For Doug C. Souza, writing offers the opportunity to make connections. He took the time to talk to us about connecting with readers, writing connected stories within a larger universe, and how “The Kaleidoscope City” [in our Jan/Feb issue, on sale now] approaches familial connections in a world with lengthened lifespans.
Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
DCS: “The Kaleidoscope City” is about soaking up time with loved ones. Not just in quantity, but with more of a focus on quality. The first nugget of this came about when I started to give my characters the necessary medical adaptations so they could survive extended space travel and living on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Once the characters started interacting with the world I created, I noticed how much longer they lived, and I wondered how this would affect relationships within a family.
Would people put things off more frequently if they had more time to live? If so, how would they face the realization that they could’ve simply hung out more with friends and family instead of always looking down the road?
AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
DCS: My wife tells me most of my stories are connected whether I intend it or not. Looking at “The Kaleidoscope City,” I definitely see it existing in the same universe as “The Callisto Stakes” (a story that appeared in Asimov’s about a year ago). Fortunately, things have improved within my most recent story, so that’s good news for the folks living there. One of my most trusted beta readers continues to point out the shared universe of my stories whenever I mention putting an anthology together. It’s a fun puzzle to toy with.
AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
DCS: The weird thing with “The Kaleidoscope City” is that I started it from the viewpoint of Lynette, as the kid hanging out with their father. Once I sent the first draft out to my beta readers, it was brought to my attention that the father in the story has a unique perspective. I was stoked when this facet connected with readers in a way I hadn’t anticipated. As a writer, it’s always my greatest hope to make that kind of connection.
If you sell one story a year, or twenty, it’s the connection you make by sharing something sacred that feeds the need to continue. Even if it’s just one person in a local writing group that pulls you aside to share what your story meant to them—that’s gotta be celebrated.
AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
DCS: I’m everywhere with influences and inspirations. One month, I might be hooked on Louis L’Amour, and the next jumping into some graphic novels. I tried A Man Called Ove by chance and had a blast. It’s outside my usual genre of interest.
Recently, I’ve gone back to Ray Bradbury to feel some heart in stories. I also like reading what he has to say about writing. I connect with writers that recommend writing a lot for the enjoyment while keeping the reader in mind. One of the biggest challenges a writer faces is staying focused on their purpose. Success in selling stories can be a double-edged sword in which you start examining your stories to see what made them marketable while others failed. Falling into that trap can mess with your head when you’re trying to write your next story. This might just be my own problem, who knows?
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
DCS: It’s cliché, but I gotta say, “Don’t give up.” Or maybe, “You’re the only one that can stop you.” I’ve had some huge successes in my writing career that I never thought I’d enjoy. I’ve also had some low times, where a story sale felt like a lost cause. Nearly every successful writer I’ve met doesn’t have a secret to how they sold their stories—it’s mostly, “I just kept writing and submitting.”
Whenever I’m at a lull for story sales, I remind myself of the hot-streak that usually comes after the slow times. Now, for some, they may not call it a “hot-streak,” I can’t judge for others what a success is. Maybe the lack of sales allows me to get back to writing for myself and not lose focus. One constant is true: nothing happens until you put your butt in the chair and write.
If you sell one story a year, or twenty, it’s the connection you make by sharing something sacred that feeds the need to continue. Even if it’s just one person in a local writing group that pulls you aside to share what your story meant to them—that’s gotta be celebrated. I’ve had writers email me who were just starting out, and yes, their stories were a bit messy, that’s part of it. Some gave up; some kept hammering away. Those that put in the work to clear up their message—well, it’s so cool to see them reach new levels. I can’t share their personal details, but just last month one of them placed in an international contest for the second time.
So bottom line: stay at it!
AE: What is something we should know about you that we haven’t thought to ask?
DCS: As a teacher, I’ve noticed kids aren’t reading as much as they used to. Those that do love getting lost in a story the way one can only by reading. Since I don’t develop video games or make movies, I remind myself that writing is a privilege few take advantage of. The tools don’t cost much and the resources can be found at your local library or thrift store. Yeah, it’d be easier to have my stories made into the type of media that’s easier to consume, but then it’d lose something.
When a person takes the time to read a story of mine, I get the opportunity to pull them all the way in for the ride. Knowing that gives me the extra boost of energy when the words won’t come or the characters are stuck.
That being said, I’m not above a multi-million-dollar contract.