Today’s mini-interview comes from the wonderful author of our cover story, Steven R. Stewart. Let’s jump in head first.
1. For those who haven’t read it yet, can you describe “She Who Lies In Secret” in one sentence?
“She Who Lies in Secret” is about a lot of things–young love, the danger of chasing an unrealistic ideal, psychic mermaids, neurological damage, plumbing–but it is chiefly the sad tale of a monstrous evil’s last victim.
2. It’s such a fascinating take on the “mermaid” sort of fairy tale, and I know you worked on it for a long time–where did you find your inspiration, both in terms of theme and your two main characters?
The story itself actually came together pretty quickly. In 2009, I worked security at a local university, so I spent my nights in dark rooms, walking lonely sidewalks, snooping around the old mansion that served as a campus library. One night we had a bad storm, so I was holed up in the campus coffee shop, sitting in the dark, watching the rain spatter the windows, and my buddy Rusty called. We started talking, and a few hours later, we had the basic premise for “She Who Lies in Secret.” I spent the next few nights working on it, finished it, shared it with friends, then sat on it for two years. It was such a long story, and so dark, I knew it would be hard to sell. Then RPP came along–there’s nothing quite like finding that editor who sees what you’re going for.
As for the characters, I think initially, I didn’t give them a lot of thought. In my scribbled outline, they sort of were what they did, then they grew in the telling. Derek was like too many guys I grew up with, aimless, bored, uncertain what to do with the rest of their lives now that high school was over and college proved to be a poor fit. It’s easy for guys like that to fall into trouble; hell, I think part of them wants trouble, if only to break up the boredom. Sophie was another person I’d met too often: a smart, pretty girl who hadn’t lived up to her potential, lost faith in herself, abandoned her dreams, and settled into “getting by.” You might not believe it reading the story, but I like Sophie and Derek both. I feel for them. I think they’re good kids who landed in a very sticky mess; I’m glad at least one of them got out of it alive.
As for Araie, she’s a monster–there’s no other word for her. She’s an inhuman thing who perfectly plays the human game. She knows exactly how much truth to include in a lie to make it palatable. She has no morality, no qualms, no sense of “too much” or “that’s unfair.” If you think about this story as the end of Araie’s life, it becomes a really satisfying story. I think of Araie as something very old, older than humanity, a creature who inflicted immeasurable suffering in her lifetime. Yes, what she does to Derek and Sophie is awful, but at least she fails. At least now she’s gone. That’s a good thing for the world.
Someday, I’d like to revisit Araie in another story, perhaps in her prime. By the time we meet her in “She Who Lies in Secret,” she is greatly weakened, so I’d like to go back to when she first encountered humanity and realized she could not only rule vast portions of the sea, but the land as well. That sounds like a lot of fun.
I didn’t set out to explore a theme; I was really just trying to create a piece of creepy entertainment, but like the characters, the theme grew in the telling. I found myself thinking about the concept of “that perfect person” or “soul mates” or whatever you’d like to call it, and how that idea often prevents people from seeing the good things right in front of them. I can’t begin to estimate how many potentially good relationships were gutted and left to rot on that particular altar. I suspect that sometimes (only sometimes) the “soul mates” idea serves as a romantic shroud that hides pathological greed, the desire to always reach higher, to continually fill a bottomless pit. Derek loves Sophie when he can’t have her, and when she falls for him (albeit as the result of some absolutely sickening manipulation), he no longer wants her. He decides there must be something wrong with her if she loves him. That kind of thinking is poisonous, and I guess I recognized an opportunity to comment on it as the story came together.
3. Man, that is totally the Derek Vibe–and I would love to see Araie again. She’s a beautiful monster. So what’s next for your writing, and where can we keep track of you?
I’m currently revising a novel about a guy and a girl who are tricked into taking a love potion that makes them fall madly in love when they’re apart, but not when they’re together. Basically, they end up having to spend all their time together in an attempt to fight off the lovey-doveys. It was immensely fun to write, but in my experience, nothing is immensely fun to revise, so I’m taking my sweet time with it.
I’m also putting together a comic book proposal about an orphanage where all the kids are clones of famous serial killers. My brother Tim is doing a piece of art for the proposal, and it is absolutely gorgeous. I’m very excited.
Beyond that, I’m sporadically writing new stories and blogging at stevenrstewart.com.
Oh, so much goodness. Thanks for humoring us, Steve! For those of you who haven’t seen “She Who Lies in Secret” yet–hard to resist, right?