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Author Interview: Vajra Chandrasekera
2015-08-04 · by Devi Acharya
Vajra Chandrasekera lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka. His short fiction has appeared in Apex, Clarkesworld and Lightspeed, among others. You can follow him on Twitter at @_vajra or find more stories at vajra.me. He is the author of this week’s story, “Snake Game.”
This interview was conducted by email in July 2015.
Devi Acharya: First off, tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do?
Vajra Chandrasekera: I’m from Colombo, Sri Lanka. I’ve been writing and publishing short fiction in the speculative genres for a few years now. My story in sub-Q is my first time writing interactive fiction, and it was a lot of fun to write.
Devi: One aspect of “Snake Game” is the repetition, constantly circling back to familiar territory. Can you talk a bit about the intention behind that?
Vajra: “Snake Game” is about irrevocability. It contains three slightly different versions of the same story, set in different universes, different genres: it encourages the reader to slip and sidle between these neighbouring worlds and read selectively from all three versions at the same time, letting them inflect each other. As the reader moves about the map, I wanted the ghost narratives to layer over each other—to cycle, to reiterate, to contradict—in the reader’s mind, so that they could in effect construct their own fourth version of the story out of how they choose to read it. That said, I don’t actually know (at the time of this interview) if all this will work for the majority of readers. It’s all rather a grand experiment, isn’t it? I wanted this story to push for something that is quite difficult and sometimes impossible to do in a conventional prose narrative—to try and demonstrate in the form the themes in the content, as it were.
Devi: You call Snake Game an “experiment.” Can you talk more about experimentation in writing fiction, or interactive fiction in particular?
Vajra: The most direct mode of interaction is to allow the reader to participate in the plot and make choices that have effects on the story. And that’s cool, but infic isn’t restricted to only that—”Snake Game” uses sequence and genre as its major modes of interaction instead, for instance. So even just considering modes of interaction there are so many to try out, so many other ways a reader could interact with a story—frame, tone, point of view or alternate voices, dialogue, secrets, narrative distance, or density, and so on—and I look forward to seeing what everyone does with this toolkit.
What I was talking about earlier, though, was just as much about the more commonplace sort of experiment taking place here, having a new story on the eve of publication and all that. Every new story is an experiment of a sort, yes? Writers can’t be objective about their own work, so we only get to read ourselves vicariously through public and critical response. (Or that may be a false “we”—I don’t know if other writers feel this way, it’s just how I feel.) Which is especially exacerbated in this case because this is not just a new story but also a new-to-me form, and, I hope, a decent attempt at doing something novel with that form. And a new magazine! If there were any more novelty in this situation I should have to use my safe word.
Devi: In your blog you talk a lot about science fiction and fantasy specifically. What are some of the big trends or changes you’ve seen? What makes F/SF important to you?
Vajra: You know, I could name many things I like about F/SF, but really I think it’s not so much that F/SF is particularly “special” to me as a subset of fiction-in-general. It’s actually the other way around: I love stories (I feel like this is a reasonably non-vacuous statement to make only because I’ve known plenty of people who don’t), and I consider the fantastic to be the default form of storytelling and certainly the oldest of traditions, a vast oceanic territory—the epic to the parable to the tall tale, you know, all the way to the various modern traditions of commercial literature. Science fiction’s in there somewhere too, a jet stream inside that ocean: part of, porous, but also distinct and (intricately) influential despite its relative novelty. And somewhere, too, the ossified volcanic island chain of post-nineteenth-century realism, whose twisty pāhoehoe lava sculptures are also often intriguing if you’re in the mood for that sort of thing. Yeah, this metaphor got totally out of hand.
Devi: What do you think the biggest change will be to storytelling/IF/speculative fiction in the coming years?
Vajra: More decentralization for speculative fiction: more writers outside the US and UK, more postcolonial perspectives. It’s been happening, and there’ll be more of it; I think the pace has been increasing over the last few years.
The tectonic plate movement underlying this and many other changes is the shift toward online short fiction and ebooks, obviously. Infic is the sharp edge of that tectonic shift, yeah? Because narrative forms and techniques adapt to new media, their various capabilities and constraints: “the short story” is a set of 19th-century adaptations to the then-new environment of print journals, or to speculative fiction’s 20th-century pulp magazines. Apart from the growing body of Twine-era interactive fiction and the old-school hardcore of 90s hypertext fiction, the environmental adaptations in the mainstream of online speculative fiction seem to have been minor adjustments—a slight preference for shorter stories, more attempts at grabby openings or clickbait-ier titles, better typography, that sort of thing. So the more serious adaptations are belated in online speculative fiction, for a bunch of perfectly good reasons (cost, tech, reader familiarity, and so on) but those reasons will eventually be falsified and in the meantime there’s increasingly room for more work on the borders.
Devi: Where do you see yourself in five or ten years? What accomplishments do you want behind you?
Vajra: Ha! I try not to think about it; it’s dangerous for pessimists to think about their own futures. I’ll consider it a tremendous accomplishment if, in five or ten years, I’m still writing new work and being read. I want to entice great readers, and have been very fortunate on that front so far.
And hey, here’s a special accomplishment I’ve already got behind me: I’ve now been the opening act of the first issue of a brand-new magazine twice. I like having the entire magazine to myself for a week.
Devi: What’s something special/unique you want people to know about you or your work?
Vajra: I think this isn’t a question that I can answer. As a reader, I know how quickly I can love a writer’s work and learn to recognize their hand without ever seeing a byline. But if you asked me what was the unique signature that I was recognizing or responding to, there’s hardly ever an easy answer. It’s all about textures and layers and effects and echoes of other work. This is how we recognize writers, right? Not by any particular set of special textual characteristics, but by their spoor, their haecceity: their Natalia Theodoridou-ness, their Yoon Ha Lee-nature. We recognize the way they make us feel. I mean, this is explicable in (mostly) rational terms, probably, just not reducible to anything short of a series of critical essays. Obviously I can’t do that for myself, so I look forward to finding out someday exactly what it is that makes my work tick.
Devi: What’s the best way for people to find out more about you and your work?