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. â€œAfter his own hound fatally wounds the puppy, Firooz discovers she had been guarding a baby abandoned in the wilderness,â€ Jeffers said. â€œFirooz accepts the baby as a gift from God, names him Haider, and raises him as his younger brother.â€
The story came about as the result of a novel Jeffers has been working on for a long time. â€œFor 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,â€ he said. â€œAt 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. â€˜Firooz and His Brotherâ€™ 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.â€
“Firooz and His Brother” is, essentially, a fairytale. â€œLike the protagonist of any fairytale, Firooz himself doesn’t particularly have any existence outside the story,â€ Jeffers said. â€œA 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.â€
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. â€œAnd 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,â€ Jeffers said. â€œThe 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.â€
Back in his breathless youth (the Ed Ferman era of F&SF), Jeffers longed to appear in the pages of F&SF. â€œI’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,â€ Jeffers said. â€œNever 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.â€
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, â€œan expansion/continuation of the SF novella I wrote, Jesus, fifteen years ago for Bob Silverberg & Karen Haber’s Universe 3, â€˜Composition with Barbarian and Animal,â€™â€ Jeffers said.
Heâ€™s also working on an historical fantasy set in the world of Baroque opera seria, working-titled The Capon’s Gilded Brother. â€œAnd, you know, a stack of other things, possibly including an F or SF short story or three,â€ Jeffers said. â€œMost urgently, this week, my CEO’s monthly report to the board of directors. Nobody should hold their breath.â€
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