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Interview: Sheila Finch on “The Evening and the Morning”

- What is the genesis of this story – its inspiration, or what prompted you to write it?

Over the course of the lingster series, I became aware of a lot of unanswered questions that I’d written into the stories: Who were the Sagittans? Why were the Venatixi looking for them? What was the nature of the subtle relationship between Humans and Venatixi? Would there ever come a day when the lingsters were no longer needed in the Orion Arm? As I prepared the collection (The Guild of Xenolinguists) for publication, I began to hear a voice in my mind; later, he acquired a name, “Crow,” which even later still I realized was a nickname. There was something nostalgic in Crow’s voice, a tone I hadn’t encountered with any other lingster or magister or eruditus. Crow, I realized, came from the Guild’s end times. As soon as I got this straight, I knew I wanted to write the end of the saga in order to find out for myself what happened.

- “The Evening and the Morning” wraps up a long-running series of stories.  What drew you to invent and write about ‘lingsters,’ and how did you come to decide that this latest novella would wrap up the whole saga?

I did it all wrong when I started writing about the lingsters! I had no idea that I was actually writing a series until I’d already published the first short story, “Babel Interface,” and the novel, Triad. The editor who published “Babel” encouraged me to write more stories about first contact and language issues. So I embarked on what became “A World Waiting” – and I immediately discovered I’d already written myself into a corner in this new universe I was creating. For instance, I discovered that I’d set the locale of the Mother House in Geneva when I’d much rather have had it almost any place else, certainly some place more exotic. At that point, I backtracked and wrote extensive notes (a bible of sorts) about the Guild and how it operated, and I’ve stuck with them ever since.

- How did you come to choose “The Evening and the Morning” as the title for your novella?

“The Evening and The Morning” (the title is from the King James Version of the Bible) suggested to me endings and beginnings, and from the very first draft it was the working title of the story – which took many months to complete. It went off track several times, and had to be dragged back whimpering and snarling. I put it on hold, mostly in despair of ever finishing it, and concentrated on a series of thousand word non-fiction essays about themes in science fiction, all of which appeared on SFWA’s Nebula Awards website. Then a couple of the other characters demanded to be heard, and I tried out their viewpoints, but they all had to be eliminated eventually. The story grew out of Crow’s nostalgia and his quest, which was also the Venatixi’s quest, and I wanted it to focus on that. (Along the way, I realized it had also become a meditation on what we mean when we talk about “God.”)

- What research did you have to do for this story?

Some of the research, on language origins, had already been done for the second half of the novel Reading the Bones, leaving me free to read widely in studies of the Corvus family.  I admit to being utterly fascinated by crows and ravens and their kin, and I read without knowing at first what I was looking for or how I was going to use it. That’s the best kind of research for a fiction writer, if you ask me. I also was influenced by a recent book about what the Earth would look like without us, and by all the wonderful, disturbing speculations, both scholarly and fictive, of the world post-singularity.

- What are you working on now?

At present, I’m taking a break from the lingsters. I have scraps and rough drafts of several stories that have nothing to do with language that I want to work on. But I can’t promise never to return to the series – there’s lots of room in the middle! In fact, I’m working on my first collaboration with Juliette Wade, a story about a deaf lingster.

{for more info: www.sff.net/people/sheila-finch]

“The Evening and the Morning” appears in the March/April 2011 issue.

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