“Swap.me” is a brilliant concept. Where did you get the idea for this story?
I’m fascinated by this notion that there are infinite universes existing simultaneously, with new ones branching off all the time as a result of the actions we do (or don’t) take. This was something Blake Crouch explored in his extraordinary 2016 novel Dark Matter, which featured a multiverse-hopping protagonist who would encounter different versions of himself during his adventure. After reading this book, the notion of being able to have a conversation with another me from another universe lingered in my brain, gestating for more than a year. Then, a few months ago, I heard an ad for an online dating service on the radio and within seconds the plot of “Swap.me” had put itself together. I had been driving between San Francisco and San Jose at the time, in the heart of Silicon Valley, and it dawned on me: If humanity ever does develop technology that allows for inter-universe communication (and/or travel), how would tech companies exploit it and productize it? And the natural follow-up question there, of course, is What could go wrong?
When did you start writing?
The oldest surviving story of mine is actually a story I co-wrote with my older sister. We were kids, on summer vacation, sitting in our rental cottage in Truro, Cape Cod, and I remember hearing the wind whistling through the beachgrass and the fishing lines outside and thinking it sounded like someone playing a melody on a flute. This soon evolved into a story about a love-stricken pirate-flutist who would play his tunes, in secret, for a Spanish princess who was being held captive by the evil Captain Bellamy aboard The Whydah. (For the record, The Whydah was an actual pirate ship, the wreck of which had been discovered off the coast of Cape Cod a few years before we wrote the story, so you can file this one under Historical Fiction.)
Why do you write speculative fiction?
I like my fiction with lots of fiction. When presented with a medium where anything goes, where you are free to bend, stretch, or straight-up break the laws of physics and tap into different realities and planes of existence, why set a story solely in the world of the mundane? Of course, there are many, many incredible and powerful works of fiction that don’t include a speculative element. But for me personally, I love that challenge of creating a world that readers can relate to (at least at some level, and at least at first), but then as they continue reading, that familiar world slowly, almost imperceptibly begins to rotate, until your story has readers suspended upside down, like they’re strapped into a roller coaster.
Who are your favourite writers?
A couple years back I spent a dollar on a collection that includes every single novel and short story H. G. Wells ever had published. Now, I had read Wells as a kid, but revisiting his stories as an adult—The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Door in the Wall, and others—they had a profound effect on me, and got me interested in writing speculative fiction of my own. Flash forward today and here I am: I quit my tech job earlier this year so I could focus more of my time on writing stories about inter-universe communication. (Thanks, H.G.!) Ultimately, however, I draw inspiration from all of the writers I’ve read over the years. I tend to go through phases, reading several (if not all) of a writer’s works in batches. There was the Arthur C. Clarke phase. The Stephen King phase. The gothic horror phase—Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. More recently I’ve been in a Robert Coover phase and have been devouring his bizarrely fascinating short stories, including “Going for a Beer” and “The Frog Prince”.
What writing projects are you working on now?
So for the past few months, I’ve been working almost exclusively in science fiction and horror, but now I’m returning to the realm of folklore and fantasy. I have long been inspired by Irish legends and mythology, as evident from my Woburn Chronicles collection (which includes a story about a shape-shifting leprechaun). More recently I’ve been working on a short story that explores modern/urban Druidry as well as the sacredness of liminal spaces—once seen as portals that led to different worlds. I am also editing a fantasy western that my father has been texting to me, in serialized chunks, every Monday for the past several months. I have no idea how this ritual got started, but it has turned into quite the tale. (Imagine the movie Sicario, but with a supernatural subplot.)
If you’re interested in reading any of the craziness mentioned above, you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook, or drop by my website, Kneverday.com to get updates. I also just recently got my author profile set up on Goodreads. Thanks for reading!