An Interview with John Possidente

As a young adult, John Possidente spent more time than he should have on motorcycles. Throughout the 1990s, he wrote for PC games. For the most part, he eschews social media. (He says he likes the word ‘eschew’.) He says that if all goes well, he’ll come out with a novel one of these days. And yes, he’s still raising butterflies.

You can read John Possidente’s ‘The Deliverers’ here on IZ Digital.

IZ Digital: The voice in ‘The Deliverers’ is incredibly distinctive and the narrative is very propulsive. I loved hearing this character. When did you hit on the idea of a courier travelling on ‘electric motors silent as ninja’, tapping away to blues tunes?

John Possidente: Byron Darwin Guapisaca kind of inserted himself into the story. I’d recently re-read Roger Zelazny’s Roadmarks, in which the protagonist travels a highway through alternate timelines, and I thought it would be fun to write a romance with characters stuck on a narrow path, chased by moon-fall, circling the equator in opposite directions and only meeting on a tight schedule. Of course that would never work, because – as I figured out after doing way too much math about their schedule – there are oceans in the way.

So I turned the characters’ path by ninety degrees – but why would they be crossing this dangerous lane of moondust in the first place? One answer is to deliver cargoes. Can’t fly across it, can’t build railways, it’s too unstable for digging tunnels, so you send people. Who usually ends up doing the dangerous jobs? The undereducated and disadvantaged.

I needed somebody in a bad situation who was also young, reckless, and foolhardy enough to squeeze fun out of a dangerous job. Also a local boy. Byron volunteered, and his voice came with him. When I reread it now, I can pick out some unconscious influences on his voice: Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat, the gang members in Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, and the Blues Brothers, among others.

IZD: How long had you been wanting to tell a story set in a future Ecuador where chunks of the moon are raining down on Earth?

JP: Once the idea of the moonfall was there, Ecuador was the logical place. If a stream of regolith were propelled from the moon toward Earth, I suspect (waving my hands) something something gravity, I don’t know, but it would end up dropping most heavily along the equator. That meant setting the action in Africa or South America. (The island nations of southern Asia could just use boats.) I don’t know enough about central African culture to set a story there, and I felt the economic disparities needed to drive the plot wouldn’t seem out of place in a future Ecuador.

IZD: What is your earliest memory of science fiction and what led you to start writing?

JP: I grew up in the Apollo era; science fiction was unavoidable. I think Irwin Allens’s The Time Tunnel might have come first. Or maybe the original Space Ghost cartoon? Ray Harryhausen films? Star Trek? When I found out science fiction also came in books, that’s when it blew up for me. Reading was the absolute best way to spend a weekend; of course I wanted to write it, too.

Some writers have a favourite time or place to write; others write wherever and whenever. What writing habits, if any, do you have?

JP: I wish I did have writing habits. I’d probably be more productive. I think the only constant is that when I get really stuck, when a story just isn’t working out and I don’t know why, I read books and articles on the craft of writing. If that doesn’t help, I try smashing two unrelated stories together. Sometimes an utterly mad juxtaposition will re-ignite creativity.

IZD: Your Humboldt Station stories have all appeared in Interzone. When did you hit on that particular character and can you remember the moment when you knew it was going to be a series of interconnected tales?

JP: Debin the character is hard for me to talk about, because there are big empty spaces where some of the usual character traits would be. I don’t know if this worked, but I hoped to leave Debin undefined enough that any reader could insert themselves into the story. Part of the fun of fiction is putting yourself into someone else’s skin. They had to be a journalist, though. Who else spends their time digging for the truth, being lied to constantly, and not getting paid enough?

Right from the start, I’d been tying to throw in details to hint at other things going on – a wider universe – but I found out there might actually be a larger story behind it all when I started writing the third one (‘The Ephemeral Quality of Mersay’). I’d decided to push the ravaging neurophage subplot into the background – for reasons that were obvious in 2020 – and I needed something to fill that space. The entire ridiculous conspiracy theory that became ‘The Mischief That is Past’ just popped into my head one afternoon, and that’s been the launchpad for what I hope will be an enjoyable ride.

IZD: Can you imagine the Debin stories growing into something like a mosaic novel or a character-focused collection?

JP: That would be fun. I do have the skeleton of some larger arcs planned out, but most of the details are still up in the air. Pilot Schneider is definitely going to have a larger part to play. Readers seemed to like her. Let’s hope Debin survives it all.

IZD: What would be your advice for other writers? What do you know that you wished you had known sooner?

JP: All the good advice is already out there. Neil Gaiman says, ‘Finish what you write.’ That’s vital. Ray Bradbury said, ‘Write what you’re passionate about.’ Also wise. Ursula LeGuin said, ‘Begin your story with a voice.’ (That one might have had some influence on ‘The Deliverers’.)

Maybe this: remember, when it’s time to try to get your work published, that’s not writing anymore. That’s business. Be professional, be courteous, be patient – and most of all don’t get discouraged.

IZD: Which novels or short stories have left a big impression on you recently?

JP: I don’t have as much time to read as I’d like, but right now I’m enjoying John Appel’s Assassin’s Orbit. Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust novels have been a pleasant surprise, too; revisiting a world you thought you were finished with can be difficult to do well.

IZD: When it comes to short story writers, who do you admire most stylistically?

JP: That’s a tough one. So many writers, so many different approaches, and there’s something to admire about nearly all of them. Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree’s insight, Brian Aldiss’ innovation, Gene Wolfe’s prose, Ursula LeGuin’s depth, Brunner and Ballard’s courage to experiment, Harlan Ellison’s energy, the way Zelazny, Leigh Bracket, and Ray Bradbury made it look effortless – and that’s just some of the old guard. Where do you stop?

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