Everyone Is Solving Impossible Problems

S. R. Hughes Author Interview

A Maze of Glass follows a young woman with magical abilities who is trained to fight supernatural beings and solve problems that seem impossible. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

Everyone is solving impossible problems all the time. 

About twelve years ago in NYC, I was struggling enormously with traditional employment but couldn’t get the financial math to work out to start my own business… until I did the math minus my rent. After moving all my stuff into a storage unit, I slept on couches, guest beds, and subway cars for nine months until my newfound business turned over enough revenue to put me back in an apartment. I was profoundly blessed to have such a supportive network of friends. When one such friend became suddenly and unexpectedly homeless a couple years later, I had him move in with me while he recovered. He now runs his own theatre company.

Problems become impossible, I believe, due to a specific set of person and circumstance. That is, for the person tackling the problem, due to their circumstances, the problem may be impossible to solve – but for a different person, different circumstances, the fix may be easy-as. We may not always be able to save ourselves but we can usually save each other.

Really, very few characters solve their own problems in A Maze of Glass. I didn’t write it this way on purpose but this is the way it turned out. Right from scene one.

Zoe’s family is challenging, and her job monster hunting is dangerous and unpredictable. What were some driving ideals behind your character’s development?

Zoe is a complex character with a job that sounds cool on paper. Some of the family-related content derives from my own lived experience, ditto for the content relating to addiction and mental health, but the job hazards emerged as byproducts of critiques I have regarding both the general genre and the concept of the ‘cool on paper’ job. 

The first: any setting with functional magic would be absolutely paranoiac to anyone who knew that functional magic existed. If energy/people/technology existed that could alter, break, or ignore local or general rules of physics/biology/etc, those rules lose certainty and, eventually, the magnitude of uncertainty would lead to a breakdown of knowable causality. As Zoe puts it, “When is a car crash just a car crash, after all?”

My criticism of the ‘cool on paper’ job is somewhat easier to explain: all jobs suck. Fabricating a new identity, using credit cards taken out on a stolen SSN, going through magical rituals of invocation and defense, hunting supernatural entities, it all does sound rather cool… if it’s not something a person does full-time. In a more regular way, what all of that adds up to is labor spent, time lost, and inconvenience incurred. Plus there’s still paperwork. And while Zoe’s job pays very well, a significant amount comes as hazard pay, an ante against the small but non-zero odds that any given run could end in death.

So, when imagining Zoe’s unfolding life, I framed it around certain elemental constants. Zoe is practical, capable, and hyper-competent. She’s also traumatized, self-isolating, and reactive. She grows up in a difficult family with middle-good extra-familial role models and she becomes an adult and professional in an uncertain and paranoid world. 

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

I’m interested in the way we look at the past from the perspective of the present, which is in large part the reason this story is written the way it’s written. In our usual chronology, we know the outcome of past actions before those of the present; with A Maze of Glass I wanted to create the emotional situation of discovering outcomes more simultaneously. I worry about saying more on this particular topic so I won’t.

I also wrote A Maze of Glass as something of a moral interrogation. What makes a person ‘good?’ When determining a person’s ‘goodness,’ what do we take into account? Effort? Labor? Result? If someone tries to do The Right Thing and they fail, does it count? To what extent is judged ‘goodness’ derived from intent and to what extent is it derived from outcome? These questions hover around a lot of my work, but usually not so consciously. 

As an extension of the moral interrogation, I avoid writing heroes or villains in my work. There are rare, occasional evil-doers in our real world, yes, and a similar (if slightly smaller) number of opposing ‘heroes,’ but 98% of people are gray-shaded, uncertain folk who sometimes do good things and sometimes do bad things and mostly just try their best. The grayness complicates things, it makes questions harder to answer. Truth is a foggy thing, diffuse and hard to make out. Simple answers are almost always lies. 

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

Good question! I’m working on three different projects right now… my next Oceanrest-related book is currently titled Where Everything Unravels and functions as something of a prequel to A Maze of Glass, featuring Zoe and Omar again as they tumble through multiple alternate and simulated universes in search of a witch whose magic is destabilizing local reality itself. It should release a bit later this year. I’m also working on another Oceanrest novel (currently untitled) as well as a near-future sci-fi horror novel (also currently untitled), though those dates are harder to pin down…

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Zoe Briar solves problems. As sister to a heroin-addled genius, as operative and agent for a secret society, and as something most people would understand as a “monster hunter,” it’s essentially her prime nature. But not every solution is a clean one and not every problem can be solved…
In 1997, cut off from family and desperate to get sober, sister Gillian Briar convinces Zoe to participate in a dark and dangerous ritual. In a middle-of-nowhere house, the two siblings strain against both each other and a dark, nascent presence as growing mistakes warp the ritual around them.
In 2006, Zoe drags a survivor of a supernatural attack into a world of magic and monsters. Together, they search for the mystical mad scientist responsible for the assault as he accelerates into full-blown terrorism. But even after recruiting help, their quarry always seems one move ahead…
And in 2016, Zoe faces her toughest challenge yet: protecting her sister Gillian’s illegal supernatural school from being wiped out by her own employer.
The world of A Maze of Glass writhes with shadow; its dead-ends shred and slice.
Can Zoe escape its uncertain corridors?

About Literary Titan

The Literary Titan is an organization of professional editors, writers, and professors that have a passion for the written word. We review fiction and non-fiction books in many different genres, as well as conduct author interviews, and recognize talented authors with our Literary Book Award. We are privileged to work with so many creative authors around the globe.

Posted on January 14, 2023, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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