by Aliza Greenblatt
Daniel Zundl writes horror, science fiction and other speculative fiction. He lives in northern New Jersey with his wife. In addition to his current career as an immigration attorney, he was a pyro technician, a grounds keeper and a video store clerk. In addition to writing, his hobbies include hiking, fishing and hunting.
Aliza Greenblatt: So if my research is correct, I believe “Digital Commute” is your first publication. Congratulations! How does it feel to be a published writer? How long have you been writing stories?
Daniel Zundi: Yes, this is my first published work. To be honest, it feels a little surreal. I got the news that my story was selected for publication the day before I was getting married, so it was pretty much one of the best weeks of my life. I’ve been writing fiction since I was eleven or twelve. Kind of an embarrassing story, but my first works were writing fan-fiction for a friend’s newsletter. I found I enjoyed it so much I just kept writing even after everyone had lost interest in the newsletter. When I first started writing I never thought about publication, I did it because I found catharsis in the narrative process. Things in a story don’t happen by accident, nothing’s random. I like that.
AG: When you sit down to write a story, what is your process like?
DZ: Process is a very generous term for my writing style. Usually, I get an idea followed by a manic burst of creative energy in which I write as much as I possibly can in one sitting. Then, bit by bit, I flesh out the skeleton of the idea until it can stand on its own. I usually ask one or more friends to read it, use their notes to make changes or argue with them about why I don’t think it needs to be changed (and then make the changes they suggested anyway). Afterwards, I let it sit for a day or two and re-read it. If I still like it after all that I start submitting it to various venues based on the content of the story.
I think that the most important part of the writing process for me is fleshing out the bones of a story. A good concept is important, but for me turning that concept into a story is difficult, it requires a flash of inspiration. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a great idea but I couldn’t make the characters come alive or turn it into a narrative.
AG: On your blog there is line which I love: “I think that all great stories start, in some degree, as an escape from the ordinary, a way of looking at the world around you and seeing something bizarre and interesting.” What were the seeds that started this story?
DZ: My wife provided the seed of this story. We were talking about teleporters and she said the word “digitizer,” which I think is from the Tim Allen movie Galaxy Quest. But it occurred to me that if a teleporter existed it would have to compress the information of the thing it was transporting into a form that could be used by a computer, namely binary. I also knew that audiophiles prefer analog formats, especially records or reel-to-reel tapes, because the analog form contains more information than the digital. I wondered what the rounding off of a person might be like. The fact that my daily commute was a little over an hour a day gave me the idea to explore the concept through the everyday user, a lawyer like myself.
AG: The theme of this story is captured in one line: “A million inconsequential advances added up to an unrecognizable future.” Do you see this happening with some of the technology we have now? How?
DZ: Absolutely. For example the communication industry has changed the entire shape of our society, from the language we use right down to the way we walk down the street. Even the physical landscape has changed; the mountains near my home town are lined with cell towers. We’re living in a world where connectivity is the norm and solitude is strictly for the eccentric.
Cell phones for example have become the mechanism through which people digitally commute. In my parent’s generation, if a person wasn’t at work they weren’t accountable to their bosses. Now, if my boss wants to reach me he can call me, and if that doesn’t work he can text or email me. I no longer have an excuse for not being reachable. I’m not necessarily saying these advancements are bad, they allow me personally to keep in touch with people I haven’t physically seen in years, but I do think that depending on how a given technology is used it can be a force for good or ill.
AG: As I read the story, it occurred to me that the pieces the narrator lost of himself were things he might have lost anyway as he aged. But in this case, the change happened much more rapidly. Do you think the narrator will learn how to cope without his missing pieces? Would anyone believe him if he tried to explain?
DZ: Wow, that’s a complicated question. I wonder to what degree the narrator’s losses are real or just imagined and if those that are real can be attributed to the teleporter instead of the inevitable march of time. I guess that doesn’t really answer your question. I think it will be very difficult for the narrator to cope. To some extent everyone struggles with aging and losing their abilities, it’s the struggle against time that keeps the anti-aging industry in business.
The narrator’s problems are more serious because, even if just in his own mind, he has only himself to blame. He saw that things were changing, he knew from his phone call to the company that he would lose parts of himself, yet he continued to teleport. When he looks in the mirror and sees an unfamiliar face looking back at him it will be difficult to blame anyone but himself and guilt might be the hardest thing he has to face.
Whether people will believe him is another complicated question. How do you prove you can’t taste a particular flavor anymore? I think a portion of the population, namely those without teleporters, would be more inclined to believe him, if simply because they think the rich are getting their comeuppance. At the same time, I think people who just bought a teleporter would be reluctant to believe him. Trying to convince someone of something subjective is practically impossible
AG: What other projects are you currently working on? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?
DZ: Well, to be honest with you I have ADD so my attention is usually split between a number of endeavors. Right now I’m editing a manuscript for a novel, writing the first draft of another, I have two completed stories I’m shopping around and a half dozen other stories I’m in various stages of writing and editing. Other than Digital Commute, I don’t have anything else your readers could view right now. However, I will post any updates about my writings on my blog.
AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.
Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night. Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper. She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com. and on Twitter @AtGreenblatt