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Interview: Alex Jeffers on “Firooz and His Brother”

Alex Jeffers–author of “Firooz and His Brother,” which appears in our May 2008 issue–said in an interview that the story is about Firooz, a young merchant traveling between Samarkand and Baghdad, who encounters a young dog where no dog should be. “After his own hound fatally wounds the puppy, Firooz discovers she had been guarding a baby abandoned in the wilderness,” Jeffers said. “Firooz accepts the baby as a gift from God, names him Haider, and raises him as his younger brother.”

The story came about as the result of a novel Jeffers has been working on for a long time. “For longer than I like to think about, off and on, I’ve been working on a big book called Dreamherder, a work of high fantasy that alternates settings between this world here/now and another,” he said. “At various points in the narrative, when the water needs muddying, the protagonist’s best friend tells an emblematic story from the life of his many-times-great grandparent, Haider. ‘Firooz and His Brother’ is the first: Haider’s origin story. Novelistic logic required brothers with benefits; the dog; Haider’s ability to change gender and his origin in the other world. The storyteller, a Pakistani of proud Mughal ancestry, gave me the setting. Those givens in place, I made a pot of Turkish coffee (not really — it was espresso), put on a CD of eighteenth-century Ottoman art songs, and the story wrote itself.”

“Firooz and His Brother” is, essentially, a fairytale. “Like the protagonist of any fairytale, Firooz himself doesn’t particularly have any existence outside the story,” Jeffers said. “A simple, decent, God-fearing man of his time, he accepts what comes to him with what grace he can, and suffers no more interior life than the tale requires of him. For a wonder, in my work, the character is vehicle for the plot.”

Haider’s fleecy black dog is a reflection of Gravetye, the fleecy black dog Dreamherder’s protagonist discovers by the side of a rural Rhode Island road. “And Gravetye is a version of my own fleecy black dog, Mustafa, the puppiest puppy ever, whom I had to put down some years ago when medication could no longer mitigate his progressive epilepsy,” Jeffers said. “The novel is, in essence, Mustafa’s memorial — and nobody need bother pointing out that that’s clearly one of the challenges preventing my finishing the damned thing.”

Back in his breathless youth (the Ed Ferman era of F&SF), Jeffers longed to appear in the pages of F&SF. “I’d read the occasional issue of Analog or Galaxy (those were pre-Asimov’s days), but F&SF was the one I subscribed to and mailed my messy little typescripts to,” Jeffers said. “Never managed to break through. Not surprising, looking back at the quality of the work. Thirty-odd years later, it’s some kind of satisfaction finally to make the grade — get my name on the cover, to boot. W00t! May the next breakthrough not take another thirty years.”

Besides Dreamherder–which Jeffers tends to stare at balefully more than work on–he is currently working on a non-genre novel about a modern Turk and his American husband called The Abode of Bliss, as well as another novel, The Barbary Roads, “an expansion/continuation of the SF novella I wrote, Jesus, fifteen years ago for Bob Silverberg & Karen Haber’s Universe 3, ‘Composition with Barbarian and Animal,’” Jeffers said.

He’s also working on an historical fantasy set in the world of Baroque opera seria, working-titled The Capon’s Gilded Brother. “And, you know, a stack of other things, possibly including an F or SF short story or three,” Jeffers said. “Most urgently, this week, my CEO’s monthly report to the board of directors. Nobody should hold their breath.”


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