Aside from having the same last name as Captain Marvel, one of my favorite superheroes (no relation) Dennis Danvers is also a truly magnificent author. I’m lucky enough to have him in my writing critique group where he regularly fills me with feelings of inadequacy. Today, he’s hear to talk about his new novel The Perfect Stranger and how the harrowing event that seeded it.
Jeez Louise, where did this story begin? Ninth grade, my first job, page in a Houston branch library. Long before then I’d figured out I loved stories more than anything, and now it was my job to sort and shelve them. All kinds of stories for all kinds of readers. That’s where I learned what genre meant. I also learned the title/author combo for countless books I’ve never read—which made me an awesome trivia player for a while. Years later I worked some years in an excellent used bookstore in Dallas and actually got to talk to all the different readers that went with the different genres and came to appreciate their varied joys and pleasures and insights.
I have four degrees in English (B.A., M.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D.) and the notion in those halls was too often that only English majors read, or allowing for other readers, only English majors read texts correctly. That just ain’t so. Genres have always liked to party with other genres, and that keeps the whole game going in the most delightful way.
So that’s the background story, but the seed was born a few decades later when I had a heart attack in my shower. I didn’t know what it was at first, and it didn’t particularly hurt, but (and I understand this is not unusual) I was having bizarre thoughts, a story idea—about an author who died suddenly leaving a hard drive of work behind and what might become of it—when I realized that I was potentially that dying author, and I had a more urgent crisis to deal with than whatever nonsense dwelt on my hard drive. I’ll spare you the details, but “inky abyss” became a recurring motif in my fiction thereafter (See especially the “Adult Children of Alien Beings” stories on Tor.com).
That was a dozen years ago, but the germ of the story remained behind of orphaned work and who might find it, and what they might do with it. The result is The Perfect Stranger, a romp through the genres. I usually have fun writing my books, but this was deliciously fun. The dead author is Gene Sanders Wilkerson, whose five lost works are rescued by lifelong fan, now doctoral student, Genevieve Slidell, who is delighted to discover they are wildly different from his famous work, in five different genres.
She is even more delighted (as was I) when Wilkerson’s ghost shows up, not only to approve her plan to claim the work as her own, but to tag along as she reaps the resulting accolades. Like Genevieve, I always longed to be an author but never felt good enough. Like Genevieve, I could never feel quite at home in the loftier realms of academe.
Oh yeah. I used to have a cabin in the Blue Ridge where this story opens when Genevieve finds five novels in the attic. I’m fond of epigraphs, and Wilkerson gladly provided me one for my novel:
The novelist is the perfect stranger, the fellow who sits down beside you on some journey or other, and draws you into his world of words where he does the most marvelous things to you. You might fly. He might enslave you. He’ll almost certainly fuck you, convert you, something intense. Laws don’t matter, even those of the so-called universe, for one brief ride, a 1000 pages at most. And then, here’s the best part, you part from the stranger with the world outside the journey unchanged. All the changes are within, where the perfect stranger lives.
—Gene Sanders Wilkerson, Thoughts on the Novel
You can find Dennis on his own blog here