‘Spaceman Blues’ is a rare find. First published by Tor in 2007, it’s the kind of book that’s fun to discover. A book you can give to your friends with a smug look on your face because you found it first. Author Brian Francis Slattery told me he wrote it because, “there was a certain kind of book that I like to read, that I felt like I couldn’t find enough of. Like a really sort of specific flavor”.
Thank God the man has taste.
I don’t review books. You won’t hear me talk about how “the city itself was a character” or that it’s a “breezy, funny, formally playful book” or any comparisons to Thomas Pynchon. I will tell you that ‘Spaceman Blues’ is an unexpected blast to read. You will smell the smoke and feel the music. You will meet pan-galactic characters.
It’s a new weird carnival ride, a fantastic bazaar of sight and sound. Mr. Slattery creates the book you need to start a collection.
This Halloween I think I’ll grow a goatee, put on some glasses, tuck a copy of Jeff VanderMeer’s ‘Shriek’ under my arm and go as BFS. Sure, I’ll be the most obscure character at the party.
But I’ll also be the coolest.
CCE: This question deals with the writing process.
BFS: Ok. Sure.
CCE: Did the story of Spaceman Blues just pop into your head fully realized or did it start as a small idea that snowballed into a book?
BFS: That book actually is the third draft of the book. The first draft of it was a lot longer. And I sort of got what felt like halfway through the first draft, I remember looking at it and being like, this kind of sucks. Like I sort of realized I made a bunch of really bad mistakes, that it was better to throw everything away and start over. And I ended up doing that twice. And then the third time the book was a lot shorter, and I liked it a lot more. And it’s like completely different. All the characters are different, the setting is different, everything is different. But, to me it’s the same book. It’s kind of about the same thing. I kind of went through a lot of variations. But that said, when I finally got on to the third draft of it, that just kind of came really quickly. It took me like, I don’t know, it took me like 8 months to write it. Which I’m told is pretty short.
CCE: With the third draft you knew what the story was about and which direction you were going to go?
BFS: Yeah, yeah. I’m sure I just had a better idea of what the general story was going to be. But that said, I think for everything I’ve written, if I know everything that’s going to happen in the book I get really bored. So a lot of it is left to just kind of find out as I go along. If I’m not surprised and excited then I can’t expect anyone else to be. I remember having a clear sense of the overall thing, knowing that there were two or three things that were definitely going to happen. But, I actually really do remember kind of getting to the point where, there’s a point in the book where one of the characters says, “I know what’s going on”, and I wrote it and thought, I don’t actually know what’s going on.
CCE: So it was possible for the story to hijack the narrative and take the book in a different direction, a direction you hadn’t planned on going?
BFS: Yeah, definitely, definitely. I felt like that happened like all the time. And that was really exciting. A lot of, especially in the first book, a lot of the stuff that was in it was stuff that was happening sometimes right in front of me. Or that it happened a couple of days ago. And it was all getting thrown in there. It was a pretty interesting time of my life to be writing something like that. That was kind of cool. When I look back on it now it really does, there’s a lot of stuff in there that’s really pretty close to something I saw or something that I did. I actually wrote the last, probably the last third of it was written in Guatemala. So it was kind of, the stuff that’s about Guatemala is actually, really about as close as I could get it to being things that actually happened.
CCE: Do you enjoy writing fiction?
BFS: Yeah I do, I do. I actually really really enjoy it. When I sit down to write and I’m not into it, I don’t do it. I’m not one of those people that, there are definitely people that have a really strict regiment. And I really applaud them. I don’t know how they do it. For me it has to be sort of fun or, what I realized about it is that if I’m not enjoying it and I force myself to do it, the next day I look at it and I’m like, I have to rewrite all this anyway. I really need to be into it for the writing to be something that I want to read later.
CCE: This is the last question about writing. Is the pen mightier than the sword?
BFS: (Laughs) Oh man, that’s a good question to ask me actually, especially because of my day job. I’m sitting there going, is any of this doing any good? I don’t know. I think that’s a question that I actually, that I think a lot of people who choose to write about social issues struggle with. Is it better to write or is it better to actually get out and do something?
The debate rages.
Be sure to catch part 2 and 3 of the interview with Brian Francis Slattery or send a request to [email protected] for the unabridged version. And if you enjoyed this article, be sure to hit the subscribe button at the top of the page to get the next installment delivered directly to your inbox free of charge.