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Interview: Matthew Hughes on “The Curse of the Myrmelon”

- Tell us a bit about “The Curse of the Myrmelon.”

It’s the latest in a series of fantasy stories that began when Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin asked me to send them something for their cross-genre anthology, Rogues – which, by the way, just won the Locus Award for best antho.

I thought I’d like to do a Cugel-the-Clever type story, set in my Archonate universe, so I invented a rather unlucky thief named Raffalon who is starving in a forest at the end of an unsuccessful career.  The story, “The Inn of the Seven Blessings,” tells how his luck finally changes.

After I sold the story to Gardner and George, I decided the character had potential, so I began writing stories about him during his earlier years.  “Myrmelon” is the fifth one to appear in F&SF.  In each of them, I’ve tried to show a different element of the society in which Raffalon operates – kind of a thief’s-eye-view of a fantasy world.

In “Myrmelon,” a younger Raffalon actually plays a subordinate role to Cascor, a former provostman who was fired from the police force and has set up as a private detective.  He’s also begun to dabble in magic, for which he has a talent, although he will get into trouble with the Wizards Guild if he keeps it up.

 

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

I consider myself a crime writer trapped in an sff author’s career.  I like to write about criminals and detectives (see my Luff Imbry and Henghis Hapthorn stories).  I wanted to give Cascor the discriminator a good work-out and at the same time examine some of the world in which he lives.  It’s a faux-medieval world of guilds and autonomous city states, something like Italy as it emerged from the Dark Ages, but with wizards.

My general motivation is to write enough Raffalon and Cascor stories to make a decent-sized collection, which I will self-publish as an ebook and POD paperback.  I’ve found that selling my backlist on Amazon, Kobo, and my own webstore is the modern definition of “money for old rope.”

 

- The protagonist, Cascor the Discriminator, was a character spun off from the Raffalon story “Stones and Glass.” Do you often discover characters in this way, when writing your ‘Penultimate Earth’ stories?

Yes.  I’m an intuitive writer.  I can’t outline worth a damn.  In “Stones and Glass,” I originally brought Cascor in as a plot complication and foil for Raffalon.  As his backstory emerged, he began to develop some interesting qualities as a potential partner.

I always start with a character in his/her normal situation, add an event that triggers some kind of conflict, then see how it all evolves from there. When I started “Myrmelon,” I had Cascor answering the door to a little man who feared he was under a curse.  I had no idea what would happen next, but I find that if I just let my characters be who they are (or, I suppose, whom I’m discovering them to be), a story begins to unwind out of the back of my head.

 

- What are you working on now?

Thanks to a healthy grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, may their tribe increase, I’m working on a historical novel I’ve wanted to write for more than forty years, ever since I came across a footnote in a university text that told about how some African slaves, survivors of a shipwreck on the Ecuadorean coast, conquered the aboriginal peoples of the area and created a new society – the Zambo State – that remained independent of Spanish authorities for generations.

 

- Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m grateful to F&SF for having accepted so many of my stories over the past dozen years.  I used to buy the magazine for pennies a copy in second-hand bookstores when I was a poor kid in the sixties.  If I’d known then that someday I’d be a regular it would have made my penurious adolescence a happier time.

And, if I can be permitted a plug, this summer I’m going to self-publish a collection of my non-Archonate short stories and novelettes, almost all of them originally published in F&SF.  It will be titled Devil or Angel and Other Stories.  Anyone who’s interested can keep tabs on the book’s progress by checking my web page: www.matthewhughes.org

“The Curse of the Myrmelon” appears in the July/August 2015 issue of F&SF.

Acquisitions: May 2015

The contracts have been sent out and accepted, so here’s a list of the new stories we bought in May that will be coming soon to an issue near you:

  • “More Heat Than Light” by Charlotte Ashley
  • “Golden Gate Blues” by James Cambias
  • “Diamond” by Chris DeVito
  • “The Winter Wraith” by Jeffrey Ford
  • “A Gathering on Gravity’s Shore” by Gregor Hartmann
  • “Jesus Has Forgiven Me, Why Can’t You?” by Betsy Phillips
  • “Red in Tooth and Cog” by Cat Rambo
  • “The Silver Strands of Alpha Crucis-d” by N.J. Schrock

The Ashley and Rambo stories are novelets. The rest are short stories.

F&SF Competition #90

The Game of Thrones season finale seems like a good time to remind everyone of F&SF Competition #90. In 50 words or less write the last paragraph of A Dream of Spring, the final book in George R.R. Martin’s epic series. The funnier, the better. Winner gets a talking GRRM plushie. (IT KNOWS SECRETS.) 2nd place gets non-GRRM ARCs. Honorable mention wins an F&SF subscription. The deadline is July 15, 2015. For the email address to submit and all the rules, see: http://sfsite.com/fsf/2015/competition1505.htm

“A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i” wins Nebula Award for Best Novelette

Alaya Dawn Johnson won this year’s Nebula Award for Best Novelette for her story “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i” from the July/August issue of F&SF. Johnson also won the Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy novel for her book LOVE IS THE DRUG.

For all the nominees and winners, see: http://www.tor.com/2015/06/06/announcing-the-2014-nebula-awards-winners/

Interview: David Gerrold on “Entanglements”

- Tell us a bit about “Entanglements.”

Entanglements is about the roads not taken. If you could peek down those roads and see where those journeys might have gone, where they might have taken you, and where you might have ended up instead of where you are, what would you have become? Who would you be?

It’s about lost opportunities and lost loves — and what you did instead. But I made it personal and drew on my own past as the raw material for the story. That made it hurt more to write, but I think it also makes it more immediate for the reader, whether he or she knows me or not.

 

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

I was about to turn 70 and realized I hadn’t had a real birthday party in over half a century. I almost skipped this one until I realized it was a good excuse to hang out with all my favorite people. So I threw the biggest party I could afford and invited everyone who ever made me smile. I printed up a little book called “In Your Facebook” which had snippets of some of my best stuff from online and that was my gift to them, my thank-you for being my friend and putting up with me when others would have just weighted me down with bricks and tossed me off the Vincent Thomas bridge.

When you get to those turning points in life, you look back at how far you’ve come — and as I said above, you also get to consider where you didn’t go.

The story surprised me. It started out light-hearted, wandering peripatetically without apparent direction — then suddenly rearing up to bite me in the ass. Those last few pages were painful to write.

I wasn’t sure about the ending. Adam-Troy Castro and I sometimes trade stories, beta-reading for each other. He made a suggestion which was spot-on. I took his suggestion and amped it up a bit. But I won’t say what it was because I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t read the story yet.

 

- “Entanglements,” like several other stories you have penned lately for F&SF, feels strongly semi-autobiographical.  What appeals to you about mining the details of your own life for inspiration in such a seemingly open way? 

For me, much of the appeal is that this is my own unique writing voice. I’m not imitating or evoking or aspiring to anything other than myself. It’s that same candid sharing that informed the prose of my first two non-fiction books about the making of Star Trek and “The Trouble With Tribbles.” It’s an easy voice to slip into because it’s like writing a letter to my best and most trusted friend.

But I didn’t realize I could use that voice in fiction until I wrote about my son’s adoption. A few months after he was placed with me, I heard a conversation about a little girl who thought she was a Martian, and that appealed to me as a possible story idea. By the time I finally sat down to write it, Sean and I were playing the Martian game for real — and that was a good thing for both of us. It was a very useful piece in rebuilding his self-esteem. Now he had an identity.

One night, I sat down to write a story about how much I’d fallen in love with my little Martian — and the only way to tell it was to draw upon my personal experiences. I’d never done that before, but it was a whole new writing voice for me. “The Martian Child” was an authorial breakthrough and it was my first sale to F&SF.

After that, from time to time, I began exploring what else I could do in that voice. “The Strange Disappearance of David Gerrold” happened because I drove up the back roads of California to visit Spider and Jeanne Robinson in Canada. I saw a sign, “Private Hunting Preserve” and almost immediately, the entire story was obvious in my head. I wrote it while staying with Spider and Jeanne.

A couple of years ago, I was traveling in Europe. The result was “Night Train to Paris.” Apparently, when I travel, I don’t just see what’s there — I see the story that could be there.  That’s why F&SF has “The Thing on the Shelf” and “The Dunsmuir Horror” in the pipeline.

Eventually, I’m going to gather all of these various personal narratives into a collection called “The Further Adventures of David Gerrold.” Many of the sidebar narratives in the story, the dropped-in anecdotes are based on actual events.

 

- What might you want a reader to take away from this story?

Obviously, the first thing I want is for the reader to have a good time with the story. If he or she gets a sense of the joy that occurred at my birthday party, then he or she will have a sense of who I am — then, when the story unfolds to reveal the roads not taken, the other emotions will come into play.

What I realized in the writing, and what I hope is clear to the reader, is that we all have choices — and choices have consequences. If we can be conscious of the consequences, we can make better choices. In retrospect, I might regret some of the things I missed — but what I gained instead, especially my son, outvotes everything I missed.

 

- What are you working on now?

At the time of this writing, I am only a few weeks away from finishing A Method For Madness, the fifth book in the Chtorran cycle. It’s one of the most eagerly anticipated books I’ve ever written. And I think it’s one of my most ambitious. Parts of it have left me emotionally drained.

 

- Anything else you’d like to add?

Ray Bradbury demonstrated throughout his entire life that growing up is optional. He was right. I’m not leaving the sandbox until you drag me out, kicking and screaming.

I started reading F&SF in the mid-fifties — I searched the used book stores for every issue I’d missed, all the way back to the first issue and read every single one cover to cover and then I stayed current for decades. The magazine is special to me. And it has always been the one magazine I most wanted to be published in. So any time I get an acceptance letter from the editor, I glow for a week. Getting the cover story is icing on the cake. Because it’s like being told, “Okay, David, you get to play with the big kids today.”

Why is this important to me? Because science fiction and fantasy writers get to go anywhere in time and space, even to other dimensions and impossible possibilities. It’s the best job in the world. We are literary timelords. Who wouldn’t want to play in that sandbox?

“Engtanglements” appears in the May/June 2015 issue of F&SF.

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