INTERVIEW: Heather Lindsley, Author of “Just Do It”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

Well, in the past I’ve only gone so far as to say it’s about desire and how easy that is to manipulate.  But I’ll go a bit further and say I was also thinking about the ongoing conflict between doing the right thing and doing the comfortable, pleasurable thing.  It’s about having a compelling excuse to take the easier, ethically questionable path.  To just do it and blame somebody else’s chemical.  To think of yourself as the good guy while enjoying champagne with the bad guy.  To me that’s even more dangerous – and a shorter road to dystopia–than mass behavior modification, which is plenty scary on its own.

What was the genesis of the story?what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I wrote it at the Clarion West Writers Workshop in 2005, so that was the prompt–Must Write Story!  I’d been mulling over the idea for about a month before that, but hadn’t written anything down yet.  I don’t remember the exact moment of inspiration, but it probably had something to do with the enticing smell of fast food french fries colliding with the memory of a greasy lump in my stomach.  

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

No, it wasn’t, and I wish I’d appreciated that at the time.  I’d been writing plays and drafting novels before attending Clarion West, but I hadn’t written a short story since junior high.  I’ve had maybe one or two other stories so far that have flowed out as easily as “Just Do It.”  Everything else has felt assembled, which isn’t as much fun.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

It didn’t feel all that personal while I was writing it, not in the way a few of my other stories have.  It’s probably one of the least personal, actually.  But after the fact I can look at the themes and say, “Oh, yeah–I see where that came from.  That’s what I’m thinking about. That’s what I’m afraid of.”  

It’s rare for me to deliberately model characters on people I know or use incidents that have actually happened to me (of course I can’t vouch for what my subconscious is up to).  But the themes–those are probably more revealing than I’d like.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

Not much.  It’s sufficiently near-future that it’s really more about paying attention than doing research.

What is the appeal of dystopian fiction? Why do so many writers?or you yourself?write about it? Why do readers love it so much?

Well, it’s easier than writing about utopias, which are practically impossible.  If just one person in a utopia is discontent, it’s not a utopia.  But there are usually a few lucky and/or twisted people sitting at the top of dystopia for whom it’s the best of all possible worlds, and that doesn’t make it any less a dystopia.  And If drama is about conflict, then dystopias are little drama farms. You can pluck drama out of the details; you can even use the entire culture as an antagonist.  

What are some of your favorite examples of dystopian fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

You’re probably sick of hearing about these two, but when I was 15 I read 1984 and Brave New World one right after the other.  Orwell builds his dystopia on deprivation, pain, and destruction, while Huxley starts with abundance, pleasure, and absorption.  Reading them like tbat made it pretty clear dystopia can come from any direction.