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 Lorraine Sharma Nelson and her story “Spore.”
ABOUT THE STORY
Tell me a little about your story and the world you’ve created.
When I saw the title for the new anthology—IN THE AIR—I immediately saw spores being carried on the wind, being dispersed in towns, villages, and cities for miles around. What if the spore was transported via ash from wildfires? What if the spore affected your mind? Turned you into a violent animal? By the time anyone realized what was happening, it would be too late. Worse, what if the adults who were supposed to be in charge were looking in the wrong places for answers? My story focuses on a high school senior and her friends who realize what’s happening before anyone else.
What came first, the plot or the characters?
In this case, I guess it happened simultaneously. The first thing that popped into my head when I sat down to write was my main character, Reva, staring at her neighbor’s once perfect white roses, now covered in ash. The story took off from there.
If you had to describe your protagonist in three words, what would they be?
Smart, tenacious, compassionate.
What is something about your protagonist that only you know?
She wants to be part of Mars One, whose goal is to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars.
What were you trying to achieve with this story?
I was trying to show that the most unimaginable things can sprout from the most benign beginnings if you just open your mind to it. Ash from wildfires is a threat in and of itself, but it’s something we as humans are familiar with since man first discovered fire. Do we envision alien spores using ash to mask its spread from place to place? Or course not. But if you dive into a story of fantasy or sci-fi or horror or magical realism, ash becomes something more, and anything is possible.
There’s one more reason I wrote this story. I love “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” both the book and the movie versions (1956 with Kevin McCarthy and 1978 with Donald Sutherland). This story was my homage to Jack Finney’s genius.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
When am I not writing? Every time I turn around, I have a deadline for some story or other. But I’m not complaining. I’m one of the lucky ones in that I’m able to pursue my passion for writing and create worlds that I can inhabit for a spell. It’s coming back down to earth that’s a bummer.
Apart from writing, I’m on the New England Board for UNICEF. Knowing I’m doing my part to help children around the world is a great comfort to me.
I also travel a great deal and enjoy exploring our big, beautiful world and meeting all its diverse peoples. I firmly believe that if everyone traveled more, met people from all parts of the world, and shared their food, there would be far less racism, bigotry, and hatred.
What else? I love reading, of course, but with all my writing deadlines, I’m struggling to find time to read for an extended period on a daily basis. I always read in bed before lights out, but find I’m only managing a chapter or two at the most before my eyes start drooping. My goal for this year is to become more organized so I can fit in more reading. I believe that every passionate writer needs to be a passionate reader.
Finally, I love going to the movies. When I do have spare time, it’s a toss up as to whether I should curl up with a good book or go to that movie that everyone’s talking about. Decisions. Decisions.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your stories?
That the story writes itself if only you’d stand back and let it happen. I can’t remember who said it, but some brilliant writer once said that in order to write well you have to get out of your own way. I’m paraphrasing of course, but I think it’s sound advice.
Do you have any suggestions to help others become better writers? If so, what are they?
Yes. Don’t read book after book on how to write. Just sit down with an idea and let it unfold on the screen or on the page. Don’t second-guess yourself. The time to edit or revise is after you’ve written the story. There’s no magic formula. It’s just hard work, determination, and an imagination. That’s it.
What do you think makes a good story?
Creating engaging, likable characters. Great plots are necessary to a good story, of course, but great characters? That’s what sucks a reader in and keeps him—or her—there. A writer can have the best plot in the world, but if her characters are lukewarm and forgettable, the reader won’t stick around. That being said, we, as writers, all hope our characters are engaging and likable. It’s what we strive for, right?
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Write. Write Write. Always. I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to be a writer when I grew up. That, and being an astronomer. I figured I would write during the day and explore the cosmos at night, discovering new worlds and stars. The perfect life.
What is your favorite writing tool or technique?
My laptop. I used to write by hand, which I firmly believed fostered creative thinking, but once, out of necessity, I had to use my laptop to write a few scenes down, and when I next looked up two hours had passed, and I realized, to my amazement, that I had accumulated a vast number of pages. I was hooked and haven’t looked back. My laptop now goes everywhere with me.
How would you describe your general writing voice and tone?
That’s a tough one. I strive for a natural voice that readers can relate to. I was invited to speak at a mystery writer’s conference this past November and afterwards one of the audience members came up to me and said that she found my writing very visual. I consider that a huge compliment. As for tone, it can be light or dark or amusing, depending on the mood of the story. I hope this answers the question satisfactorily.
Share something fun or interesting:
How about a recipe to fit the theme of the anthology?
Credit goes to the following website for this recipe: epicurious.com
(Light As Air Meringues, for In The Air authors and readers)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup superfine sugar
8 egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract (I prefer vanilla for this recipe)
1) Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
2) Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or foil. On each, draw 10 four-inch circles. (I usually spritz with a cooking spray as well).
3) Mix the sugars and set aside.
4) In a bowl or an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and salt. Continue to beat, adding one tablespoon of sugar at a time and beating well after each addition. This will take about 10 minutes.
5) Add the vanilla and beat at high speed until stiff and glossy.
6) Now here the recipe states: “Using a pastry tube fitted with a large plain tip, pipe the meringues in coils starting at the center and continuing to the outside of each circle.” However, I don’t bother with a pastry tube. I just use a plastic bag with one end snipped off and pipe the meringues within the circles on the parchment paper, making them as round as I can. I keep them a little flatter so I can sandwich them together with fillings.
7) Bake about one hour, until cream-colored and firm. Leave the meringues in the turned-off oven for several hours or overnight, without opening the oven door.
8) When ready to serve, carefully peel away the paper or foil. This should be easier if you’ve used cooking spray first.
Note: I serve these sandwiched with freshly-whipped cream folded with strawberries.
Lorraine grew up globally, constantly having to adapt to different cultures. Writing was her escape from the reality of always being the new girl in school. These days she writes for the pure joy of creating new stories instead of escapism. Her short stories have been published in sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and mystery/crime anthologies, and usually feature an Indian protagonist. She has been lucky enough to have her work featured in Transmundane Press’ After the Happily Ever After, On Fire, Transcendent, and the upcoming In The Air anthologies. Find her on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/loneriter; on Instagram at: https://www.instagram.com/loneriter/; on Goodreads at: www.goodreads.com/lorrainesharmanelson; and at her website: www.lorrainesharmanelson.com
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Featured Photo Credit: Padli Pradana