The dinner progressed pleasantly. Thomas was polite, but somewhat distracted, when introduced to Veronica. He thought her attractive, and would have been interested at another time, but he was feeling seriously unsettled inside. His growing dissatisfaction with his life crowded out any room to consider romance.
Thomas was tall, friendly, and handsome in an unmemorable way. His wavy, dirty-blond hair gave him a tousled, boyish look. He was, although he had not read enough to know it, very similar to the amiable, inoffensive male lead of an Austen or Wodehouse novel, although he lacked their greatest recommendation: wealth. Veronica attempted to carry the heavy weight of one-sided conversation for a while, but gave up after Thomas refused to be drawn out of his distracted melancholia.
After the other guests had gone, Thomas remained with Todd and Catherine, washing dishes in the kitchen. They chatted for a few minutes about Todd’s travails with his most recent project and Catherine’s struggles with her grad students. As Thomas dried off the last plate, Catherine turned and slapped him on the arm with her towel.
“Why were you ignoring Veronica? She’s sweet, smart, pretty. She’s just your type.”
Thomas looked a bit sheepish. “She is my type; you’re right. I don’t know. I just can’t focus on that kind of thing right now.”
He rolled his shoulders. “My whole life is just....okay.” Catherine and Todd shared a significant look but waited for him to continue.
“I mean, everything is fine. My job is fine, my apartment is fine. You guys are great. But I feel like there should be something more in my life. Something more important.”
“Are you looking for a new job?” asked Todd.
“I don’t know, maybe. It would be nice to know I was making a difference, but I’m not really qualified to do anything with actual responsibility. Plus, the stress. I’m not sure I could handle being in charge of people’s lives.”
Todd nodded sagely, “Yeah, that doesn’t really seem like your thing.”
“But, something does need to change. It’s not a relationship, it’s not going back to school. I just don’t know what to do.”
Thomas sighed and put the plate into the cupboard. Todd and Catherine both gave him sympathetic looks and Todd clapped him on the shoulder. Suddenly, Catherine’s face brightened.
“Thomas! I have an idea. It’s stupid, and crazy, and ridiculous, but it just might be what you’re looking for.”
Thomas turned to her, intrigued.
“We have this research ship,” continued Catherine. “It’s called the Hake and we’re sending it to the south Pacific to get some data on giant squid. There was some satellite imagery last year that some experts at NOAA thought might be mating squid.”
“I’m pretty sure squid don’t exist,” interjected Thomas. Thomas claimed to be agnostic as to the existence of giant squid. If pressed, he would admit there was some evidence for their existence, but that they seemed entirely too unlikely to be real.
“Shut up, Thomas. I’m a marine biologist.” Catherine was not amused by his pretensions regarding squid. “We need a crew member to take care of the ship during the voyage.”
“I’m not a sailor, Catherine,” objected Thomas. “I’ve never been further out to sea than Alcatraz. I don’t know the first thing about taking care of a ship.”
“You don’t need to know anything about ships, Thomas. It’s robotic. We really just need someone to reauthorize the AI every day. After all that nonsense about Terminators and gray goo, the government won’t let us send a self-aware ship into the ocean all alone.”
Thomas frowned, “Who else would be on the ship? And how long would I be gone?”
Catherine bit her lip, “Well, you would be the only one on the ship. It doesn’t need more than one person, and we can’t afford to send more than one. And you’d be gone for about a year.”
Thomas raised his eyebrows in surprise. “A year? You can’t be serious.”
“Think about it,” Catherine rushed to convince him, “You want to do something significant, but you don’t know what that is. You don’t want a relationship until you figure things out. This gives you that chance. You get time alone to think; to get to know yourself. And, while you’re doing it, you get paid, your food and housing are taken care of, and you’re making a real contribution to science. Plus, you’d be doing me a favor, because it’s murder trying to find someone willing to do this kind of thing.”
Thomas thought for a moment, then smiled. He decided suddenly to throw caution to the wind and change everything. “Well, if I can help to definitively prove the existence of squid, count me in.”
Catherine frowned, “The existence of squid has already been proven, you idiot. I’ll schedule the psychological evaluations. We need to find out whether the computer will drive you crazy or vice versa.”
Peter S. Steele is an author, archaeologist, and father. He lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah with his wife, Mary and two sons. Find him on Twitter at @pg2berlin or follow his writing on Utah’s history at www.historicutah.net.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author? I’m a 38-year-old archaeologist from Utah. I’m married and have two kids. I’ve been a technical writer for a long time, writing archaeological reports and keeping a blog about interesting history in Utah. I started writing fiction during the early days of the pandemic. I wanted something light to distract me from the difficulties in the world. On the Mating Habits of the Giant Squid is my first book.
Where were you born/grew up at? I grew up all over the western United States. I was born in Washington state, and lived in Colorado, California, and Utah. I spent my high school years in Utah.
How to find time to write as a parent? My kids are a little bit older now – elementary school age – so things are easier than they were when they were younger. I try to write in 15 minute sprints, where I block out distractions for that period. When I’m in a good writing period, since I’m working full-time, most of my writing gets done on Saturdays.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie? I’ve only got the one novel so far. I imagine that it might be difficult/expensive to adapt into a movie as most of the book takes place on boats in the ocean.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on? I’m not sure I really do literary pilgrimages as a general matter. I do like to visit libraries when I go somewhere, and the New York Public Library was a great place to visit. The one real pilgrimage I’ve done was visiting Mark Twain’s writing gazebo at Elmira College in New York. During his later life, he split his time between his home and visiting his in-laws in Elmire. While there, he would write in this enclosed gazebo out in the garden. Mark Twain is my favorite author. I’m not as clever a writer as he as, but it was neat to be able to see where he had worked for many summers.
What inspired you to write this book? During the early days of the pandemic, I had quite a bit of extra time on my hands. The idea for this book had been bouncing around in my head for a while, but having the time and having so many heavy things going on made me want to write something light and a little bit silly. I’m also a fan of the fantasy genre, but don’t have the patience for detailed world-building. I wanted to write a story where there was a real-world setting I could base my research on, but that had some fantastic elements to let me play with the story and not worry too much about strict verisimilitude.
What can we expect from you in the future? I’ve started outlining a sequel to the book, titled The King of the Babirusa, which would take place in Indonesia. It’ll probably be a year or more before I get the book all written, edited, and ready for publication. I’m also working on a completely different book under a pen name, about werewolves in pioneer-era Utah. That one may turn into a series.
Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick? The book has two main characters – Thomas and June. Thomas wants to have a worthwhile life, but doesn’t quite know how to go about it. June, a graduate student, is struggling with a loss of that initial love she had for her subject.
How did you come up with the title of the book? I honestly don’t remember. My wife thinks the title is too long, but I think you need a little bit of a silly title for a little bit of a silly book.
Who designed your book covers? I put together the book cover myself. I’m not much of an artist, but I like the way it turned out.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book? I started out just writing. No outline or real plan for the book. That was good in some ways, but about halfway through, I ended up putting down an outline for the rest of the book. I realized that if I didn’t have an outline, I wasted a lot of time trying to think of what would happen next. When I know what should happen in the next chapter, I have an easier time getting myself to continue writing.
What is your favorite part of this book and why? I like the ending. My brother read the book for me as a beta reader and took issue with the original ending. It was all about a coincidental misunderstanding and meeting between the two main characters but, as he said, shouldn’t they have cell phones? He brainstormed the new ending with me and I like it much better.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination? The characters come entirely from my imagination. There are some autobiographical trends to both of them. I think most characters end up reflecting some aspect of the author’s personality.
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be? Something with the ocean. That clean scent you get on the salt water once you get away from the smell of the harbor or beach.
What book do you think everyone should read? One of my favorites is an old classic, The Oxbow Incident. It’s kind of a western, but is really a study in crowd psychology and how mostly good people can let really bad things happen.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write? Most of my characters come to me as I write. I generally have the main character or two planned out in advance, but everyone else is added as I go.
Do you see writing as a career? I would love for it to be a career. For now, it’s a hobby that I do on the side while working full time. It certainly seems possible to make a living as a writer, so hopefully this is my start in that direction.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre? I read quite a lot. I like history, fantasy, some science fiction, and almost anything else I can get my hands on.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why? Definitely in silence. I try to do 15 minute writing sprints. If I can work without distraction, I can usually get about 500 words down in those 15 minutes, but noise tends to throw me off. Sometimes I listen to music while writing, but usually not anything atmospheric for the scene I’m working on.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time? I generally write one book at a time. However, I also generally outline additional books while writing the one.
Pen or type writer or computer? I wrote a lot of On the Mating Habits of the Giant Squid with pen and paper. I finished the last third or so on a computer and now I mostly write on a laptop.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first? My process has evolved as I wrote this book. I started out just writing, with only a vague idea of what would happen in the book. I switched over to an outline about halfway through. This has carried over as I work on other books. The outline helps me write when I would otherwise be stewing about where the story should go next. I’ve also started outlining the broad character arcs I’d like to see for the main characters.
How long on average does it take you to write a book? On the Mating Habits of the Giant Squid took me about 18 months, but that included a big gap where I set it aside for about 6 months. I think, working at another job, a year is pretty standard for me. If I were a full-time author, I imagine I could finish two to three books per year.
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