Sam J. Miller, Pocket Interview No. 2
Sam J. Miller lives in New York City. His debut novel, The Art of Starving, has been described by Book Riot as "funny, haunting, relentless and...a classic in the making" and by Kirkus as a "dark and lovely tale of supernatural vengeance and self-destruction." Recently, he talked with us at the feminist SciFi convention, WisCon, about, among other things, body image, manhood, the dubious magic of violence, and how to keep going in a world that sometimes just fucking sucks. Also, James Baldwin and RuPaul. (click here to listen to the interview)
"Murder happens to the best of us."
STORYOLOGICAL: When Sam was a kid, what did you see or smell or hear in your home?
SAM J. MILLER: Meat.
STORYO: Why meat?
SAM: Because my father was a butcher. It was a small business that he was the sole proprietor of, and he worked super long hours and so he would come home and his clothes would smell of meat and he had meat on his hands and he had a pair of shoes that always had like flecks of animal flesh on them and some of my first toys were–he would bring home these stickers that were like the, you know, PRIME RIB or GRADE A sticker that you put on a meat package. And so I would put those on my blocks that I played with. I would build castles out of meat. Now that I think about it, I guess that's what I was doing.
STORYO: Remind me where you grew up?
SAM: I grew up in a small town in upstate New York called Hudson which is on the titular Hudson River, 114 miles north of New York City and 38 miles south of Albany.
STORYO: Why do you know exactly how many miles it is away from things?
SAM: I don't know. I'm very obsessed with the Hudson River, and I used to have fantasies of running away and following the rails that go along the Hudson River. So I think probably it was some degree of, you know, planning for my eventual escape.
STORYO: You wanted to escape?
STORYO: What did you want to escape? The butcherdom? What was it about Hudson that...
SAM: My family was great. My family was always really supportive. I just really hated school. I did very well in school, but I had a lot of bullies and nasty people and just generally felt really out of place and fairly convinced that at some point I was going to bring great shame on my family.
In this way that often happens in small towns, everybody knew my dad. We weren't rich. We had this failing butcher shop that spent 10 years in a slow collapse and finally closed when Wal-Mart came to town. But my dad was very well-liked by everyone. And, so, in that sort of small town close-knit way, I had this pretty solid conviction that I was going to–by being gay–probably be a great source of shame and embarrassment. And so I used to fantasize either about running away, or I often had like a whole sort of suicide backup plan for just how I would do it in such a way that I would give my parents just enough plausible deniability that maybe I had been murdered.
STORYO: So, you were considering at an early age murder? How to fake it?
STORYO: How to kill oneself without bringing shame?
STORYO: Because you don't want to be an embarrassment?
SAM: Right. There's no shame in being murdered. Murder happens to the best of us.
"Our identities–everything about us that isn't just like our naked bodies–is a construct and is a story that we are telling to ourselves and to others."
STORYO: So how did dinosaurs enter into this? Because I know you began loving dinosaurs right...
SAM: Very young.
SAM: My initial plan, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, was I wanted to be a dinosaur. And then after several adults told me that that wasn't actually possible I figured they were probably not lying, and it probably wasn't possible. So then I wanted to be a paleontologist. So probably from like four or five I was pretty obsessed with dinosaurs.
And, you know there was probably a period in my adolescence where I was too cool for dinosaurs, but that passed quickly I'm sure.
STORYO: When did you decide to go from paleontologist to writer-who-writes-sometimes-about-dinosaurs?
SAM: I don't know. I think I realized, you know–as many people do who sort of fantasize about being a scientist–that being a scientist is a ton of work and it's really hard. And you have to be really smart and dedicated and committed. And, so, realizing that the sciences were not for me, I started writing writing when I was a teenager. But when I think about it–when I look back and I figure out where I started to become a writer–it was when I was in elementary school and I was really bad at sports and at recess no one wanted to play with me and I didn't want to play with them because they were doing things I hated. So, I started telling really elaborate lies.
I would tell people that I had seen horror movies that I had not actually seen. And, you know, none of us were allowed to see horror movies so they were like, ‘Oh my god, tell me all about Jaws!’
I only knew what I had read on the back of the box at the video store, so I would make up these elaborate, hour-long narratives that had nothing to do with the plot of the movie, but that I realized were stories much later. So. Yeah. I would lie to people so that they would be friends with me. And so that they would hang out with me. And that's sort of like the roots of my career as a fiction writer.
STORYO: Which. “Things with Beards.”1
There's a lot of lying to oneself, right? I think you talked about how in the film The Thing–I don't know who the character is...?
STORYO: MacReady. Right. In The Thing, you've spoken about how MacReady had all the pictures of women on the wall and you felt like it was totally cool for you to imagine he's lying to himself or he's projecting a lie.
STORYO: So, is that–do you think that's fair to say that that stretched into your fiction? That you continue to write about people who are lying to themselves, or lying to other people, for that connection?
SAM: I think so. I mean I really like the RuPaul quote, "We're born naked and the rest is drag." I think it's RuPaul. I hope I'm not misattributing that.2
Our identities–everything about us that isn't just like our naked bodies–is a construct and is a story that we are telling to ourselves and to others.
I am really fascinated as a writer in the sort of narratives that we construct about ourselves and how that relates to who we really are and what's the narrative we tell ourselves versus the narrative that we tell the world. So with “Things with Beards,” there's no real clue in the movie The Thing about who these people are, right? We don't get a lot of backstory. And one of the only sort of background elements is in MacReady, the character played by Kurt Russell, in his room there's these pinups on the wall of naked or semi-clad women. And, you know, you can think about that as a sort of tell that the filmmakers were using to communicate masculinity or a certain kind of like heterosexual machismo, and you can think about how that might be what the filmmakers intended, but that this could be read a lot of ways and one possible way to read that is that this is sort of a performative masculinity. That it isn't real, or that it is real, but that it doesn't necessarily connote heterosexuality. It connotes an idea of masculinity that is synonymous with heterosexuality, and so maybe wanting people to think that you're straight.
STORYO: Right. Like drag. Like dressing as a straight man.
STORYO: In order to pass.
SAM: Exactly. Exactly. So that's true in cases when you are passing, right? When you are being perceived by people as something that you're not. And sometimes that is something you control and sometimes that is not something you control. So, you know, as a white, cis male who sort of performs masculinity in a kind of conventional way, I feel like I can pass for straight in certain interactions, which is a privilege that not everyone has, but that that's not really different than the way anybody performs gender.
The hetero, macho, athletic, hooded-sweatshirt and baseball cap wearing, dude bro? That person is also performing masculinity, and in a way that is not necessarily more honest than someone else who is wanting to pass for that.
These are all costumes we wear; these are all ways that we try to blend in or, you know, be perceived as something by others.
“So, you know, there's sort of this crushing, lingering body image dysmorphia/discomfort that I still feel–that is mostly under control–but that never never really goes away. I've never really stopped looking at myself in the mirror when I pass and going, ahhhh, it's not great.”
STORYO: Has your idea of manhood changed from when you were a kid? Or do some of those old ideas of what it means to be a man continues to be tugged along behind you?
SAM: I think that it's complicated because I think that was the language that I used then–of I want to be, or I want to look, or I want to be perceived as a certain kind of man. That was the goal that I had. But, it's not the goal I have now.
I feel pretty confident and certain of what I am. But, I still just today, putting on this T-shirt, I was like, ‘This T-shirt is maybe a little too tight, Sam! Maybe you should have brought a medium instead of a small.’
So, I do still obsess over my appearance, and I don't think that's necessarily different from, you know, when I was in high school and I wanted to be a tough guy or I thought that by being strong, by looking a certain way, I would deflect the bullying I was getting or that I would somehow feel better about myself and who I was.
There have been times in my life when I've been working out a lot and I think I look better and that hasn't made me feel not miserable, right? That hasn't made me feel good about myself. I mean I've felt good about myself, but that hasn't silenced the voice that was like, ‘You are not the sort of beautiful male ideal that you want.’
And, I think that that is deeply entrenched in the formation of queer identity and when you're a gay boy–especially a closeted gay boy in a small town, you don't necessarily have the sort of validation that your peers might have where you are sexually desiring others who in turn sexually desire you so that you feel better about yourself and your body because your desired. I was doing a lot of desiring, and I was not being desired, as far as I was aware in any kind of like reciprocal physical/intimate way.
So, there's sort of this crushing, lingering body image dysmorphia/discomfort that I still feel–that is mostly under control–but that never really goes away. I've never really stopped looking at myself in the mirror when I pass and going, ahhhh, it's not great.
STORYO: Your book, The Art of Starving, also features somebody with a let's say not simple relationship with their body, or their power. Talk to me about that. Where did the book come from? What did you hope, or what did you find in yourself and in the world, as you wrote it?
SAM: So, I myself had an eating disorder when I was a teenager, and it was not as bad as the character in my book. It didn't result in my hospitalization–I did get rushed to the emergency room at some point cause I was in really, really extreme stomach pain–but I had this real, like we talked about, sense that I was just disgusting and no one would ever desire me and that by restricting my food, I could assert a sort of sense of, ‘I'm not as fat as I think I am.’
At the same time, as I was dealing with a lot of bullying and shame and conflict with my identity.
So that's where the story came from, and in the novel, the character, the hungrier he gets the sharper his senses get until he begins to acquire supernatural abilities and uses them to exact fiery vengeance on the people who wronged him.
And that's not true. That part is not, was not, my experience.
STORYO: It's not autobiography.
SAM: That part is not autobiography.
STORYO: Metaphorically autobiographical?
SAM: Yeah. I mean I think it metaphorizes–which people keep telling me is not a word but I'm not going to stop using–it metaphorizes this thing that I've heard other folks talk about as a symptom of eating disorders which is that it gives you a sense of power. It gives you a sense of control.
And, actually, violence does that, you know? Violence against yourself and violence against others, one of the functions is to make you feel stronger and more powerful. Or make the other person feel less powerful. So, an eating disorder is a form of violence that's been turned on one's self. And so the book is about the character's journey from finding power through violence to finding power through self-love and self-acceptance.
STORYO: I remember talking to Emma once about how I grew up feeling, for whatever reason, ashamed or like a monster, like nobody desired me, but the privilege of being able to go into a bar–which I hated going into a bar–but in theory I could go up and talk to a girl and there was at least some inherent assumption that this was okay. That this was what was supposed to happen and that not having even that assumption can be weird.
SAM: It was weird.
SAM: It was weird. And I think that identity formation is traumatizing for lots of people in lots of different ways and that those traumas sort of end up being our identity.
SAM: That's who we are, is the traumas that we've experienced. And so I don't think that queer white working class Jewish butcher kids from upstate New York have any kind of like special claim on, or unique ownership of being unhappy with themselves, with their physical selves, with their body.
STORYO: But you have yours.
SAM: Yes, exactly.
STORYO: You have special ownership of you. The ways that you are broken.
“...all of that is because I'm a bad person and I have no respect for human life and wantonly murder people in a way that is legally sound and ethical which is by doing it in fiction instead of real life.”
STORYO: It seems like in your stories people hurt a lot of other people.
STORYO: Why? Why is everybody killing other people in your stories? Cause, you know, when I'm starting to read a Sam story, I do usually think, ‘Well, okay a lot of people are going to die.’
STORYO: Well maybe just the last few, like, “Things with Beards,” “Heat of Us...,” “Angel, Monster, Man,” or “Fifty-Seven Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicide.”3
SAM: Oh, well, so all of that is because I'm a bad person and I have no respect for human life and wantonly murder people in a way that is legally sound and ethical which is by doing it in fiction instead of real life. No, I actually, none of that is true.
I've said to you before that one of my main obsessions to explore in fiction is why do people do terrible things. And so I often will try to explore where people are coming from when they're doing things that I would never do.
One of the quotes I live by is from The Talented Mr. Ripley. He says, 'Well, no one thinks, "I'm a bad person." Whatever you do, no matter how terrible it is, it makes sense to you in your head.'4
Even the most evil motherfucker probably thinks that whatever evil shit they did was justified.
One of my first published stories was narrated by a woman who participated in a terrorist attack on an abortion clinic because I was really fascinated by this Planned Parenthood in my hometown where there would always be these protests across the street from it, and many of the protesters were women. So, you can think about that as this complicated thing of why are women participating in their own oppression. And, of course, they have really good reasons for it, right? And of course they probably wouldn't articulate it that way. They don't think that they're participating in their own oppression. They probably think they're doing something really good and that is really ultimately about helping women.
STORYO: That ambivalence seems important to you. Because you could, you know, cast in your stories somebody that we are designed to hate and then help us in hating them. But, it seems like you cast people who we might tend to want to love–somebody who's oppressed, somebody who clearly is having life shit on them–and then it almost feels like you sometimes work hard to complicate our ability to connect with them and then maybe try to bring us back at some point. Is that fair?
SAM: Well shit, when you put it like that, that sounds terrible. That sounds like a terrible idea.
STORYO: I love it, though. And, I'll tell you why I love it, because I do love your stories. It’s that when I read stories about people...(editor's note: some kind of armored personnel carrier drove past us at this point...)
SAM: They're coming for you, Chris.
STORYO: Ah, yeah I grew up...
SAM: They know what you did.
STORYO: Yeah. I don't know what it was, but I grew up afraid I was always going to be caught doing something wrong.
SAM: Did you have a traumatic police encounter in your childhood or adolescence?
SAM: Because I did and that's why I have my looking over the shoulder like when are they going to arrest me thing.
STORYO: As a small child?
SAM: I was 13 and just cops were fucking with me and my friend, and it was totally like not a big deal but–
STORYO: –but it was a big deal!
SAM: But they were assholes and it fucked me up.
SAM: And they detained me for a really long time and my mom came looking for me, and she was convinced, and still is to this day, that I was doing whatever the cops said that we were doing. But she took me home. I did not get arrested or further fucked with.
STORYO: Right, but that cop. Horrible human, is there a reason they did that to me? Did you ever try to figure...
SAM: Yeah, no, I definitely think it makes total sense, and I could totally see that cop like, you know, being a really loving father and going home and like being a really good dad in some ways, probably not in others. And, you know, having a totally clear conscience. And if was ever called to task for it–was ever told you did this thing that was fucked up and you probably did it a lot because that's probably how you roll and you probably do that on a daily basis–would probably say, ‘Well if I can like scare kids straight, you know? It's good for kids to fear cops, right? It's good for kids to not want to have a police encounter. So, if in this totally low stakes situation where I wasn't going to do anything, and they weren't genuinely in danger then I actually, as traumatic as it might have been, helped them, right?’
I'm sure it totally makes sense.
STORYO: It made you a better writer, so...
SAM: Exactly, exactly. And, of course, there's like, you know, a huge privilege aspect here where youth of color have much more horrific, and much more regular, encounters that I think I probably couldn't rationalize. I couldn't rationalize those cops.
STORYO: Right. Is that–
SAM: –or, if I could, I probably wouldn't want to.
STORYO: Is that a limit? A limit you've found yourself running into, more and more, the sense that there are people you don't want to work to understand? Or work to present in a way that we are meant to understand and empathize with?
SAM: Yeah, definitely. Because I certainly have a problem with narratives where there's a certain kind of person who is a certain kind of horrific who we are then made to sympathize with.
So, for example, like I love villains and I really, you know, tend to identify with them and find that they are the people that I connect with much more than the heroes. There are certain kinds of villainy and certain kinds of bad behavior that I don't want to be sympathetic to, and I don't want to find out that like this person who did this terrible thing had a really rough childhood.
I think of like Joffrey on Game of Thrones, right? You know he tortures women because he spent his whole life knowing that he was the bastard son of incest or whatever. Like I don't...certain kinds of behavior...sometimes I will pull back from a story that I want to write because I'm like, ‘Neither I, nor anyone else needs to feel sympathy for a person who does this, right?’ Whatever this might be.
“...love is what carries us through...”
STORYO: I've been reading a lot of James Baldwin, lately.
SAM: Awesome. Good.
STORYO: He is amazing.
SAM: My favorite American writer.
SAM: Because for one thing I think James Baldwin and Virginia Woolf and Samuel Delaney are the three writers who can do fiction and non-fiction at such an incandescent level, right? Most people are really good at one, and might dip their toes in the other, and might do okay with it, but never the same degree of fireworks.
James Baldwin's essays are magnificent and powerful and earth shattering in a similar but also very different way from his fiction and from his novels. I think he inhabits and addresses identity really differently through those two mediums, and I just feel like he's one of these writers whose voice is such that every sentence has the weight of truth. It feels not only true, but true in a way that has never been written before.5
STORYO: I feel like in reading Baldwin there's this mixture of shame and hope and violence and that's kind of why, when I was reading him, I thought, ‘Oh this reminds me of Sam.’
STORYO: I wondered, maybe we've kind of been circling around this, but do you feel like there is a way to be tender and violent at the same time? Or to be violently tender? If that makes sense. When I read your stories, I feel a warmth but it feels...well kind of like diner coffee. Like there's something bitter and honest about it that's kind of painful–that kind of hits you in the face–but you feel better for it.
SAM: Thank you. That's very kind. I don’t—I had never really thought about it that way, but, now that you say it, I do feel like as a reader those are the things that I love best. The things where there's sort of like a bedrock of love, and often that is where I connect to character the most, right? I think of the Hunger Games where Katniss and Katniss' voice and Katniss' sort of mission is so rooted in her love. At the same time it's rooted in anger, and, at some points, hate.
But that love is what carries us through, and so, as a reader, I really value that. I really love when an author can sort of establish this profound love that then lets you look at the horror, right?
One of my favorite novels is Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.
There's this one level on which it's a really frothy and not great-stakes day in a woman's life as she plans a party. And, on another level, once you start following that, you're led into this profound regret she has over decisions she's made and the life that she didn't live and the man she did not choose and other characters including this profoundly damaged war veteran who ultimately takes his own life in the course of the day.
I think there's often a really interesting and probably not unproblematic naiveté to Virginia Woolf's characters. There's a line in To the Lighthouse where the woman, who is the main character, is clearing the table and there's these men who she's had dinner with, and who she has helped prepare dinner for, and she has this great profound moment of love and respect for them even though she's annoyed with them on a number of levels. She lists things that she's grateful to them for and one of the things she lists is run India
So it's this really glib, two-word, glorification and celebration of horrific imperialism that is sort of tossed in there.
Love can be ignorant and love can be naive, and I don't want to say that Virginia Woolf wasn't, didn't knowingly put that in there. I don't know her politics on imperialism (I wouldn't assume that they're great but they could be), so I don't want to say where the author was coming from, but the character's love was naive and not without cost to others.
SAM: So, yes. That maybe something that I've tried to carry over into my own fiction because I really love loving characters even if I can be like, 'Dude get your shit together.'
STORYO: Sense8. A show I know you love. That, too, seems like a story where there's a bedrock of love and connection that sometimes feels revolutionary in its own way.
SAM: Yes! So, my favorite example of that—and why I love that narrative as opposed to others—is that in the first season of Sense8 (no spoilers) there is a nine-minute sequence of the eight characters being born, right? And there’s—here I get choked up—the pain that their mothers go through, the sort of like love and wonderment of the family, the sort of different ways that it happened. The ways that are sterile and in a hospital, and the ways that are messy and accidental and in the home. And the characters—through their love for one another, through this profound connection that they have—are able to experience those moments, their own birth and others, and have this appreciation of what miracles they are and how much joy they've had in their lives as a result of this thing that happened.
And then, right around when that episode was released, on Game of Thrones (another show that I really love, but don't love so unreservedly and at times think I'm going to break up with it because I hate it for many reasons) there is also a nine-minute scene that, like in Sense8, could be a minute and a half and doesn’t need to go on for so long. It was a decision that the filmmakers made to prolong the scene for whatever reason. And whereas in Sense8 it's prolonged because it's magical and exalts the soul and makes you feel profound happiness and bliss, the nine-minute scene in Game of Thrones is a character, being literally shit upon as people scream at them and they’re walking barefoot over horrible things. And, you know, this is a villain, right? This is a character who the show has in many ways set you up to hate and you've spent a long time hating them, so it's the spectacle of their suffering like, 'Here's nine minutes of this person who you hate getting what's coming to them.'
And, that’s the difference. Of a narrative that is trying to make you feel love versus a narrative that's trying to make you feel vindictive pleasure. To revel in violence and suffering as opposed to reveling in connection and love.
STORYO: That goes back to the thing that I feel like you do very well which is that your characters indulge in a lot of righteous violence, but the narratives don't seem constructed for us to indulge uncomplicatedly—which is a dumb word, but...
SAM: I love it.
STORYO: They’re not constructed for us to indulge uncomplicatedly in the violence. In the heat of us story. Remind me of the whole name.
SAM: The Heat of Us: Notes Towards an Oral History. Or is it Notes Toward an Oral History. I still don't know toward and towards and further and farther.
STORYO: Yeah. I don't know that either. And now that I live in England I'm very confused by lots of things I don't remember what the right grammar is.
In that story one of the characters is trying to understand why this explosive—literally explosive—event happened during the Stonewall riots where this energy erupted out of the people against the police and against this metaphor of oppression and they talk about how in other moments in history—like the Haitian Revolution—when people are celebrating something they're unstoppable.
And that feels like it connects to Sense8 in the way that those people are loved and that this love and connection between them is what gives them power.
Where do you find the faith in the idea that love and celebration is something that can overcome oppression?
SAM: So, on the one hand, it’s just that's what I see everyday. I am a community organizer6, and I see people who are dealing with horrific oppression. I work with homeless folks in New York City who just, you know, walk into my office every morning having maybe slept for an hour because the cops kept kicking them away, or awake, or they were taken to the hospital against their will or to the psychiatric ward or they were arrested for something that wasn't against the law. And yet these are folks who can come together and fight back and who can find a productive way to challenge that. On your own you can’t, you know? There's a limit to what you can do if you're one person without a billion dollars, right? If you're not, if you're not Gatsby, there's only so much you can do to make the change happen in the world that you want.
If you're a homeless person and the cops roll up on you at 2:00 in the morning and you're full of rage—as you should be because this is not right, and this shouldn't be happening—there's no safe way to access that rage in that moment. You know only terrible things are going to come from this because the cop will do something bad to you.
And yet these folks can come and sit in meetings and plan actions and have made amazing changes happen that have made things better for homeless folks because they came together and they fought for it. And they were motivated from lots of things including anger and rage, but also from love for each other and trust in each other.
And if you think about it, direct action—especially but not exclusively civil disobedience—there’s such a high degree of love and connection that needs to be involved because you have to trust each other.
You have to trust that the person who is the police negotiator is going to handle that and is going to prevent you from getting arrested or is going to hold off arrest for as long as possible. You have to trust that the press spokesperson is not going to say some crazy fucking shit that's going to make the whole thing look bad, right? You have to trust that the person across the street handing out flyers is going to not piss off the neighbors, right, and that it’s going to help do what you're there to do which is get more people on your side. So, I see that all the time. I see love and connection and people coming together achieve really great things and we've passed some legislation that people said could never be passed, and we've gotten some policies and things ended that people thought would never be ended. So, on the sort of like systemic and functional level, I think that is real and something I've observed.
And there's another level on which I believe that life just fucking sucks. Like life is just full of horrible sadness.
And, you know, some people will experience a lot more than others, right, and some people will experience a lot more hardship and oppression and some people will live lives that are protected by privilege, but even those people are going to lose people they love and have things happen that are devastating. Nobody controls the world. And as you go through life and these horrific things happen and, you know, I lost my father two years ago and I had never really anticipated pain like that. Even though my father was sick for seven years and for most of that the end result was pretty clear, and I thought was emotionally prepared for it, I just wasn't. It hurt in a way that has never really stopped hurting and, you know, I told you before I feel like the world became a little less awesome.
So, life is going to fucking suck, and the thing that makes it livable, the thing that makes us keep going, and why I have not yet jumped off of anything really high, is love and the people that I love and the things that I love and the books and music and the movies that I love and the fact that we have art as a refuge and we have each other as a refuge and we have this deep connection that is there—that we can access whenever we want—to others. And, while people are mortal and people will die and you will feel pain when you lose people, there's a level on which art does not die, and is a connection to all humanity. I think it's actually a James Baldwin quote, although it might be Richard Wright, where he says that books were how I learned that the things that tormented me the most were the things that connected me to every other person who had ever lived. The anguish of loneliness, and the pain and hunger, are not unique. They are universal.7
So, that's the individual level on which love undergirds my work. That’s how I keep going.
“Shapeshifting gay aliens.”
STORYO: There's this questionnaire that I adore that this ridiculous lovely man named James Lipton used to do on the show Inside the Actor's Studio.
STORYO: You're familiar.
SAM: My favorite curse word is motherfucker.
STORYO: I couldn't remember if he asked what your favorite curse word was, or just asked what your favorite word was and people volunteered.
SAM: Pretty sure it's a curse word.
STORYO: Is it curse word?
SAM: I think so. I could be wrong.
STORYO: Yours is motherfucker.
SAM: I mean I have a lot of favorites.
STORYO: What is your favorite word?
SAM: The word that popped into my head is thrust. And I don't know what that means about me but that's the word. That's what I'm going to go with. I mean I love a lot of words. I have a real fondness for the sort of short consonant heavy Anglo-Saxon origin words like thrust and swamp and fuck and shit and pierce and all those. Those are the ones I have the most fun using in my writing. Like drumbeats on my on my heart.
STORYO: What is your least favorite word?
SAM: Vertiginous. That's the word that popped in my head. I don't know that I have a least favorite word.
STORYO: What is your favorite smell?
SAM: I will not give an obscene answer and I will just say my mom's spaghetti sauce.
STORYO: Least favorite smell.
SAM: Are we saying besides shit? I feel like shit is probably like a universally least favorite smell.
STORYO: I think shit's okay.
SAM: Okay. So that's what I'm going to go with.
STORYO: What do you wish you knew more about?
SAM: Every science.
STORYO: What do you wish you knew less about?
SAM: How fucked up governments are.
STORYO: Let's pretend your life has a soundtrack. What song is playing when you're happiest?
SAM: “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston.
STORYO: What is your favorite kind of story?
SAM: A story that leaves me with a sense of justice. That the ending and the character's journey has—whether or not it's happy—balances.
STORYO: What is your least favorite kind of story?
SAM: The opposite. A story where there is no justice. A story where somebody really good gets shitted on, and then it's the end of the story. Or when somebody's really bad gets good things and then that's the end of the story.
STORYO: So William Faulkner had this quote where he said the only thing worth writing about was the heart in conflict with itself. So if we imagined Faulkner comes back from the dead to write your story what do you think this story is about?
SAM: Shapeshifting gay aliens.
STORYO: I would adore that story.