Interview: Wayne Wightman on “A Foreign Country”
Tell us a bit about the story. What’s it about?
“A Foreign Country” is about a third-party presidential candidate who inexplicably wins with huge majorities. Then he sits behind his desk and apparently does nothing but eat. He says he likes the food here. Crime stops, criminals (among others) disappear, peace and quiet descends, and a lot of people lose chunks of their memories. But they’re happy in an impaired kind of way. Of course, there’s a little romance, attempted assassination, madness… the usual. The story is told from the point of view of a very ordinary, unimaginative pool reporter who trails the candidate around, goes to the White House with him, and spends most of his time being bewildered.
What’s the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?
Two identifiable sources: First, the question, “What if a flaky third-party no-chance candidate won?” And, second, a mean-spirited party game called “Extermination,” where the goal is to reduce the population of the earth by half (or a third or whatever—it’s all approximation) by selecting groups (with no exceptions within that group) that will cease to exist, like people who have killed other people (soldiers and policemen have to be included here), people who’ve killed anything for fun, etc. But how I got from those two things to the final story is a mystery to me. It’s no mystery to me that the ancient Greeks believed the muses whispered their poetry into their ears.
Did the writing of this story present you with any significant challenges (i.e., was it particularly difficult to write, etc.)?
Once I discovered who was going to tell the story, it wrote itself. There were so many possibilities it was only a matter of deciding what to leave out.
Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?
Some of the people in the story are friends, acting like they really act and saying things they’ve actually said. They find this amusing.
After spending several decades teaching people how to write, it was a lot of fun writing like a beginner—like someone who went to the thesaurus too often and came up with “Cryptic, sphinxlike, perplexing, and conundrumatic” and “I felt disconcertedness and indeterminate emotions.”
What kind of research did you have to do for the story?
I had to scour a thesaurus.
Tell me a bit about the technology and science and/or worldbuilding used in the story.
My stories tend to wreck our current world, rather than imagine new ones. However, the presidential candidate is the one who has built our world and is watching it develop.
What are you working on now?
Two stories are on my HD: "Instruments of Torture and Delight" and "Nihilism and Threatening Mania." The first is 90% finished; the second is about half done.
Anything else you’d like to add?
A local publisher has a novel, Earthrise, that could come out in the next six months—as if all the world needs is another novel.
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