Interview: Scott Dalrymple, on "Enfant Terrible" and "An Open Letter to Earth"
Scott Dalrymple, author of “Enfant Terrible” (from our July 2008 issue) and "An Open Letter to Earth" (from our August 2008 issue), said in an interview that it was an honor to have these two stories–his first published works of fiction–appear in F&SF. "I first subscribed to the magazine as a teenager back in the early 80s," he said. "I’m looking right now at the April 1983 issue, which includes an awesome story by Gene Wolfe– in my view the greatest living writer, period, and also a truly nice man. The back cover is missing the part I cut out to join the Science Fiction Book Club, which I did often."
"Enfant Terrible" is the story of really bright kids and what makes them really bright. "The story started with an image, as most of my stories do," Dalrymple said. "In this case, it had to do with a typical brainstorming exercise I’ve seen given to kids: tell them that two cars are speeding toward each other at 60 mph. Quick– what happens? The idea is to get them thinking creatively, beyond the obvious (they crash). A bright kid might suggest that the cars fly off into the air, or something like that."
Dalrymple had an image of a kid offering a more disturbing answer. "’Nothing of consequence,’ he replies, ‘because one car is in Boston and the other is in Topeka. They are headed directly toward each other, as you say, but are hundreds of miles apart, which you didn’t say.’ That alone is a rather bizarre answer, but this kid goes on to give dark details about the people in those cars," Dalrymple said. "It’s unsettling, at least to me."
One blogger who reviewed the story called it "quick and creepy," and while Dalrymple hopes those words are rarely used to describe him, they nail what he was going for in this story. "It’s a mood piece," he said. "I spend a lot of time thinking about the voice of a story, the sound of it, the mouth-feel of it. And for this one, I found that the second-person, present tense voice just felt creepy to me. I actually wrote it in a few different voices, and this is the one that conveyed the mood I wanted. It’s been interesting to learn that some readers automatically react negatively to second person, figuring on the face of it that it must be some sort of literary stunt. Or suggesting that there should be some sort of plot-driven reason to use second person in order to validate the choice. I understand those thoughts, but my logic was much more simple: it just sounded right to me."
"An Open Letter to Earth" could hardly be more different. "It’s written by a cranky, smart-ass alien who has some things to get off his chest, or whatever it is he has instead of a chest," Dalrymple said. "I have no idea what my inspiration was for this piece, and perhaps we’re better off not knowing. But I’m happy to finally provide the answer to the age-old question, ‘What’s with all the anal probing?’"
Since making his first sales, Dalrymple has completed a number of other stories. "One is another short SF humor piece, one is fantasy, two are horror, and a couple are hard to describe," he said. "I enjoy experimenting with wildly different styles and voices. For now I’m a short story guy. I find it hard to write anything over 7,000 words or so– perhaps because I’m a perfectionist, perhaps because I have the attention span of a gerbil. My current goal is to improve my craft at the really short lengths, say under 4,000 words. That’s what I enjoy reading, and it’s what I enjoy writing. I like stories that can change my mood in 15 pages or less. That’s harder to accomplish than you might think."
Dalrymple said he’s tried to write out of genre, but fantastical elements always seem to creep in whether he wants them to or not. "Besides, if I want realism I’ll go to a Waffle House," he said. "What’s so great about reality? Besides the waffles, I mean."
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