11th May 2019
The Saturday Interview: 'GONE' podcast by Sunny Moraine
Thanks for your time. For anyone who hasn’t experienced the awesomeness that is GONE, could you describe it?
GONE is frankly a little tough to describe, given the way it’s evolving as I write the second season—I think it’s going to change in some hopefully cool and exciting ways. But essentially: It’s a story about a woman who wakes up to discover that everyone in the world appears to have vanished without a trace, and that the rules that have governed her reality appear to be going through increasing and increasingly frightening degrees of breakdown. More deeply, it’s a story about mental illness, isolation, how awful it is to uncover feelings of anger and bitterness toward someone you love, and what you do when everything you trusted and believed starts to betray you—or turns out to maybe have been betraying you for years before you realized it. It’s a very personal story for me; sometimes I worry a little about how much, but listeners really seem to find that resonates.
What was your original inspiration for GONE?
I honestly don’t know. The premise just popped into my head one day and I decided to see what I could do with it. Something I try to do in my writing is to go into the places that disturb and frighten me, and like I said, this story is super personal; I think I just wanted to explore some of those frightening places in ways that I couldn’t do with more traditional forms of fiction.
Do you think that the story of GONE would work exclusively as audio or could you see it in another form, like a graphic novel?
I've thought about that, actually, and I'm not sure. So much of it is so intensely psychological in terms of the interior of what's going on in this character, and I almost feel like the fact that it's not visual, that you're confined to the description the character is giving you and you're forced to perceive everything through her very unreliable senses, is such a huge part of what makes it work. So I'm not sure it would translate fully into a visual medium. But I think prose could work well, a novella or a novel. And I'm not disregarding a visual medium, either. That could allow for the exploration of new angles and aspects to the story. So yeah, it's an interesting question.
Throughout the first series, the protagonist’s declining mental state is reflected in the world around them. Why did you choose that approach?
Mostly because that’s the aspect of mental illness that I find most upsetting: The way it can completely distort your perception of everything, the way the world itself feels as it’s breaking down and behaving in ways you can’t hope to predict or control. That can obviously be true of psychosis—which I don’t personally deal with—but in some ways it’s also more subtly true when it comes to things like anxiety and depression, where you’re constantly and even obsessively second-guessing everything about your daily experience. You self-gaslight. In my worst moments I don’t trust myself or anyone around me—not that I believe I’m the target of some grand conspiracy but that I might be failing and screwing up in ways I’m not even aware of, and that my evaluations of what I’m doing and why and what other people feel about me aren’t reliable.
Strictly speaking, that’s not material reality distortion in that your senses aren’t literally affected, but it’s a distortion of your emotional and social reality, and that can feel as material as seeing things that aren’t there. Losing your mind in any respect is terrifying. And what happens if it turns out your suspicions about your reality are actually correct, and your situation is even worse than you thought?
Is the exploration of themes around mental health important to you?
As my answers so far have been highlighting: Extremely. Partly because I believe that honest, personal narratives of uncomfortable mental illness are still too uncommon—mentally ill people need to be able to tell our own stories in ways that fight stigma without sugarcoating anything and have those stories valued—but also because, like I said before, going to the most frightening and painful parts of yourself can often yield the best stories, because that’s the most visceral stuff, and as a result it’ll be the most vivid. It’s not the only thing I want to write about, but it’s something I frequently come back to.
Why do you think that mental health issues carry a stigma that physical ailments don’t?
In part, I think it's because they're harder to see, so it's harder to prove that they're real to people who aren't experiencing them. But I also think it's about how we connect emotion and the mind to weakness. That depression is just laziness or being sorry for yourself, and people with anxiety just need to calm down and chill out. People don't expect you - in some contexts, not all, because people with physical disabilities obviously deal with their own ugly versions of this and there's overlap - to control a malfunctioning body, but there's this assumption that you should be able to control your brain.
And all of this is gendered and racialized. For instance, how being mentally ill when you're Black is more frequently constructed as criminal. So some people experience more severe consequences than others.
Yeah, there's so much going on here and I’m barely scratching the surface. But the biggest stumbling block so often is just getting people who can't see the problem to believe it’s legitimate illness and not a moral failing.
Will the second season of GONE continue to explore themes of mental illness?
It will, though likely not in exactly the same ways as the first season, mostly because the protagonist has already gone through some particular phases in coming to terms with how she has to learn to function in this new world. For example, medication won't be dealt with in the same way. But larger themes about isolation, paranoia, and depression - yeah, those are going to show up again for sure.
How much of a time commitment is creating GONE? I believe that you write, act and edit solo, so it must be considerable!
It’s pretty significant, yes. Much of season 1 was ad-libbed (although I worked from notes and outlines), and as a result, I spent the bulk of the time on editing and post-production. But for season 2 I’m actually working from scripts, and that’s making for way more work on the front end.
Generally, for season 1 it took me about three or four days (not necessarily full eight-hour workdays but still a good percentage of the day) to produce one twenty to thirty-minute episode. So I think it could be worse—the fact that the production was necessarily so bare-bones in terms of effects helped. My resources were so constrained that I had to focus on doing the absolute maximum with relatively little, and I think that helped keep the sound design in a nicely tight place overall. Because I couldn’t sonically reproduce an entire environment to the highest fidelity, I had to think hard about what sounds someone would find most vivid and noticeable and work with those.
How much time season 2 is actually going to take, per episode, remains to be seen as I write this. I’m doing some more ambitious things, so I expect it’ll be more labor-intensive. But yeah, long story short: It’s a lot of work.
I’ve considered working more with collaborators, and some kind people have offered, but as of right now for a number of reasons I don’t think that’s something I’m comfortable with, even if it means more work for me. That’s not to say I won’t do that in the future, though.
I understand that you have a Patreon to support your fiction. Could you elaborate on that?
The Patreon is actually kind of a way for people to support what I do in a catch-all sense - my writing, my podcast work, my Twitch streaming, the occasional blogging. This is mostly because right now I have so many different irons in the fire. What I offer to supporters is also kind of a mix of things: snippets of fiction in progress, some original/unpublished stories, readings of stories, bits of teases for Gone (right now) - just whatever I can throw out there to reward people for their help. Once Gone starts up properly I'll very likely be including more content from there as well.
Outside of podcasting, you're a prolific and successful writer. What draws you to writing as a creative outlet?
Ha, I don’t know how “successful” I am at this point; I’m still a pretty small name. But I do try to keep working, and I guess that results in being prolific when things are flowing. In terms of why, it probably mostly comes from just being a tremendous reader from a very young age; I was immersed in books from the beginning. I also come from a family of readers and storytellers, and my parents encouraged me when I created these sprawling, extravagant stories with my toys. I was writing short stories almost as soon as I could write (they weren’t very good, but hey, I was like five or six years old) and writing has always been something I sort of did by default. If someone were to ask me what I would do if I wasn’t a writer, I genuinely couldn’t answer the question; I think in some respects I would have to be a completely different person.
Do you have a favourite book?
Oh, God. Not a specific favorite book, no. In fact what I like and remember fondly and go back to tends to change radically from time to time and mood to mood. There are a few authors - Neil Gaiman and Stephen King, just to name a couple - who were formative to me and whose books I love but who I also haven't read in a while. Then there are amazing authors who are relatively new to me, like Max Gladstone and Seth Dickinson and Paul Tremblay, who I'm still figuring out how their books fit into my overall fictional brain-space. But in general I love the lyrical, the strange, the dark, and anything unafraid to push boundaries. Anything that falls into that category will likely stay with me.
What do you think is at the core of writing good fiction?
Honesty. What that means will vary enormously from person to person, along with what they'll be honest about, but I believe that when you reach into yourself and pull out something raw and true, that resonates with you, and then build a story around that thing, it's hard to go wrong. In my experience those are also the stories you struggle most with, and they may have a hard time finding an audience, but readers will ultimately respond to something they can feel meant something deeply to the author. It's definitely something I try to do in all the stories I tell.
If people would like to interact with you online, what’s the best way to do that?
I'm most active on Twitter (handle @dynamicsymmetry) these days, though I'm also on the new social networking site Pillowfort (handle there is also dynamicsymmetry) and Dreamwidth (same). But yes, probably the best way to hit me up is Twitter.