In Others of My Kind, James Sallis pushes plot to the limit with a near-future setting—not that the protagonist’s revival of childhood abuse requires much augmenting.
Zola: What kind of research did you do in order to understand the emotional and psychological challenges faced by survivors of childhood abduction and rape?
James Sallis: For the most part I relied upon imagination. Getting into other heads, experiencing other lives, seeing the world as someone quite different from yourself sees it–that to me is what writing is all about.
Zola: Victims of childhood abuse can turn into monsters themselves if there is no meaningful intervention early on. Your protagonist, Jenny, suffers unimaginable horror from ages eight to ten, and is later institutionalized until age 16. Who, or what, in her backstory explains her becoming “one of the world’s good people”?
JS: Jenny’s experiences among “good” and “bad” people have led her to see the fine distinction that might exist between them. She understands that, like birds building nests, we cobble our personalities and our lives from bits of whatever we find that might hold. She takes the world, and its people, as they are.
Zola: Jenny is your first female protagonist. Did this make the writing more challenging than usual? Did you seek out women to bounce ideas off of, or have them read your drafts for verisimilitude?
JS: Challenging, and for me as a writer quite fascinating. Though I had no choice once Jenny began speaking to me. It was her story, and had to be told in her voice.
No one reads my work till it’s done. Then my wife Karyn is first reader. After correcting whatever faults or glitches she finds, I send it on to my agent Vicky Bijur.
Zola: In a lot of ways, Jenny forgives her torturer, her rapist. In fact, she feels something like affection for him. Why did you decide to go that route with her?
JS: I didn’t decide. In my imagination, with the Jenny that lived in my mind, that is how she felt. I simply transcribed it. Emotions in situations like this are astonishingly more complex than we’re led to believe.
Zola: There is plenty of socio-political turmoil in today’s world, but you set Others of My Kind in the near future, with its unique set of nightmares. Why?
JS: Quite often science fiction operates as an intensifier. That’s what I had in mind with the near-future setting. We can get a bit closer to the edge of the thing.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.