James O’Brien’s Travelers is included in the March issue. Â He talks with us about his preferred (or not) mode of travel, atrocious acts, nameless characters and more.
1. How do you prefer to travel long distances?
I donâ€™t. If I have to travel I go by plane. Thatâ€™s more a necessity as it saves time. Iâ€™d prefer horseback. But given the number of deer Iâ€™ve seen ground into the asphalt I somehow doubt that the highway system is designed to accommodate quadrupeds.
2. What would it take for you to murder a travel companion? How would you do it?
Iâ€™m notoriously short-fused when it comes to transportation issues. I especially loathe cars. When a passenger Corrects my driving my fingers start ticking. Thatâ€™s really not all too bad. So if I were predisposed to murder it would take little. But thankfully I am not of that type. The best plan is prevention. Just give the assholes the boot before they can step in your car and everything stays bloodless.
3. Are atrocious acts scarier when there are no clear motives behind them?
Yes. There is a fear in not knowing. By not knowing a thing or a sentiment or an act becomes unnameable. If something cannot be named or fully referenced then we lose all power over it. Language is our only power over anything else. This is the only trait that distinguishes us from anything else. If we loose our abilities to name or ascribe meaning via language to any referent then the foundational core of our human-ness is toppled. If we cannot name something then we are at best impotent. In this case itâ€™s the same. The lack of motive is a dual assault on both the immediate sense of visceral pain through a horrific representation of an act and a more cerebral attack on our limitations as humans. The disconnect in terms of knowledge then further frustrates readers or viewers.
4. Why did you choose not to give your characters in “Travelers” actual names?
A few reasons. One I touched on in the previous response. Not knowing bothers us. We want information. We want explanation. We want to be able to identify and control by claiming referents via language. If you canâ€™t do that as a reader then youâ€™re rendered helpless. So I want people to feel uncomfortable. In a different sense the lack of names universalizes the experience. It can be anyone sitting there. The last reason is petty. I hate names. I hate naming my characters.Â Â It seems limiting to me. More importantly itâ€™s pretty pointless to the effect of a story. Iâ€™m down with what Paul Auster has to say on writing being an act of stripping away. If it doesnâ€™t absolutely have to be present it needs to go. Often names fall into that category.
5. What would a version of “Travelers” look like if it involved Mystery Incorporated?
If Scooby and the gang found that body in the ditch I think theyâ€™d just stare down soundlessly. One would spit to the side of the corpse. Iâ€™m thinking the preppy blonde one. Then another might toe it for a little. Probably the redhead. Scooby might start scrapping for a shred of the flesh or a bit of the skull. No one would do anything than watch. After the dog was done theyâ€™dÂ climb the embankment and get in the van and drive away trying to find a radio station.
6. How should I hold that tire iron?
Like its the devilâ€™s throat when heâ€™s clawing for your soul.