Cap Scaleman: The way I understand it you have been active writing for quite some time; When did the interest in writing pop into your mind? What inspired you to start writing?
Stanley Lieber: I started writing and drawing my own comic books around 1986. The prose stories would have started up around that same time. Maybe 1987? The period when I was turning nine and ten . I got pretty serious about my prose during the next couple of years. For example, the first version of 1989TOWARDS MYTHOLOGIZING THE COMING RESURGENCE OF COVERT WARFARE was written in the summer of . It was originally part of my second "novel." I wrote two spy thrillers in grade school.
CS: Do you find it much easier to write short stories today than many years ago? What is the difference between the author Stanley today and the author Stanley of yesterday?
SL: For one thing, the author Stanley of yesterday used a lot more adjectives in his sentences.
Actually, the creepiest thing about my old grade school stories is how similar the humor is to what I'm writing now. My authorial voice has changed very little. (That may be why I was able to update THE COMING RESURGENCE... so easily.) Even after passing through the usual transformations in reading material, progressing through the different authors, the voice I write with today still sounds a lot like the young me. I should stipulate, though, that in the fifth grade I didn't know I was being funny.
I would say that the writing does get harder for me as I go along. In the early days, all of my characters were designed and tested on the playground. In this way, a protagonist could arrive on the page with an elaborate back-story already intact. I had merely to consult my memories of what had transpired near the tunnel slide. My plots were often developed using this same method. Consequently, I would often know the parameters of a story before sitting down to write it. I
could skip directly to the highlights, keeping only the bits that fit best with what I had intended to communicate. I suppose it was a form of collage-editing, taking fragments of my playmates' performances and then melding them into a collection of workable scenarios.
Alas, you have triggered a wave of nostalgia. I'll admit that I do miss field testing my fiction.
CS: What are you aiming for when writing a short story? Is it to affect the mood of the reader, their thoughts or any other?
SL: Mostly I just want my stories to read well. To avoid being terrible. That sort of thing. You know how there are some books, that, once you start reading them, begin to pull you along, each page flowing into the next like a river? And then there are some books that get bogged down with obstructions, as if they have perhaps had too much to eat and are now trying to climb in through the window of their car, and of course they've gotten stuck, and you really have to work at it in order to keep turning the pages, to keep from surrendering in despair? Well, I want my stories to read like a river, not like a person getting stuck in the window of their car. Bad writing, to me, is inexcusable; it is a violation of a most sacred trust! Readers are not forgiving of an author who wastes their time. Nor should they be. Therefore, it is my goal to write well. I will say that when I write, it is in the interests of becoming a better writer.
CS: Many of your short stories have, well, rough descriptions of technology. It is as if the reader would already know what you are writing about, but are you just trying to avoid the techno-thriller kind of feel with such a vague description of the technology in your short stories?
SL: I do appreciate these books that explain to me the finer points of how the universe works. I'm just not interested in writing them. My experience has been that in the real world, every shred of security I have in understanding its workings is hard-won. The process of learning is conscious. I have to figure things out for myself. The elbow grease is all mine.
On a related note, I have also observed that, without some financial incentive, most people have little interest in (and therefore, little knowledge of) how their cars, televisions, iPods, &tc., work. If it does not directly impact their well-being, there is no compelling
reason for them to take an interest. There is a connection here. Contrary to the seeming laws of fiction, simply utilizing a piece of technology does not automatically impart upon its user a complete understanding of its inner workings. Rather, the user picks up a television remote, pushes a button, and then something happens. For them, that's likely all the explanation that is required. I pick this thing up, I push a button, and then something happens.
These... users... far outnumber their technologically savvy counterparts, whom for the purposes of this interview I shall refer to as hackers.
Hackers are eccentrics who make a habit of learning how a given piece of technology works. These mutants are more likely to flash on the implications of a novel feature, or to immediately deduce the underlying schema of some complex mechanical process, but as far as I can tell, they are still in the minority. Not many people care to discover that SSL authentication is susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks when they could instead be creating fan websites for the new season of American Idol. To most people, dnsspoof -f/etc/dnsspoof.hosts is gibberish on a par with the
teacher's voice in the Charlie Brown cartoons.
This cultural dichotomy has revealed an interesting middle-ground between the average person and the obsessed technophile. A situation has arisen wherein being a "well rounded individual" may yet prove to be not quite good enough. And there are many shades to this spectrum.
I believe that human experience is shifting rapidly towards the user end of the spectrum. Indeed, as the sum total of humanity's stored knowledge doubles and then redoubles, a single person can't know everything. Some objects/ideas/phenomena we simply have to accept as a part of our world and then try to move on. Gone are the days when a Thomas Jefferson or a Benjamin Franklin could track down and read everything ever written. There is just too much information out there for any one person to internalize. (And this is leaving aside the question of whether or not even a fraction of that information, once internalized, could be held
in conscious memory.) The quantity of data is far, far greater than any human intellect can process. Disturbing? Perhaps. To a hacker. They really tend to respond badly to an
insurmountable challenge. One of the defining characteristics of humanity is our insistence that we are able to explain the world through narratives. Hackers create these narratives for the users to consume. If none of us can achieve even a cursory overview, the executive summary, then that rather complicates the formulation of a definitive narrative. I'm sure you can see how this might be a problem for ideological purists. You might say that this is the point where Logical Positivism breaks down.
At the same time, my contention has been that this state of affairs is hardly novel. Not one of us has ever achieved that definitive overview. And yet, the great bulk of us, as users, have long assumed that the limits of our articulation dovetail precisely with the limits of what there is to know. Indeed, the two have often been seen as synonymous. For my own part, I choose to approach my fiction the same way I approach my life: I don't pretend to know how everything works. Why perpetuate such delusions? I muddle along anyway, and, in the end, I realize that I'm probably being taken advantage of by a hacker (or possibly hackers), somewhere, possibly of some stripe heretofore unknown to me.
Basically, it's inevitable. I think it's the being aware of it that's crucial.
CS: What do you do when you have a lack of ideas?
SL: Randomize. Shift to a different medium. I make image posts on Livejournal to cleanse my palette.
CS: Tell us about your four favourite books and what makes them your favourites. How did they change your life?
SL: In chronological order:
1984, by George Orwell My English teacher decided I was spending too much time reading science fiction/fantasy and handed me this book. While other kids got to choose their own book reports, I was given assignments. Well, it turned out I liked 1984. I liked it quite a lot. Probably my teacher came to wish that he hadn't turned me on to the anti-authoritarian literature at such an early age. Within a few years I was being kicked out of schools for my subversive publishing activities.
Mission Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard Actually a ten book series. I took this as straight SF; I had never
even heard of Scientology. Later I read
Dianetics and became vaguely uncomfortable with Hubbard as an author. I did find it reassuring that the material was being advertised on television. It must not be too crazy then, right? In any case, I didn't worry too much about it. It never
occurred to me that Soltan Gris was not intended as a heroic figure.
Ninja, Vol. 2: Warrior Ways of Enlightenment, by Stephen K. Hayes
At twelve years of age this book convinced me I was a Mikkyo Buddhist. I will say that the godai elemental system can be an effective filtering tool for otherwise random streams of information. I can't speak as to whether or not these categories are truly fundamental to the universe, but as far as fuzzy logic systems go, they beat the dog shit out of trying to apply the good/evil dialectic to situations that don't call for a moral judgment. For me, it's knowingly arbitrary.
Tropic Of Capricorn, by Henry Miller I found Henry Miller by way of Norman Mailer's The Prisoner Of Sex. I kept getting him confused with Arthur Miller. Actually reading his books alleviated that confusion for all time. The Cosmodemonic Telegraph Co. seems very familiar to me for some reason...
I don't suppose all of these are actually my favorites. But I will say that they have probably been the most influential in my life, at the different stages in which I encountered them. Make of that what you will.
CS: If you would recommend a good short story you have made for beginners to read, which one would it be, and please tell us why it would be exactly that one.
SL: Something short... TAB2, 1960 of course. It's the first chapter of my novel.
CS: Is there a book in progress? Will it be published?
October 1, 1993.