*I like asking questions, not answering them.*
A Cornered Conversation with M. Susanne Wiggins
Q. What in the hell were you thinking when you decided to write a story about a high schooler contemplating a rage shooting?
A. Well, okay… I was thinking it wasn’t going to be easy and that I should probably do some homework first. It’s an ugly subject all around and I didn’t want to screw it up. Research for this kind of project involves reading manifestos of previous rampage shooters. They are so full of anger and sadness. How did these people come to this? While reading the more well-known shooter manifestos and journals, I wondered if there were any incomplete manifestos out there. It freaks me out thinking it’s more than likely that they exist. How many were started by people who considered doing this kind of violent act, but for whatever reason, never went through with it? Assuming that there are, I wondered what stopped them. Since I doubt anyone would ever admit to it, and certainly not agree to be interviewed about it, I had to imagine what stopped them and that’s what led to the birth to this story.
Q. Care to name the manifestos you researched?
Q. Fair enough. Payton tells Christina that Dr. Mead diagnosed him borderline Depersonalization Disorder. Why that?
A. Not that I’m a psychiatrist, but as I’ve already mentioned, I do my research. I thought this particular mental health diagnosis fit well with Payton’s characterization. Depersonalization is described as feeling disconnected or estranged from one’s body, thoughts, or emotions. I knew I got it right when an ‘industry individual’, who’d read the first half of an early draft of Silentis, wrote this about Payton: “He seems very detached from his thoughts, so I wasn’t really sure exactly why he felt the need to kill his classmates.”
Though perplexed by the wording in the sentence, I was also flattered. I think this was when I realized just how much care I had taken…trying to get very real mental health issues right, while writing on a fictional level.
In the words of Henri Amiel from 1880 in The Journal Intime, “I find myself regarding existence as though from beyond the tomb, from another world; all is strange to me; I am, as it were, outside my own body and individuality; I am depersonalized, detached, cut adrift. Is this madness?”
Q. Why the ghosts?
A. Why not? The subject matter is dark enough. Can you imagine this story without them? Also, they offer a twist that forces Payton to reevaluate his plans through a different lens. Besides, they were cool to imagine and a lot of fun to write.
Q. Do you believe in ghosts?
A. I’ve never seen one, thankfully. If one came into the room right now, I’d either jump out the window or do my best impression of a chair.
Q. Since these characters are in high school, is young adult your target audience?
A. What are you really asking me?
Q. There’s a laundry list of reasons why it could be challenged. What are your views on censoring?
A. All right, back to the target audience question. First and foremost, I am my initial target audience. Am I happy with it? Do I like it? As a matter of fact, yes, I do. As for everyone else, you can love it and wallpaper the den with the pages, or else you can hate it and line the birdcage with it. You have your own mind, hopefully it’s filled with your own opinions and preferences, so use it. I have my own mind, filled with opinions and preferences, and I will not censor my work because shit shocks a few. The library of Earth is vast, read what pleases you.
Q. Do you have anything in common with any of the characters?
A. I question everything, like Payton, and crack jokes about it all, like Gal.
Q. Are you working on anything new?
A. Always. New, old…before, during, and after. Actually, my next project to publish is ARES. It’s a lot more science fiction. As in, it takes place on a different planet. The manuscript is complete, but I do want go through it again to make sure I’m a hundred percent happy with it.
Q. There are a couple of unexplored mysteries in Silentis. Any significance?
A. Can I get some extra ketchup?
Q. Will we be hearing more from Raynors?
A. You read the mausoleum inscription, didn’t you?
Q. I feel like you’ve turned this interview around.
A. When did you start having these feelings?
1. Payton often questions his ability to commit a violent act. Do you think he was ever truly capable?
2. Christina says of parents who own guns, “They’re so worried about the outside getting in that they never think about the inside getting out.” What does this statement mean to you?
3. The story is written in first-person present tense. While this style isn’t for everyone, do you feel the story would have been better if told in past tense, or from a different point of view? If so, how would the story change?
4. Though Payton’s grandfather is never physically in the story until the end, do you feel he was just as much of a presence as the five were?
5. The Epilogue was not included in the story and is only available online. How do you feel about the morally grey ending? Do you feel that the questions you’re left with at the end are, in some ways, a better continuation of the story?
6. What sort of bird/s would you want welcoming you? What sort do you think you’d likely get?