Join us as we peek behind the scenes of our upcoming anthology, ON TIME. Learn more about E.J. LeRoy in her featured interview.
ABOUT THE STORY
What inspired your story?
Before I had the idea for “Babel of Silence,” I read a few dystopian novels. What these stories had in common was an overarching power that silenced its citizens in one form or another. This got me thinking. What if silence alone was imposed upon a society’s prisoners? No infliction of pain, no surgical mutilations, no mysterious disappearances, no public censure or humiliation, no executions- just silence. Once I got going with this idea, I realized that imposed silence could be torture enough, especially if those physically prevented from speaking didn’t share a common sign language. And from this wayward thought, “Babel of Silence” and its insidious “voice shackles” were born.
Can you tell us a little bit about your protagonist?
Vernonia “Veria” Carter is a shameless, unrepentant movie pirate and film aficionado who has a soft spot for family and friends. She would be quite at home hosting an award ceremony, dining with celebrities, starring in a reality TV series, or all three.
What is the most interesting thing about the world you’ve created?
I think the voice shackles used to prevent prisoners from speaking was an inspired idea. They don’t cause the wearer pain, and prisons go out of their way to keep inmates safe, healthy, entertained, and somewhat comfortable. But the trade-off of taking prisoners’ voices away fascinates me. Hopefully, this aspect of the world I’ve created will give readers pause as well.
What genre or mix of genres does your story fit into?
“Babel of Silence” is mostly science fiction because of the imagined technology behind the voice shackles. There are also aliens, which are favorites of the genre. But elements of dystopia exist as well, even though the story isn’t drenched in darkness and hopelessness.
How have your personal experiences influenced this story?
As a writer, both written and spoken language is important to me. The idea that I could be silenced through injury, illness, or a government mandate is disturbing. But if these things ever came to pass, I would try to overcome obstacles or work around them somehow, just like Veria and Sapphire do in “Babel of Silence.”
What would you like readers to take away from your story?
My primary goal as a writer is to entertain readers rather than preach. However, I would like readers think about the importance of communication, not give up hope in difficult times, and appreciate family- whether that family is biological or “found.”
What was your favorite part of the story to write and why?
I wouldn’t say I had a single favorite section or scene of the story, but I loved helping Veria and Sapphire’s friendship blossom despite their imposed muteness. When I finished the story, it was nearly 8,000 words, so I needed to do a lot of pruning. That part wasn’t fun, but when I finished excising the subplots, whittling down the exposition, and clipping unnecessary dialogue tags, I had a story I could be proud of. And the ending still gets to me, especially the last line. So I guess you could say my favorite part was its completion, when everything just felt right.
What was the most difficult part of writing “Babel of Silence”?
First, trimming the work down to size was borderline excruciating. You try reducing an 8,000 word story to 5,000 words. That’s a 37.5% cut. Even after getting rid of unnecessary dialogue tags and giving Veria a more clipped internal monologue style in alignment with her character, there was still a lot to get rid of. The subplot involving hover scooters had to go, which was probably for the best. Unnecessary details about the hemp factory? Gone. Overly long descriptions of settings and fictional card games? Goodbye. When all those things got pulled out of the story, I still had to make additional cuts. The trick was eliminating unnecessary words and descriptions without losing any plot points that were essential to the story. It was an often brutal process, but in the end, that 37.5% reduction made the story leaner, tighter, and more polished.
Second, there was one scene I really struggled to write. Near the beginning of the story, Veria gets into a fistfight when one of her fellow inmates cheats at cards. At first, I made the choreography ambiguous, leaving it up to the reader’s imagination to decide who throws the first punch. But this was a cop out, and I knew it. For narrative and character purposes, I knew Veria had to throw the first punch. And that was hard for me. The idea of a protagonist never initiating a fight is so ingrained in our cultural psyche, that I was frozen at the keyboard for a long time while I mentally debated what to do. Veria is in prison for pirating movies, and she isn’t sorry, but the reader has to like her enough to read the story and accept her as a protagonist. Wouldn’t giving her the first punch make her too unlikeable, too villainous? But when I read through the story again, and watched her friendship with Sapphire develop, her moral ambiguity became clear to me. Yes, she’s a crook, but she has some positive character traits. Isolated from her family on a distant planet, robbed of her voice, and stripped of meaningful contact, Veria needed to throw that first punch. Because that’s exactly what the character would do, whether our sensibilities as readers approve of her course of action or not. So, if your protagonist needs to throw the first punch, don’t hold back. Let that fist fly!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
When did you write your first story, how old were you, and what was it about?
I announced my intention to become a writer when I was four years old, and I don’t think my first story came too long after that. It was a poem actually, and I recall being about five or six years old when I wrote it. My mother bought me those markers with little stamps attached to the ends, and one of them looked like paw prints. So I made a border out of purple paw prints and wrote a ditty about raccoons in the middle of it. We had trouble with raccoons living under our deck at the time, and at night, they would leave their muddy paw prints all over my play equipment. The only thing I remember writing specifically was something along the lines of how sad it was that little kids had to go to school when little raccoons got to play all day. My parents thought it was a cute poem, but it got lost at some point. As for an actual story, we had to write them regularly in the first grade. My classmates consistently hated my work, all thumbs down. I think even the girl who gave everyone a thumbs up couldn’t bring herself to say she liked my squirrel story. My own mother said it needed work! But because I kept practicing and didn’t give up, I now have a second speculative story in a Transmundane Press anthology.
What is your writing survival checklist? (Aka, what helps your write the best: music, snacks, coffee, complete silence, a stress ball, a cat, or an outline, etc.)
I need a full bottle of water, Microsoft Word, internet access for research, a pen, scratch paper, a printer, and silence with no distractions. Lately, I’ve taken to writing notes in a dot journal or on a separate MS word document to prevent cluttering my work area with sticky notes. But paper scraps still manage to sneak onto my desk now and then. With the exception of taking sporadic notes, whether on paper or in a separate computer document, I generally don’t create outlines. Once I have an idea, I run with it. Sometimes I write scenes in order, other times I don’t. When I finish a story, I’m always amazed how my scattered thoughts, notes, and intermittent flashes of inspiration managed to form themselves into a coherent narrative.
What has influenced you most as a writer?
Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style gave me a good foundation for my writing, but it was only a start. This is going to sound like I’m kissing up, but the editors at Transmundane Press gave me some great, lasting comments on my first accepted piece, “The DeVore Incident.” At the time, I was quite pleased with myself for completing and submitting my first ever speculative short story. And I beamed when it got accepted. But when I received Alisha and Anthony’s first round of edits, I said to myself, “They actually accepted this dumpster fire?” Not only did they help me repair a major plot hole, they prodded me to “show, don’t tell” with specific examples of how to fix problems in this area. “Show, don’t tell” is one of those phrases people tell writers a lot without providing practical solutions. The editors at Transmundane Press didn’t do my work for me, but they pushed me in the right direction with helpful feedback. Now, whenever I’m writing or editing a piece, I hear Alisha and Anthony saying, “Eh… that’s a cliché. Dig into the feeling. If this character is angry, what does that look like?” They also helped me strengthen my work through active voice rather than passive and past tense instead of past perfect. I truly believe my fiction writing has improved because of their guidance.
What font do you prefer to write in?
I write in Times New Roman, 12 point font. It irritates me that Microsoft Word wants me to use Calibri.
Do you have any writing blogs/vlogs/podcasts, etc. that you would recommend?
I love Erica Verrillo’s blog Publishing… and Other Forms of Insanity. She posts paying submission calls every month, sometimes more, in a variety of genres. It was through her “Calls for Submissions” page that I originally found Transmundane Press! Another great resource for speculative writers is Horror Tree, which also posts submission calls. Submittable Content for Creatives, which I write for sometimes, is another good blog for writers.
What is your favorite and least favorite word, and why?
I don’t have a favorite word, probably because the English language has so many good ones. But a word I despise is “ministrations.” For some reason, it sounds pornographic to me in a manner that I wouldn’t even be comfortable reading in a pornographic story. Maybe I’ve just seen the word too much in amateur or fan fiction stories. It’s just icky to me.
E.J. LeRoy is a freelance writer, poet, and aspiring novelist whose work has appeared at Submittable Content for Creatives. “The DeVore Incident,” LeRoy’s first published speculative short story, appears in the Transmundane Press anthology In the AIR. Visit the author’s website at http://ejleroy.weebly.com.