Author Interview: Lisa Shininger
2016-03-17 · by Kerstin
A book-loving space nerd, Lisa Shininger hosts the Apex Magazine and Bossy Britches podcasts and reviews short fiction for Luna Station Quarterly. Despite their best efforts to convince her otherwise, she is also a Cleveland Browns fan. You can yell with her about pop culture (and everything else) at @ohseafarer.
Kerstin Hall: Dinosaurs or robots?
Lisa Shininger: Dinosaurs, because I’m fairly confident they won’t reach for the nuclear codes on gaining sentience. But who knows?
Kerstin: So you are pretty involved with Apex Magazine and podcasts and things. Want to tell us what that entails?
Lisa: I love working on Apex‘s podcast! It’s been a wonderful experience using my voice to bring such great stories to life. The editor, Jason Sizemore, put out a call for a new podcast producer a little over a year ago. Julia du Mais and I had been doing Bossy Britches for a few months, so I sent him my resume and a sample of the podcast. And he liked it enough to give me the job.
Every month Jason sends the story he wants to feature for the next month’s issue, along with the author’s bio and some ad copy. I read through it all a couple of times, try to get a sense of the characters and narrator’s voices, then record. Sometimes I use pronunciation guides, in the hopes that I don’t mess up someone’s name or a word in a language I don’t speak. The original recording usually winds up with a lot of tongue-twisting and cursing that I have to edit out!
Kerstin: But this was your very first fiction sale? How was that experience for you?
Lisa: I can’t tell you how exciting it was to get the acceptance from sub-Q. I’ve been writing forever, but only got serious about submitting in the last year or two. The rejection slips have been piling up! At a previous job, we had some sales training where we were taught to count the no’s, so I set up a whole filing system in Gmail for those. When you and Tory emailed me about this project, I realized I’d never set one up for yes’s! That was a fun thing to do.
This whole process of working with sub-Q has been a fantastic experience. When I initially developed the project, there were a handful of beta testers who were a big help, but you gave me suggestions that helped to clarify various threads of the story. Getting to sit down and work through all the sequences again with fresh feedback let me see where the story accomplished what I wanted it to, and where it didn’t.
Kerstin: Do you have a lot of experience in the interactive fiction realm? Where did your interest in the medium come from?
Lisa: You know, I’d totally forgotten about this until a couple of weeks ago, but I was completely obsessed with Infocom’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when I was a kid. I don’t remember ever getting past the room on the Vogon ship with the Babel fish dispenser. Which happens early in the game. So, obviously, I was very good at that one.
Another Day in Seething Bay is my first and only interactive fiction so far. I wrote it for a digital media class last year. We had a choice of IF frameworks to work with, and Twine made the most sense to me. So I sketched out a preliminary story idea and started mapping it. It morphed into something completely different when I realized I had no idea what I was doing!
Eventually it clicked that Twine was just a new box to put choose-your-adventure stories into. My friends and I were obsessed with those when we were kids, so it was a lot of fun figuring out how to write one of my own.
Kerstin: You said you received advice from other people in writing Another Day in Seething Bay. How did that influence the development of the story?
Lisa: The folks who volunteered to beta were so helpful. I also got some guidance on developing the IF itself from my professor, Trevor Dodge. Honestly, though, the development of the story was mostly due to the limitations of my skill in Twine. I knew where I wanted Adanna to wind up, and what she should encounter along the way, but I didn’t know how to do the really fancy things&emdash;for example, replacing text within the same passage based on clicking certain words. So that moved it in more of a classic choose-your-adventure direction.
Kerstin: What do you do for fun?
Lisa: Lately it’s binge on old Law & Order episodes! I love to travel and I’m hoping to visit every contiguous US state by an arbitrary deadline. Most of my free time at home is eaten up with writing, reading, trying to keep the cat from falling off things, and spending way too much time on Twitter.
Kerstin: Give me one unusual factoid about yourself.
Lisa: My mom swears that the only thing that would get me to stop crying as a baby was Walter Cronkite’s voice. To this day, if a movie or something uses his voice, I will completely stop whatever I’m doing before I even register that it’s him.
Kerstin: Where do you live and where did you grow up?
Lisa: I grew up and still live in Dayton, Ohio.
Kerstin: What shapes or influences your writing?
Lisa: I read constantly, everything from cereal boxes to fanfic to whatever novel I can get my hands on. You can definitely tell when I’ve been reading a lot of the same author, or when one has made a big impact on me, because everything I write starts to sound like them. Which can be great! I’d give a lot to have the same facility with conversation and dialogue as my favorites. I don’t think I’ve developed a distinct voice of my own, so that’s something I’m working on.
Kerstin: How bad are your Mondays?
Lisa: Bad! I got a little too used to long weekends over the holidays.
Kerstin: So Seething Bay. It’s not really an easy game to win . . .
Lisa: I’m actually delighted that you would say that. This might not be entirely true, but I’m convinced I never made it out of a choose-your-adventure book alive without cheating.
Kerstin: Players of Seething Bay certainly get to relive that difficulty curve. So many ways to die! What were you trying to say with the piece?
Lisa: You know, it was originally going to be a story about a character trying to get out of a regular old Earth office building at the end of a workday and running into all these obstacles. Like Dilbert meets a Klingon gauntlet, minus the weird sexism and the pain sticks.
When I started it, I was in school full-time and long-distance, and I’d recently taken on a new role at work. So Seething Bay was born from that frustration of just never having enough time, and the pressure to get things done so I could relax for a few minutes.
As the story took on more of a sci-fi future setting, I thought about what it might mean for the people working for these huge companies on the moon. In the end, it didn’t seem like it would be much different to nowadays, where most people are dependent on the value a company places on their work ability. Just, on the moon, you have much less of a safety net.
I took all these things that are bubbling under the surface in America – late capitalism and racial and class inequality, and what happens when you aren’t afforded the incredible privilege of being more than one paycheck away from ruin. All of which led to a grim and depressing view of the future that’s really at odds with what I hope for humanity.
Kerstin: When did you first fall in love with sci-fi? Can you remember the book?
Lisa: It was definitely The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It was so goofy and fun that I didn’t notice it was completely over my head for the most part.
Kerstin: What would you say to an author of traditional fiction who was considering trying out IF for the first time?
Lisa: Do it! I definitely recommend sitting down with a big sheet of paper to map out the flow of your story first though, even if you’re not generally an outliner. Or index cards. Something you can get messy with. Most of the IF tools are fairly easy to pick up if you aren’t a programmer, but it’s easy to get lost in the technical, so you need to have a good grip on your story. And if you need someone to be a game beta, hit me up!
Kerstin: What are your goals for the future?
Lisa: To keep writing and working on projects I love, and to spread the word about authors and books and media I love. I wouldn’t say no to a big lottery jackpot either, as long as it’s not the Shirley Jackson kind.
Kerstin: When you were six years old, what did you want most in the world? What do you want right now?
Lisa: When I was six? For Care-A-Lot to be real, and to climb into the Millennium Falcon to go on adventures with Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie. These were not necessarily independent wants.
Right now, I can’t stop thinking about beating that Hitchhiker’s Guide game.
Kerstin: If you had a million clowns, a million dollars, and a million litres of soda, how would you take over the world?
Lisa: Get the clowns jacked up on caffeine and turn them loose on major population centers. The plan fizzles out there, though, because now I’ve got to figure out how to turn a million dollars into enough caffeine to keep them going. Also, to be perfectly honest, I’m going to drink most of the Diet Coke myself.