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In ‘A Fractured Infinity,’ a sci-fi love story spans the metaverse

On the podcast: Lesley alum Nathan Tavares ’11 imagines a getaway across multiple worlds.

Find the full transcript after the Episode Notes.

Episode notes

A Fractured Infinity book cover. Illustration of a man repeated and turned upside down

Creative Writing alum Nathan Tavares ’11 talks about his debut novel, "A Fractured Infinity," a sci-fi love story that he describes as "like the movie 'Arrival,' but really gay." In this episode, Nathan gives us a view into writing sci-fi, his career as a freelance journalist, and what he learned in his MFA program.

About our guest

Nathan Tavares author photo
Nathan Tavares. Photo: Eric-Richard Magnussen

Nathan Tavares is a writer from Boston, Massachusetts. He grew up in the Portuguese-American community of southeastern Massachusetts and developed a love for fantastical stories at an early age, from superheroes to mythology. He studied English in college and received his MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley. His editorial work celebrates queer culture and historically excluded communities, with pieces appearing in GQ, Out, and elsewhere.

More about Nathan:

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  • Transcript

    Georgia Sparling 

    [Intro music] This is Why We Write, a podcast of Lesley University. Every episode we bring you conversations with authors in the Lesley community to talk about books, writing, and the writing life. I'm Georgia Sparling, and today I'm joined by Lesley alum, Nathan Tavares, debut author of "A Fractured Infinity," which is out December 6 from Titan Books. It's a sci fi love story that crosses universes, which really doesn't even begin to describe the incredible voice and creativity in this book. And of course, we will talk about all of that. But first, Nathan, welcome to Why We Write.

    Nathan Tavares

    Thank you so much, Georgia. I'm really happy to be here and chat with you.

    Georgia  

    Yeah, we're excited. I'm excited to have you here. So before we talk about the novel, I thought, let's talk about you. So tell us a little bit about yourself and kind of how you became a writer.

    Nathan 

    Yeah, I grew up in Somerset, Massachusetts, kind of in the southeastern mass area. And I, since I've been a kid, I always have been singularly minded in that I wanted to be a writer. So I started reading goosebump books as a kid and getting really into Greek mythology and just writing my own kind of superhero and fantastical stories when I was a kid. And yeah, I was a big reader. So I stuck with it ever since and studied English and lit and Creative Writing at Lesley. And yeah, that's, that's basically it. It was sort of a slow, long haul as it usually is. But happy to see a book coming out.

    Georgia  

    Yeah. And so you've done a lot of journalism. So talk a little bit about how you how do you balance doing journalism and you know, fictional stories that are, I would think, maybe more involved?

    Nathan 

    Yeah, I, it feels like I have two kind of careers going on at the same time, especially now that my freelance gigs are picking up. So I went to Lesley and I knew I really wanted to be a writer. And then after graduation, I got a job in magazine writing, which, at the time, and maybe not so much now was like a more stable career path than a being a fiction writer. So yeah, that's why I put creative writing, not in the backburner, but it was like the, you get up before your day job and work on short stories and that kind of thing. And then you go to work work. So it started off as a way to pay the bills. But I actually, the past couple years, especially I've really discovered a passion for helping people tell their stories and thinking about that as like a really valuable way of helping out people in the way that I can, you know, not being a doctor not being someone else in the life saving skill, like, what can I help people do that will help get their stories out there? So I found that's been a really fun ride.

    Georgia  

    Do you gravitate towards certain types of stories in your, like magazine work?

    Nathan 

     Yeah, I do a lot of food writing and a lot of culture writing. But I found in the past couple years, it's really been people from underrepresented backgrounds is what I'm really into, representing or helping get their stories out. Which started I think, at the improper Bostonian, I was there for a couple years. And we would do a lot of things like features on, you know, the 10 best new chefs in Boston or 10 new singles in Boston, and we would always be in a room and it was great to have these conversations of know, what does the makeup of people that we're representing look like? Is it skewed to male female is it, you know, we want to really represent the city in what we're doing. So we want to make sure that where we have a diverse pool of people that we're covering, and I think from from there, it really made me think like, it's easy to do a story that's like five white male chefs, you know, it's for a number of reasons, they might have more PR resources, they might have more websites. But it takes so little effort. And you often find really great stories if you kind of look beyond just a very narrow pool of people. So I think from there that that really inspired me to dig a little bit deeper when I'm doing my editorial coverage.

    Georgia  

    And I feel like that that seems like some of those themes definitely came into your book, which let's talk about that. So So why are you drawn to sci fi?

    Nathan 

    Yeah, I think I've always been really, really drawn to sci fi and it was almost like I was in the closet about it for many years. So because I think for a while until now, it wa sn't really taken—and I hate to use the word seriously because I don't take myself that seriously—but as a genre like sci fi it wasn't really looked at as something that a lot of, let's say publications would cover or a lot of programs would offer sci fi classes. And I've always loved just the fantastical nation and the what if, what if people could fly? What if aliens came to Earth? I think I've always been really drawn about answering those questions and seeing what would happen to characters in those situations.

    Georgia  

    Do you feel like—I haven't read a ton of sci fi—it feels like there's a big range. I mean, you could have a story where everything is pretty much exactly the same, except like cars fly, or something like that, whereas you know, or where there's monsters walking around, or, you know, you're on a completely different planet or something like that. Like, where do you fall? I don't know, do you see those as distinctions? Where do you fall in your like, interest? Or do you read all of it?

    Nathan 

    Right, I do read all of it, I do tend to skew more towards Earth, but slightly different. I know, like Black Mirror is one of my favorite TV shows, and I love that a lot of their episodes are about we have this new technology. And here is what's going to happen to this group of people because of it. But we're going to explore human feelings and human emotions and relationships, kind of through this lens of sci fi and through a new technology. So I think that's where I tend to go.

    Georgia  

    Yeah, so talk a little bit about your book, I was gonna try to summarize it myself. But I was looking at your website, and I was like, Oh, you just, you're gonna do a better job than me.

    Nathan 

    It's hard. It's taken me a little while to learn kind of a 10 second elevator pitch because it is a lot going on. But so that for the 10 second elevator pitch, hopefully. So it's about a troubled filmmaker named Hayes Figueiredo, who discovers he is somehow connected to this strange predictive device from another universe. And then it gets taken away to this secret facility in the middle of nowhere and former America. And he learns more about the device, and also falls, finds himself falling in love with this physicist named Yusuf along the way. And then something happens in our world that Hayes and Yusuf have to go on the run to save their own lives through a bunch of different universes and kind of meeting different version of themselves along the way.

    Georgia  

    So you did it. And it really starts out I mean, the first half is on the quieter side is kind of it's building up to all of this and really like developing the characters. Will you talk a little bit about how you decided to pace the novel and, yeah?

    Nathan 

    Yeah, pacing is hard, I and I decide to pace it in a certain way, because I have this device that is like Hayes talking to the reader as if he is either introducing a documentary or writing his own screenplay and, and I knew that I needed that device in there, because there was so much kind of world building and character development for the first chunk of the novel, that I hoped that it would be like a breadcrumb trail leading a reader through like, okay, he's talking to us from point A, but where, like, where in the plot, how does he get there? And so I want to sit through and figure out the ride that he's taking us on. I really hope to have a kind of cozier pace in the beginning, so you get to know the characters that when, so when these crazy things start happening, you're kind of like, oh, you know, I'm with him. He he roped me in I'll I'll, you know, I'll go with him and see what happens.

    Georgia  

    Yeah, and Hayes has a really like, he has such a distinct voice, I think, you know, like, I feel like that is something that will really stay with readers is is him as a character. Where, I mean, he's very cheeky. And you know, he's messy, and he feels like chaotic, but also really, like, kind of sad. He's had a lot of awful things happen in his past or just hard things have happened in his life. Tell me a little bit about where he came from. And like, how, how did you get his voice? Did he just like, come to you or anything?

    Nathan 

    Yeah, I, I have always avoided writing nonfiction. I think for a number of reasons. Like I don't think I'm that interesting. And I also am pretty private. But I think when I was writing this book, there were like, a lot of weird personal things happening. So I sat down I thought, okay, if I'm going to write a book about a failed artist in his 30s, which I thought I was, I thought just go all in and Nathan, just crank the volume to 11, just pull, like borrow liberally from your own life and your own voice and just just go go for it and see what happens. Yeah, so that's what happened. I think I'm, I'm he's like a deeply exaggerated version of myself. And I think that's where the voice came from. And I think for me that's why the voice was fun? And I wouldn't say easy, but easier to write than some of the other voices in the book, I think because it was so based on how I talk.

    Georgia  

    Yeah, so, yeah, that's interesting. So when I guess, I'm curious about sci fi in that you, some people could think, oh, you just like made up a bunch of stuff, like, whatever, you know, they got other other planets and blah, blah, blah. Like, you can just kind of come up with that stuff off top of your head. But I think if you're reading, you're reading it, you know, that's, that's not the case. How do you have to do you need to do research? Like, I mean, all this stuff that you because Yusuf is a scientist, and so he's talking about all these complicated things, and writing, you know, equations and stuff on the windows? And I'm just like, how do you even get there? Because it has to be believable. So like, what was your process of writing a story? Because sci fi has to be believable, even though obviously, we know it's not our world or a world.

    Nathan 

    Yeah, for this one, I don't usually do that much research, because I don't typically write about things that would require that much research. But for this one, I definitely watch a lot of sci fi films. So like "Contact" and "Arrival" are my favorites. But then I also did a lot of reading of pop science books in the kind of theoretical physics genre. So I, I would say I have like, a interest in physics, from a liberal arts background in that I need, like the very intro intro to physics type stuff. So it was a lot of YouTube videos and taking notes and a lot of reading pop science books. And then from there, I think I cheated in a way that the physics concepts are filtered through a character of Hayes, who is not a physicist, so I could sort of wave my hand like, okay, if I get this part wildly wrong, it's just because I'm not a physicist, and I'm trying to explain something that I maybe don't fully understand. So I was able to kind of dodge some stuff by using that I think.

    Georgia  

    One thing I thought was interesting is, as you're going to well, starting in the world that that we started the book in, you know, America doesn't really exist anymore. There's AI, people who are trying to get their own rights, and then you go to different different universes where there's, yeah, everybody's most of the population has gone from a pandemic, or you know, things like that. So, what were you trying to say, with all these different worlds? I mean, they all there's elements of our own world, or what could be our own world, I think, in all of them. Yeah, so where, what does that say about us?

    Nathan 

    Yeah, I think a lot of the world building ideas came from, I was traveling with my dad in the middle of nowhere in Portugal, when former President Trump pulled out of that Paris Climate Accords. And then for me, it was this moment of, I grew up in the 90s. And then we always had this mindset that like, America is the greatest country in the world, and it's the hero of the world. And I'm not saying that it's not a great country. But that was a moment of thinking, oh, so we, like every other country in the planet get things wrong, often, we screw up often. So when I was building this world, it made me think of, Okay, what if America decides that we're going at this alone, we, you, people in the rest of the world, you take your own problems, and you try to fix the environment as you think you can, and we'll do our own thing, and good luck. So to me, it was thinking of an America that's past its prime, like what would that look like? It would be in smaller cities, and it would be leasing large chunks of land to other countries for them to develop. Yeah, so I think it was responding to that idea that if America stops doing something, the world isn't going to stop making changes for the better, of course, other countries will come in and do things like grow drought resistant crops and work on clean energy and all those kinds of things.

    Georgia  

    Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I thought that was really interesting. I'd love to talk to you about Hayes and Yusuf's relationship. It's, I mean, it's really central to the novel and guides what happens. I mean, we start out we started out at the point where they've like, well, we start out in the future and then go back I guess. And so you know, it's always really about them. So how did you come up with that and why did you want to make a love story kind of central to this to the book?

    Nathan 

    Yeah, I, I started the book with thinking of an image toward the end and then by backing into, okay, what kind of characters would get there? And who are these people? And then a large drive it was that there are really no, I was thinking of sci fi films like there are no sci fi films that are, let's say big budget fun sci fi films that focus on a queer love story. And I really, when I was writing this book, I had a book before this that went nowhere, and it was hard to bounce back from. So when I was writing this, I thought like, this is your opportunity to write something that you'd love so deeply. And that involves so many of the things that you love in literature and sci fi films. And if it goes nowhere, but your computer, what a joy that is still are free to write this. So for me that the point was like, I want to write a queer love story that I would have loved to read as a kid or, or I would have loved to see a relationship like this in a sci fi movie, you know, 10 or 15 years ago. So I think for me, it was like, wanting to write these hopefully really rich characters who are queer men, and it's not a coming out story. There's no coming out trauma, that was another part that was really important to me were coming out stories have their place, and I love reading them too. But I think there's less for people who are in their 30s and 40s, and queer to really go to and relate to. So for me, that was like a really important thing, just to dive into a love story that wasn't about coming out trauma and panic, but it was about sort of two realistic and likely damaged people who find each other.

    Georgia  

    Yeah. And that's great. Um, so yeah, let's talk about your your first book. So, you write one book, and then you did you did not love it, or what what happened.

    Nathan 

    So long story, I loved it. So I wrote it shortly after graduating, I think I started in 2012. And by 2015, I had a pretty good version of it. And I, it got me an agent and kind of like a couple, maybe moments where it almost got published. And then one, one offer, they wanted to significantly change the end in a way that it felt like a different book. And my agent at the time said, you know, I believe we can sell this to someone else. But it's your, your choice your career. So I turned it down and didn't end up selling, which is fine, because I sort of looked at what it became after many years of revising and many different like, acquisitions acquisitions editor saying, hey, maybe if you do this we'll like it better. And you sort of do that, and then it doesn't. They don't buy it anyway. And then you it goes through all these different changing forms. And you look at it years later and go wow, like, there's 15 different voices in there. Who was that? The person that wrote this? Because it kind of wasn't me. So

    Georgia  

    Yeah, like Frankenstein's monster.

    Nathan 

    Totally, totally like, and there were, I still have an affection for that book. But it was like, an incredibly valuable learning curve of either stay true to yourself. Or, I don't know, it was a nice moment of not wanting to compromise, but also learning a ton. And just, like work ethic wise, just learning to revise a book 12 or 13 times is such a crazy lesson in productivity. So that was, that was good. Yeah.

    Georgia  

    Do, would you, I guess, how many revisions did you have for fractured infinity?

    Nathan 

    Um, I would say, three or four significant ones. And I kind of did my own, like, pivot midway through the book, which I definitely recommend. I was halfway through it. And I was just, like, bored writing it. So I thought, if I'm bored writing it, someone is gonna be bored reading it. So some something has got to give some changes gotta happen. So I like was working on one page. And then the next page was just completely different. It was first person it was voice here. And then I thought, like, okay, just plow through the rest of this draft. And then when you're done with it in this kind of hybrid version, then you stop and make the first part of the book match this new voice that you found. So that's, that's what I did. And I think it was helpful not to feel too stuck, like staying to an outline that I had. It was nice knowing that I could shift things around if I needed to.

    Georgia  

    So do you usually use an outline of some sort?

    Nathan 

    Yeah, I usually do. The first book I didn't do a lot of outlining and I think that's why the pace drag a lot but I do tend to outline a lot.

    Georgia  

    So you have "A Fractured Infinity" is hitting shelves December 6 And you, you also have a second book that's going to be coming out next year. Is that true? Yeah. Does that have any relation to any of what you've already talked about today?

    Nathan 

    Yeah, it's, it's kind of a rebirth of the first book that went nowhere, which is neat. So I, my agent asked me if I had any other novels in the works as they were selling "A Fractured Infinity." And I said, very naively like, well, I have this complete novel that's that I worked on for years. And in my head, I was thinking great. So we'll, we'll sell this one too, and I won't have to touch it, because it's already done. And then I opened it up again. And I thought, Oh, wow. So that's why it went nowhere, because it is awful. So it was, it was a moment of like, many moments of self doubt where I thought, Okay, I need to tell my agent, he made a wonderful mistake, and I will give him back his money because this, this book is not good. Or I essentially had to start again, which sounds more intimidating than it maybe was. But once I often told myself like, you did it before you can do it again, you got this as totally fine. I was able to kind of chip it away. And in a nice way, the version that I've just turned in is far more similar and better than the version that I first wrote, which drove me to write it to begin with, kind of before I listened to all these different voices, and changed things. So it it worked out in a positive way that involved a lot of work, but I'm happy with how it went out.

    Georgia  

    And they're both I mean, "A Fractured Infinity" is standalone is this new one a standalone too?

    Nathan 

    Yeah, it will be another standalone that I'm excited about. I love a good series as much as anyone else. But I think sometimes the installments in a series can feel a little bit too much like an installment in that it like the end of the first book doesn't answer as many questions as you maybe had hoped for. So I just really love self contained universes and stories.

    Georgia  

    It's hard to finish the series. Yeah.

    Nathan 

    Especially if there's like a five year lag between book one and book two. I just want to know things right away. So yeah.

    Georgia  

    Sometimes I won't pick up a book, that's a series unless it's finished because I just I because otherwise, I have one I have like read two thirds of a couple of series that I just never finished. I need to I need the discipline.

    Nathan 

    And then when the third one comes out, you think okay, so I guess I should read the first two again, but then you think that's so much time and effort? And yeah.

    Georgia  

    Yeah, there's so many books on my shelf. I just can't go back. Gotta keep going forward. What is the new one? Or this? Well, this is no it. What's the second one? About? Can you say anything about it?

    Nathan 

    My agent and I have used movies as kind of a comparison for the novels, which has been fun. So the first one we called like, the movie arrival, but really gay. And then the second one we're calling like Cloud Atlas meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and like their gay love child. So that's sort of like so themes of like identity and, and kind of digital immortality and what that would do to a love story. So that's, that's what it'll be like.

    Georgia  

    Okay great, I love "Eternal Sunshine..." so.

    Nathan 

    It's such a good movie. Yeah.

    Georgia  

    I need to rewatch it. I haven't seen it for a long time.

    Nathan 

    I was rewatching it again this summer and it and held it hold up. It's so beautiful.

    Georgia  

    Yeah, I feel like every time I watch it, there's something I didn't catch before. Just some little statement that relates to something else, or, you know, a little detail that says full of feel good. So yeah, so I have a couple of questions about writing. So would you talk a little bit since you are a graduate of our MFA in creative writing program. What can you talk a little bit about that experience? Or how it how it helped you get to where you are now? Like, what are some things you learned? Through those couple of years?

    Nathan 

    Yeah, definitely. I remember telling Michael once, Michael Loewenthal, that my writing process before Lesley would be writing a story and then it sits on your hard drive and you don't ever touch it again. So I was a writer and not a reviser so that's one thing I definitely picked up from Lesley and AJ Verdelle of course her course revision was just literally changed the way that I write so that was so wonderful. Yeah. And Michael to I remember one time I turned in a story and he brought me back a lovely letter, but it essentially said I'm telling you this because I know you can handle it, but try again. He was like it this this didn't work. There's a colonel in here that does work and I'm telling you this because you can handle it on a maturity level. Try again. And and once I started picked myself up the floor off that. After that I was a moment of oh, of course, like, you're, you're not one story. You're not one book. You're not one anything, and you just have to keep going and keep trying again. So that's one thing that I definitely have remembered since since graduating.

    Georgia  

    Yeah, yeah, cause I can say it's hard to know, when you got anything to work with. Like you're there, you feel like you should either have like a total amazing story that everybody loves, or that you should just give it.

    Nathan 

    Right. Yeah. And it's never perfect. Of course, it can't be so yeah.

    Georgia  

    Yeah, that's a valuable lesson. Is there any one piece of writing advice that you often come back to?

    Nathan 

    Oh, I do think often about AJ Verdelle's make a scene out of it. And, and if there's a scene going on, I want to get as much sensory info is in that scene as possible. And I think especially writing books, there is you there's summary in there that has to be there just as as a tool. But once you start getting too much summary, then you stop and go, oh, I need to make a scene out of something I'm discussing here like it, it can't be just this distant kind of narration thing. I need to see what's going on. I need to feel what the characters are doing. I need to hear what they're saying. So it's, it's something something I go back to.

    Georgia  

    Because she I think I went I think I went to that workshop several years ago. But she kind of identifies, like, as you're reading through something like this is a scene. This is like, this is scene one, and this is scene two, this is scene three, right? And then kind of, you know, even if they seem like they're too micro for that, but you know, you've moved from the kitchen to the living room, or, you know, like, am I remembering that right? Kind of like those are the whole night? Yeah.

    Nathan 

    And she talked a lot about voice and word choice, too, which is something that I really remember, especially with my editorial work to like, what verbs are doing what? Is there a better verb in this sentence that would convey a lot more character and motion than the one you chose? And that's huge.

    Georgia  

    Yeah, yeah, that's great. Um, do you how do you continue to be involved in like, the world of writers? Do you have a writing group? Or do you have mentors? Or do you mentor other people?

    Nathan 

    Yeah, I, I'm trying to do more of that now. I'm definitely kind of a homebody and sort of a lone wolf when it comes to my writing community. And so I'm trying to reach out on on some slack groups with different writers. But I don't have like a group of friends that I give writing to and say, Hey, you're my friend. So please read this and give me a critique. And I have a couple editor friends that I I reach out to but yeah, that's that's been the struggle, especially in this weird hybrid world we're living in. Yeah. Yeah. So I will figure that out and get back to you, I would say.

    Georgia  

    Yeah, well, so this has been a really great conversation. Thanks so much for coming on the show, Nathan.

    Nathan 

    Thank you so much, Georgia. It was great.

    Georgia  

    [Outro Music begins] I will put links to your website and social media on in our show notes. And there will also be a link there for a transcript of this episode. Thank you all so much for listening and make sure you pick up "A Fractured Infinity" which hits shelves December 6 from Titan Books, and you can pre order it now. I know authors love pre orders those very helpful.

    Nathan 

    Very.

    Georgia  

    Alright, well, thank you so much!

    Nathan 

    Thank you!