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 Alex Zalben and his story “Float.”
ABOUT THE STORY
What came first, the plot or the characters?
Not to avoid the question (I know, I’m a stinker), but it was the concept first, the idea of a girl that was lighter than air. One thing led to another—if she’s lighter than air, how would she live day to day, for example. Once I had a general idea of how it might work, I tried to decide if there was an emotional trigger for her, a decision she needed to make or something she was struggling with. So, character second. Then: plot, third. Okay, maybe I’m not such a stinker.
If you had to describe your protagonist in three words, what would they be?
Bereft, brilliant, buoyant
What is something about your protagonist that only you know?
If I tell you, then you’ll know, too! But okay, okay… She’s all of us. Well, she’s all of us nerds. Or people who ever felt awkward in some way. Who had something in our teenage years that we thought dragged us down, but once we figured how to use the skill, let us soar.
Which scene was the most difficult to write and why?
On a technical level figuring out the mechanics of how a lighter than air person would float through the air was tricky (and hopefully works). But on an emotional level, getting Laney to a place where she feels like maybe she wants to end it all was… Hard, particularly because I like her (and identify with her).
What were you trying to achieve with this story?
I went through a lot of rough times as a teenager, and I think we all do as adults as well. There was a point when I was unsure where Laney would go, what she would choose. I’ll let the reader discover what happens to her, but—without being too vague—her decision is one I’d hope more people could come around to.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
My day job is writing about and editing entertainment journalism, so I watch TV professionally. I know, tough job. But hey, I like it! Also, I love to cook and do it every night if I can.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your stories?
Pacing is always fascinating to me in fiction. My background is in stage-writing and screen-writing, so I’m used to pacing with dialogue and action. Doing that in prose is different and a lot of fun.
Do you have any suggestions to help others become better writers? If so, what are they?
Write, all the time, without any goal, whenever you can. Write as many different styles as you can to challenge yourself. But more than anything, write for yourself. Until you’ve written the thing, the thing isn’t written.
What do you think makes a good story?
An emotional theme is key. If it doesn’t say something or make you feel something, it’s not fiction.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
For a while, I wanted to be a gastrointestinal surgeon because I was the only person who successfully removed a frog’s entire digestive system in science class. Later, I discovered you don’t do that to humans, so I moved over to theater. It was a lateral move.
What is your favorite writing tool or technique?
Back in the day, I swore by a yellow pad and paper. Now, I always write on the computer, and firmly believe it doesn’t matter what program you use as long as you’re writing something. That said, my absolute favorite simple technique is making my writing window full-screen. It keeps me completely focused on the document, so I don’t “just happen” to click to check my e-mail for a bit.
How would you describe your general writing voice and tone?
Oh my gosh, I have no idea. I try to write things that mix the personal and the fantastical, which is what I’m drawn towards. That’s not writing voice or tone, exactly. I guess I am a stinker, after all.
Share something fun or interesting:
I don’t always write to music, but sometimes it’s good to get a feeling while writing a specific scene. I find songs with lyrics distracting, so I put together a playlist of some of my favorite TV and Movies songs, which gives me a wide gamut to draw on, depending on the mood I’m going for. Hope it helps someone else!
Alex Zalben is the author of an all-ages comic book series for Marvel, “Thor and the Warriors Four.” His short fiction has recently been featured in Splickety Magazine, Gypsum Sound Tales “Thuggish Itch” anthology, Third Flatiron’s “Galileo’s Theme Park” anthology, and an issue of Enchanted Conversation Magazine. For the past decade he’s hosted the live show and podcast Comic Book Club, which has been profiled in the New York Times. He currently works as Managing Editor at Decider.com, with previous bylines on TV Guide, MTV News and more.
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Featured Photo Credit: Still Dreaming by Anka Zhuravleva