean you can’t pick it up or order it from Apex Book Company (http://www.apexbookcompany.com/) and read it wherever you are at your leisure. Hopefully this little Q&A will whet your appetite. And, if you’ve already read the book and looking for more info on the author, head on over here (http://pauljessup.com/wordpress/) for further info.
KellyK writes: “Yes this book was a bit of a mind warp and while I was left confused by some parts, overall the experience was a very positive one. I found it interesting that the author cut his teeth on short stories before writing this, a novella. Which leads me to my questions:
1. Did you set out to write a novel? A short story? Or did you just start writing and decide to “find” the end of your story as you were working on it?”
PJ: I set out to write a novella, which is basically like a really long short story. They’re an interesting breed, Novellas. They require a bit of tools from the short story skill set, and a bit of tools from the novel tool set. Yet they’re definitely their own thing. One of the hurdles I had to overcome when I set out to do this story was finding a place to market a novella- it’s not an easy thing to do. Most publishers want big, thick, book length works. Most magazine want small, compact one shot short stories.
Thankfully, I knew a few small presses that loved the novella form, and I was able to send it on to Apex books. The editor there loved it, and the rest is history. But it was hard working on a project that I knew might not ever be published. It also gave me quite a bit of freedom. I didn’t have to worry about selling to a market, and I really could just let my brain wander and push everything as far as I wanted to. It freed me up, let me take a lot of risks that I might not normally take.
“2. Some people have described your work as New Weird which is a description I haven’t really seen applied to science fiction. Do you think that’s accurate? And if so, were you influenced by any New Weird writers (like Jeff Vandermeer)?”
PJ: I’m not sure. I think I missed the New Weird movement by a few years, publishing wise. I’m hesitant to say I’m directly influenced by the New Weird writers – I do enjoy Vandermeer’s work, as well as China Mieville and the others. But I’m hesitant to list them as a direct influence. Most of my time when I was open to influence, the New Weird hadn’t even been invented yet. But I will say this – I’m eternally grateful to the New Weird movement for breaking boundaries, for opening up the field and making something like this, something like Open Your Eyes, a bit more viable than it was 10 years ago.
That said, I can see why people say that. The element of horror in most of my works, as well as the influence of non-science fiction writers ties me in with the New Weird gang just nicely. I just have this odd feeling I’m post-New Weird, and what I’m doing is different. Not better, not worse. Just different. Although I will say I feel an affinity towards slipstream writers/interstitial writers, more so than New Weird. The magical realism aspect of that writing is something I find inspiring, and try to emulate in my own work.
“3. I think you’re a pretty audacious writer. Do you think that’s a pretty applicable description? A lot of your ideas are so way out there, was there ever a point while writing Open Your Eyes that you worried it might be inaccessible to many readers? Did you care?”
PJ: Well, like I said above – I wasn’t quite sure if this story would ever see the light of day, so accessibility was on the back burner.
“4. You’ve written mainly short stories, but Open Your Eyes was your first stab at the longer form. What’s next for you? More short stories? Another novella? Maybe even another novel? Or will it just be a matter of letting the idea lead you?”
PJ: Well, OYE is my first stab at longer fiction that’s seen the light of day, heh. What do I have in the future? I’ve actually got two more books coming out. One of them I can’t talk about yet, but it’s unlike anything I’ve done before. The other is a collection of short stories called Glass Coffin Girls, published in the UK by PS Publishing.
As for what I’m currently working on? Well, novels mostly. I’ve been a novelist for as long as I’ve been a short story writer, and I love both forms very dearly. Novels take longer to write and sell than short stories, which is why most of my novel stuff is still in the darkness. But trust me when I say you’ll see something big and novelly and exciting from me in the next few years.
TimK writes: “1. Why did the ship double-cross Itsasu?”
PJ: The ship was using Itsasu for it’s own purposes. It was leading Itsasu to finish his creators last great work – discovering the secrets of an ancient alien race. His creator died before the existence of the Patuek, and could not be reborn. He double crossed Itsasu because Itsasu was leading them off the trail that the ship’s AI wanted to follow. That, and he was sick of pretending to be controlled by someone else, and finally wanted to be in control.
“2. Who released the virus meme on board the ship?”
PJ: No one – the virus meme was not an attack. It was an sentient, alien existence. The language itself was an alien. This alien lived inside of a creature on a different planet, like a mental parasite. These creatures that the language lived on had a much higher mental capacity and could easily support the alien language for as long as it required. But, when the planet was terraformed, the host to the language died and the language jumped to the nearest host, the humans, destroying the planet. The human mind was much smaller and could not hold the alien language for too long. So the language has to jump hosts in order to survive.
“3. Was their any deeper significance to the magazine model Hodei was obsessed with?”
PJ: Yes. But first, I need to explain the primary theme of the work. The primary theme is anti-romance. This novel is a conversation with romantic stories, showing the dark side to love. It shows that obsessive love can be destructive and mind controlling (as much as the alien virus is) and fogs our thoughts and emotions. Each character is a slave to their love, to their obsession. Itsasu is trying to resurrect her dead husband, the ship (who loved his creator) is carrying out his creator’s last wishes. Mari is obsessed with her abuser and lover, Sugio. Ekhi is obsessed with her star lover.
Note: these obsessions are all-consuming and create the downfall of each character. Ekhi practically destroys herself for her lover just to have sex with him. Afterwards she is a hollow empty shell, without purpose.
And Hodei is obsessed with, and in love with, an ideal person. A centerfold who he has created a personality for, someone who can’t possible ever exist. When she inhabits his mind, he is forced to realize that she is not only not the person he pictured, she is also very human and this aspect frightens him.
“4. What became of Ekhi?”
PJ: She transformed.
“5. And, I thought I’d ask anyway: How did a supernova get her pregnant?”
PJ: Magical realism. The one primary aspect of magical realism is that things that are completely and wholly unrealistic happen without any cause or scientific purpose. This is one aspect of it – here is something that could never ever possibly happen, yet in the focus of the story it does happen and is completely ignored by the characters as something mundane. It’s symbolic, a metaphor of transformation. Through Ekhi’s love and destruction comes hope, rebirth, renewal. Everyone is saved because love has destroyed.
Jreece writes: “1. Your writing style, especially in terms of plotting, seems very free-flowing. I’d like to know how you approached this story. Did you actually have an ending in mind or a detailed idea of how you were going to proceed or did the story take on a life of its own and write itself?”
PJ: Yes, the ending was completely planned out. I always have three things before I start a story: a beginning, a middle, and an end. The rest I let bubble up as I write, letting the characters bicker and corrupt and create their own subplots.
“2. How long did it take you to write Open Your Eyes? Was it one of those cases where you sat down to write a story and the more you wrote the more ideas came to you, leading you to make it novella-length?”
PJ: About two years, from start to finish. I don’t ever set out to write one thing ( a short story) and have it turn into something else (a novel). To me, length dictates what I can get away with. In a novel you can’t go as free flowing as you can in a novella or a short story. The length of the work won’t hold the weight of all that weirdness.
“3. Since the novella was science fiction, I’m going to assume you like the genre. In your opinion, what can contemporary science fiction authors do to make their work more appealing to today’s audience? Or are you of the opinion that the writer should just write what he feels and if he finds an audience great but if he doesn’t find an audience then great too?”
PJ: To be honest I think Science Fiction is in a rut. It’s sitting around, admiring itself and complaining about how no one ever reads it anymore. But the thing is – no one is really taking any risks these days. Everything is either hard SF or something that is very close to hard SF. One of the biggest complaints about OYE is that it doesn’t explain enough, or readers wished there was more explanations for the science.
And I say to hell with that. We need to take more risks. We need to not explain, half explain. We need to use science as a jumping off point, not as an end and a means in itself. Space Opera has become far future science porn and we need something more than that. We need to be wild, free, crazy, intense and above all human. We need our space opera to go out and blow the lids off the universe. We need people to take more risks and find something new.
For example: New Space Opera. That’s not new. It’s been around since the lat 70’s early 80’s! How can this be new? We need something grand and frightening.
Artdogspot writes: “Open Your Eyes was a short and challenging read for me. It has stuck in my mind long after I finished reading it and has made me curious about reading some of your other stories. I had alot of questions for you but these are the ones I felt most interested in getting some feedback on. Many thanks to you for your time and thoughts.
1. Your writing style seems anything but traditional story telling with a lot of very fantastical ideas. What are your influences and was there a specific idea that motivated you to write this story?”
PJ: The core idea is what motivated me to write this story. It was a single sentence, stuck in my mind: Her lover was a supernova. That felt like it needed a story attached to it, so I sat down and started plotting and planning. In some ways, it’s a very traditional story in that the plot happens at breakneck speed. But it’s hard to read each instant and have it add up. You need to read it and see the big picture before going back and reading it again, I think, since all the connections can be lost the first time around.
Influences? I’m not sure I can answer this without writing fifty pages on every author I’ve ever read. Let’s just say I read a lot of stuff outside of the field and inside the field. And I love poetry. And everything I read influences me and I love that.
“2. There is a remarkable absence of exposition in this story but it’s a very vivid descriptive style you use to tell it. I am not sure if I “got” everything as I had to make some mental leaps to understand what some things were. As a writer, do you consciously pare down or avoid using exposition and if so, why?”
PJ: With this story I wanted to keep the science porn to a minimum, and I wanted this future to be told by its characters. These characters have a limited amount of knowledge. They don’t know how the spaceship works anymore than your average joe knows how a microwave works. And I wanted to make sure that the reader gets this right away – hence the fantastical beginning. Once you buy into the whole idea of supernova impregnation, you have to be along for the ride- unquestioning. So when I sneak in some actual science fiction, you won’t be distracted by the gadgetry. I wanted this universe to feel lived in, to feel like you are there, with them. And throwing in exposition explaining how the machines work would destroy that feeling.
“3. Given the little exposition, your descriptions are very vivid and fantastic. After I read this story, I seemed to be recalling the world you created almost more than the actual story. Was this purposeful or is this just what I personally took away from this book?”
PJ: Yes, actually, this was very purposeful. I wanted the world to be detailed, the characters and the plot as functions of the world, as explorations of the world.
“4. Puppets, puppets everywhere. What drew you to use puppets as opposed to other Scifi A.I.’s such as androids, etc.? Was it to blur the line between humans and A.I.’s? Or, do you just like puppets?”
PJ: Symbolic. The humans became a puppet to the virus later on.
“5. Everyone (the humans) seemed damaged physically and/or emotionally. Some are actually physically dependent on technological devices for survival. Ekhi seems to be the most healthy human. Is this why the Super Nova chose to impregnate her? And, how did you come up with this idea?”
PJ: Healthy human? I’m not sure about that. She’s very damaged, emotionally and physically. There is a story behind this story of her running away from home, stealing a space ship – her poor father combing the skies, looking for her, trying to bring her back. She was in love, the star was in love with her. It wasn’t a choice to impregnate, but rather a consummation of that love that eventually destroys them both (yet sets everyone else free).
The others rely on technology because everything is technology. Humanity is technology. So to me, she is actually the least human (and the most emotionally dead – she is practically a zombie) because she is less reliant on technology (and also, she is past her obsession, she has gotten what she wanted, and it has left her hollow).
“6. No one is who they appear to be and everyone has an agenda. In fact, they seem obsessed with their own personally, crippling agendas. Ekhi is the only one who is simply trying to survive. And, she has no fear of her impending galactic childbirth.
Throughout the invasion of the ship, the ship’s AIâ’s mutiny, and the transmission of the virus, all I kept thinking was “Yeah, just wait till Ekhi gives birth. All this stuff will seem like baby-food.” But no one, including Ekhi, seemed to be thinking this way. How come?”
PJ: Because they are too obsessed with their own loves (which fuel their agendas) than with what is happening around them. That is why the virus is able to destroy them, why they don’t worry about Ekhi’s birth. They are consumed by romantic notions, by all-devouring love and obsession. They are being eaten alive by this notion of true love, this message forced on us by countless movies and books. I wanted to show how destructive it was, how nihilistic it was to let one emotion control your entire life.
“7. The end of the story was really open-ended. There was little closure for me as a reader. It was both hopeless and hopeful at the same time, at least for me. It was certainly not obvious that mankind would fare well with what looked like a new galactic beginning. Was there a broader idea you intended to end the book with that I just didn’t get?”
PJ: Nope – Ekhi’s rebirth was a moment of drastic change. The song of her child was meant to be symbolic of such changes, a moment of both hope and hopelessness. Everything has changed; everything has stayed the same.
Sparrow_hawk writes: “Where did the idea of a language as a virus that could infect humans come from?”
PJ: Delany and Burroughs. William Burroughs believed that language was an alien virus. Delany did some cool stuff with Babel-17, talking about a language, that when you learn it, it changes who you are.
“2. Sex with a supernova?”
“3. Do the names of the things like mozorro and thalna mean something or did you create them? Are they based on a particular language?”
PJ: They are from Basque mythology. It added an extra symbolic layer. The Thalna were a kind of healing spirits, Patuek the same. The name for the virus was the name for a demon. Etc, etc, etc. It also gave the world a sense of strangeness, of otherness.
“4. How do (does) the Patuek work? At first I thought they were some type of implant but in another section they seem to be some kind of nanomachine creeping into Hodei. And Iuski’s brother explains that he sent Iuski’s Patuek out on radio waves. I’m confused.”
PJ: Okay, Patuek are like computers – they are more than one thing. A computer can broadcast information (wifi), contain data (hard drive), and perform computations (motherboard, etc). The Patuek’s primary purpose is to keep a backup of a human’s mind within tiny nanomachines. These machines contain the information and can perform a sort of surgery on the mind, backing up what the human thought. The virus destroys the mind completely as well as the Patuek, which means someone’s mind can’t be rebooted when they die (or stored somewhere else).
The Patuek can also broadcast the data (and can also be the data). The name basically means the machines, the data and the broadcast. So, what happened with Hodei was this: The data was broadcasted via radio waves. His Patuek picked these waves up and began to perform a sort of surgery on his mind, bringing in the other personalities.
Originally I had different names for the data and the signal itself, but that was even more confusing.
“5. Do you have a favorite character in Open Your Eyes?”
PJ: Itsasu. She has the strongest character arc, and is the most sympathetic. She’s not a nice person, but she doesn’t hurt anyone else to get what she wants and she doesn’t let her obsession cloud her thinking as much as everyone else does. She also longs for death. Even though she thinks she longs to be with her husband by bringing him back to life, she really longs for the quiet grave herself.
Thornyrose writes: One, how did you approach Open your eyes? Did you start with the idea of the unique impregnation and let the story unfold, or from the ending and moving back?”
PJ: I started with that one sentence, as I said above. Then, I tried to decide who would be in a story that would contain such a strange occurrence, what they would be doing, etc. World building happened at the same time and, eventually, I had enough of a story to make a book.
“Who do you consider to be influential in your decision to become a writer?”
PJ: I don’t think there was much of a decision. It’s always what I’d done.
“If not an author, what would you consider your ideal job to be?”
PJ: An actor. I come from a family of actors and I love the theater.
Thanks for such an awesome opportunity and such wonderful questions.