Time for my third post as part of the Book of Apex Volume 4 Blog Tour! My previous posts include an interview with author Adam-Troy Castro and my review of the Book of Apex Volume 4. Today I have an interview with Rahul Kanakia, who has written for many short story collections and anthologies.
Rinn: I would first of all like to say thank you Rahul, for letting me interview you. Tomorrow’s Dictator was a pretty harrowing story – peoples’ emotions and behaviours being modified and optimised. How did you come up with the idea for ‘adjustments’?
Rahul: During college, I lived in a vegetarian co-op: a huge house with about fifty students who all cooked and cleaned and lived communally. We were a pretty motley and disorganized lot, except for one girl who was incredibly efficient and well organized. She woke early, exercised frequently, ate right, slept on a mattress out on the porch, and lived in a room with almost no furniture or possessions. She was also extremely even-tempered and never raised her voice or appeared to be visibly annoyed. As such, she was the only person whose complaints and ‘suggestions’ I’d ever take seriously, because, quite frankly, her perfection was quite eerie.
Our coop also ran by consensus, which means that every single person has to agree on a proposal in order for it to be enacted. In practice, this meant that nothing ever got enacted and that everyone did whatever they wanted. At one point, I suggested that we–as per ancient Roman tradition–unanimously acclaim this girl as our dictator (a joke that, of course, she did not particularly enjoy). And that’s where the story came from.
As for adjustments, I’m not sure. That’s something that I played around with in a bunch of stories, and it never quite worked out right. In a world where anyone can be adjusted to be any way that you want, there’s not much room for stories, since most stories are basically about how the protagonist got adjusted to be one way or the other. In this case, though, the story fit just right and everything came together.
Rinn: If you could ‘adjust’ one emotion or behaviour, what would it be? I know I take things too personally and get quite hung up on it, so I would change that!
Rahul: I’d probably adjust myself to be less self-important and condescending.
Rinn: Do you prefer to write short stories over longer works?
Rahul: I prefer to write longer works. Short stories are harder and less enjoyable, because the least enjoyable part of any work is figuring out all the basics: setting, character, conflict, voice, character arc, etc. And the most enjoyable part is when you’ve figured all of that out, and the story starts writing itself. In a short story, the moment you figure that stuff out, then you can write it in about a day. But in a novel, you’ve got months of fun before it ends. However, once you write a short story, you can send it out and sell it and have it published in a fairly short span of time. With novels, the gratification takes much longer.
Rinn: Have you got any particular favourite stories in the Book of Apex Volume 4?
Rahul: Yes! I really liked David J. Schwartz’ “Bear In Contradicting Landscape.” It’s a surrealist story that comes together with that perfect dream-logic that writers are always trying (and failing) to fake. You can tell that the events in the story–though they are seemingly arbitrary–are actually determined by some intuitive aesthetic sense on the part of the author.
Rinn: Have you always been a big fan of science fiction?
Rahul: Yep, ever since I was about ten years old and my mom gave me a copy of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation (Which was a book that she’d enjoyed as a girl growing up in India in the 1960s!)
Rinn: Is there anything you’d like to see left out of science fiction?
Rahul: I’m a bit tired of books and stories that are merely fun adventure stories. I like to see something else: new ideas, new settings, new character types. I don’t like books that are just trying to give readers the same thing that they felt when they first read Heinlein or Asimov or Clarke. In literature, there is no going home again. Each book is an non-replicable experience. And if you aim to duplicate it, then you’ll inevitable end up with something worse than the original.
Rinn: Are there any other genres you would encourage people to delve into?
Rahul: Yes! All the genres! But, most particularly, realist literary fiction. There’s something of a bias against it in science fiction circles, which I don’t understand. Oftentimes SF fans will say that realist fiction is boring and that all the most interesting things are being done in the science fiction world. But that makes no sense to me. Do these fans really see no value in stories that are about ordinary, real-world lives? Realist fiction has a wealth and denseness of detail that purely imaginary settings can’t replicate.
Oh, also, I really like crime fiction! And chick-lit!
Rinn: Who, or what, are your inspirations?
Rahul: Lots of people. I’m inspired by Asimov, Heinlein, Ted Chiang, Aimee Bender, Tolstoy, Willa Cather, Sinclair Lewis, among others.
Rinn: I note that you are currently enrolled in a MFA Creative Writing program – do you have a strict routine for this?
Rahul: Yes, I do. During the week, I write for one hour on two days (usually Monday/Wednesday), two hours on three days (usually Friday/Saturday/Sunday), four hours on Tuesday, and eight hours on Thursday. I also try to read at least one hour a day (although it usually ends up being much more than that). And I try to begin writing by 9 AM and do at least one hour before 10 AM.
Rinn: And finally, you’re stranded on a desert island. You can take five books and one other object. What do you take?
Rahul: I’ll leave out the jokey answers (How To Get Off A Desert Island) and just deliver some serious ones. If I had to be alone for extended periods of time, I’d want books that allowed me to think about how and why I should continue to live. And they should also be really long and dense. So I’d probably go for In Search Of Lost Time, Anna Karenina, Atlas Shrugged, War And Peace, and The History of Western Philosophy.