interview by Vianne Venter
From Issue 18 (Feb 2012)
Where is home?
Pittsburgh, in a small brick house—I moved here for college and fell in love with the city (mostly because I fell in love, period. Pittsburgh is where I met Sonja).
Are you a full-time writer?
Unfortunately…not even close. Maybe someday. For the past ten years I’ve worked at the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped as a “reader’s advisor”—basically talking books all day. We circulate audiobooks, mostly, but also large print and Braille, and since we’re a public library, the service is free. It’s a national program, so if anyone out there knows someone who’s struggling to read standard-sized print, head on over to www.loc.gov/nls for more info. I think Canada, England and South Africa have similar programs!
What inspired this story?
Like a lot of my stories, this one showed up one morning as a fully-formed image: of a man in overalls disintegrating as he’s shuffling down the street. Figuring out who that man was and what was happening to him created the story.
The concept of a Disposable Man is brilliant. Where did that idea come from?
Thanks! I’ll try not to get mired in politics here, but the idea of him being “disposable” was most definitely a reflection of my post-9/11 pessimism, when America found itself in two wars without clear purpose, every evening saw updates of the color-coded “terrorist threat levels,” and xenophobia simmered beneath the national debate. There seemed to be little concern for the effects of our country’s actions globally, and meanwhile the economy tanked—the richer getting richer while the poor got poorer…and more numerous. It seemed like we were willing to make certain values and individuals “disposable” in exchange for…what? Patriotism? A false sense of security? The mandated age-limit is, of course, a reference to Logan’s Run. The plot really snapped into place, though, thinking of Rudolph Maté’s classic noir D.O.A.—a man’s been poisoned and he only has a few days to figure out the crime. The movie has a tremendous opening: Edmond O’Brien walking into a police station to report his own murder.
Why Presidents? And why specifically McKinleys and Palins?
The idea of “memorializing” Presidents (all from a certain political persuasion) as a way to fill menial jobs which, in conjunction with “the gainful employment act” mentioned in the world of the story (one character calls this law the “spic act,” knowing full well it was intended to push non-whites from the country), seemed a fitting metaphor for the jingoism and xenophobia that often colors our politics. As for McKinley…I was raised in Canton, Ohio—William McKinley’s hometown, so his specter has always loomed large in my imagination. Canton has the tremendous hillside McKinley Monument/mausoleum where the city gathers to watch 4th of July fireworks. He’s a sympathetic figure—married to (and stayed faithful to) a beautiful woman, Ida, who lost her sanity, frothing at the mouth and suffering psychotic delusions. He was a good man, it seemed—too pro-business, maybe, and some say a puppet to more powerful interests, but a sympathetic character. I’ve written about him a few times.
Why do you think SF is so effective as a medium for social commentary?
It has the ability to operate as metaphor and to imaginatively push our current cultural trends to their logical, and often absurd, ends.
Why British currency?
I love Burgess’s infusion of Russian into Nadsat, and how that detail hints at some unspecified cultural influence or tangled global political scenario for his future England. While certainly not as brilliantly executed or as nimble as Burgess’s writing, the British currency and occasional “Britishness” in my story is an experiment in creating a similar effect.
Tell us about the closing images of the story.
The ecstasies of love, death, sex and God have been stripped away from these “disposable men”, their dying thoughts instead a pre-programmed concoction of, essentially, “mom, apple pie and the 4th of July”—I kind of like how, despite the bleak and critical tone of the story, these last thoughts still operate as a happy ending of sorts.
Are you working on anything right now?
Yes! By early summer I’ll have put the finishing touches on a manuscript for a novel, and I’m always trying to keep up with my short stories.
Where can we find more of your work?
I have a short story called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the current issue of Icarus Magazine and you can follow me on Twitter @LetterSwitch for updates
Vianne Venter is a freelance writer and sub-editor for various South African publications. She served as story editor and sub for Something Wicked since its inception in 2005. She is also an artist and mother. She can communicate with inanimate objects, but only if they’re feeling chatty. In her spare time… oh, who are we kidding? What spare time?