The novel Son of Destruction, in which a man seeking his father ends up investigating spontaneous human combustion, and the collection The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories showcase Reed’s skill and literary breadth.
Son of Destruction involves very intimate catastrophes. Why did you eschew a tight focus on one character for a variety of viewpoints?
It turned out to be too big a story for one person to tell! There are several threads and each one had to be drawn tight. It’s a story with many moving parts and, to be honest, it took me eight years to get it right. I should probably confess that I get bored easily, which explains my reluctance to work with formula, tropes, whatever. I have to believe everything I write is brand new and I’m writing in this way about these people in a completely new situation for the very first time. When I followed a comic novel with an elegiac one, my very first editor said—in the course of turning it down—“I predict a very long, very interesting career,” which is both extremely accurate and like the “Chinese curse.”
Did your experiences living in Florida influence the setting of the novel?
Oh, I made it all up. I do think, however, that a kid perpetually trying to fit in, which means scoping out the pecking order in every new place, is inclined to develop acute social radar. I was charmed and fascinated by the small-town nature of in-groups in every society. And I was mesmerized by the news photo of Mary Reeser’s foot in her bedroom slipper. She was St. Pete’s first spontaneous human combustion, and the case is famous.
You have described yourself as “transgenred.” Since you have feet in both the literary and the SF communities, any interest in comparing the two?
Looking at the variety of stories in The Story Until Now is the only way I can explain what I do and who I am. The stories were originally published over an embarrassingly large number of decades. Some may be catalogued as SF, some not, and what would interest anybody who wanted to categorize them is where they were originally published. They’re culled from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The Yale Review, Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Kenyon Review, and SciFiction among others—and standing back, I can’t tell you which appeared where or what it all means, except that when I start out, I write what I want to write and when I’m done I print it out and hope to God somebody will want to publish it. I do know that in SF circles, “literary” has become a dirty word, which I find distressing, as whatever they do, the best writers care about good writing.