Interviewer: In “The Humblebract Expedition,” the key to fun is “a lack of appreciation of risk” and a true sign of love is “eyes tightened at the corners,” or, in other words, pain. How did you manage to utilize the full power of fun and love in your story without focusing too much on their foils, risk and pain?
B. Morris Allen: Oddly, the difference between a wince and a smile is not that great, and they both involve that tightening of the eyes. In planning out Score, I tried to let authors choose the emotions they wanted to work with, and I was a bit surprised when fun and love weren’t snapped up right away. I found out why when I set out to write the story – my own work tends toward gloomy or funny, but not usually fun itself.
I knew from the start that I didn’t want to write a story that was all happiness and light. I think there’s a good place for that, and we can use as much happiness as we can find, but in my story, I wanted to make the point that it’s possible to be happy even in the midst of tragedy. Both the child protagonists are dying, and soon. They know what’s ahead of them, but that’s no reason they can’t enjoy what’s left of their lives to the fullest. There’s an endless supply of evil in the world, and it’s important that we make the best of what we have, while we have it. The real world of my story is just as dark and gritty as our own, but these kids are ignoring that, and focusing on what’s good. Children are better at that than adults, but even as adults we can recognize reality while aiming for the positive.
Interviewer: Why did you choose the subject of art and the muses – which, in “Fountainhead,” are literal, alien creatures – to convey the emotions ‘longing’ and ‘sorrow’?
B. Morris Allen: I’ve long been inspired to write something that has the effect of Fred Saberhagen’s The Veils of Azlaroc. When I set out to write about longing and sorrow, that was the first thing that came to mind – that feeling of an opportunity missed, which Saberhagen makes more melancholy than wistful. My first effort, as editors say, ‘had promise’, but didn’t cohere well. By chance, it had focused on humans becoming art on an alien planet, and that theme of art carried over to the second effort. Additionally, I was thinking about societal pressures that can push people to do things they don’t really want to, which led to an unhappy artist-muse pairing.
Interviewer: As editor of the anthology, how did you come up with the idea for an emotional score? In what ways did you think the unique interlacing of emotions would contribute something new to the literary world?
B. Morris Allen: As a writer, I often write from an emotional basis. That is, I have a title, or a concept, or an element of the piece, but the thing I’m really firm on is what I expect the story to feel like. That’s often what I take away from a story as well. I mentioned Saberhagen’s The Veils of Azlaroc. When I went back to re-read the piece recently, I realized I’d forgotten a great deal of the context and structure. What I remembered was its impact on me – how I felt after reading it.
It occurred to me several years ago that it would be fun to do more than just write with an emotion in mind, but to actually map out the emotions in an entire long story or novel, and write from that map. That hazy idea gestated for a long time, in part for lack of time, and in part because I couldn’t quite visualize how the emotional arcs would work – I envisioned smooth curves and parabolas of hope and dread and anger, but never really got to the planning stage. I toyed with the idea a few times, but not until 2018 did it occur to me that the concept would be even more interesting as group project – an arrangement for an orchestra, to further abuse musical terms, rather than a soloist. The mechanism for the score went through several variations before I settled on one simple enough to implement, but complex enough to be interesting.
Emotion is at the core of our experience of art. Art can make you think, and it’s great when it does, but its essence is its ability to make you feel something. I think all artists are aiming at that in one way or other, but often it’s unconscious or implicit. Some authors do write according to formula, but I think more often they go by intuition – a feeling that the piece needs something here, a little something there. I thought it would be interesting to bring that into the foreground – to make the emotion intentional, and the plot secondary, rather than the other way around.
Interviewer: Did you discover any surprising emotional patterns after reading Score as a whole for the first time? Any revelations about humanity that you weren’t expecting? (For instance, ‘curiosity’ seemed to be a predominant motivation within all characters in the anthology whether the author was assigned that emotion or not.)
B. Morris Allen: Even though I often write from emotion, I think the surprise for me was how emotional our language is – just how frequently explicit emotional references are woven into everyday prose. That is, I knew that a story focused on sorrow and longing, for example, would be bound to involve more than just those two emotions. However, I was surprised by how often other emotions were named in the course of a story. In editing, I sometimes asked authors to dilute these a bit, or use different wording, so as not to distract the reader from the target emotions. We kept the author’s sentiments in, but made them a little more subtle.
Interviewer: How would you design a subsequent anthology based on the ideas of this one?
B. Morris Allen: I think I’d handle the scoring differently. As I mentioned, I went through several variations before settling on the one used for Score. I think it worked very well, and I’m impressed with what the authors came up with. But for a sequel, I’d think I’d aim for a slightly more complex scoring structure. I haven’t yet come up with how that would work, but I do think it’s possible.
Interviewer: You’re the editor of Score, and you’re the only author with multiple stories in it. Why did you include two of your own stories?
B. Morris Allen: I hadn’t originally planned to include my own stories in the anthology, but had always considered that if we needed to fill a gap, I would write a story. If there were more gaps, I anticipated asking several writers to write two stories. In the end, we did have a few authors who had to drop out of the anthology. When the first let me know, I planned out a story to fill the gap. When a second gap arose, I needed a principled way to decide which of the other authors to choose to fill it. As I pondered this, I happened to be on a long flight. I usually can’t work on the plane, but this time I felt inspired, and wrote the first draft of a story in one sitting. Exercising my prerogative as editor to avoid difficult choices, I put both my stories in – unfortunately in close proximity within the volume, because that’s where the gaps were. While I think the stories fit, having two stories in the book made me a bit uncomfortable, and I’m not sure I do it again. In the next case, I’d probably ask two authors to double up, and not include any of my own stories.
Interviewer: If you could attach pieces of music to “The Humblebract Expedition” and “Fountainhead,” which two representative songs would you choose?
B. Morris Allen: I spent hours digging through my music for a response, and came up with dozens of options for each. It’s always choosing that’s the hardest part. For “The Humblebract Expedition”, the choice was really difficult – go with an upbeat, fun song, because the kids are focused on fun, or with a more wistful song recognizing that they’ll die in the end? I considered songs from Whitesnake to Fiorella Mannoia, and ended up with Darden Smith’s “Golden Age“, because, while it’s about pain, it’s oddly upbeat. For “Fountainhead”, I went through a similar process, but Eliza Gilkyson’s “Her Melancholy Muse” won out because both tone and title fit so well.
Buy the Score anthology, which includes B. Morris Allen’s stories “The Humblebract Expedition” focused on Love and Fun and “Fountainhead” focused on Sorrow and Longing