Eilis Flynn has spent a large share of her life working on Wall Street or in a Wall Street-related firm, so why should she write fiction that’s any more based in reality? She spends her days aware that there is a reality beyond what we can see … and tells stories about it. She lives in verdant Washington state with her equally fantastical husband and the ghosts of spoiled rotten cats.
Eilis, what gave you the idea for STATIC SHOCK?
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with electronic and mechanical devices. They end up not working or doing something unexpected that has someone who has to try to fix it stare at it, mystified, trying to figure out what happened, or what I did that would have caused it. I always assumed I was just unlucky – brand-new tape recorders fail on me (twice), hair dryers melt (once), three computers die on me (three in three months), car alternators have be replaced more frequently than normal (three), the electrical system of cars can just fail (just once!), and watch batteries wear out very quickly, just to name a few examples – but then I found out that people with a heightened electromagnetic field will sometimes have this happen. Now, for STATIC SHOCK, I had to wonder: What if people with this (dis)ability were a recognized subspecies in a world of tomorrow? Especially in a world more and more technological? They would not be welcome in a lot of places, right? And STATIC SHOCK was born.
What was the first scene you wrote?
A scene I ended up not using, ironically. I had Jeanne Muir, my heroine, play a series of tricks on a coworker who is incredibly unpleasant but has power over her, and she gets back at him using her electromagnetic abilities. I kept in a mention of the confrontation between them in the final version, just hinting that she’s not good with conflict and she’s impulsive, but then he’s a bully who gets what’s coming to him. Heh. It was fun!
Did you have a scene that you loved but ended up cutting?
The first scene I just described. I had a lot of fun writing it, but realized that her abilities had to be a little more defined, so out the scene went.
I usually have an aha! moment, where an insignificant detail becomes something really important. Did you have a moment like that? Will it spoil the plot to tell me what it was?
There’s a scene early on where Jeanne weighs her options about whether it’s worth disrupting a series of timed traffic lights so she doesn’t get too wet during a downpour. She has the ability to influence the light to turn red so she can cross the street, and she decides to do it – but finds out when she nearly gets hit that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, because with a series of lights, you can throw a lot of things off-kilter if you tamper with one thing. When I wrote that, I realized that said a lot about Jeanne, and how she has a lot to learn.
Are you surprised where the story took you? Or if ended up where you planned, were you surprised how you got there?
I couldn’t figure out what the ending would be for my characters, until one day I read about a settlement in the Midwest with a population of one. The newspaper article was about someone who basically bought a town after its residents started to leave, one by one, until there was nobody else left. And then I read another article not too long after that about a ghost town not too far from where I live, and how it was a booming mining town a century ago, leaving only a trace of what had been. Both articles played into how the entire situation in STATIC SHOCK was resolved, with a promise for more stories somewhere along the way.
I love that little mountain town, by the way. It was my favorite part of the book.
What story idea is sitting in the class right now, raising his hand madly, begging you to call on him?
I’m working on a story about a comatose woman and the man she meets in her dreams. Or are they his dreams?
Thank you, Eilis! Static Shock is fun, thought provoking read and I hope everyone checks out the excerpt below! Next Thursday, Kate Evangelista will be here to talk about Taste.
Excerpt of Static Shock:
I glanced up at the gigantic digital clock on the university’s neurosciences complex. I had work to get to. If I made the walk lights to cross the street, I wouldn’t be late for my assignment—but I couldn’t count on it.
I could, however, arrange for it.
There wasn’t a sky bridge connecting this side of the campus with the applied sciences complex, and it so happened the street that ran between those two parts of the university saw a lot more traffic than the surrounding streets. Sometimes, pedestrians who wanted to cross had to wait as long as five minutes before the lights changed. Anyone who had to cross when it was raining could be soaked by the time the lights changed.
Considering how many pedestrians jaywalked at this crossing, it was a minor miracle no one had been killed yet. And as far as I was concerned, it wasn’t going to happen today, either. At least not to me.
I looked up at the traffic lights.
A moment of discord shot deep through my mind as I focused. A low buzz tickled the back of my throat as the timer that controlled the lights and the “walk/don’t walk” signs clicked and flashed, but it was at a gut level that I sensed the power feeding into the simple timed system. I closed my eyes for a moment, reveling in that familiar sensation of the electricity I could connect with. In this way, electricity wasn’t my enemy; it was an ally.
The traffic lights blinked once, then went out of sequence. Unless you were watching closely or you knew what to look for, it wasn’t noticeable. I didn’t have to look around to know the other traffic lights up and down the street weren’t affected. It was only this one I was in sync with, the one I controlled right now. All the other lights could flash green, but this one would flash …
Red. Green. Yellow. Red. And it stayed red.
The pedestrian light flashed “walk.”
“Aces,” I whispered. Maybe I couldn’t lock down my abilities the way I was supposed to, but I could play with the traffic lights. And I was good at it.
I hurried across the street. A glance at the clock told me I had two minutes till my appointment. Once I crossed, I looked back to see the traffic light click back into its usual routine, with no one the wiser.
I couldn’t wear a watch, but I could control traffic lights for a few minutes. I could live with that.
I had to hope Ran Owata would think it was a handy talent if—when—he found out.
I didn’t want to have my brain cut into if he didn’t.
My assignment took more time than I expected, even though it was a simple problem I was asked to consult on—electrical power was leaking out of what should have been a closed system. It wasn’t hard to determine what the problem was, but I still had to track down where the problem was in the wiring and make a recommendation on how to fix it. It was boring work, but it paid the bills.
By the time I made it back to the crosswalk, it was rush hour and the sleet had turned into a cold, hard rain. Waiting for the light to change meant I was going to get soaked.
Shoving wet hair off my face, I tried to estimate how long it had been since the last time the walk sign had flashed. Reaching out, not intending to influence the traffic light pattern—yet—I tried to figure it out by the feel of the electrical patterns coursing through the wires and cables.
Crap. The light had changed right before I got to the crosswalk. I’d be waiting a while unless …
“It’s either do it or drown,” I muttered as the rain ran down my face.
I closed my eyes and, just like that, I turned the traffic light, as if I had flicked a switch.
The walk light flashed. I knew it, I didn’t even have to look to confirm it. I started to cross …
And had to jump out of the way when car tires screeched, water splashed, and a car horn blared. Next thing I knew, I was sprawled on the sidewalk, drenched.
A car door slammed, followed by the splash of footsteps. “Are you all right? Don’t move,” a voice said.
“I’m okay,” I muttered. I wiggled my shoulders; no problem there. I might be sore later, but not now. “What happened?”
“You didn’t look both ways before you tampered with the traffic lights, Ms. Muir. And you did, right?”
Shit. I knew that voice. I pushed my hair back and looked up. Damn it.
Ran Owata, looking annoyed. Son of a bitch. It was not my day. “I was getting wet waiting for the light to change.”
“And you’re real dry now, aren’t you?”
Raindrops splattered across my nose. I wiped the moisture away with my jacket sleeve. “So I’m not a genius. Was anyone hurt?”
“Depends. Can you get up?”
“I’m fine,” I said. This was my life. Of all the times for the light-changing trick to work against me, it would have to be in front of the new director of the Geller Institute. The one with the lobotomy fetish.