There’s a lot of fiction out there that deals with “stuff” and “things.” The protagonist needs to get something back from someone else, or it’s very important that they give someone something, or they need to create something. A piece of artwork, an engagement ring, or a drug that allows the person to feel human, etc. Lots of stuff changes hands in fiction, and this is normal. Lots of stuff changes hands in real life, too, and this is also normal. But it’s not the only way to go. Much of James Beamon’s fiction reflects his own worldview that the best things in life aren’t things. Life is about who we spend our time with, and how we show people what they mean to us. As he puts it, “the stuff is at best decoration.”
“Soliloquy in a Cheap Diner Off Route 66” is about exactly that—the people who are important to us and how far we’d go for them. There are objects in this story, but there is no stuff. Can Lolonyo get more time with Aliza? Is it worth moving heaven and earth for just a few more hours with her? Is Serendipity willing to make an exception when love is on the line? It’s a beautiful story, presented with success through an unusual narrative method.
James was kind enough to give me a behind the scenes look into how you get a character to stand there talking to himself without looking like a crazy person. You know, it works on stage just fine, but it’s tricky as heck to pull off in a short story! We also chatted a bit about the influence his military career has had on his fiction, his involvement with the Unidentified Funny Object anthologies, getting to share a table of contents with one of his favorite authors, and more.
If you’re looking for a bright unique voice, do yourself a favor and google “James Beamon, author.” I’ll even help you out—his fiction has recently appeared in The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Futuristica, Daily Science Fiction, Ares Magazine, and the first three volumes in the Unidentified Funny Objects anthology series, among many other locations. James currently lives in Virginia with his family. Learn more about his work, play, and other adventures at https://fictigristle.wordpress.com/.
APEX MAGAZINE: I got an absolute kick out of your very long titled short story “17 Amazing Plot Elements … When You See #11, You’ll Be Astounded!” (Daily Science Fiction), and then I realized that “Soliloquy in a Cheap Diner off Route 66” has one hell of a narrative hook. The story starts off normal enough, and then BAM something completely off the wall happens. It’s off the wall, but it makes perfect sense as the story continues. Where did the idea for this story come from, and how did the design of how you would tell this particular story come to be?
JAMES BEAMON: It’s a trip that you mention “17 Amazing Plot Elements …” because “Soliloquy” started off in much the same way. Both stories have titles I had absolutely no hand in creating and both have their origins in Codex Writers’ Group. “17 Amazing” happened when fellow Codexian Karlo Yeager Rodriguez commented on one of the forum threads about how he hated “list” style stories and they all may as well be called <insert aforementioned super long title> which called to me and absolutely defied me to write a “list” style story even he would like. “Soliloquy” was taken from the Codex Rummage Sale Contest, where we leaf through a collection of clever titles, pick one, and write a story around it. I saw the title and said, “Man, I’ve never written a soliloquy before. Lemme try that.”
It didn’t dawn on me that the reason I had never written a soliloquy was because the technique is usually only used for stage dramas and even then you hardly see them there anymore. So the story rose out of my desperate need to create a reason for a person to have a soliloquy, as opposed to a monologue where he’s just long-winded as hell to other active characters, as opposed to an aside, where he’s directly talking to us the reader. I figured being able to play with time was the only way for the protagonist to talk to himself without him appearing like a complete bag of nuts.
AM: Lolonyo is telling this story, and while I feel the reader gets an intimate view of his personality, his history and long term motives are hidden behind a carefully crafted mask. Right now, he’s a little obsessed with Aliza, but Lolonyo has otherworldly powers. Who and what is he, when he’s not in Aliza’s life? Yawa accuses him of hiding. What’s he hiding from?
JB: Great questions and I think they go hand in hand. I like to think of Lolonyo and Yawa as members of a special tribe, people who have learned a certain mastery over reality, in much the same way that all of us can enjoy augmented reality or virtual reality thanks to our current proficiency in technology. Similar to how our current mastery of technology affords us the ability to travel anywhere in the world, their mastery of reality allows them to go anywhen they’d like to go. That’s who they are. People like us but not like us, gifted with an understanding of the universe that bewilders us in much the same way that Snapchat filters on a cameraphone would wreck the sensibilities of someone from the 1930s. Think of it in these terms … there are a lot of places we can get lost in all over the map. For them, there’s a lot of “whens” to get lost in as well. I imagine there are favorite “whens” these people hang out at, comfortable “whens” that feel as temporally close to home as it gets for non-temporal beings. For Yawa and Lolonyo it’s further in the future, when more and more everyday people are deeply entrenched in virtual reality. This is why Yawa says he’s hiding; she naturally hasn’t seen him for a while in the timeline that feels current, more like home, to them.
AM: Aliza isn’t your first waitress, and a number of your stories deal with characters chasing their loved ones and/or trying to find a deep connection with another person. It’s an alluring theme because I think all people just want to be loved by someone else. Why do you feel drawn to write within that theme, and is it something you notice yourself returning to?
JB: You know, I never noticed until you said something … both the waitress thing and the recurring theme. I think the reason why I write about personal connections is that I’m not a very materialistic person. Even though I’m in love with emerging technology and swear VR is the best thing since pictures got motion, the stuff we buy and sometimes cherish is just stuff. Marshmallow is stuff. That crap they put in pillows and shipping boxes is stuff. At the end of the day, the best memories I have are with people. Maybe we’re sharing some stuff, but it’s the people that light the memory … the stuff is at best decoration.
AM: I love short stories, and a great short story ends with me wanting to ask the author “but, but what happens next??” Lolonyo is trying to save Aliza from something that will happen to her in the future. It’s a risky move, he knows. Even if he can’t save her, even if he can’t change a thing, can you at least tell me if they get to have some happy years together?
JB: I can absolutely, positively tell you that they get some happy years together because, you see, they’ve had happy years together. They’ve yet to happen to Aliza and they’re a driving memory to Lolonyo, but those happy years are waiting in the near future. But what you really wanna know is if they have even more happy years together, a do-over for Lolonyo and a reimagining of Aliza’s happier times before she’s even had them. That question’s not as easy to answer. Lolonyo’s trying to brute force his will over immutable cosmic laws, something his people think can’t be done. Most, if not all, of them have tried at one time or another. Serendipity’s important. Even so, I feel he has a shot. After all, what’s stronger than the power of love?
AM: You spent twelve years in the U.S. Air Force. What effect did your time in the military and overseas have on your writing process and how you think about storytelling?
JB: It’s a hard question to parse. The Air Force was such an integral part of me, you see. I don’t know what kind of direct impact it had on the writing, as the Air Force is focused on business-style writing—short, concise, impactful, virtually devoid of narrative. The term “backstory” doesn’t exist on the Enlisted Performance Report. If anything, the people, the exceedingly diverse and colorful people I met along the way of twelve years in the Air Force and four years deployed made a big impact on the writing. Each and every one I knew was beautifully unique, even in a sea of imposed uniformity. Oftentimes I find their impressions and mannerisms and outlooks creeping into characters. Some of the places I saw in Iraq and Afghanistan managed to find their way into my novels. If anything, I think the time I spent in the Air Force and overseas allowed me to tell a bit of truth when I write, even if it’s not my truth.
AM: You’ve had fiction published in the first three volumes of Alex Shvartsman’s Unidentified Funny Objects humorous speculative fiction anthologies, and you’ve been involved with slush reading for the series. Successfully writing humorous fiction is one of the hardest things out there. How do you write a funny story? Does it start with a joke and you write a story around it, or is it the opposite, that you have an idea for a story and then decide it should be a funny story?
JB: It definitely doesn’t start with a joke. I think the trick with me is I think there’s humor in everything. Humor in love, in hate, at weddings, and at funerals. Naturally, I think there’s comedy in the far futureness of science fiction and epically magicness (or is it magically epicness?) of fantasy. Instead of running from clichés and tropes, I revel in them. Sometimes I wallow in them. Let’s look at high fantasy in general and orcs specifically. I figure most readers’ expectations of an orc is a big bruiser in dark armor marching with a horde of other orcs in service of Evil Overlord X. That’s exactly what they get with me … met expectations. Only difference is the reader gets the expectation directly from the orc, who’s like “Well, Farmer Brown can barely pay for the one raggedy shirt farmhand to help him harvest his limp, raggedy harvest … besides, Farmer Brown wouldn’t hire an orc, no way. Fool’s scared of pointy teeth, thinks I’m snarling when I’m smiling and it ain’t like he covers dental. But Dark Overlord Elmo, that guy does cover dental. Plus I look pretty fly in that all black armored uniform, flier than I would in a raggedy shirt picking raggedy turnips.” I kinda just go from there. It’s fun to meet expectations in a way that makes the reader question their own expectations. Why does the reader expect elves not to have to deal with weight problems … you would think those folks would be serious fans of sugar.
AM: No pun intended, but any funny stories from the slush reading side of the UFO anthology?
JB: The process has evolved some since the first run of UFO, but invariably the guys on the editorial staff will succumb to crosstalk. It could be a bad story … it could be a great story, one we eventually buy, but since we’re all critically thinking about these stories something in one or a couple of them will prompt someone to ask a question or add a comment about the protagonist or the sidekick or the dragon’s little brother Theodore and then hijinks ensue. It’s bound to happen when you put that many wry and sarcastic people on one distro.
AM: Who are some of your favorite writers and why do you find their work so extraordinary?
JB: I grew up as an avid reader of Piers Anthony, so it was absolutely BOSS to be able to share the table of contents with him on UFO 3. Never thought I’d see that. He gave me my first real taste of science fiction and magic blended together, outside of Star Wars, thanks to his Incarnations of Immortality series. You mean I can have magic carpets and flying cars … together? A scientifically blended narcotic enhanced with magic called Spelled H? You would’ve thought I was on Spelled H the way I was eating those books up. I also really dug Ursula K. Le Guin for her intense, powerful world building and sociological analysis … both things I aspire to be better at when I’m not mining for yuk-yuks, Kurt Vonnegut for that conversational way he had, like he was sitting at the table talking to you about this thing that happened rather than you were reading a book that, sure, you’re free to enjoy but wasn’t specifically written for you. Also Harry Harrison for giving me the Stainless Steel Rat series and the premise that no matter how high tech society gets it’ll just make thieves that much cleverer, stainless steel even.
AM: Thanks James!