I turned on the votive candle at my parents’ crypt underneath our old abandoned house. They were encased in hardened debt gel, harder even than the debt-growth on the back of my neck. It was like clear concrete. They’d had a rough life and had gone into hibernation in order to qualify for basic guaranteed income—not for them, for me. The votive candle was a kitbash that woke them up for a few seconds, at least cognitively. The tiny black screen next to their faces lit up and after a long pause, orange text started appearing:
WE LOVE YOU, SON, NO MATTER WHAT
Right, well, I thought without typing back, You can’t see me, but I’m your daughter now. Moving on.
HOPE YOU’RE STAYING IN SCHOOL AND GETTING GOOD GRADES
Hm—the free school burned down, so I’ve been auditing classes remotely from this cyber-tutor in Krakow, but—all right.
GRADES ARE GOOD, I typed. LOVE YOU BOTH.
If you only knew what I need to do, and where I’m going, I thought as I turned off the candle, scratching the debt at the base of my neck, you would totally ground me.
Anya Johanna DeNiro
Anya Johanna DeNiro is the author of Glitchblood, a YA novel that’s currently seeking a publisher, in which a young trans woman trains dragons on a popular fantasy TV show. She is the author of two short story collections published by Small Beer Press, Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead and Tyrannia. She lives outside St. Paul, Minnesota and co-parents five-year-old twins the best she can.
Patrick Ryan on Love All, Trust Few, Harm None
Imagine a world where children accrue debt from grade school and beyond (maybe even before). Imagine a world where you, as a teen, go to visit your parents who have literally encrypted themselves in clear “debt gel” so that you can have a better life. Imagine a world where your debt takes a physical form—say, a tumor-like mass on your arm, stomach, or neck. That’s just the starting point for Anya Johanna DeNiro’s marvelous new story. Two friends embark on a journey that’s both reckless and courageous. They want to erase their debt. They want to improve the world. Dystopian? We should be so lucky. Hopeful? By necessity. Heartfelt? This wonderful issue of One Teen Story is driven by heart, by a reach for compassion, and by a longing for a better world. Welcome to “Love All, Trust Few, Harm None.”
Q&A by Patrick Ryan
PR: Where did the idea for this story come from?
AJD: I’ve been mulling over the idea of drones and cyborgs powered by financial products like debt for a few years now. It seemed like a good way to kill two birds with one stone, with contemporary things that are really stressful to a lot of people. A lot of the finer details—particularly how the future world intersects with the characters’ trans-ness or non-binary-ness—came a lot later.
PR: Was there always going to be a Witch? Tarot cards? Parents encased in “debt gel”? Did some of these elements come to you as you made your way through the world of the story, or were they all in place before you started writing?
AJD: The Witch was one of those characters that popped up to solve a problem in the narrative, and then she became an anchor point to a lot of the world-building. The tarot cards matching game was a wholly separate idea (though I’ve always been interested in them). And the debt gel was there right from the beginning. It sometimes felt like balancing spinning plates, holding all these various ideas together in such a short space!
PR: To my thinking, this is the most political story One Teen Story has ever published. It’s set in the near future, but it’s a reflection of the world we live in now. Do you consider it political? Was that your intention?
AJD: Oh, most definitely. Pretty much everything I write has at least some political component to it. Even if it’s not especially overt. But, yeah, writing about debt in such a tactile way for teens made a lot of sense to me. A lot of times with speculative fiction, it’s a matter of taking a contemporary problem or issue and looking at it a little skewed. So having a world in which people have to incur massive debt in elementary school is absurd on its surface but hopefully gets at the emotional weight that debt has. And in the story, of course, debt has a literal weight. The fact that the two main characters are queer also makes this story inherently political. We live political lives just by breathing and existing, especially when there are those out there who would rather we not exist.
PR: If you had a crystal ball and could see into the future of your near-future story, what does the world look like? Has all the debt been erased? Is the Tower siege successful?
AJD: It’s interesting, I’ve been writing a bit more in this world. Mostly the prequel—how this world came to be, and how Pseudopod started running things. So I don’t want to give too much away! But, yes, with a successful siege by the Witch there are unintended consequences that pop up. I also want to write a bit more about the Towers themselves, which are insulated from all the misery going on outside—and which have their own gender politics. And I want to say that I love mecha stories, and this world allows me to scratch that itch a bit. Who knows? Maybe a lot more in the future.
PR: Finish this sentence in just one word—the word you think best captures it: “This story is about __________.”
PR: What are you working on now?
AJD: Aside from the aforementioned writing set in this world (maybe I don’t want to quite leave it yet!), I have my novel Glitchblood, with a young trans woman protagonist who trains dragons for a popular fantasy television show. That’s in the process of finding a good home now, and I’ve started a bit of work on its sequel.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
AJD: Honestly? To not take any one bit of writing advice too seriously. Find out what works best for you. Mix and match. I think the best teachers don’t want slavish imitation of any one method. That’s the best way to be daring in your writing.
One Story is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supported by readers like you and by grants from organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts, Amazon, and the New York State Council on the Arts. For more info see the donate page.