In this final exercise, Gerrold asks writers to conduct an imaginary interview with their protagonist. At the time I was reading Gerrold’s book on writing, I was also watching the Mr. Robot series on Amazon. ( It’s a great show, a mix of psychological drama and crime thriller in a pre-cyberpunk world). In the series, protagonist Elliott visits his psychiatrist several times, and as a result I decided to model my interview more like a visit to the shrink.
Me: Hi, Sohl. Thank you for coming in today. Why don’t you have a seat?
Me: So, how are you?
Sohl: I’m all right, I guess.
Me: How are things going at the arcology?
Sohl: Uh, they’re good. I’ve been doing a lot better at tasks. I caught an entire pot of small fish at the river the other day. Everybody was surprised because I caught so many. The last time I went out hunting quail, I caught five. That makes up for the time before that when I didn’t catch any. Did I tell you about the time I fought back a wolf when I tended the sheep?
Me: Yes, I remember you speaking about that. Did you want to talk about the scars on your hands? The incident with the bobcat?”
Sohl: No. It’s not a big deal.
Me: How are things going with D Rival?
Sohl: It’s not that I have a grudge against him or anything. I just… I can’t wrestle as good as he can. I can beat him sometimes, but he can beat me most of the time. I wish I was a little better at it.
Me: If you were the best wrestler in your tribe, what would that mean for you?
Sohl: It would help me figure out what I’m best at. I’m good at hunting, but I’m also good at farming. And I’m good at fixing stuff, too.
Me: You said you were studying for the priesthood last time. Are you still?
Sohl: Yeah. I can remember things better than anyone else my age. I don’t think I’ll have a problem becoming a priest. I’m pretty sure I can learn the verses. The ceremonial stuff I don’t have to worry about until I reach Level 2. At Level 3, I’ll be the one tending the Flame. That’s the highest honor a priest can have.
Me: Your tribe doesn’t have set jobs. You can be a priest and a hunter, or a farmer and a repairman. You don’t have to choose one career and leave the rest behind.
Sohl: I know, but I… I want to be the best at one thing, the very best I can be. What if I decide I want to be a farmer, but I could have been a better repairman?
Me: Your father is a hydroponics engineer and your mother is a counselor. They are both respected members of the community. You’re intelligent. You have the will to succeed. As far as I know, nobody is pushing you into doing anything you don’t want to do. Is that correct?
Sohl: Nobody is pushing me. I just… I want to be the absolute best I can be. I don’t want to be a failure. When people talk about me, when I’m not there, I don’t want them to say the kinds of things they say about others. Like, say I took the sheep out one day, and when I come back I’m missing a sheep. That gets everybody started up to go looking for that one lost sheep. Even if they find it, people are still going to talk about me behind my back. There goes Sohl who can’t even keep track of one last sheep. I know that’s what they’ll say because that’s how they talk about others. And if I end up doing the farming wrong and we loose part of the crop, I’ll never hear the end of it. If I don’t farm right, people are going hungry for one season, but they’ll talk about it for the next ten years.
Me: I don’t think you should be so hard on yourself. Try one of the tasks you’re good at for a couple of years. If you end up not liking it, try another one. There is no requirement that you have to do the same thing for the rest of your life.
Sohl: I want things to be set in place from day one. If I start something, I have to finish it or else I screwed up. I don’t want to screw up!
Me: You’re sixteen years old. In five years, your way of thinking might change. Maybe you won’t like being a priest, or a hunter, or any of the other tasks.
(Takes a short while to think things over.)
Sohl: If I become a hunter or a farmer, and I don’t deliver, people will go hungry. If I can’t repair something, things will stay broken. If I become a priest… I don’t know what will happen if I fail as a priest. I could end up condemning somebody’s soul to the place of Dissonance. At the same time, if I’m a really good priest, I could be helping people Ascend. That’s the best anybody can do in this world, is help with Ascension.
Me: You still have a few months to think things over. When the Fertility Dance takes place in early spring, have you decided on who you might end up marrying?
Sohl: I have to choose a career first. I don’t have time to figure out who I want to marry! Certain girls will make better wives for me if I decide I want to be a farmer, or a priest. I’m the best hunter for my age group, and the second best wrestler, so I’d probably end up with a wife who likes going out there to hunt with me. See, that’s the thing. If I choose a wife first, my wife is going to force me to go into a career because of who she is.
Me: Because you’re undecided.
Sohl: Yes. That’s why I have to decide on a career first, and then I can start thinking about getting married. I’m like the only one in my age group that hasn’t figured out what my role is! Why can’t I just get it over with and decide!
Me: Does D Rival still want to marry the prettiest girl in the tribe?
Me: Does that bother you?
Sohl: To have the prettiest wife? No, not really. That’s like a showing off thing. I wouldn’t choose a wife because she’s pretty. I’d choose her because we get along well, like my mother and father. I want to get along with my wife the way I get along with my mother.
Me: Have you met any girl like that yet? Is any girl even close?
Sohl: No. Sometimes I feel like… like they’re not as smart as I am. Girls talk about… They talk about such lame things sometimes. I think in my head, will you please shut up so I can grab my bow and get the heck out of here? When I go fishing, I’m out there five, six hours trying to catch fish. I cannot see me sitting around and talking with any one girl for five or six hours. At least not any of the girls in my age group.
Me: And the older girls?
Sohl: Them either. The older women, the married ones, they’re the ones that say things that make sense to me. They say things that matter, like about the harvest times for the crops, or about the spawning seasons, stuff that makes a difference. The girls in my age group… I don’t care when they ask me if they should cut their hair to just below their ears or all the way down to their shoulders. I don’t care if they have short hair or hair that goes halfway down their backs! I don’t care if they add a little more or a little less seasoning in my food! I don’t care about that!
Me: Maybe they’re just trying to get your attention.
(Stays quiet, brooding. Sighs again.)
Sohl: Imagine if I ask a girl; should I wear my brown tunic today, or the tan one? My mother and father, they never ask each other dumb questions like that. They get up, they get dressed, and they head off to their task for the day. When they come back, we’ll eat supper together, and then they go sit outside and watch the sunset together. Sometimes, they don’t even talk all evening. They just sit there and hold each other and smile, like they’ve never been happier in their entire lives. That’s the kind of girl I want to find. That’s the kind of girl I want to marry.
Me: Could it be that your parents have mellowed out over the years?
Sohl: No. They lived in The City when they first met. They went through a matchmaker service that gave them… I think it was a seventy-two percent compatibility rating. My mother told me that there are over a million people in The City. Can you imagine so many women? All I have to choose from in the tribe are six! That’s it. Only six girls and I have to choose which one I want to live with for the rest of my life! I don’t really like any of them!
Me: Maybe one will grow on you?
Sohl: Like a fungus?
Me: Let’s talk about the priest training. How is that going?
Sohl: The Level 3 priests, they’re called the Keepers of the Flame. The Flame is the purest thing there is, the light of God on the world. Level 1 priests don’t really do much except clean and set things up, but Level 2 priests get to sing during ceremonies, and Level 3 priests are the guides to Ascension, the counselors, kind of like my mother but on spiritual matters.
(Speaks with some enthusiasm for the next fifteen minutes. After this, goes off into talking about fishing, and later repairing a broken wheel on a cart. Also talks about stringing his own bow and other things he’s done, all with the same amount of fervor. I can see why he’s having trouble making up his mind. Before I know it, almost an hour has gone by and he’s still talking.)