If Desire is Scarcely More Than a Spark: An Interview with Danger Slater, “Impossible James”

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By Gordon B. White

Silent Motorist Media: First and foremost, tell us about Impossible James. What is this novel about and what kind of people should read it?

Danger Slater: It’s about death and birth and families and corporate greed and love and a whole bunch of other really weird horrible things. A terminally ill man impregnates himself his with his own clone, setting off a series of events that may or may not be the cause of an unstoppable existential apocalypse. Anyone should read it because I wrote it and I am awesome.

SMM: What was the genesis of the novel? Because its tendrils touch on so many different themes—parenthood, the struggle to create, existential despair, climate change, near-terminal stage capitalism, gooey and gross body horror—which of these was the seed? Looking back on it, you can trace the growth of it into the Impossible James we have today?

DS: I just thought it’d be funny to write a book about a guy who gives birth to his own clone. Like, how would that even work? What are the personal and philosophical implications of that? From there, I figured out the themes of the book and different characters, and built out a few plot points that seemed interesting to get too, including the ending, and I slowly started building up from there. The son character and narrative style came into play as the story fleshed itself out.

SMM: Is there a passage you could offer us to whet the appetite of those readers who haven’t yet acquired the book? One that maybe captures the james ne sais quoi of the book?

DS: There’s a sentence several people have quoted so far, and it goes like this: “If desire itself is scarcely more than a spark, what’s an arsonist to do when everything is already burning around them?”

SMM: There’s a fascinating fatalism to this book (it is, in fact, subtitled “ a book about death”). The novel kicks off when James Watson Sr. receives a fatal diagnosis of a black spot on the brain: it’s a malignancy that’s sure to kill him…in just a couple of decades, give or take. This confrontation with his mortality is enough to drive him on to quit his job, clone himself, find a partner, and set out to change the world. None of which ultimately makes him happy, however. If a reader were to approach Impossible James as a cautionary tale, what is it warning us about? Is it cautioning us towards anything?

DS: As a cautionary tale, I’m not too sure, because the book deals a lot with the unavoidable nature of who we are as human beings, and it’s hard to caution someone against something that’s inevitable. I suppose its more about acceptance, and trying to find meaning and fulfillment in things that aren’t going to last.

SMM: Impossible James presents us with two warring impulses or, perhaps, strategies for confronting the absurdity of modern existence: Hyper-expansion and hyper-constriction. Maybe ironically, however, the final form is both impossibly tiny and impossibly huge. Is this a tension you see in the world around us? Is this something you’ve looked to tackle in your recent works?

DS: That is EXACTLY what I was going for so thanks for pointing it out! There are these pictures on the internet of like brain neurons and they look identical to clouds of swirling galaxies in space. The separation between the big impersonal things (the universe) and the tiny hyper-personal things (your own thoughts) is not as wide as it seems and may even loop back in on itself if extrapolated far enough. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s certainly a fascinating prism in which to view life.

SMM: In your 2018 novel He Digs a Hole, you employed an unnamed narrator who broke the fourth wall in fairly meta-dramatic ways to express authorial angst. Here you again employ a style which directly addresses the audience, but the narrator is a specific character — James Watson Jr. — so it feels more “grounded” in the story. What is your interest in using this kind of narrative style? What accounts for the differences between the two, particularly the more traditional sort of use of it in Impossible James? Are there any other authors who employ these sort of aesthetic flourishes that you admire?

DS: Oh I really liked the 4th wall breaks in He Digs a Hole, but when I started this book I was trying to think of a way to weave it more organically into the story, so to have a character in the book (who isn’t the main character) narrating the story of the main character directly to YOU the reader, I could employ whatever perspective and narrative techniques I wanted. Kurt Vonnegut used to do this all the time with his books, from inserting himself as the author, to his proxy character Kilgore Trout, so that’s kinda one of my favorite examples of an artist doing it.

SMM: Astute readers of your previous novel, He Digs A Hole, might recognize a few familiar elements here, particularly with regards to Sycamore Lane. The neighborhood where James Sr. lives is also home to Harrison and Tabitha Moss, the protagonists of HDAH, and features cameos from them, as well as neighbors Brad and Jen Flatly.

I was fascinated to see these characters again, and was wondering how you view their use. Do He Digs a Hole and Impossible James take place in the same universe? Or perhaps parallel dimensions? Or is it more like American Horror Story, where the same actors play different roles every season? What sort of advantages or disadvantges does working with these repeated elements present?

DS: Haha. YES, thank you for noticing that too! I just liked the setting of that book and when I was thinking of where to have Impossible James take place, I figured why not put it on the same street? There are lots of crossover characters, but there is no continuity between the two books, so they function more like Easter eggs without the events in any book prior affecting the others. The characters aren’t even necessarily the same, personality-wise. So yeah, I guess it would be like parallel versions of the neighborhood, but I wasn’t thinking of it in those terms. In fact, in my next manuscript I’ve finished I do it again, not set on the same street, but there are callbacks to Sycamore Lane and even a reference to my book Puppet Skin. It’s just fun for loyal readers.

SMM: Finally, what’s next on the Danger-scope? While we’re interested in hearing what you’re working on next, what are you going to be working on next next? What are the projects that are still fever dreams and nebulous nightmares?

DS: So the next book is about a group of five unwilling astronauts who were sent to the moon in 1906 and get trapped there for the next 900 years. I’m calling it ‘Moonfellows’ right now, but that might change, of course. That book is actually finished, but there are no plans for its release anytime soon. What I want to write after that is a book in which someone starts mobilizing all the people in their neighborhood to work together to build an impossibly huge tower to get past the sky so they can climb into heaven and confront God. I haven’t started working on that one yet, but it’s coming together slowly in my head.

Danger Slater is the Wonderland award winning writer of I Will Rot Without You as well as other works of Bizarro and horror fiction. You can follow him on Twitter, where he’ll be making bad jokes all day: @Danger_Slater

Gordon B. White has lived in North Carolina, New York, and the Pacific Northwest. He is a 2017 graduate of the Clarion West Writing Workshop, and his fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in venues such as Pseudopod, Daily Science Fiction, Tales to Terrify, and the Bram Stoker Award® winning anthology Borderlands 6. Gordon also contributes reviews and interviews to various other outlets including Nightmare, Lightspeed, and Hellnotes. You can find him online at www.gordonbwhite.com.

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