Joe: Tell us a bit (or a lot) more about your childhood. Primary school, high school, etc. How do you think your experiences benefited or influenced your career? Darren Speegle: I grew up in Alabama, which was different than anything I’ve experienced since. I’m sure it was just another version of every child’s experience, and that every adult probably thinks of his childhood as different. But there was a lot of racism, tensions among area schools that manifested when they met at hangouts or weekend football games. I had a very strict, religious home life, which caused me to rebel fairly hard in my teens, doing drugs, running away, the whole bit. In my later teens, though, I had this group of friends who were pretty cool. They didn’t necessarily excel at school, though some did, but they were smart, had interests similar to my own—books, philosophy, serious music, that kind of thing. None of us knew what we were talking about, mind, but we had the desire to expand. We occasionally did acid in a self-exploratory way, attempting to broaden ourselves. That certainly opened some doors for me. Meanwhile, at home, I’d been a reader since an early age. Even when I began to resist what I thought of then as authoritarian rule in the home, my father was always recommending books and I was always eating them up. Some combination of all this, I think, informed my later writing. Joe: Can you recall a moment where you had to choose between being an author/artist and another career? A decisive moment where you decided to go all out? DS: There wasn’t any specific moment. I wanted to be a writer from an early age. I never really had any sort of career arc, so decisions had more to do with money. When I was married it was a question of, “Can we afford to let you write full time now?” Sometimes we were able to swing it, sometimes not. It wasn’t until after I was divorced and began life as a defense contractor, seven or eight years ago, that I found myself able (between tours) to write full time without the constant worry of whether or not what I was doing was feasible. Joe: How did you respond to your very first success as an author? Was it just rewarding, or did it motivate you even more? Or, did it perhaps feel underwhelmed, which motivated you to even greater heights? DS: I was exuberant, proud, relieved, a dozen mixed emotions, and indeed it did motivate me further. The cold reality of how difficult it was, even after publication, set in soon enough though. But I don’t generally have a problem with motivation. My reasons change, what I’m trying to do changes, but motivation is usually there. I have things I want to say and as long as I’m putting the words down, there’s the possibility of somebody hearing it. Joe: How has your career as an author affected relationships with friends and family? DS: That’s an easy one. They dig it. My parents, with whom I have a great relationship now, are proud. It’s something to them because I was going nowhere earlier in my life. To my father especially. He loves literature. Other family and friends are with me. It’s strangers you get the weird vibes from. Some are impressed, many more are suspicious. Joe: Which author most influenced your early career? And who still does? DS: It has to be Tolkien early on. As I said in another interview recently, when you’re young and in that dream world of his, the writerly juices, if you have them, are going to start flowing. But that was just where it started. My dad, when introducing me to classics or favourites, saw how Tolkien, Poe, Verne, Wells, even Hawthorne, got me, and so started to steer me in more fantastical or futuristic directions. Overall, I was more into, and had more exposure to, science fiction. He put me on Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Herbert. I branched out, exploring my own interests, eventually stumbling on Clive Barker, whom I found extraordinary. He turned me to darker stuff. I continue to write science fiction in addition to horror/fantastical, but it’s as dark as the rest. Joe: Instead of just focussing on your most successful work, which story are you the proudest of, a story that managed to capture a piece of who you are? DS: I would have to go with “Gapping” from PS Publishing’s Postscripts anthology series. It started as a little flame, was published in Australia—Antipodean maybe?—as a vignette. Later, after more than a decade, it spread its petals in my mind into a novelette. It’s about a group of people trapped after a biochemical attack by terrorists in a futuristic Holland Underground, where as a distraction they play a life-and-death game with superfast trains that continue to run though the world above is lost. Joe: How do you feel when you don’t make your target words for the day? DS: I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me. But at the same time I’m careful not to set strict targets. You’re waiting to fail doing that. Joe: What’s the most difficult topic for you to write? DS: War. I’ve been in it. Three tours as a defense contractor in Iraq, two in Afghanistan. It’s hard. It took me a long time to get comfortable writing about it. But if you’re a writer, you write about such things. I’m about truth. In war, ugly as it may be, there is truth. About humans and the human condition. Joe: What do you do to distract you enough to actually relax a bit? Or do you always think about writing? DS: Hiking and biking. I lived in Germany for a while and spent almost every weekend doing one or the other. Multiple day tours along the Rhine or Mosel River, day trips through forest. Did a lot of outdoorsy stuff when I lived in Alaska, too. Camping and such. Traveling has always been a thing too. I explored a lot of western Europe while in Germany. When I was a little younger I liked the party scene—Ibiza, Amsterdam. Nowadays, living in Thailand, it’s the beach. Still like my bicycle and doing the various routes. But it’s a beach-and-mountains setting, all too relaxing. Joe: Tell us a bit about the people you met while researching a book. Are you still friends with some of them? DS: Wow, that takes me back to a nonfiction book that never materialized. A torture/rape/murder case involving the mother (and her cousin) of someone I knew in my twenties. Somewhere in there I found I couldn’t reconcile facts and abandoned the project. But I went to the crime sites with a county sheriff, interviewed multiple people. That’s as far as I’ve ever gone into that kind of thing. Usually, because of the various settings I use in my work, I’m talking to someone about language, customs, peppering for a story. Often this is with people I already know. Joe: Outside of the actual craft, what is the most useful skill you learnt from being an author? DS: Being about the truth. In perspective and in practice. Fiction is lies. Lies can’t work without the support of truth. Truth is negotiable if not the raw, cold, hard variety. It has to be your intent to find something when looking through the writerly scope, else what are you doing? Entertainment does not have to be at odds with art. Joe: How did being author change you as a person? DS: See above. I’m not sure how other people come to terms with the world, but as a writer, it’s direct access and, through the process, an eventual reconciliation. Joe: Which response/comment from a reader has touched you the most throughout your career? DS: There was one early on, after a publication in Writer Online. The story was allegorical to a degree, but I didn’t intend for it to be specific. It was set in Florence during the Black Death, told from the point of view of an angel accepting souls. The scrabbling of the rats in the rooms the angel visited was described in detail. This reader took me to mean that the rats represented the struggling and underprivileged and wrote a long note saying how I had affected him. It struck me because I think that subconsciously I must have been doing what he thought I was doing, metaphorically, in the story. It moved me in two ways: that I’d done that and that it had meant something to him. Joe: What is your life-long goal as an author? DS: To have produced art. Joe: What legacy do you want to leave behind? DS: The same. Art being truth, and vice versa.