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Interview: Naomi Kritzer on “Scrap Dragon”

-Tell us a bit about “Scrap Dragon.”

Back in the spring of 2010, there was an online fundraising auction to raise money to defray the expenses of a liver transplant for a woman I know through fandom. My contribution to the auction was the offer of a short story, written about the winning bidder or the person of their choice.  I would make them the hero (or the villain) of the story, I’d work in their interests and do my best to fulfill requests about storyline and genre. (So, for instance, if someone had a child who was obsessed with both unicorns and rocket ships, and they wanted a story in which their child was the captain of a rocket ship that discovered the Unicorn Planet, I’d do my best to write them a satisfying story with that premise.)

The auction was won by a college friend of mine, Fillard, who wanted me to write about his fiancee, Heather.  (They’ve since gotten married.)  He requested a number of themes, including dragons and scrapbooking, while leaving the actual plot and setting basically up to me.

I should note that I felt reasonably confident I could pull this off because I did something like this once before — as an 80th birthday present to my grandmother, I wrote a story in which she was the heroine.  That story, “Honest Man,” was published in Realms of Fantasy and turned into a podcast by PodCastle.  (The podcast is still available, if people are interested.)

 

- One of the most interesting aspects of this story is the interplay between the narrator and the child listening to the story.  How did you conceive of this narrative choice, and how difficult or easy was it for you to write?

The interplay came out of the dialogue I had with Fillard as I was trying to come up with a framework that satisfied him and that I thought I’d be able to write.  I tossed out the idea of making Heather a princess in a fairy tale and he immediately shot down the idea of a princess.  I imagined telling a bedtime story to someone really detail-oriented and exacting (like Fillard), and came up with the first two lines.  And those two lines hooked ME — I made myself laugh, and I knew instantly that THIS was a story I could write.  It’s partly a story about Heather and a dragon, and it’s partly a story about telling a story to someone with very strong opinions.

(The second voice in the story is not Fillard’s voice; it’s much more childlike and less analytical than Fillard is in real life, while also being a little more adult than a typical ten-year-old.)

 

- As it was an auction prize for someone to be written into a story of yours as either the protagonist or the villain, how did you find writing “Scrap Dragon” under these unusual circumstances?  Interesting or a challenge?

I found it interesting AND a challenge.  This auction prize was sort of a literary blank check; I wanted the winner to be satisfied with what they got, but there are subgenres I’ve never even read much of, and others I don’t know if I could re-create, so I was relieved that the auction was not won by someone who wanted, say, a comedy of manners starring themselves and Cthulhu.

It took me some time to come up with a framework, but once I came up with the two voices, the whole story basically clicked into place, and “Scrap Dragon” became really easy and fun to write.

 

- Most authors say their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal?

Part the challenge of writing this story was that I was trying to write something intensely personal — for someone else.  The personal element for ME was the two voices: I have two daughters, who are currently 11 and 8 years old.  Both my girls are intensely curious and opinionated, so the experience of trying to tell a story while someone repeatedly interrupts to demand more detail about a tangential topic is DEFINITELY something I drew on while working on this.

 

- What are you working on now?

I’m working on a series of short stories (that may turn into a novel) about a teenage girl living on a seastead. Seasteading is a real thing, or at least real-ish — there are people trying to build sort of a do-it-yourself island out in the ocean somewhere so they can found their own country.  Many of these people are libertarians of the “all taxation is theft and should be illegal!” variety.  The stories are set about 50 years after the establishment of the seastead, and the protagonist, Rebecca, lives there with her father.  In the first story, “Liberty’s Daughter,” Rebecca gets asked to find a missing bond-worker (sort of an indentured servant) and it’s sort of a mystery with a dystopic setting.  This story will also be appearing in a future issue of F&SF, possibly this spring or summer, which I’m really excited about.

 

- Anything else you’d like to add?

I did some experimentation with self-publishing last year: I put together two short story collections and made them available for both Kindle and Nook.  They’re cheap!  If people liked my story, they might check them out.  (Most of the stories in them were previously published but there are also a couple of never-before-published stories in both.)  “Honest Man,” which is the story I wrote about my grandmother, is in the one called “Comrade Grandmother and Other Stories.”

“Scrap Dragon” appears in the Jan./Feb. 2012 issue of F&SF.

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