Interview: Milo James Fowler, author of “Soulless in His Sight”

Milo James Fowler (milojamesfowler.com) is a teacher by day and a speculative fictioneer by night. When he’s not grading papers, he’s imagining what the world might be like in a dozen alternate realities. He is an active SFWA member, and his work has appeared in more than 90 publications, including AE SciFi, Cosmos, Daily Science Fiction, Nature, and Shimmer. His novel Captain Bartholomew Quasar and the Space-Time Displacement Conundrum is now available from Every Day Publishing, and his other stories can be found wherever e-books are sold.

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

Here’s the concept: What if a character like William Faulkner’s Vardaman (As I Lay Dying) didn’t know his own strength, and he hurt someone close to him? His father, a violent incarnation of Cormac McCarthy’s paternal character (The Road), believes his son was born without a soul. Like Diogenes on the hunt for an honest man, the father must find a soul for his son so he can go to heaven and see his mother.

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

Who was I to think I could write an homage to Faulkner and McCarthy with Diogenes (crossbow and hatchet instead of a lamp) tossed in for good measure? But that’s what I set out to do with “Soulless in His Sight”, and after overcoming a few obstacles along the way (most of them in my head), I’m pleased with how it finally turned out.

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

Have you ever had a story to tell, and you knew it was inside you waiting to burst forth, but you were afraid you wouldn’t be able to do it justice? That stinkin’ thinkin’ hit me hard when I came up with the idea for this tale. While I approached it with a great deal of fear and trembling at the start, worried I wouldn’t be able to put words to the scenes in my mind’s eye, “Soulless” is now a story I can single out as an example of my best work–and a project I didn’t allow to beat me.

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

My characters usually exhibit some aspects of my personality. Fatha, Boy, and Gwen are no different–but I won’t admit how.

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

I usually avoid research at all costs, but in this case, I figured a re-reading of Diogenes’ story was in order.

What is the appeal of apocalypse fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

There’s a rugged individualist deep inside each of us, I guess. We can’t help but romanticize the idea of starting over. Maybe we were endowed by our Creator with an unalienable right to explore. Say goodbye to the stress and gridlock of our urban lives, wipe it all out and let the earth reclaim its own. Find out who we truly are as human beings. It’s a scary thought, but a wonderful one.

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

McCarthy’s The Road is incredible. The poetic rhythm of that simple language, the love of the father and son, the horror and wonder of that post-apocalyptic landscape–it’s haunting. I’m also a big fan of The Walking Dead and am impressed by the questions it raises about human nature. What distinguishes us from animals? If you strip away every vestige of our civilized world, what’s to keep us from degenerating into our worst possible selves? Seeing these characters on the edge of their own humanity keeps me riveted.