Allan Dyen-Shapiro and I go way back. We’ve known each other since we began writing, and I mean writing our ABC’s. We grew up together and even shared a dorm during a year of our undergraduate studies, not to mention I went on a cross country motorcycle trip to attend his wedding. I am honored and privileged to be part of the same anthology with Allan.
Allan’s contribution to the Clash of the Titles anthology is a story called, “The Bimani Hilton,” is a cyberpunk masterpiece (so says the editor). Kamya, representing the revolutionaries, is negotiating with the plutocrats at the Bimani Hilton in cyberspace, but something goes terribly wrong, when the plutocrats try wipe her mind.
Having left the world of science (Allan was an accomplished biochemist), with a lot left to say, Allan decided to do so through writing speculative fiction. As Allan puts it, Science Fiction allows him to explore ideas that are too dangerous for purely realistic fiction. The SF community accepts social criticism as a norm, and Allan’s visions of the next forty years are often disturbing. Allan subscribes to Ray Bradbury’s philosophy that one writes SF not to predict the future, but to prevent it.
Before “The Bimani Hilton,” Allan had sold seven stories beginning in 2014. He’s also working on his debut novel, To Hear Even Your Cry. His favorite author is Neal Stephenson, with Paolo Bacigalupi, William Gibson and Harlan Ellison all coming in a close second.
I asked Allan about his writing and his participation in the upcoming anthology, Clash of the Titles.
How did you find out about the anthology, Clash of the Titles ,and what made you decide to submit to it?
A solicitation hit came up in a Facebook group to which I subscribed.
Gil (the editor of the project) promised interaction with an editor. So, at minimum, I was getting free editing in exchange for writing a short story. And I owned the short story (albeit with a need to change the title) if he didn’t buy it. It sounded like a no-lose proposition to me.
How did you come up with your story? What made you choose that title?
Well, I perused Gil’s list of titles and picked out a few that looked at least remotely possible and copied them into a MS Word file. I then free-associated with them, one at a time. The first couple turned out to be dead ends. However, “The Bimani Hilton” worked for me.
After a quick search on Google to figure out what Bimani was, the closest I came was a few sites for ‘Bimini,’ in the Bahamas. So I wonder what Gil intended, if anything, by changing one letter. It must really not be Bimini, but something like it. Could it be virtual reality?
So then I started asking myself questions: Who would be in a virtual reality simulation of a hotel in the Caribbean? Maybe it was a meeting; hotels are sites for meetings. Well, who would be meeting? Maybe it was peace negotiations—revolutionaries negotiating with the oppressors. Okay, who would represent the revolutionaries, what would their background be, and what would their ideology be?
My protagonist, Kamya, began talking to me, and she didn’t stop until I’d scrawled out three pages of notes. The meeting went terribly wrong; her mind was being wiped by the plutocrats. That meant the story had to be told in reverse linear narrative, as it was going to be mostly in her head. How would she resist? And things just flowed from there.
How is your story for the anthology the same and/or different from your other works?
Well, in the instructions to authors, Gil specified he wanted “dark” and he liked twist endings. So, this is probably the darkest thing I’ve ever written, although I’ve certainly gone dark before. I like experimenting with non-traditional narrative in my short stories; however, this is the first time I’ve tried reverse linear narrative. And, while I’ve done twist endings before, it’s not my usual pattern. So, there are many elements of this story I’ve dealt with before: environmental degradation; dystopic economic/political arrangements; romantic subplots that support the main plot, but Kamya is my first anarcha-feminist protagonist (she told me that’s who she was).
A lot has been said about the workshop process wherein the editor takes a video meeting with the writers to help offer instant feedback and share the editing process along the way. How did you find this process; what are your feelings about it?
Gil is very easy to work with. He drills in on the central issues, identifying exactly what he doesn’t like. My ending was my third attempt. He nailed exactly what was wrong with the first and second tries. His request for a final, extra twist sparked my thinking about what eventually became a much better ending.
What do you think is the most important thing that readers know about Clash of the Titles?
It will be filled with great stories.
It’s said that the editor will make an anthology every year. Even if the “I pick the titles, you write the story” conceit isn’t used again, would you work with the editor again? Why or why not?
Yes. He’s easy to work with. And I liked the conceit.
What do you think is the most important thing for booksellers, libraries and other outlets to know about Clash of the Titles that they don’t know?
The author list. This is a very good group of people.
Would you recommend the process to other writers; how did you find working with this editor to be compared to others?
I already did recommend this: You (D. Avraham, the interviewer) found out about the anthology from me. I’ve only worked directly back and forth with an editor on one other story, and that was a positive experience too.
What excites you most about the process, and the anthology in general?
This is my first professional scale sale. It’s a level of credibility I did not previously have. Especially with the quality of the co-authors.
Did your story grow in ways you didn’t expect due to the workshop nature of the process? How?
Yes, the ending. It (and some minor modifications earlier in the story to foreshadow it) built on a character Gil saw in the story. He said it reminded him quite a bit of Phillip K. Dick. I hadn’t seen that aspect of the story, although it was there, and with the ending, I ran with that sort of plotting and built on it.
Please describe your favorite experience in working with Clash of the Titles.
How is the acceptance not the favorite part on every story for every author?
What other projects are you working on, besides Clash of the Titles.
I am pushing to finish up a novel I’m working on. I am hoping to have it in shape by late summer, 2016. The working title isTo Hear Even Your Cry. If you envision a world run by the Chinese but in which an overly militarized United States thinks it’s running the world, you have our present. Add RNA-based pharmaceuticals that act on learning/memory and advanced computational modeling of the world economy and you have the world of my novel. US Department of Defense Program Officer Stephen Holmes thinks his research portfolio supports US efforts against the internal Resistance, the Christian Republic (the Southern US, post-Second Civil War) and African terrorists. He doesn’t know he answers to a Chinese bureaucrat. She has provided him with a last resort weapon. Neither the bureaucrat and her computer hacker subordinate nor the Resistance and their allies know Holmes is going insane and plans to commit mass murder.