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Today's Chat with Sarah features Roger Mannon author of Strange Stories II.
To view the official review, click here.
To view the book on Amazon, click here.
1. When and why did you start writing?
Near the end of 2008, as I entered my 60s, I became unemployed for the first time in my life. Like many, I was a victim of the Great Recession. By early January of 2009, I knew finding a new job would be a long, drawn-out affair. I spent the days filling out job applications and letting my mind wander back over my life. It occurred to me that I had been involved in something unique and significant once upon a time. I had been part of a U.S. Army experiment in psychic warfare. The experience was one of the strangest, most important, and revealing of my life. It was a story worth telling, I thought. So, I started writing.
I quickly learned three things:
* Writing is hard work.
* Editing is even more challenging.
* I wasn't very good at the work, not at first. I rewrote that first book multiple times over the next seven years. Along the way, I learned a lot about showing - not telling, the work of editing, how to change from a writer to a storyteller.
2. Who or what is most helpful to you with your writing?
Stephen King said it best in his book, On Writing. Find a place (room, closet, doesn't matter) without distractions. Then, close the door.
3. What is most distracting while you're in the process of writing?
Almost anything. Phone calls, family members wanting to stop by and chat, and the view out the window on a snowy winter day, a brilliant summer day, a dreary day, etc.
4. Let's discuss your book Strange Stories II. Two of the stories are about climate change. Why did you feel it necessary to center around this theme?
I genuinely believe climate change is an existential crisis. I am old enough that I probably will not experience the worst scenarios, the ones that will come for humanity if we continue to do too little. My kids will and my grandkids will. The scary part is that my stories, while unlikely, are possible. There is historical evidence in ice cores and ancient sediments that show significant climate change has happened in the past. And, it happened much more rapidly than our current projections. If it happened quickly before, it could do so again.
Oh, the Earth won't die. She is a middle-aged lady with a long life ahead of her. We can leave her with deep scars from our incessant mining efforts as we strip her of her minerals. We can continue to change her atmosphere by pushing tons of climate-changing gases into the air. We can (and do) poison her air and waters. We can kill off all her plants and animals, say goodbye to humanity.
But she will survive. Once we are gone, she will recover. Life will rise again. Will intelligent creatures return to her surface? Who knows?
An ancient virus released from the thawing permafrost might be what wipes us out. Wild storms, bigger and stronger than ever seen before, powered by scorching heat, might do the trick. The same devastating heat will melt billions of tons of Arctic and Antarctic ice; glaciers will vanish, cities will flood, diseases will rage, humans will suffer and die.
Plants, animals, and humans will suffer and die as the Earth's surface becomes uninhabitable. The same heat, sucked into our oceans, will become so acidic that our sea creatures suffer and die along with us.
Nothing will be left but Mother Earth as she enters long ages of recovery.
5. The other story in the book is about the afterlife or ghosts. Does this story reflect your own views on the subject? How so?
I don't know what happens after we die, but I believe we continue in some form. I am not a religious person. I don't think there is an afterlife as portrayed in the Bible I grew up with every Sunday morning and Wednesday evening. Maybe my age has something to do with it. I simply wondered, "if it's not about heaven and hell, what might death look like," and went from there. I do not suppose my ideas are any more valid than those proposed by any of our many religions. You should know that story is no longer in the book. Strange Stories II is only about climate change now. I removed A Ghost story from this anthology and placed it in another book.
6. The reviewer mentions that you wove in elements of current events, namely the pandemic. Did you feel that this was a risky move considering the controversy around it? Why or why not?
I wrote the story about a worldwide pandemic before Covid-19 emerged. I saw no reason to edit the story or abandon it. Some folks believe the disease is real and dangerous; others do not. It's the age we live in. Some of those who do believe still refuse to accept the vaccine because they think it infringes on their freedoms. Again, the age we live in.
The pandemic in my story is far worse than Covid. It is more akin to the virus proposed by Stephen King in The Stand. Like the other story in the book, the ancient virus set free by thawing permafrost is based on science. We know viruses exist sleeping in the frozen ground. We just don't know how bad they might or might not be. Nor do we know when they will be freed from the permafrost, only that they will.
7. Do you base your characters on real-life people or are they completely fictional?
Wow. Good question. The characters occupying Strange Stories II: The Empty Earth are fictional or fictionalized versions of people I have known.
There is a little bit of me, and even more of several of the folks I have known in all my stories. You should read Strange Stories: Odd and Ends. Those stories have a heck of a lot of me and long-ago friends in them. Especially Outsider which contains more truth than fiction.
8. What's next for you? Are there any plans for a full-length novel?
I am thinking of several ideas, which could be full-length novels. I am slowly working my way through them to see where I end up.
I like to end with fun questions.
9. Since one story includes a lifelike relationship between a man and a dog, I feel I must ask: Are you a cat person, a dog person, or both?
I am both. I have owned dogs and cats all my life - often both in the home at one time. I don't have either right now. I worry that my age and minor health issues (COPD, AFIB - (I'm on oxygen 24/7 these days)) might prevent me from caring for them as I should.
10. What do you use for your writing most? Typewriter? Laptop? Pen and paper? Something else?
11. If you could choose one day to experience over and over, kind of like your own Groundhog Day, which day would you choose and why?
I would pick any of several days I spent in the U.S. Army. I spent over 20 years of my life in an elite Army intelligence unit. I traveled all over the world, listening to the communications of our enemies and stealing their secrets. My team and I picked up and decrypted the communications the day the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, for example. Alternatively, I might just pick the day my son was born, or the day the ammo dump in Vietnam blew up while I was patrolling the area. I could pick the day my mom died - I didn't get there in time and would like to relive that day - get there before she passed and say goodbye. Or the day I married my current wife, or possibly the day the whole family gathered in a group of mountain cabins in a wilderness area for a reunion. Too many remarkable memories for me to choose just one.
12. What one trait do you most admire about yourself? What one trait do you most want to change?
Like many folks, I've done good and bad things in my life. As I come to the end of days, I want to be a good person and a loving person. I work every day to accomplish that. Oh, I haven't robbed a bank or killed anyone (discount Vietnam), but I've been emotionally distant, angry, lazy on occasion, drank too much, listened too little. I've blamed people that might have been blameless. Discounted people I didn't like, been too judgemental. I'm not good at showing emotion.
The thing I most want to change is my ability to forgive. I seem unable to let go of things in my past; some are serious (like childhood sexual abuse), and some are minor - just BS.
More than anything, as I grow old, I find that I just want to leave something behind, some part of me that leaves a footprint on a person's mind or heart. That person might remember me and say, "Oh, I remember him. Seems like he was a good guy."
Maybe that is part of why I write my little stories.
-Louisa May Alcott