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Interview: Rand B. Lee, on "Litany"

Rand B. Lee–author of "Litany," the cover story of our June 2008 issue–said in an interview that the story began simply as an image of a tall, grey-eyed man knocking on the door of a real estate office in a small village in Northern New Mexico. "I had no idea who the man was when I began writing, except that he had come to the village looking for something," Lee said. "The key characters in the story likewise appeared vivid and full-blown without conscious efforts on my part. Particularly vivid was the image of the three-legged mixed breed black-and-white dog whom the stranger rescues. One week after I completed the story and submitted it to F&SF, a man walked into the Santa Fe nursery where I worked with a three-legged, black-and-white dog. The dog came right up to me and licked me vigorously on the face, causing his owner to remark in great surprise, ‘He usually is not demonstrative with men.’"

The grey-eyed man is Rafael Anderssen, who comes to the New Mexican village of La Llorona claiming to be a writer, and rents a modest house from a local real estate agent. "He is subject to fainting fits in which he has apocalyptic visions, and when he shakes hands with people, he is flooded with data concerning their physical condition, emotional background, spiritual state, and the future cause of their death," Lee said. "

Anderssen is pursued to the village by shape-shifters. "Drawn into the lives of the humans of the village, he makes a stand against the shifters, and discovers that he has possessed … all along [what he was seeking]."

The story, when it came, came quickly, with few rewrites. "The main difficulty lay in presenting the fantasy elements in such a way that they would not overwhelm the reader’s attention and detract from the human dramas of the story," Lee said. "It was also important to me that Anderssen not come off as omnipotent, because as a lifelong reader (and writer) of fantasy I’ve learned that, in a story where the hero is capable of anything, there is no sustained tension (that’s why Superman needs kryptonite)."

Rafael’s search for home resonated with Lee. "I’ve never felt much at home anywhere, neither in the dominant culture or in the subculture to which, as a gay man, I am assumed to relate emotionally," Lee said. "Like Rafael, too, I’m a dog-lover: I’ve always adopted abandoned or abused animals from the local shelter (my current is a female Siberian husky named Blessing and a male Asiatic cat named Urdwill)."

Lee also strongly identified with Rafael’s rebellion against the One (his name for the Creator or God). "I converted to Fundamentalist Christianity when I was 20 as a result of a psychological collapse I endured at the sudden death of my father," Lee said. "I identified myself as a Bible-believing Christian for 7 years, and although most of the Christians I lived and worked with were wonderful, sincere, loving people, it took me years to realize that my unconscious reasons for becoming a Christian had much more to do with internalized homophobia than any genuine spiritual renewal. I no longer consider myself religious in any traditional sense."

The village of La Llorona is very much like the Northern New Mexico in which Lee currently lives. "I’ve known something of the history of the area from my reading over the years," he said. "However, the Varela ranch, the ruined spa, the animal rescue group mentioned in the story, and all named persons are completely fictitious."

Lee said that he is always surprised and gratified when readers respond emotionally to his stories. "I write because I have to –my parents were both writers, and I’d write even if nobody gave me feedback –but it’s a rush when folks say, ‘Yes! I was really moved by that!’"

There are always about a dozen short stories on Lee’s desktop whining for attention, but right now he’s working on a science fiction novel and murder mystery tentatively entitled Centaur Station. "It’s set on a space station staffed equally by Humans and an alien race I’ve written stories about before, the Damánakíppith/fy," he said.

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