Please join me in welcoming Christa Miller to the spotlight at Running Wild Press today. Christa is the author of Sodom & Gomorrah on a Saturday Night, one of five novellas featured in our newly-released Running Wild Press Novella Anthology, (November, 2017).
EN: Tell us about your story; genre, target audience, length, etc. Give us a quick blurb about it. (As much as you can without giving anything away.)
CM: Sodom & Gomorrah on a Saturday Night is speculative crime fiction set three years from today, in a barely recognizable Seacoast New Hampshire where human trafficking has been legalized and empathy — the ability to read another person’s emotions — outlawed. It’s a story about capitalism run amok, taken to its furthest extreme: fully privatized government, all manner of activity — including human trafficking — is legalized as long as it can turn a profit, and people who used to serve the US Constitution are now forced to serve corporate interests. Unable to solve the murder of a young girl, its two former police officers turn to unorthodox methods to locate her killer — and just maybe, spark a revolution.
EN: What inspired you to write fiction? What moment in your life can you recall knowing you needed to write?
CM: I had been really into drawing and painting until fourth grade, when I won a school (or district? can’t remember) award for a story I’d written. That was when I shifted focus from art to writing. But it wasn’t until middle school, when I started to write a lot — for myself as well as for assignments — that teachers started to encourage me to write, and then into high school it became a “dumping ground” for whatever intense emotions I was working through, and even though it took me until well after college to decide to “be a writer” (when I kicked off my freelance career), that was really when I learned that words are how I process the world.
EN: How did this particular story come about? Did it come in pieces over time? All in one flash of genius?
CM: I started working on the basic idea, the murder of a young girl in a beach town, probably 15 years ago. It was originally the sequel to another (very bad first) novel I had written, but it would never work as straight crime fiction. Over time I added elements like her being a human trafficking victim, but the story never came together until I made the world a dystopia. Then, because I was free from the bounds of genre, it came together actually pretty smoothly. I drafted it over the span of about three months and then revisions were fairly straightforward after that.
EN: As I read Sodom & Gomorrah on a Saturday Night, more about the world it is set in was slowly revealed. This type of reality, a Totalitarian government, a type of altered existence, did current events inspire the story? Or did you have this story completely plotted out, characters fleshed out, etc. far in advance- is life imitating art? Also, the concept of certain emotions being outlawed is a terrifying concept. Do you feel in certain places around the world, certain places in our own lives this is already happening on a subconscious level?
CM: I wrote it over the summer before Election Day 2016, back when many of us expected a totally different outcome, so if anything I was thinking that it might serve as an academic “might have been” kind of world. Before that, I decided that the dystopia aspect worked because that is what human trafficking victims live with each day. And there were already articles being written about privatization of different industries, notably prisons but also other entities — transportation, healthcare, education, water — that are public in other countries, so even at that time it wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine privatized everything, where anything goes as long as it turns a profit.
The empathy ban was on a somewhat different level. It wasn’t in the version I originally submitted; I added it in later. The cognitive form of empathy, where we put ourselves in others’ positions, is certainly not cultivated in our society — far from it in many cases. But I wanted to take it a step further and address the ability to actually feel someone else’s feelings. In this world, that ability is a given, and to have it outlawed and deadened to the point where it’s a measure of defiance not to take one’s inhibitor drugs I think definitely parallels the desire of those in power to control people by disconnecting them from one another. We’re harsher with each other for lack of understanding, and harsher with ourselves.
EN: Do you have anything in store for the characters is Sodom & Gomorrah on a Saturday Night? Will we be reading more about them as individuals? Will they reappear together again in another story?
CM: I’m working on a sequel in which the narrator, Ray, is a secondary character. I’m not sure yet whether his “partner” Suzanne shows up. I tend to write by the seat of my pants, so it’s totally open, though I’d love for her and Callie to show up again. The main character, though, is a young female journalist who is dealing with ghosts of her own while she’s telling these very illegal stories in this environment, and the choice she eventually has to make to maintain her “inhibited” empathic state, or go off her meds and get involved. (Which is kind of the position a lot of us are in…)
EN: If you could pick one author to spend the day with, living or dead, who would it be and what would you do?
CM: I admit both parts of this question are throwing me. Just one? Do? 😉 It would probably involve a coffee shop or pub and a long walk and talk, but there are so many I’d like to learn from for various reasons, I don’t think I could pick just one!
EN: How many unpublished and half-finished works do you have?
CM: SO many. I’m a short fiction writer because I’ve found I start to lose the threads in novel attempts and that’s very uncomfortable for me, so I keep my writing fairly simple for my brain. Having said that, I have at least a dozen stories in various stages of completion — some drafted, some mid-revision, some close to done if I can settle down long enough to complete them!
EN: What is your favorite childhood book?
CM: I loved anything by Madeleine L’Engle, who wrote about some very complex topics for her YA audience, and my favorite book of all time is To Kill a Mockingbird.
CM: Aside from the Sodom & Gomorrah sequel, I’d like to write a sequel to my children’s book Raccoon Rescue (released by Aulexic, September 2017). Of course I have a few additional new story ideas, so hopefully I’ll get to begin work on those after I clear out some of the other projects!
EN: What does literary success look like to you?
CM: I’d settle for modest — solid, consistent sales, a loyal core audience, strong reviews — but my pipe dream will always be runaway best selling (yes, of short stories LOL) that would allow me to buy a cottage on the coast of Ireland or Scotland.
EN: Christa, thank you so much for sharing a little about yourself, your craft, and your work. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for sneak peeks at the Running Wild Press Novella Anthology and other great titles planned for 2018.