Passageways Interview Series: S.E. Soldwedel

You are cordially invited to visit nine different worlds! You won’t need to pack a thing; there’s no passport or visa required, and all expenses are paid. All you need is one book to transport you.

Passageways is an anthology featuring some of the strongest independent authors writing today, happily playing in the universes they’ve each built. Running the gamut from fantasy to sci-fi to horror.

This Author Interview Series will focus on the authors featured in Passageways, exploring their individual writing process, world-building, and characters. Passageways gives you a peak into the narratives these authors weave. I aim to give you a peak at the authors themselves. 

Over the next 11 weeks, we’ll hear from authors Tahani Nelson (The Faoii Chronicles); Brian Fitzpatrick (Mechcraft); R.H. Webster (Rosebud); S.E. Soldwedel (Broken Circles); G.A. Finocchiaro (SCALES); Evan Graham (The Calling Void); Susan K. Hamilton (Shadow King); and Jane-Holly Meissner (The Fae Child Trilogy), curator Mike X Welch (Enantiodromia), and Editor/Publishing Rep extraordinaire from Writing Bloc, Cari Dubiel (How To Remember).

S.E. Soldwedel received his MA in creative writing from the City College of New York In 2007. He lives and works in the Bronx, where he teaches English Composition at Lehman College. He also earned from Lehman his MS Ed. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, with which skills he tutors exchange students, local immigrants, and refugees. His journalism degree from Michigan State University came in somewhat handy during a ten-year career at the New York Post, Hearst Magazines, and Rolling Stone, although his duties more often entailed web development and design than writing and editing. In 2019, Inkshares published his debut novel Disintegration. His fiction runs between noir, pulp, science fiction, and adventure—often a distillation of the lot—and plumbs the depths of the human condition. When he isn’t hiding from a pandemic, you might find him playing ice hockey at Chelsea Piers, channeling Vladimir Konstantinov.

Broken Circles—the world in which Soldwedel’s short story, “Teardown”, is set—features the books Disintegration, Insurrection, Integration, and another short, included in the Writing Bloc’s Deception anthology called “Die Regeln Galten Hier Nicht” (The Rules Do Not Apply). His work examines themes covering the breadth of human experience, including boundless authoritarian cruelty and indomitable autonomous perseverance. 

In “Teardown”, after decades of political turmoil and catastrophic climate change, humanity has outposts on Venus, Mars, and beyond. Earth is a terraformed world divided into four hegemonies, of which the England-led Commonwealth Empire is one. A powerful expatriate secretly rallies disaffected imperial citizens. He forges armies to tear down autocracies and tip the scales toward autonomy. The price of progress is blood.

  1. What do readers come away talking about when they’ve closed the cover of one of your novels?

I’m often told that the characters leave a lasting impression—that they’re realized to the point of seeming like real people. One review said that “One of the hallmarks of great literature is that it sticks with you after you’ve put it down. You can’t stop thinking about the characters, the scenarios, and the nagging questions it asks.” As well, a friend of mine who grew up in the Soviet Union said I’m “not afraid to go deep to reveal human nature. In some kind, you remind me [of] Dostoyevsky.” That’s my favorite bit of criticism. What drives me to write is to explore the many facets of our fraught existences.

  1. Catastrophic climate change and political turmoil are the backdrop for “Teardown”. Would you say the current state of the world had large influences on this short and Broken Circles as a whole?

Yes. I’m not someone who can live in the world and be unaffected by what’s happening. I sometimes envy those who can tune it out, but that’s not really what I want. I don’t think it solves anything, and things need solving. Not that my stories are a panacea, but I do hope that they might contribute to what Carl Sagan called “collective human intelligence.” To provoke thought.

Whether by sheer dumb luck or otherwise, we live on a planet uniquely suited for life (as far as we yet know) but we do our damndest to destroy it. I know it’s not novel to say this, but we are our own worst enemies. I’m hard pressed to think of another species besides chimps that preys upon its own kind, or that engages in willful acts of self-annihilation that will likely lead to omnicide. I write to parse these thoughts. I can only hope that reading my work might spur a conversation, or even self-analysis. A slight change in someone’s outlook and behavior could lead to a positive difference in the world. If each individual acted conscionably, the collective prosperity would be boundless.

  1. How does “Teardown” connect with your other novels?

There is what one might call a “minor” character in Disintegration who is, in fact, a major character in the Broken Circles universe. He’s the focus of the middle section of “Teardown” as a young adult, and is the protagonist of Integration as a grown man. He also features in the forthcoming novel Insurrection, which is the direct sequel of Disintegration. “Teardown” is meant to provide a glimpse of the sociopolitical reality that existed before the Blight, which made Earth the wasteland we experience in Disintegration. I like credible fictions, even when they contain fantastic elements, and my intention is that presenting a plausible history lends credibility to Broken Circles.

  1. Broken Circles explores themes of autocratic cruelty and individual perseverance. Those, I would say, are very heavy, intriguing themes. Could you discuss a little more what thoughts you hope those themes spur in your reader?

Burt Bacharach said that love is the only thing in the world that there’s too little of, and I think he nailed it. I’m of the mind that, while surely some people are born psycho- or sociopaths, most people are not. We could not have survived hundreds of thousands of years as modern humans if we had not been hardwired for collective welfare. Alas, a few maleficent souls wield outsize influence because—if there’s one thing to be said for malignant narcissists—they’re great at motivating and manipulating otherwise passive and well-meaning people to think and act in vile ways, for the most pathetic and base reasons.

I think people have been hoodwinked to think that evil is normal, that it’s the human baseline, but I don’t think it is. So, I try to tell stories where a few ill-intentioned malefactors run roughshod over the world while decent (albeit flawed and morally ambiguous) people do everything they can to resist and topple those bad actors. Even if they must do it alone, they resist. As opposed to simply accepting the circumstances and refusing to fight back because they are alone.

My hope is that I might inspire the sense that things don’t need to be exploitative, that people don’t need to passively take the abuse that is baked into the overarching systems that govern our lives. Yes, there is strength in numbers, but being alone in a fight is no reason not to fight … because that example might just inspire others. I hope that the examples of individual and collective resistance that I present might inspire a real person to cease being an unwilling passenger in a narcissist’s power orgy and, instead, assert themselves for their—and everyone’s—collective benefit.

  1. 2020 was a tough year, but you still managed to be productive and creative. Do you have any advice for creatives who have struggled during the pandemic? 

I struggled, too, and I’m grateful that I was able to produce something. This opportunity was a blessing, and I can’t express enough appreciation for Mike Welch and Writing Bloc for giving me this venue. My advice—which I need to take, myself—is to not let a lofty benchmark of quality stand in the way of simply producing something.

Writing, like almost anything, is an iterative process. It gets better through refinement, but if you produce nothing, there is nothing to refine. So, just produce. Maybe it’ll be execrable, but it’s something. And, after the second pass, maybe it becomes a little better. Sometimes, you might even come back to a piece that you thought was utter garbage, but, with fresh eyes, you realize it was pretty amazing.

I’ll say again that we’re our own worst enemies. We imagine critics that we allow to scupper our ambitions before we even attempt to attain them. Of course, it doesn’t help that we don’t live in the most supportive reality. It’s realistic to expect reproach whenever we present ourselves for evaluation, because humanity is often a toxic dumpster fire of unhappy people whose own ambitions have been stymied by a society designed to either neuter creativity or exploit it. Those people then express their grudges and disappointments through acrimony.

However, it behooves us to remember that only miserable people seize opportunities to break other people down, and that those people’s opinions are usually worth less than nothing. While you don’t want someone to blow smoke up your ass, neither do you want to put too much stock in criticism that is negative expressly to denigrate you. I will say, though, that unspecific praise is worth far less than focused and constructive negative criticism. Negative critique can come from a loving place, intended to spur growth. Anyone who wants to improve should recognize that they’re not at the pinnacle—and no one ever is. There’s always further to go. Plus Ultra. Don’t rest on your laurels, but don’t be too hard on yourself, either.

Again, just make something. Be honest with yourself and surround yourself with people who’ll be honest with you. Maybe nothing more comes of your attempts than the mere act of creation, maybe it never sees the light of day … but at least you made something. You produced. That’s more than a lot of people can claim in a consumer society.

Follow Soldwedel on TwitterFacebook, and Goodreads. Be sure to add his book, Disintegration to your list! You can find more information about Soldwedel at his website. More of Soldwedel’s work can be found at his Amazon Author Page.


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