From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Author Spotlight: Scott William Carter and Ray Vukcevich

Which one of you two had the initial idea for “A Stray?” What inspired this story?

Scott: Well, let’s see. If I recall—and that’s always an iffy thing—there was a fair amount of brainstorming involved. After I bludgeoned Ray into collaborating with me, I shot him an email with some ideas. We went back and forth a bit on this idea of an emotionally traumatized man literally walling himself off from the world who has this encounter with an unusual cat. I may have come up with the gist of the original idea, but Ray refined it, playing up the blindness, adding subtle layers of depth. I was chomping on the bit to get writing the story, but Ray held back until we had a clearer sense of a story—which was probably a good thing in this case.

Ray: I think that’s right. The story evolved. Scott kicked off the idea. The father stuff and so on. Sending messages by cat was an idea I took from my idea journal. And I’ve been writing more about blindness in the last few years since I’ve had a good deal of trouble with my own sight. We just kept bouncing the ideas off each other until it came together.

How did this collaboration come about? Could you describe the writing process itself involved in this collaboration?

Scott: I’ve wanted to collaborate with Ray ever since I read his brilliant stories in the old Eugene, Oregon writing workshop back in the early nineties. I was a wee young lad of nineteen or twenty at the time and I was blown away by his unique voice and the power of his imagery. It wasn’t until years later, after I’d sold a novel and a couple dozen short stories, that I felt even remotely ready to ask him.

The point of collaborations, for me, is to come away feeling like you learned something about another writer’s process that might make you a better a writer, and I certainly feel that way. I’ve collaborated with three professional writers now and each was a unique experience. Only two of those collaborations ended in a finished story, both of which sold, but all three were an unqualified success in my mind.

Ray: This is only the second successful collaboration I have ever had. The other one sold, too, but by “successful” I mean “finished.” I find it very difficult to write with other people. You often hear it said that when two people collaborate, a third person emerges. I think that is probably right. The assimilation process can be painful, but Scott made it easier with his endless patience. It took quite a long time.

The protagonist in “A Stray” is going blind. What is the significance of blindness in your story? What was it that James could not “see” about Claudia?

Scott: Rather than get too far down in the weeds on that question, with Ray’s permission I’d like to answer in a slightly different way. Looking back over my notes on this story, I came across a Word file with some of our email exchanges/notes. If Ray wouldn’t mind including it, I put it below* —feel free to share it with your readers. I think it’s interesting because it shows us making some decisions about where the story’s going. Whether we succeeded or not we’ll have to leave to the readers!

Ray: Sure. A lot of the hard work went on in those exchanges. Beyond the obvious mapping between “seeing” and “understanding” there is the isolation that blindness can bring. We see that in this story.

Oh, and whatever happened to Schrodinger’s Cat anyway?

Scott: I have the box under my bed. I’m afraid to open it, though. As long as I don’t open it, it doesn’t smell.

Ray: Isn’t it about time we left the cats alone and started using dogs in that box?

Are there any other collaborations between the two of you in the works?

Scott: Not now, but I’d certainly be opening to doing another. But I think we’re both fairly reluctant collaborators. As I said before, I do it to learn. Contrary to what some readers may think, collaborations are usually more work for half the money, so it’s not something I jump into eagerly. But if the right project came up, I wouldn’t hesitate collaborating with Ray again.

Ray: Oh, if the right idea came up, I would be willing to do it again. Scott made the process pretty painless. It’s just that for me writing in collaboration is an entirely different way of writing from what I usually do. Sure, the voices in my head might negotiate among themselves, but they all are, after all, in my head.

Do either of you have any upcoming projects or publications you would like to mention?

Scott: Well, first I have to mention Ray’s collection, Meet Me in the Moon Room. If you haven’t read it, you really should. It’s pure genius.

As far as my own work, my first book, The Last Great Getaway of the Water Balloon Boys, is due out from Simon and Schuster in April 2010. PS Publishing is coming out with an Author Showcase of six of my stories in the next few weeks called A Web of Black Widows—I’m really proud of this one. I also have a collection of my best stories coming out from Fantastic Books called The Dinosaur Diaries and Other Tales Across Space in Time, which includes stories that appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Analog, Asimov’s, Ellery Queen, and lots of other places.

Ray: You can find several recent short story publications of mine from the links on my web site RayVuk.com. My collection, Meet Me in the Moon Room, is still in print. Later this year, another collection of my short fiction called Boarding Instructions will be released by Fairwood Press.

*Authors’ Notes:

Some notes from Ray:

So, Jim is divorced and must have a little money saved because he’s bought a house and is holed up in it while he ignores everyone and blacks out the windows. Maybe he should spray them black. And he sees this cat with the hallucinatory head and thinks hmm maybe I should get a cat especially a cat like this that will just come around when it wants to be friendly and then go away kind of like the ideal woman. He puts out a bowl of soup for the cat not having milk maybe he should get some milk next time he has to go to the grocery story but he won’t have to go for a long time so the cat will just have to drink soup and like it. Maybe he should make a special trip to the grocery store.

We may need a tighter vp. Is that a cat? It has no head. Maybe a local woodland creature with no head. Or wounded. On its last legs about to go round and round and flop down dead in his yard. And he’d be wondering what the heck he was going to do with a dead cat, the neighbors all looking at him like he was a cat killer just moved in why not they didn’t know him he might be a serial cat killer for all they knew. Jim put down the last of the butcher paper (hey wait a minute! Is there any such thing as black butcher paper? What kind of butcher would wrap the meat in black paper?) Maybe insert the voice in head into Scott’s narrative? (In fact, he’s thinking. . .)

Maybe he has a light sensitive eye condition?

—It’s about how you could just walk around the fence and look, but you don’t.

Ray,

I like the idea of him going blind, and that’s the reason his wife left him. I like how that resonates with him “straying” off the path, losing sight of what’s important in life, so to speak. For this type of story, you’re probably right about not having time for him to resist the cat, so it’s probably a good idea having him drawn to it. I figure at some point he’s going to go through a photo album and see an old black and white photo of his father doing some gardening (maybe that was one of his father’s loves), and then he pulls out a magnifying glass and sees the same cat there peeking out from under the hedge. That’s where he had seen the cat before.

If you want to make him more active (and hence less pathetic), maybe we could have him try to stop his father from committing suicide—or at least debate about it. We could make his feelings about his father more mixed. Maybe his father was an alcoholic and physically abusive, and so he’s not sure it would be a good idea to stop him anyway. Would his life have been better or worse? Probably worse, since his mother was able to build a better life for them after the father committed suicide.

Anyway, just some thoughts. I’ll wait a while to see if you come up with anything. I have no timetable—just enjoying the process.

P.S. One other quick thought, since we’re still in the brainstorming phase. I have this idea of there being a knock at the door at the end. And of course, he thinks it might be his father. He’s nervous as hell, and he’s not sure if he should answer it. It’s the whole Schrodinger’s cat thing: he believes that if he opens the door, and sees his father, then his whole world will change. If he doesn’t open the door, then his father still doesn’t exist.

Maybe the final image is him opening the door and being completely blinded by the light. With his eyes watering, he squints out at the shape standing before him.

“Dad?”

And that would be the end. Just end it on that line.

Well, just some other thoughts to toss into the stew while the ideas are percolating. 🙂

~Scott

Hi Scott

It looks like it’s off to a good start.

This will probably drive you crazy, but I’m not ready to do any actual writing on it yet. I just can’t “see” the story yet. So, rather than make you wait (you may be eager to add to it), I’m just going to make a few comments and kick it back to you. First, I think we need to make him a little less pathetic. I think we want to be rooting for him. Next, I think he should like cats and be drawn toward it at once. We don’t have time (I think) to do the hero’s journey bit where he resists the call. Maybe he should have a light sensitive eye condition? I know a thing or two about eye conditions (but, alas, not that one). Maybe the wife situation could be a little more complicated? She leaves him right in the middle of what feels like going blind?  I’m thinking the story might, on one level, be about how you could just walk around the fence and look, but you don’t. Anyway, do some more, if you want, or wait for the words to build up in my head to a point where they spill out. 🙂

Ray

TJ_HeadshotT.J. McIntyre has seen his short fiction and poetry published in numerous publications including recent appearances in Everyday Weirdness, Ruthless Peoples Magazine, and Scifaikuest. He is a member of various writing organizations, including the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA), and serves as a moderator for the Lobo Luna and Western Writers writing communities on LiveJournal. Until earlier this year, he published Southern Fried Weirdness, an anthology and web zine celebrating speculative fiction and poetry with a Southern perspective. He lives in a busy household in the muggy heart of rural Alabama with his wife, two young sons, an aging Doberman mix, five tiger barbs, and three salt-and-pepper catfish.