On the verge of a new anthology, we are celebrating IN THE AIR with a behind the scenes view of authors and their stories. Here’s a look at E.J. LeRoy and her story “The DeVore Incident.”
ABOUT THE STORY
Tell me a little about your story and the world you’ve created.
“The DeVore Incident” takes place in a parallel universe in which humans and merfolk coexist. Until recently, there has been a tenuous relationship between the two cultures, but the murder of an investigative journalist, Matthew DeVore, has brought political tensions to a breaking point which may lead to war.
What came first, the plot or the characters?
The plot and characters came together almost simultaneously. I began with a vague idea about political tension between humans and merfolk. This notion was quickly combined with an opening scene of a slimy human politician holding a press conference about a murdered human journalist who may be the first human victim of a merfolk attack. The rest of the story developed organically from that point in a surprisingly linear fashion.
If you had to describe your protagonist in three words, what would they be?
Ambassador Hayden Frost is jaded and sarcastic, but ultimately good-hearted.
What is something about your protagonist that only you know?
Ambassador Frost is not a transparent character. Even as the author, I know very little about her except what is written on the page.
Which scene was the most difficult to write and why?
The scenes themselves were not difficult to write. It was the research needed for creating the fictional Frost Diving Suit that was the most challenging. Shortly after writing the opening scenes to “The DeVore Incident,” I needed to set my work-in-progress aside to research diving suits and the presence of oxygen and nitrogen underwater. I knew from the beginning that the diving suits in my story would be designed so that humans could breathe directly from the water like a fish rather than relying upon oxygen tanks. This was crucial to both the plot and the world I was creating, so I needed to make my fictional invention plausible. In my research, I learned that nitrogen in the ocean is actually a pollutant, but there are fixed nitrogen compounds. Since humans need both oxygen and nitrogen to breathe, I decided the Frost Diving Suit would pull in oxygen and filter the necessary nitrogen from the fixed nitrogen compounds. Since my protagonist is a diplomat and not a scientist, she doesn’t need to understand the mechanism at an advanced level. She just needs to know that it works, and what happens if it doesn’t.
What were you trying to achieve with this story?
As with any good story, the goal of “The DeVore Incident” is to be entertaining. If readers gain some profound insight from my work, that’s great, but conveying a message isn’t my intention. I write stories because I love the act of writing, and hope others will appreciate what I have written. Ultimately, I want readers to enjoy “The DeVore Incident,” maybe get emotionally invested in the story, and hopefully read my other work as well.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Writing is my vocation and, therefore, takes up a great deal of my time. But when I’m not writing, I like daydreaming, reading, watching television, re-watching favorite movies, web surfing, and learning languages.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your stories?
While writing the “The DeVore Incident,” I was surprised to learn about nitrogen being a pollutant in the ocean. This caused a bit of a snag in my story as I needed to create plausible diving suits for human characters to wear without oxygen tanks. How would humans be able to breathe without access to nitrogen? I kept looking, and eventually learned about fixed nitrogen compounds. Between those fixed nitrogen compounds and oxygen, I was able to create a fictional diving suit that allowed humans to derive air from the ocean.
Do you have any suggestions to help others become better writers? If so, what are they?
Read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White as a starting point. Some writers make fun of that old book, but it’s a classic for a reason. Then write a lot, even if it’s dreadful at first. I have mixed feelings about the advice that writers should read, read, read. On the one hand, it can be helpful to read broadly in order to get a feel for what kinds of story elements you like and which ones you don’t. On the other hand, you can’t become a good writer or improve your writing just by reading other people’s work. First and foremost, you need to master the mechanics of writing. A solid foundation in grammar, syntax, punctuation, tense, and word usage are critical in order to be a good writer.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was four years old. Now, I am actually doing it.
What is your favorite writing tool or technique?
I write with both a laptop computer and by hand with a pen on printer paper. If I find myself getting stuck in a scene, I find that switching from typing to writing by hand in cursive can help. Other than that, my writing technique is extremely haphazard. I don’t think in a linear fashion, so I often scribble random notes on scratch paper or sticky notes and type them up later. When daydreaming, which is a big part of my job, I often have a piece of an idea here, a notion there, and an inkling of a thought way over there. A similar thing happens when I’m actually writing. Besides some random bullet point notes and a general story or character idea, I don’t have outlines. Usually, I just make things up as I go along. If necessary, I write the words “research” or “add more” on my work-in-progress if I need to fill in details later. I am clearly in the camp of what Brandon Sanderson calls “Discovery Writers.” When I finish a work, I’m always amazed that I actually did it and have no idea how that mess of ideas ever came together to form a coherent story.
How would you describe your general writing voice and tone?
My writing voice varies slightly depending upon the protagonist I’m writing. Ambassador Frost in “The DeVore Incident” is sarcastic and fed up with politics, so the third person narration reflects that tone. In general, I try to include some humor in my work, even if the story is serious. I also follow some of the good advice laid out in The Elements of Style, such as writing “First” instead of “Firstly” and not getting too carried away with adjectives and adverbs.
E.J. LeRoy is a freelance writer, poet, and aspiring novelist whose work has appeared at Submittable Blog. “The DeVore Incident” is LeRoy’s first published speculative short story.
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