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Interview: M.K. Hobson on “Baba Makosh”

Tell us a bit about “Baba Makosh”

The story is set during the Russian Civil War, which began in 1917 and lasted until 1922. It follows a small Red Army squadron who have been sent to search for Hell. Like all good stories, it contains politics, buffoonery, magic, and cruelty.

What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I love to write historical fantasy, I’ve always been fascinated by this period of Russian history, and I haven’t read many stories set in this particular milieu, so it seemed like an interesting challenge.

Was “Baba Makosh” personal to you in any way, and if so, how?

Sometime around 1920, my father’s father—Grandpa Koroloff—was gang-pressed into the White Army. There was a lot of gang-pressing going on in those days; one basically joined whichever side swept into one’s village and put a gun to one’s head first. By 1922, Grandpa was a machinist on the Imperial Russian Navy’s Minesweeper “Petrokl,” part of the Siberian flotilla in Vladivostok. In October of that year, with the Red Army closing in on the city, the entire White Russian Fleet—23 ships, bearing about 8,000 refugees—evacuated the port. Many trials and tribulations followed. With the government of Imperial Russia now defunct, the ships of the flotilla represented several million tons of heavy armament without a legitimate political flag to sail under. Whenever they tried to land, apparatchiks from the infant Communist government were there with writs and petitions and such, demanding the return of the ships and the refugees—an idea which was not especially popular with the flotilla’s commander, Admiral Uri Karlovich Stark, nor (as one might imagine) with said refugees. There was an extended stay in the Philippines, a terrible storm in which many lives were lost … but my own personal bottom line to this sweeping saga was that my Grandpa Koroloff eventually arrived at Angel Island in San Francisco, met my grandmother, and things just kept leading to other things until I showed up.

Some cheeky readers might suggest that this is the story I should actually have told. Unfortunately, it’s somewhat short on magic and rather long on plot; it would have taken me much more than a novelette to cram all that drama in. Maybe someday.
What sort of research did you do for this story?

I had to research the Russian Civil War and brush up on my Slavic folklore. Luckily I very much enjoy both researching and brushing up on things. I also created a Pinterest board of images to go with the story. Pinterest boards are a recent addition to my writing process which I find as immensely satisfying as they are distracting.
What would you want a reader to take away from “Baba Makosh?”

Someone who wears a long leather trench coat is making a very definite fashion statement, and that statement is “I am not to be trusted.”

What are you working on now?

I have several long stories in my novel cycle to complete, as well as the sequel to The Warlock’s Curse, the book I kickstarted in 2012. I’m very much hoping I can release some or all of these this year, as I’ve been singularly unproductive lately. It is leading me to question the very nature of my existence.
Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m serious about the long leather trench coats. If you see someone wearing one—especially belted—go the other way.

“Baba Makosh” appears in the Nov./Dec/ 2013 issue of F&SF.

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