Guy Hasson is an Israeli playwright, film maker and science fiction writer. While he writes plays and scripts mainly in Hebrew, his fiction is almost exclusively written in English. He is a two-time winner of the Israeli Geffen Award: he won it in 2003 for his story “All-of-Me(TM)” and in 2005 for his story “The Perfect Girl”. Since 2006 he has focused on production of original films, including the feature-length A Stone-cold Heart.
Guy Hasson Interviewed by Charles Tan
Hi Guy! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. Congrats on the release of First Thoughts. How did the novellas come about? Did you plan on it being compiled early on or was it serendipity that it all came together?
Thanks, Charles. Secret Thoughts, as you know, is a collection of three novellas that take place in the same world, a world that has telepaths.
It started out like this.
A few years ago I had a great idea for a story about a telepath. She would read the mind of a recently dead girl, over-sympathize with her life, and lose boundaries between her own life and the dead girl’s life. But it would also be a mystery, the solution of which is an emotion buried deep inside her: Why did she sympathize with her? What is wrong about herself that she feels is right about the dead girl?
I wanted to write a telepath mystery, a whodunit, in which the ‘culprit’ is an emotion. To do that I had to create believable telepaths ,and to make telepathy realistic. Everything has implications. As I created that world, I had more and more ideas about stories that could take place in that world. But I had no intention of returning to that world. Therefore, I cannibalized all my ideas and hinted at almost all of them in The Perfect Girl. It makes for a richer world.
The Perfect Girl was then translated into Hebrew and published in Israel, where it won the Geffen Award for Best Short Story of the Year. And that was that. I didn’t want to return to that world. I prefer writing original stories every time and not lean on something I’ve done before.
But as the years passed, ideas came to me that could not be done outside this world: What it would be like if a telepath had to read an alien mind? In a realistic world, what would that look that? – That is the second story, The Linguist, where I break all the rules to create something new.
Then came the third story, Most Beautiful Intimacy, which had the craziest wild in the bunch: What if a telepath got pregnant? Telepathy in my world works by touch. A pregnant telepath can’t break contact with her fetus. What if we knew what the fetus’ brain went through during the nine months of pregnancy? What would a brain, not yet fully formed, feel and think and experience? I could create an entire emotional landscape that would teach us something about ourselves and our own nature.
And that was that. Three original stories that provide a full book-length feast for those who hunger for SF blood. That is Secret Thoughts.
The implications of telepathy in the stories is well thought out. What’s the appeal of telepathy for you? Do you consider the phenomena science fiction or fantasy?
To my knowledge, there’s no telepathy, but I had to treat it as if it was real and consider all the implications of such a phenomenon. That makes it science fiction.
I liked writing about my telepaths because it allowed me to explore emotions in a way I couldn’t otherwise. It had to be believable, though. There would be no such thing as just reading an emotion or hearing a sentence the person says to himself. That would not be enough. There are so many things inside us going on simultaneously. There is something inside us, a sort of inner GPS, that tells us where we are. It may not be correct. But it still tells us something. There are emotions underneath emotions, conflicts, recollections that pop up for microseconds, complexes within complexes within complexes, awareness of yourself and what you look like, awareness of your physical condition, and a thousand other things. You had to put all of them in to write believably about reading minds, and you had to create ways for the telepaths to navigate through all this mess.
In addition – I’ll let you in about a writing trick I used to write telepaths believably.
I would never let a telepath describe her own emotions with words we know. A telepath would never think, ‘I’m angry’ or ‘I’m sad’. She would be aware of vast arrays of ‘angry’ or ‘sad’ and would be much more specific than we would ever be. So I wrote The Perfect Girl and The Linguist, which are both told in first-person by a telepath, without the character ever mentioning her own emotions directly. Instead, I made the readers realize what these emotions were without naming them. Here’s a good example, told by a female telepath:
Professor Bendis comes in at eight on the dot.
Ancient. Smart. Godlike.
He takes his time getting to the podium and looking at us.
He can read my mind. I cross my legs.
You got what she was feeling without me ever mentioning an emotion, right?
Much of the focus of the stories are on female characters. Was this intentional? Did you encounter any difficulties writing the opposite gender?
Writing telepath stories with women leads is a no-brainer.
All three stories are supremely intimate, about deep truths we hide from ourselves, and subtle emotions. Men’s defensive mechanisms are such that they lie to themselves, hide their vulnerabilities from themselves, and when a vulnerability is revealed, their ego is easily shattered. To write about men telepaths, I would have had to write a way around each of these defenses for each lead character in a story. However, if I write about women, I can just get into the meat of things.
Also, the stories are set in the US. Why this setting?
The stories needed to be set in the US, because the US is highly populated, and telepaths in my world are rare. I wanted to create an academy for them, where they would be taught to use their abilities in an adult fashion. It had to be the US because I grew up there and know it well, while I do not know enough about the other populated countries, like India, China, the erstwhile Soviet Union, etc.
Once you have the seed of the story, the story tells you what length it needs to be. I don’t force lengths on my stories; my stories force their lengths on me.
How did Apex end up publishing First Thoughts?
I like to finish a book and then send it. I don’t like to pitch books I haven’t finished writing. But that’s not what happened here.
I was speaking with Lavie Tidhar, who had just had a book published by Apex, and told him that I was going to send it to Apex as well. He said, “That’s a good idea. Hold on, I’ll ask Jason [Sizemore, the publisher].” And before I knew it, he said, “Jason’s expecting an email from you.”
I wrote to him about my plan for the three novellas and that I was in the middle of writing the second one. He said, “That sounds good. Send me the first one.”
I sent him the first one. He said, “I like it. Send me the second one.”
I finished writing the second novella and sent it to him. He said, “I like it. Send me the third one.”
I finished writing the third novella and sent it to him. He said, “I like it. It’s special. I’ll publish the book.”
Did your background in film influence in any way how you wrote the stories in First Thoughts?
Writing for film or the theater or prose are three very different things.
Not only are the ‘words’ you use different (in theater, actors’ actions are your words, and the words on the page are shadows of actions; in film, your words can be visual or even musical), not only is the syntax of each of these mediums different (space is the syntax of the theater, while a film is photographic, musical, and edited; and prose is written in words on a blackboard in your mind), but the experience you give the readers/viewers is completely different.
I’ll give you an example. Immediately after my first anthology, Hatchling, came out, I was approached by a film producer who wanted to buy the rights to the novella Hatchling. I told him he could have it if he wanted it, but I don’t see how it can be done in film. The experience of the story, which is what you liked about it, could only be achieved in prose, never in film. He said he still wanted it, so I sold it to him. In developing it, he created something different from it, which was based on the novella but gave a different kind of great experience.
What were the challenges in writing the book?
Writing books isn’t just about writing ideas. Each story has its own emotional landscape and in writing the story I have to be true to it.
The Perfect Girl was about obsessiveness. I had that one down.
The Linguist was about fear. I had to learn a few lessons about optimism before I could finish writing it.
Most Beautiful Intimacy was about intimacy. I had to learn a few lessons about intimacy before I could write it.
Anything else you want to plug?
Not at Secret Thoughts’ expense.