An Interview with Sam Mortimer:
Author of Screams The Machine
Sirens Call Publications recently released Sam Mortimer’s dystopian-esque, sci-fi novella titled Screams The Machine and we wanted to take a moment to sit down with him and ask him a few questions.
Sirens Call Publications: Welcome Sam! Why don’t you take a moment and introduce yourself?
Sam Mortimer: I have worked the graveyard shift in law enforcement, attended film school, and have been writing strange stories since age eleven. I love reading, music, and strive to meet the demands of my cats. I’m also in an electronic-rock band called Anifail.
SCP: What made you decide to become a writer?
Sam: I’m interested in knowledge and the human experience. Existence is weird. Plus, an area of my life feels dysfunctional and empty if I don’t write. Round up the books, movies, games, and music that’ve been around since humans started making them, and I’m sure every writer has something in common. Also, I experience my inner world, which is enjoyable even if it’s a bit messed up— and honestly (most importantly), when the muse calls, I answer her. Thus, I gladly write.
SCP: What is Screams The Machine about?
Sam: Screams The Machine is a whirlpool. It’s partly about how technology is a neutral means to an end, but what’s the intent of the user/creator? I doubt the answers are neutral there. It’s about decisions, ones we can control and others we cannot. Also, addiction comes in different forms – mainly they’re hideous. I’d say that’s some fruit from the tree in the story.
SCP: What is the one thing you’d like readers to know about Screams The Machine before they read it?
Sam: I wish you could hear the soundtrack that was going through my head as I was writing the book. It’s an important aspect that couldn’t be put to the page.
SCP: What is your writing process? Do you consider yourself to be a planner or a pantser?
Sam: It makes me smile to say pantser. I’ll go with that. Plus, the pantser style is a solid, ancient technique proven time again, developed by the wisest of the pantser sages. How cool would that be? In the end though, I almost feel more like a reporter than a fiction writer. It feels like I’m experiencing the story as it happens, so I guess a good pants-ing could work for that in numerous ways. My first drafts are usually done in complete silence. The world I’m writing about does what it does, filling my head with sound, colors, etc. It feels spiritual actually, and it feels honest. I think honesty of intent is most important in any process. If the writer means what they say, it’ll probably show in the pants-ing.
SCP: If you could cast Screams the Machine, who would you choose to play your main characters?
Sam: I’d like to see new talent play the characters. Also, I’d want you to be able to hear any of the sounds that were in my head that accompanied the story. That would be fun.
SCP: What is the hardest challenge that you have faced as a writer?
Sam: Me. I’ve been the hardest challenge.
SCP: In your opinion, what sets Screams The Machine apart from other books of the same genre?
Sam: Hopefully it adds to the genre(s), like an extension or compliment. I want it to pay respects; however, I also want Screams The Machine to blend different genres in a way that makes sense. Horror, sci-fi, and fantasy have been important parts of my life.
SCP: Are you reading anything right now, or have you read anything recently that is worth mentioning?
Sam: Yes. I’m reading any Scientific American sent to me (subscription). Also, ‘The Essential Guide to Werewolf Literature’, by Brian J. Frost has been useful. The ‘Dictionary of Superstitions’, by David Pickering has been super fun. For current research, I’m reading texts such as ‘The Didache’, and a few others that would be considered sacred. Then, of course, I’m reading ‘The Singularity is Near’, by Ray Kurzweil.
SCP: Who are some of your favorite authors? Favorite novels?
Sam: Hideyuki Kikuchi. Joseph Campbell. Richard Matheson. Ray Kurzweil. I like Steve Niles’ stuff, ‘Savage Membrane’ was pretty killer. Will Storr. William Gibson (Neuromancer). Richard K. Morgan (Woken Furies). Simon R. Green, ‘Hex and the City’ was a blast. My favorite novels are the ones where I have a genuine good time reading, or they massage my brain in some way. There are many. I highly suggest ‘The Power of Myth’, with Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. I read it over ten years ago. That book helped changed my perspective on life in general.
SCP: How do you define success as a writer? Have you been successful?
Sam: It seems there’re three types of success with writing: personal, critical, and monetary. Personal success is an awful beast to tame, but you have to remember that if you’ve completed your story, you’re already putting the nix on that part. Then there’s the hell of wondering if what you did is any good. Who knows, right? Deep down, you do.
Personally, I love submitting my work to people I don’t know. It’s a pretty big thrill and testament. Then again, I don’t care to share everything with everyone. The definition of success is up to the individual when it comes to creativity. In the end, I’d say happiness is a major success, and if you can pay a bill with writing, then that’s also success.
SCP: Do you have words of wisdom about writing that you want to pass on to novelists and writers out there who are just starting out?
Sam: Test your mettle. Keep going. Validate yourself. Love what you do. Stay safe.
SCP: What should readers walk away from your book knowing? How should they feel?
Sam: Being that times are changing, humans require more stimulation and social-media glitter bedazzles us, I’m writing novellas for a reason. I want to help keep folks interested in books, for one, and make stories accessible. Novellas are short but interesting. I feel they’re a good middle ground with the modern person’s time. I honestly don’t know how anyone should feel after reading my book. I leave that entirely up to the reader.
Thank you Sam for taking the time to answer our questions.
Cash carries a disease; one that’s already killed a large majority of the population and something needs to be done. To stop the crisis from escalating, The Solution (a worldwide organization) is formed and rises to great power. They monitor people’s dreams and shape reality to fit their own wants and needs. In an effort to control existence itself, The Solution is searching for what they believe to be the ultimate tool; a person with the ability to master a deep connection with the mysterious, pervasive energy known only as The Ultimate Reality.
Watching her neighborhood decay, her friends and family perish, Elizabeth Reznik needs to find meaning in her life. She discovers her existence is more meaningful than she could ever have imagined. Operatives of The Solution seek her out, take her from her home and perform brutal experiments on her. Their conclusion? Elizabeth is the one they have been searching for; she is the key to gaining complete power.
The stratagem of The Solution is single minded – own the resources and you own the people. And the last resource available is free will. They will own your thoughts, they will orchestrate your dreams; they will dine on your fears. But there is always a cog in the machine… or in this case, a scream.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR — Sam Mortimer has worked the graveyard shift in law enforcement, attended film school, and has been writing strange stories since age eleven. He loves reading, music, and strives to meet the demands of his five cats.
And now for an excerpt from Screams The Machine…
An Odd Dream, Birthday
Flesh severs from bone and a green-eyed girl cries a black flood, a flood of such devastating capacity it could cover the world…
In her pink smiling monkey pajamas, she stands on a great body of blackness, the water rippling beneath her feet. She swipes her arm across her cheek, surprised to find her hand covered in red. She inspects the blood carefully, but she has no idea how she was cut. But that isn’t the worst of her problems. She begins to sink, first to her knees, then to her waist. The water has no temperature, like the touch of nothingness.
Soon she falls into the liquid darkness; descending for what seems like forever, being pulled down by a gripping, otherworldly current. The water becomes shockingly cold. She twists and tumbles, feeling pressure build on her lungs, beginning to crush them. Deeper, farther and farther down, as she drowns—as if this can get any worse, the thought crosses her mind—from the blackness an onslaught of charred hands reach and grope, tearing her body to pulpy ribbons.
There is a moment of stillness, the absence of all sound, until blood ascends in violent whorls, spreading, mixing with the tears to create: floods, oceans, lakes. Her dismemberments form continents, her veins rivers, and her mind creates the Nature of All Things. Big fish consumes small fish. Big corporation consumes small business. Government consumes big corporation. Obese man eats donut and watches television. Television consumes obese man. In one last sweeping exhalation, her breath becomes the atmosphere.
Her name is Elizabeth. She is the doorway to The Ultimate Reality.
“Damn,” Elizabeth shot up in bed, keeping her eyes shut because she was afraid of what she might see. Her thoughts jumbled helter-skelter, sweat clung to her brow, and her auburn hair was a sticky mess. She had no idea why she would have such a dream, except for an underlying feeling that the world—her world was messed up. She thought, maybe it was a sort of silly allegorized psyche soup parading its nonsensical ingredients, as can happen at times. As Dr. Reverence always said, Elizabeth recalled, ‘One is prone to cling to a reflection of madness, if only so they can wallow in their own likeness.’
Attempting to gather her wits and her breath, Elizabeth inhaled for the first time in what felt like a full minute. She opened her eyes and a spot of sunshine coming through the slits in the blinds jabbed at her pupils.
Her room was furnished with a twin bed, two bureaus—one that had an old vanity mirror owned by her late grandmother before the world cracked. This was the same room she had lived in since the age of six, where she once played with a hand-me-down Rainbow Bright, and experienced her first kiss at age eleven, which proved horrifying. Randal Markins’ bottom lip had got caught in her braces. In a panic, he jerked his head back and a chunk of flesh ripped out. He had moved away years ago, but she wasn’t sure where. He was her first experience with love.
The walls in her room were painted pink then, but now they were purple. Most of her time within these walls was spent listening to music and keeping her mind occupied. She was twenty-four now, the house was hers, and she was near alone with the exception of her mother, who was not often up for company.
Elizabeth groaned. Letting the memory of her dream slip away, she stretched like a cat and a pleasant rush slid through her head. Suddenly she grew sleepier than before, and her eyelids drooped as the prospect pulled her back under the down comforter. She could have dreamed again of a much better, calmer place, even though she knew she had chores to start this morning, plus she had to check on her mother.
At 8:00 AM Elizabeth woke again, and the air seemed stained with rainbows until she rubbed her eyes and they adjusted properly. She reached over to her nightstand, picking up her smart phone and looked for any missed calls. Of course, there were no missed calls. She scrolled to an app and turned on Pandora. The music played quietly.
After Elizabeth showered she stood naked on the old black and white tile, smelling of violets. She cleared the layer of condensation off the mirror then covered the circles under her eyes with honey-beige concealer. She got dressed in jeans, black knee-high leather boots, and a teal three-quarter length T-shirt with a black cardigan over it. Added to her wardrobe was a heavy, black coat. Before leaving the house, she vaguely wondered where her mind might go if it weren’t for the little pleasantries life still allotted.
Elizabeth walked outside into a bright February day, the cold and fresh breeze fumbling over her cheeks. While the sun may have spread a cheerful hue, most of the houses in the neighborhood stood abandoned or foreclosed. Many of the yards were overgrown, the grass dried and dead from winter. She saw children’s toys and wind-beaten battery powered trucks on the lawns and dead potted plants on porches. Many families fled during The State of Chaos. Others were killed, some simply vanished without explanation as disease ran rampant, jobs dwindled, and violence spread. The old government attempted to suppress the disorder, but their efforts failed. Then the Solution arose from the depths of global networks, utilizing their strange war machines and snuffing the mayhem. These strange, bipedal marvels were called the RMS (Robotic Military Sentries). Elizabeth had never seen any RMS in person, but she had watched a plethora of live footage along with reports on television. No one had ever witnessed the odd technology before, nor did they know it existed; the RMS were armed with nightmares, it seemed.
Elizabeth kept trekking, observing the near derelict neighborhood. She sighed, recalling a time when the Blue Bear ice cream truck would play its drippy and tuneless music. Elizabeth had found it eerie, yet the music possessed the ability to make her happy all the same, to reach in and grab her veins as though she were a stringed musical instrument. Kids flocked in groups around the neighborhood then. Things were normal, but it seemed that the last few years her life stumbled toward a monstrous mouth that would swallow her whole. She wanted college, to work once again at Cool Keith’s Coffee, but alas, that wasn’t going to happen.
A sudden heavy gust of cold wind forced Elizabeth to turn her head down. Her eyes watered. When she looked back up the street, she saw a slim figure in the distance silhouetted by the morning sun. As the figure got closer it became less obscure, formed into one of the last remaining neighborhood men—she didn’t know his name before, and she refused to know him now. His face was blotted by shadow but she could tell he was in a hurry as he jogged to a yard where an old and withered dogwood tree stood. He opened the door and went inside the home. Someone was dying, she was certain. Soon the teeth of disease would crush and swallow, again.
Elizabeth reserved a numb awareness of death, because she had witnessed enough already. The Dysfunction Grief no longer belonged to her. Her street led to the main road. A few stores remained open for business, but many had shut down or were rundown. The businesses that survived appeared rather immaculate and clean—the shelves were stocked with supplies. Walking another five minutes, she eventually entered a small convenience store called The Orange Market located between two empty and dark-looking buildings that used to be banks. Per requirement of the Solution, a sign posted over the pristine glass entrance door read, ABSOLUTELY NO CASH, in bold red letters. Cash Disease, which had been transmitted by handling cash, wiped out millions—it was the beginning of The State of Chaos, also known as The Disintegration.
She got a box of hot chocolate, a loaf of bread, peanut butter, one banana, pink Snowballs, a gallon of milk, a tomato, then swiped her wrist, which had a tracer chip implanted just under the skin. A beep sounded to indicate she had purchased the items. Mr. Smith, the short portly old clerk stood behind the counter. His hair was white, and his eyes were pale blue.
He smiled, saying, “Little chilly outside, but it’ll do. I’m glad winter’s coming to a close soon. Another month or two.”
“I suppose. But I like winter,” Elizabeth said.
“You like winter? Funny a woman says that. Y’all used to love summer, hopping round in your bikinis like bunnies. Sun tannin’, ya know. I can understand the change, though.” Then Mr. Smith cocked his head to the side for a moment, as he peered solemnly at her. “In one respect I feel fortunate it—The Disintegration, you know—didn’t happen during winter. In another way, I kinda’ wish it did.”
Mr. Smith raised an eyebrow and Elizabeth understood. They both had smelled the baking rot and war in the summer heat. The stench was like spoiled milk and bad meat as it blew in with the wind from miles away. She didn’t really care for anything further to be said about it. Not many people did. But sometimes (most times), they talked about it regardless.
Elizabeth said, “The Disintegration isn’t over for all of us.”
“Hmm, but we know who to thank, don’t we, that it’s not worse? Because it’s over for most.”
Elizabeth said, “Yeah, I suppose.”
“You’re lucky. The other deserted neighborhoods are getting demolished right and left. Solution officials plan to move people closer to the city, which means your neighborhood will be preserved and occupied. We’re close. Don’t you feel it, though? The pull to the city? Like some sort of calling.”
Elizabeth nodded her head yes, because she couldn’t deny that she did. She had an urge to go. There wouldn’t be much left here after her mother passed regardless if people would be arriving soon or not. And even if she felt the urge to go, she doubted she ever would.
“Something’s happened to, well, reality, all right,” Mr. Smith said.
Elizabeth agreed and noted to herself that it’s gone insane, that reality itself seems to be diseased or cracked.
Mr. Smith continued, “And I can feel something else happening as we speak. I feel it down to my marrow, singing like a choir. There’s a feeling just below the surface, ya know, something of a power permeating us. Do you ever get that?”
“Oh, it’s strong. It’s real strong.” Mr. Smith’s eyes narrowed. He reached a hand into his shirt pocket but discovered what he was looking for wasn’t there. “No damned cigarettes. Still can’t accept it, but Dr. Reverence frowns on them, so I guess I should. But I need one so bad, I dream of smoking when I sleep. Gotta have something to keep me from going loony as a mongoose on crack. Dr. Reverence is a good woman.”
Elizabeth deemed Mr. Smith’s dysfunction Unfortunately Positive.
Mr. Smith dropped his hands to his sides and squeezed the fabric of his slacks, then reached to the counter, snatching and unraveling a piece of candy. He popped it in his mouth.
“Anyway, not much new construction will happen, huh? How’s your mother?” The old man asked. “She’s one of the last with, you know, Cash Disease. She’s gotta be pretty damned close. I’m sorry.”
“I’d imagine you are,” Elizabeth said…
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