Jason Dias writes from a secure location in his living room in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Writing keeps him sane, or at least out of trouble with the law. As far as you know. His work is primarily in the speculative-fiction arena, with entries in hard science fiction, horror and epic fantasy; the common elements to these works is less genre than an interest in the existential dimensions of story, themes of freedom, meaning, suffering well… as well as an absolute conviction that Game of Thrones is way too optimistic about human nature.
1) Where did you grow up?
It’s not really provable that I ever actually grew up. I guess I came of age in Britain. The expectations for me over there were pretty low – graduate school at 16 and do factory work before dying in obscurity. I still battle those expectations, but I miss the rain.
Mum and Dad split when I was a teenager. He was American, she was British. My younger two siblings went with her, I went with Dad. He came to Colorado Springs to retire. Two years later he died of cancer. I found myself a stranger in a strange land.
3) How long did it take you to lose the British accent?
The funny version:
When I came over in ’91 I was terribly shy. Whenever we went somewhere someone would say, “Oh, I love your accent.” And I would sort of shrink into myself, try to disappear. So I spent five years working to make the accent go away only to find out when it was gone that chicks dig it.
The sad version: I spent 4 years in California when I was just a wee bairn – ages 7-10ish. I had an outrageous Cockney accent back then that nobody could understand. The school, against my Mum’s wishes, put me in speech therapy with the cleft palate kid and the nice young man with Down Syndrome from the school across the creek.
While the other boys and girls played sports, I learned that my voice was unacceptable. I learned how to enunciate in order to fit in, endlessly practicing consonant sounds like Eliza Doolittle.
Since then I was always a chameleon, adapting to whatever voice was in play around me to avoid attention. When you’re a boy who stands out – being autistic, I couldn’t help that – differences are reasons to get hit. So by ’91 I had learned to blend.
Not soon, no. I think we’re in a race right now, between climate change and everything we want to do. AmyBeth Inverness writes optimistic futures – Asimovian futures, even – but as a psychologist I know a few things about pessimism. First, pessimists tend to live longer because they strap on a helmet and don’t jump out of planes unless there’s a damned good reason. Second, depressed people are actually a lot more realistic. They know their social standing, for example, much more clearly than a non-depressed person.
.. I’m not saying the hoarders and doomsday preppers are right, but it’s more likely that the airport will be turned into a shelter than into a spaceport.
Nobody is paying me to write (any more) so, not counting the novels, 4. I teach for Saybrook University, Pikes Peak Community College and Colorado Springs Early Colleges, as well as supervising Chinese clinicians in Beijing via the internet. That work is through the foundation I co-founded: the Zhi Mian Institute for International Existential Psychology.
6) When I was teaching, grading papers was the bane of my existence. For you, what are the best and worst aspects of being a teacher?
They’re the same thing, really: the relationships.
I get to meet a bunch of people, introduce them to new ways of using their gray matter. Tragedy happens and people wonder what they can do – should we go to a rally or send money or… But I know what to do: my job. Every day. Build the relationships, teach the critical thinking skills – how to arrive at conclusions through impartial examination of data.
The relationships are very rewarding. I practice continual authenticity. I don’t lie, put on a show, or change my self in any way to interact with students. I am who I am, they are who they are. That’s rewarding but also terrifying. I come home at the end of each class with anxiety in my throat. Did I go too far, say too much? At the end, though, that’s how I know I did a good job. If I am not anxious, I didn’t take enough chances.
I used to be able to focus anywhere in any conditions. As I get older, though, I find I need quiet. Anyplace quiet, no distractions.
8) What was your path to publication?
I did it myself. I hardly sell any books this way but that’s not the point. I don’t write them for you anyway. I write them because I have to. If someone likes them, that’s gravy, man.
9) Are each of your books very different from each other? Could a book reviewer sum up what kind of stories you write in a simple paragraph?
I have a book about relationships. A non-fiction piece about pain. Novels in horror, hard sf, military sf and epic fantasy. The genres are really different and the writing style changes (as it should) between genres and the age of the pieces. Military SF wants to be terse, e.g., while epic fantasy gives you more leeway with your prose and world building.
But there is a common element running through these works, and that’s the deep examination of the human condition. I’m an existential psychologist, interested in what makes us human. The theme of For Love of Their Children is what it means to be “good”. What would you do for your kids? Probably some pretty bleak stuff, yeah? That same theme runs through The Worst of Us, a story tying psychiatry and the Vietnam War together in modern-day New York City. This time the theme of good/evil arises in terms of guilt. Existential guilt. In What Hope Wrought, it’s the value of despair. In The Girlfriend Project (my first and most personal story) the theme is what it means to love, from the point of view of an autistic man who does not experience love as a discrete feeling.
So, the works are all really different, but have this grand unifying theme, this desperation to discover the root cause of humanity.
10) Will my cat be satisfied with how his species is represented in For Love of Their Children?
I think I manage pretty good cat diversity. There are household felines that proliferate the city of Hitai, kittens to elicit love from the innocent. But also lions, mutants, and two main characters of feline descent. One is the cheetah Ngili; the other is an antihero condemned to live half his life as a jaguar. He discovers this is really no curse but a crucible. As a cat, he finds himself perfected.
So, I hope so.
11) What is your next project?
I’m halfway through the next book in Because of Her Shadow, the series which For Love of Their Children initiates. I hope to get it drafted by the end of the summer.
12) What Colorado writers (besides me, of course) do you think more people should read?
I know so many. I’d say start with DeAnna Knippling, for sure. J.T.Evans and Patrick Hester. Susan Mitchell. Deb Courtney has some neat short horror in anthologies lately. A.J. Marcus does gay romance. Aaron Michael Ritchey, Jim Heskett. God, nearly all my friends are writers and they are all going to hate me for not mentioning them here.
Actually, there’s a neat little shop in Longmont called Local Editions. They carry Colorado authors’ books on consignment. There are only 50 or so to choose from, covers out, not sorted by genre. I like to go in there and pick up 4-5 books I’d never have discovered otherwise.
13) Who shot first? Han or Greedo?
Of course Han shot first. Greedo would have shot eventually, once he was done gloating. Han struck pre-emptively.
What’s this debate even about? Han isn’t a hero, not at the start of the story. He’s a mercenary, a smuggler. A low-life scoundrel. He doesn’t do things because they’re right. The heroic Han shooting back is inconsistent with the mercenistic Han refusing to rescue the princess unless there was a payday in it for him. And all that scallywaggery is totally necessary to the scene where Han returns from deep space to save Luke at the last second, enabling the shot that blows up the Death Star. That is his redemption moment.
But if he’s a hero from his first scenes in the movie, there’s no redemption.
Jay and I only live a few miles apart from each other. We met up at Sandy’s, a diner near the north entrance to Peterson AFB for brunch, books, and a little conversation about chickens in utopia. . . .