Please welcome Bethany C. Morrow to The Qwillery as part of the 2018 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. MEM was published on May 22, 2018 by The Unnamed Press.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece you remember writing?
Bethany: The first thing I remember having written (versus literally remembering the writing of it) was what we'd call a piece of flash fiction in (I think) second grade, about a deer named Faline, which I thought was the most beautiful name ever and I have no memory of what the story was about but my teacher taped it to my desk for Back To School night, and I thought, "I've made it."
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Bethany: I'm definitely a plotser. Typically I know the first line, the inciting incident, the first half of the first act, probably, and likely, the climax before I start writing. Once I get to the end of what I know - in a skeletal way, not a chapter-by-chapter plotted ahead of time way - then I stop, plot organically based on how the first act has developed, again in a skeletal way, and start from the beginning, reading and continuing drafting.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Bethany: Getting over the hump and actually writing, lol. It's so lovely to have just written or to be energized to write... and then you actually have to do it. Repeatedly. And in particular once the third act starts, it's very much a feeling of, "Get this out of me!" Like labor. I'm so done at that point. Just want it to be OUT.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Bethany: Music, music, music. I write with music, I muse to music, it's everything. It's the way I establish the tone of the story I want to write. I have to find the sound that captures what I'm trying to portray. James Horner, Thomas Newman, Hans Zimmer, Koda, playlists of ambient post-rock, chill-step, etc.
TQ: Describe MEM in 140 characters or less.
Bethany: In an alternate 1920s Montreal, scientists can extract memories. Elsie is one such Mem, but the first sentient of her kind. (I think the conflict is inherent in that description, so I just made the cut!)
TQ: What appeals to you about writing speculative fiction?
Bethany: What I love about speculative fiction is how easily the truth about life comes through when you try to talk about worlds that aren't.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for MEM?
Bethany: I spent a lot of time reading online, finding resources like the Art Deco Society of Montreal or the Quebec Family History Society, and then cross-referencing, studying pictures in online collections through museums and universities, always looking for a source that went into slightly more detail than the last one. What is infinitely frustrating about historical research - at least in my experience - is how readily available information seems once you've located it once. Like suddenly, that information is everywhere, despite how long it took you to find it.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for MEM.
Bethany: Jaya Nicely is responsible for the cover, and it is absolutely gorgeous. I didn't see multiple concepts and choose between them, I saw the vault door (which is something I had on my pinterest board for the project, but had never imagined as the cover) and immediately it was haunting, sad, beautiful, everything that I felt set the perfect tone for beginning the story. She nailed it.
TQ: In MEM who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Bethany: I think Elsie must've been the easiest character to write, because I was in her head. Nurse Ettie too, maybe, because she's almost like a non-Mem version of Elsie. The most difficult character to write was Dolores, firstly because I didn't originally know we'd spend time with her, and then because she wasn't ordinary, or the logical conclusion of everything we come to know about Sources, so it took a while to find her in a way that showed that individualness.
TQ: Which question about MEM do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Bethany: I wish people asked about the story of Dolores, the Source. But I won't answer it now.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from MEM.
"When I lost hope that she could live with the loss, I began to wonder whether she could forget, whether I could help her to."
From there, I knew the rest. The wonderings of a brilliant man had already yielded so great a number of impossible feats, to the good of friends and strangers alike.
TQ: What's next?
Bethany: Next is a young adult contemporary fantasy novel about literally magical Black girls, and the beauty and strength of their sisterhood.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
The Unnamed Press, May 22, 2018
Hardcover and eBook, 192 pages
MEM is a rare novel, a small book carrying very big ideas, the kind of story that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it.
Set in the glittering art deco world of a century ago, MEM makes one slight alteration to history: a scientist in Montreal discovers a method allowing people to have their memories extracted from their minds, whole and complete.
The Mems exist as mirror-images of their source — zombie-like creatures destined to experience that singular memory over and over, until they expire in the cavernous Vault where they are kept. And then there is Dolores Extract #1, the first Mem capable of creating her own memories. An ageless beauty shrouded in mystery, she is allowed to live on her own, and create her own existence, until one day she is summoned back to the Vault.
What happens next is a gorgeously rendered, heart-breaking novel in the vein of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Debut novelist Bethany Morrow has created an allegory for our own time, exploring profound questions of ownership, and how they relate to identity, memory and history, all in the shadows of Montreal’s now forgotten slave trade.
A California native, Bethany C. Morrow spent six years living in Montreal, Quebec. Her speculative literary fiction uses a focus on character and language to engage with, comment on and investigate worlds not unlike our own. MEM is her debut novel. She currently resides in upstate New York.