Interview with Sotto Voce

27th May 2022

‘Orange Sundress’ is a shortlisted story in our bi-annual short story competition. Read all the stories and vote for your favourite here. 

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I am a proud parent of a 6.5kg dog and have built my life around this little guy since I adopted him, including quitting my professional job to spend more time with him. I have been moving around since I was young and I don’t really identify myself with certain places or cultures. I prefer people to value me through genuine interactions rather than influenced by my visible demographics. My favorite pastime is spending time with my loved ones and doing outdoor activities, such as scuba diving, photography, and mountaineering, or indoor activities like reading and writing.

I had a regular journal of my trips and adventures when I was younger and took part in a short-lived short story community a long time ago (twenty years!), but I have only started writing books recently.

Where did the idea for this story come from?

The initial idea was based on a real story I witnessed about affection, long-term obsession with a bit of (or a lot) of delusion. But don’t worry, the rest is fiction.

Are there other authors or stories that influenced this one?

Not specifically, but I am a fan of the third-person narrative. I find it effective and it makes the character more intimate yet retains some mystery for the readers. George R. R. Martin uses this very effectively in A Song of Ice and Fire series.

How did you find writing about the theme of spring?

I find the theme broad enough to explore and it’s possible to write something different from the usual inspiration about spring. The word itself is normally associated with beauty, new beginnings, happiness, colors – something that people are looking forward to.

So, I started it that way and let myself go from there.

Is it something that you’ve done before?

No. Usually I am more inspired by events and specific ideas than something broad. But I enjoyed the approach.

Some authors plan a full plot from the beginning. For others, the story appears at they write. Which was the case for you?

Originally, I thought I was the first, based on most things I do in life. Eventually I fit more into the second, with the story developing as I write. It gives me more flexibility and creativity to find what works the best at that moment; it allows me to put in progressions that surprise me as well. For example, the decision to develop a character that I thought was only fitting for the back story into one of the main characters. Having said that, I do have some self-tracking to get me in the right direction, therefore I still have some kind of milestones as the story develops, like when it is time to wrap the story up and build it towards the ending.

Obsession is a big theme of this story. What interested you about this theme?

I think it’s because we are generally obsessed with many things; some are healthy, others not, and some are downright confusing. Some spiral out of control and some obsessions actually imprison us regardless of how obvious it is to others (or ourselves) that it’s not good for our well-being. All these are good sources for stories, it could be the main plot or side plot. It’s interesting because everyone can relate to it to a certain extent.

The main character is obviously deeply troubled. How do you get into the headspace of a character like this?

I am not the most social person, mostly introverted, and enjoy a small circle of friends. However, connection is very important and everyone needs that, especially in a professional setting where we deal with all kinds of people from all walks of life. I like to observe them and see how they react, the train of thoughts they might form to understand their motivations behind their actions, even though I don’t necessarily agree with them, but it helps to see where they are coming from. Of course, hours and hours of watching crime documentaries helps as well. 🙂

The story spans a long period of time. Do you think it could be extended into a longer piece? 

It is possible, but there is a need to introduce a lot more ideas to keep the flow interesting and it would be very challenging to maintain the freshness of the revelations. It could work as a slow burn, but I imagine there would be a lot of detours along the way to make it compelling as a longer tale, and it could turn in a completely different direction.

Personally, I think the story works better as short format, to deliver the punches and revelation more effectively.

It looks like there is some deliberate ambiguity with the nature of a key character later in the story. Do you like to introduce elements of storytelling that encourage the reader to make up their own minds?

I considered about it and read through the story many times to introduce additional snippets here and there to make it clearer. Clearer, as in clearer to speculate. Yes, I love readers to make up their own minds and read between the lines. There is enough information to answer the question, and hopefully there are also enough thought-provoking possibilities. Personally, I enjoy it when I find subtle clues that are loud enough if you pay attention when reading or watching a show, but it shouldn’t be too frustrating. You can either present two ideas with enough information if readers have to choose (like the red or blue pills situation), or you can find deliberate ambiguity that gives you enough information to decide, but the element itself is flexible if that makes sense.

I did have some worry that it would be confusing, so I asked an author friend to help as a beta reader, and I am so happy that he gets everything. 

This a very bleak tale. Do you have to be in a certain mindset to write this sort of story?

To some extent, yes. You need to be in the character’s shoes when you progress and try to tell stories from their point of view. I think we can draw it from our own experience in life or observation of others. For example, sadness, frustration, obsession, delusion, and trying to project whichever fits the character or all. I find that when I am immersed in a story, I’d be in the zone and forget about everything else, completely drawn into the fictional world, but when we are out of the zone, it’s back to reality. 

Finally, what are your future plans? Are there any projects that people should know about?

I plan to pursue writing seriously. I love developing ideas in my head and putting them in words, and it is what I call ‘painful fun’. It’s probably like climbing mountains and thinking ‘why on earth do I put myself through this’ but forget about everything when you reach the top. It’s interesting to see how much I can express myself in words to compensate for expressing myself in real life.

I have a book, a speculative fiction, specifically a genetic engineering science fiction. It’s not as scientific as it sounds, I focus more on building the world and characters. To put it simply, the book is about a world where designer humans have become the norm.

To view interviews with the other shortlisted authors, head to the Rogue Animal Facebook page




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