Monday, March 23, 2009

IM Goes Academic

I was recently amazed to be contacted by a PhD candidate, asking if he could interview me about my online hook-up serial killer novel, IM, for his dissertation. Not that the book isn't study-worthy, I had just never thought of it that way. So when D. Travers Scott contacted me, I had to look over my shoulder to make sure he wasn't talking to someone else. Maybe he got me by mistake. Weren't PhD dissertations supposed to be centering around people like James Joyce or Dickens?

Once I got over the initial shock, I found that Mr. Scott (hopefully soon-to-be Dr. Scott) was interested in IM because of its links to the Internet and modern technology as part of modern-day storytelling.

And, by the way, D. Travers Scott is an excellent writer in his own right, author of the acclaimed One of These Things is Not Like the Other. You should check out one of his websites here or here for more information about him and his writing.

Anyway, I thought our little dissertation interview was a fascinating process. I hope you do too, since it gives you insight into the book as well as the creative process.

DTS: So, to start, I was wondering if you could tell me how the idea came about to center a murder mystery around online dating/hookup sites?

RRR: I started writing IM a long time ago (when I was single) and I would be lying if I said I didn’t avail myself of online hook-up sites. After a while, two things amazed me: the sheer number of guys hooking up (either inviting strangers into their homes or vice versa) and the fact that we all casually dismissed the danger this anonymous way of meeting was putting us in. I know I am not the only gay man to invite a stranger into my home. And I began thinking, as all writers do at one point or another, what if… What if that hot guy you were inviting over was a killer? I started thinking how easy it would be for that killer and how simple it would be to commit an almost perfect crime: there would be no real life links to the deceased, you were invited in to your victim’s home, he often would put himself in a vulnerable and defenseless position…and on from there. Online hookups could be a perfect scenario for a sadistic killer. I just went from there.

DTS: What technology themes are there in any of your other works?

RRR: I use technology quite a lot in my work, probably starting with an early short story, “Online” in the vampire anthology The Darkest Thirst, about an unwitting woman who invites a vampire into her home via an online lesbian chat room. Vampires, according to legend, need to be invited in by their victims. The Internet is also an important part of my novella, VGL Male Seeks Same, a light romantic comedy about a man creating an online persona to find a man, and its sequel NEG UB2, where the same character from VGL Male is diagnosed HIV positive and discovers the online bias now against him. Blogging plays an important role in that story. I think the Internet as a community is here to stay, and growing.

DTS: How is Timothy Bright different from your other villains? Were there any aspects of his character that you emphasized or de-emphasized to 'fit' with his use of the web and messaging? That is, did you have any ideas about what sort of killer would be an online killer?

RRR: I don’t think I really consciously thought about Timothy being an online killer. I wanted to make him very innocuous looking, which is why I made him slight and blond, sort of elfin. I thought it was creepier to have someone who looked like the antithesis of evil cast as a monster. His appearance does come up throughout the book, though, and he lies often about what he looks like when he’s online (he never posts a photo), making himself beefier and manlier. The interesting thing, I thought, was how many of his victims ignored this disparity when he showed up at their door.

There seemed to be a few references to alcohol and substance abuse in the book. Was this an intentional theme?

RRR: From my own experience with these sites, “party and play” is a very common factor on almost every one I’ve encountered. I just thought it was realistic to have some of the characters using party drugs to enhance their experience.

DTS: What impact do you feel the Internet and modern communications technology has had on the gay community? For example, some people applaud how it empowers rural queer kids to find community, others say it has isolated us, weakening community ties and public meeting places like bars or leather events.

RRR: I think the world is constantly changing, whether that’s positive or negative is up to interpretation. As I said above, this way of connecting and communicating with others is here to stay and will probably continue to grow and make further inroads into all of our lives. I would need a good crystal ball to know how this will affect humanity and the ways we interact. It’s a kind of evolution and only time will tell what its benefits and downfalls are.

DTS: Telecom companies often advertise with phrases like, "stay always connected." How do you feel about this idea of being connected, given that your online presence lets you connect with readers, but you also have a novel about connecting to killers?

RRR: The Internet has been a wonderful way for me to reach out to readers that hitherto would have been unavailable to me. I am old enough to remember that one of the few promotional routes available to me were book signings or conventions, where I reached relatively few people. The Internet, and social networking, has exploded, and although there’s a lot of “noise,” I think I reach many more people than I used to before it was around. As with anything else in life, this way of connecting has its dangers and potential for abuse.

DTS: The initial victims presented in the book -- I'm thinking of the first kills especially but then also somewhat with Mark, the close call -- seemed like somewhat flawed people. They seemed vain, superficial, reckless, and/or closeted (particularly in contrast to Ed and Peter). Was this intentional? Were you intending any kind of commentary in that about aspects of urban gay men or culture? Or about the kind of men who would use hookup sites regularly?

RRR: To be quite honest, no. I think a lot of my writing flows from my subconscious and what you say about these characters make sense and while I wouldn’t say it was wrong, I would be the first to admit that my only intention was creating real people who are often flawed…and many of the adjectives you used above. I will say that I think hookup sites are used by all different sorts of men for all different sorts of reasons and to blanket characterize the group as a whole would be ridiculous.

DTS: If you had to sum up the moral or lesson of IM, what would that be?

To realize that the Internet can often be a lot of smoke and mirrors and even if you think you know with whom you’re hooking up, use caution. Meet first in a public place. Tell someone you trust where you’re going if you’re meeting up with someone. There are no guarantees for either bad or good resulting from Internet interaction, but there are precautions that might help tip the scales in your favor.

To purchase IM in trade paperback go here.

To purchase IM as an ebook, go here (for Kindle) or here (for other ebook formats).

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