Interview: Mercurio D. Rivera

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

“Dear Annabehls” consists of a series of advice columns that deal with typical mundane problems (relationship issues, family disputes, etc.) — only every problem revolves around a “snatcher,” a device that allows things to be pulled over from other dimensions. The letters to the advice column range in tone from funny to frightening, and provide snapshots of an ever-more-chaotic world that’s being transformed by the introduction of this “snatcher”technology.

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

Definitely. While each advice column ostensibly deals with a letter-writer’s personal problem, the tricky part of this piece is that the real story I’m telling– the story of the state of the world — lurks entirely in the background. Another challenge was balancing the moments of humor and darkness in the story.

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

There’s a letter in the story from “Jacob in Salt Lake City” who ponders the meaning of his own ordinary life given the extraordinary choices he’s made in other realities, choices that have produced radically different versions of his life. Certainly I’ve pondered whether my own life would be any different, any better, if I’d done x instead of y. That’s a very personal letter from my perspective. And Annabehl’s advice (of course) provides no comfort whatsoever.

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

Does it count that I faithfully read the Dear Abby and Ann Landers columns growing up?

What is the appeal of parallel worlds stories and/or portal fantasies? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about them? Why do you think readers/viewers love it so much?

It’s simple. Portal stories provide us with an effective shortcut to explore strange, other worlds. I think it’s that exploration of the unknown that speaks to the reader. And parallel-world stories allow us to explore all of those “what ifs” that fascinate us all.

What are some of your favorite examples of parallel worlds or portal fantasies (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

The Twilight Zone episode “Mirror Image,“ where a woman at a bus station slowly comes to realize that she’s being replaced by a doppelganger from a parallel world, always terrified me. And the Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror” provides the quintessential thrills associated with parallel-world stories, presenting other versions of familiar characters in a different setting. Growing up, I was also a sucker for Marvel’s “What if?” comic books, which explored parallel worlds where superheroes made different split-second choices that changed the course of familiar storylines.