As Martinus Publishing has some new authors, I'll be conducting some interviews to help promote their anthologies/works. Today, I'm interviewing Jason Sharp, an exceptional author who contributed the short story The Shining Path to “AlteredAmerica.” Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed, Jason.
JASON SHARP: I’m delighted to have the opportunity!
MTI: Starting off, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
JS: I’m married to a lovely, lively woman named Valerie. We’ve got a hobby farm outside Ottawa, where we raise a variety of livestock and tend to a large garden. Five days a week, I tear myself away and make the long drive into the city to work as a policy analyst for the Government of Canada.
MTI: Now, getting down to business; what first compelled you to weave fiction, and what's your favorite type of story to write?
JS: The creative spark’s always been there. I started writing and drawing eight-page “graphic novels” (I use the term quite loosely) about misbehaving house cats when I was six years old, then spent my high school years writing sci-fi and faux-romance on our shiny new Apple IIE computer.
A decade back, the latest creative period started as I got into a couple of online geopolitical sims and wrote some fictional pieces in support of it. Valerie read some of it, thought it was pretty good, and suggested that I consider writing wholly original fiction for publication purposes. I wasn’t really sure I was up to that, but she gave me a lot of encouragement, support, and the occasional kick to the posterior. I took the plunge five years ago and sold my first story—Lonesome Charlie Johnstone’s Strange Boon—in 2012.
I tend to lean towards science fiction, with a fair bit of “weird stuff happens in the real world” scenarios. I’ve also done a fair bit of alternate history and dabbled a bit in horror, fantasy, and poetry.
MTI: Tell me, if you had to pick just one author who has influenced or inspired you, who would it be?
JS: Arthur C. Clarke’s classics were my gateway into science fiction. They were entertaining reads that nicely balanced storytelling with big ideas such as the evolution of life. They’ve aged well, too, if one sets aside issues like colonies on Venus; I was often surprised to find some of the books were (at that point) twenty or thirty years old.
2010 happened to be the first time I encountered the difference between a book and its movie adaptation—which was unfortunate since my favorite part of the book was the loss of the Chinese mission to Europa. The complete absence of China from the movie was perplexing and irritating, and my young self couldn’t predict that somebody would go make Europa Report a mere thirty years later.
MTI: Your story, The Shining Path, appears in Altered America, an anthology of alternate histories. The fictional accounts in this collection let us imagine what it would be like if something had happened differently at different points in history. Tell us a little about how your story changes history.
JS: The point of departure here is only briefly alluded to—a Hungarian-Canadian activist named Geza Matrai doesn’t jump Soviet Premier Kosygin while he and Prime Minister Trudeau are taking a walk in Ottawa. Without that impetus for improved VIP security in Canada, Arthur Bremer does assassinate Richard Nixon during his 1972 visit to Canada.
Consequently, George Wallace—whose own shooting by Bremer has been butterflied away—wins the 1972 presidential election. Wallace isn’t too happy with Canada’s treatment of Bremer, and isn’t fond of Trudeau’s policies, so pretty soon he’s sent the army into Canada.
MTI: If you could go back in time and try to change any one historical event (aside from killing Hitler/stopping WWII—almost everybody tries that), which would you choose?
JS: Changing the big events is a risky proposition since the outcomes can vary so wildly. Killing Hitler could lead to a golden era of peace, stability, and group hugs. It could also encourage Stalin to conquer Europe at a time when nobody’s effectively able to resist, leading to a continent-wide Holodomor worse than WWII. I’d be pretty reluctant to interfere too much without some sort of insurance policy—like, say, the ability to go back in time and talk myself out of whacking Hitler.
So I think I’d keep my focus on smaller, discrete events that have no obvious up-side as they are now. Murders, accidents, things like that.
MTI: Conversely, name a historical event that you would never want to see changed/would go back in time to stop somebody from changing it.
JS: The Bre-X mining scam of the late 1990s cost a lot of investors a lot of money, and it pretty much blew up the Canadian mining sector for a few years.
I was just finishing university and looking for work in that sector, though. As a result of the scam, industry jobs in the big cities dried up and I ended up working for the government in the north—and had the experiences I had, met the friends I did, married the woman I did—as a result. Remove the scam and the whole trajectory of my life changes from something I’m pretty happy with.
I’d have to have words with some time-traveling disgruntled investor looking to undo that. Maybe point out that he should be investing in Apple, Google, and all those guys instead.
MTI: Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?
JS: I got to thinking one day about the vampire hunter genre: The hunters corner a vampire at night in some remote field, shoot/stake/burn it, crack a beer and utter some manly talk, then vamoose before the cops show up. Roll credits and fade to black, right?
But suppose one of the many, many bullets fired by the vampire hunters over-penetrates the vampire, goes through a nearby barn, and lodges itself in a sheep? An unsuspecting farmer named Dwayne might get up the next day and find himself dealing with a confused, blood-thirsty, and undead sheep in Toasting Melba.
MTI: Other than The Shining Path appearing in Altered America, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?
JS: Live at Gus’s Place should be appearing in Song Story Press’ “Song Stories Volume 2” in the next month or two. As the title suggests, the story is inspired by music—in my case, Bill Joel’s Piano Man and Guns ‘n’ Roses’ Estranged, although a line from the movie The Incredibles was also significant. In this case, a young woman is playing piano for bar patrons who happen to be washed-up superheroes and supervillains.
I’ve also got a flash-fiction piece called Dead Air scheduled to appear in Apokrupha’s “Vignettes from the End of the World”. In this case, the narrator’s morning commute is disrupted when everybody else on Earth disappears.
MTI: On a lighter note, have you watched any good television lately?
JS: To tell the honest truth—I haven’t watched television since Canadian broadcasters stopped transmitting analogue signals a couple of years back. Life’s busy enough that when I do get free time, I don’t want to spend it passively watching a screen. I’m more likely to read or write.
MTI: What sort of music do you enjoy?
JS: I like a fair range of rock music, ranging from indie-rock like Matt Mays & El Torpedo to shock-rock from Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie.
Valerie and our friends have exposed me to a lot of folk and country in recent years, so I’ve come to appreciate some of that too. Performers in those genres are more likely to tell a story in their lyrics, which is a refreshing change from the party/women/pick-up truck fixations of modern mainstream music.
MTI: What are three of your favorite movies?
JS: I enjoy Dark City’s moody design and trippy story. Highlander has the historical elements, sword-fight set-pieces, and a highly entertaining villain.
And there’s an Australian gem called Undead that I think is one of the most entertaining and original zombie flicks around. It also greatly amuses me that one of the heroes is a creepy farmer with a straw hat, denim overalls, and dual handguns
MTI: You have the attention of potential readers. In conclusion, do you happen to have any words of wisdom to share with them?
JS: Never under-estimate the power of one person to help another achieve success. If you’re in the position where you can help somebody else, make the effort to do so. If you’re in the position to receive such help, don’t be too fearful or proud to accept it.
MTI: Excellent advice! I am hopeful that Martinus Publishing can be that help for more writers in the coming years, just as fellow writers can be that help for Martinus Publishing. Thank you for that fantastic interview, Jason. Those who wish to read his story and many other alternate history gems can pick up Altered America!