[Interviewer’s Note: This is a series of interviews featuring the contributors of The Apex Book of World SF edited by Lavie Tidhar. It’ll run every Monday to Friday until I run out of interviews. Two of these interviews will be reprinted in Apex Magazine but the rest are exclusive to SF Signal.]
Guy Hasson is an SF author, a playwright, and a filmmaker. His books, Hatchling and Life: the Game, have been published in paperback by Bitan Publishers. His short stories have appeared in five languages. Two of his stories won the Israeli Geffen Award for Best Short Story in 2003 and 2005. In the theater, six of his shows have been produced. His latest film is Heart of Stone, a feature-length, low-budget, SF film in Hebrew, which he wrote, shot, and directed.
Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what’s the appeal of science fiction for you? How were you first exposed to it?
Hi Charles, thanks for having me here…in the ether
I think two things appeal to me in science fiction. One is the ability to use plot – and suspense – a lot more freely than in most other genres. If you want to create page-turners, plot twists and great surprises for the readers, science fiction is one of the best genres for the job
The other major appeal is simply the ability to take things a couple of steps further than realistic drama allows us. When ‘normal’ people hear that you’re writing or reading science fiction, they think about spaceships and special effects. But the truth is that science fiction usually means going all the way with an idea or a thought or an emotion. A good example of this is my novella, ‘Hatchling‘. It’s one of my most popular novellas (certainly the most reprinted and translated one) and can be found online. It takes the basic question that can be found in a child who doesn’t know who her father is (the heroine of the story): ‘Who am I’? The story takes the question further and further and further with each page, ultimately getting to SF territory (although hopefully not the territory you thought of). Even after learning the truth, Glynis, the heroine, keeps learning what it means to be her until the very end. I won’t spoil the story, so feel free to read it
When was I first exposed to science fiction? When I was six or seven I read all the Jules Verne books I could find in the library. Speaking of page-turners (and he certainly is one when you read him at that age), I remember cataloguing in my head exactly by what means the suspense is built
When I was five, I remember my father read me ‘The Hobbit’ in daily installments before sleep. Later on, when I was seven, he read me The Lord of the Rings. After the first book, though, I decided to read the other two on my own, which I did
Since you’re a man of many talents–playwright, filmmaker, author–which passion came first?
Prose came first. I always wrote prose and invented stories. At eleven I wrote a book. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a good one
At nineteen, when I was learning Mathematics at the Tel Aviv University, I needed to write, so I took a course in writing over at the Theater department. When the year was over, I schlepped all my stuff over to the Theater building and refused to leave it for three more years. I wrote my first play at 19. On my 21st birthday, a play of mine appeared in the Akko Fringe Festival. That’s how I got into theater. And once the theater bug gets you, it doesn’t leave you
Next: film. I stayed away from film for many years, because film costs a lot of money. You can write prose at home in your notebook or on your computer for free. You can rehearse with actors at home and then find a place to put on a show that doesn’t need a lot as much as scenery or lighting for almost no money at all. But back in the nineties you couldn’t shoot 5 minutes of film without a lot of money
After my first book was out, a movie producer wanted to buy the rights for the novella ‘Hatchling’. I told him that if he wants it, he can take it, but that I didn’t see how it could be made into a movie. He bought the rights. Then, after a while, he convinced me that it could be done and hired me as the scriptwriter. Nothing came out of the movie (for now), but in the meantime I wrote a couple of scripts for movies, wrote my own script for a horror series, which I then decided I’d direct. I couldn’t sell it to the TV channels here, because a horror series in Israel was too expensive to make and would not return the money. However, on the way, I discovered what costs money in film and what doesn’t. So a year later I wrote an SF feature film, ‘Heart of Stone’, which I then made for only $25,000. Part of the reason it was so cheap is that I wrote, directed, shot, produced, and did the lighting myself
That’s how I got into film. And once you know how to do that, it’s hard to stop
What would you say is the biggest advantage of prose? Of plays? Of film? How does each field affect (or not affect) the others?
In prose the author has full control of what the reader experiences and sees. The reader reads something that is 100% the author’s intentions and words
In the theater, words are there to be said and interpreted, to be performed differently, directed differently each performance and with each different interpretation. In prose, a writer writes with words. In theater, a writer writes with actors
Film is even more extreme, because not only does the scriptwriter leave ‘spaces’ for performance, but film is almost always the work of the director and not the writer
As a writer, though, I use each medium to achieve different things. In prose, I play with the reader’s mind. If I want to blow your mind with ideas or emotions you didn’t know you had, I’ll use prose
In the theater, there’s the stage, which is a magnifying glass for emotions. The stage has physical, three dimensional space, which allows for palpable tension between two or more actors. If I want to write drama, I’ll use the stage
The stage is also a great place for ‘conventions’. This means that if I get on the stage with a carton drawing of a car and I mimic riding it, then everyone imagines I’m riding a car. It’s fun to do and it lets the audience do the imagining. It’s also useful in comedies. If I want to write a comedy that uses conventions, I’ll write for the stage
Film… is different. In the horror series I wrote, I used film to create moments of intense personal drama (horror), which I could never create on stage, certainly not night after night. My SF movie, ‘Heart of Stone’, had five actors but six characters. The last character, the SF element, was a character developing within the lead actor’s head. What he was going through was conveyed with music alone, in a way that could only be achieved in film
Since each of these mediums allows for different content and emotions, they don’t actually affect each other. I jump from one to the other, depending on what I want to say.
What made you decide to write in English when it comes to your stories but Hebrew when it comes to your films?
Since writing prose is also about wordsmithing, and since my English is better, I write it my prose in English
When writing plays and films, however, I can use the spoken language as my tool, which makes it easier for me to write plays and films in the language of the city in which I live. I live in Tel Aviv, so I write my plays in Hebrew
Your fiction has also been translated to other languages. Why do you think your fiction is popular internationally?
I hope it’s because people relate to the stories
How would you describe Israeli speculative fiction? What makes it unique from the rest of the world?
There is nothing that unites Israeli SF. The stories are as unique as the writers. The four most notable writers are Lavie Tidhar, Nir Yaniv, Vered Tochterman, and me
Nir Yaniv writes very short and usually funny prose, and his link to ‘Israeli SF’ is his love for the language and the way he plays with it. Nir is also a musician and performer. He wrote the soundtrack to my movie. He also likes to insult famous people. He’s got new books coming out. Check out his website here
Vered Tochterman writes to and from the place in which she lives. Her stories reference the society and climate and background of her audience. She has previously published in Fantasy & Science Fiction
Lavie Tidhar is very popular abroad. Like me, he writes and publishes in English and gets translated into Hebrew. Of us all, he constantly uses themes relating to the Israeli/Jewish background: Yiddish-speaking robots, angels in the Holocaust, an alternate history in which a plan (which is historically accurate) to set up the Jewish state in Uganda and not in Palestine actually took root, and so on. Lavie also has new books coming out and has just signed a major book deal. Check out his website here
Me, I write stories that I believe appeal to all three societies I know well (American, British, and Israeli). My only use so far of the Israeli background was in a book called ‘God’s Shadow’. In it, the characters learned that through hypnosis they could actually get to see their subjects’ past lives and travel even further back in time to their past lives, and so on. In the story they see that they can accurately go a hundred years back… two hundred years… a thousand years… two thousand years… And even further back in time. On the way they learn the truth about the creation of the three big monotheistic religions as well as a conspiracy that’s as old as Abraham. The book naturally had a lot of Biblical themes. It was translated into Hebrew and serialized in an online magazine called ‘Don’t Panic’
What’s the Israeli speculative fiction scene like?
A serious SF ‘scene’ could never exist in countries smaller than the UK or the US without the internet. Thanks to the internet, fans all over the country have discovered the others’ existence, have created forums, writing workshops, writing competitions, book clubs, movie clubs, and slowly created annual SF conventions (the largest of which is ICon, which now sports around 15,000 visitors per convention, I think). SF Authors such as myself have found fans thanks to the internet
Thanks to the internet, a speculative fiction magazine dedicated to original Israeli SF and paying with professional rates was created. ‘Dreams in Aspamia’ became the place to be published, to explore your craft, and to discover new talent. Suddenly, new writers had a place to publish
The Geffen Award is awarded annually for original short stories and once every two years for original books, in an effort to create a name for the more talented writers as well as to promote good, original SF literary works among the ‘normal’ readers
Seven years ago, just before my first book was published, all this was just beginning, and serious Israeli SF authors were thought to be a joke or a dream. Today it’s taken for granted by the new fans
You’ve utilized many of the technologies that arose from the Internet such as YouTube videos and podcasts. How is the Internet changing the various fields you’re involved in?
Funny you should ask. I’ve used these tools to create an experiment a year ago and I’m just about to initiate a new experiment in the upcoming month
A year ago, I launched a comedy podcast called ‘The Voice of God’ with the voice of the unbelievably talented Bobby Lax as God. It was a daily podcast of around two minutes, which was meant to make you laugh. This was its premise: God is drunk, bitter, angry, and has had it up to here with the whole lot of us. So He started a blog, the podcast, in which he told us exactly how much we suck
God had a respectable British accent, but I had Him speak in American street-speak, which I thought was a nice, humorous background to whatever He wanted to say. The podcast ran for five months or so, which basically meant that I was writing an hour of standup a month. My aim there was to constantly do something new and to surprise the audience as well as myself
One time, we got a surprising reaction out of a religious Jewish internet group in Israel who publicly wished me great failure and hoped that I would suffer in Hell. Naturally, I put God on their case. But He took their side and made the blog’s detractors His best buds. This teaches us that you can’t even trust your own creations
These days I’m about to launch a new internet project called ‘Seeing Red’. It’s a daily series, posted on YouTube and then featured on the main page of one of the country’s bigger social interaction websites. The series has one to one-and-a-half minute long episodes, supposedly recorded on the lead character’s cell phone camera. A new episode will be posted once a day for six months, which is the length of the story. It’s a very dark tale with SF elements as well clear horror undertones
This series is in Hebrew. I’m hoping, once we’re done, to have it featured in festivals around the world with subtitles. I’m also hoping that, if we figure out how to make money with our internet art, it will be the first of many, bigger projects, some of which will hopefully be international. I have many ideas. I hope I’ll get a chance to use them
What projects are you currently working on? Could you tell us more about them?
I like to work on projects simultaneously. That way each project simmers until it’s ready and I also get to write a lot
Aside from the series ‘Seeing Red’, I’m working on three books
One is a collection of short stories for children and young adults about imagination. One of the short stories was translated into Hebrew and published last year in ‘Dreams in Aspamia’ and another will be published in October’s Tenth Dimension magazine.
Another book is a collection of novellas, certainly not for kids, that all take place in a world in which realistic telepaths exist. Each novella takes us on a trip into the depths of how our mind works, only to discover seas of unknown
The last book is an adventure book for kids and young adults. It’s a spooky mystery about a nine year old boy who has to tackle a powerful mage to save himself and his family. In a realistic setting, the kid wouldn’t stand a chance. The book takes place in a realistic setting
For unfamiliar readers, where can they find more info on you and your work?
My website, www.guyhasson.com, has links to stories online (including stories translated to Spanish and Hebrew that are online), links to The Voice of God podcasts, links to articles about writing, as well as info about my plays, books, etc
The ‘Heart of Stone’ website and movie trailer can be found here: www.israelisf.com
And if you want to be updated about the latest projects, stories, etc., join my Facebook page.