Interview: P.E. Cunningham on "Monkey See…"
P.E. Cunningham, author of "Monkey See…," which appears in our June 2008 issue–said in an interview that the story was originally written for an anthology with a tight deadline. "Normally it takes me forever to write something — I’ve got book and story fragments and chapters in the closet that go back 10 years or longer — but because of the deadline I had to go to work," she said. "I came up with the basic idea literally overnight, and went from first draft to final sub in two weeks, a land-speed record for me. I sent it out with time to spare … and it got rejected. In truth, I didn’t think F&SF would be interested in a pure sword-and-sorcery story, but then I figured, what the heck. And you guys surprised me and bought it. I didn’t think [F&SF would] like ‘Car 17′ either. Shows what I know. If I could just figure out what editors like, I’d sell a lot more. Hey, wouldn’t we all."
Part of Cunningham’s success in the speed department comes from pre-existing characters. "One of those story fragments in the closet is the tale of the thief Shakaru and his stolen soul sword, which has picked him as its new wielder and now won’t leave him alone," She said. "Ji at this time is an eight-year-old war orphan who leads a gang of homeless children. When Shakaru first meets her, she’s robbing a corpse. The story didn’t really go very far, but I knew right off the bat Ji was the more interesting character. I started wondering what kind of a story I could put her in. Then the anthology came up, and things came together."
The relationship between Shakaru and Ji is a long and complex one. "He’s still human when he meets her, and becomes her mentor, protector and friend," Cunningham said. "He might have been more, except he got killed before she came of legal age, and his spirit was forged into a soul sword. So he still protects and nags her, and she still ignores him because she thinks she knows it all. She’s remarkably unfazable. Talking to swords, getting changed into a monkey, nothing bothers her. She was robbing dead bodies at eight years old. She’s seen it all before, or at least most of it. Shakaru’s invested in seeing she reaches mature adulthood without getting killed, but it’s an uphill struggle."
But none of that made it into the story, because it wasn’t relevant. "I was looking to write a quick, humorous tale, no deep meaning but maybe some smiles," Cunningham said. "I like putting humor into my work. Knowing their background certainly helped with the dialogue. She’s known this guy/sword most of her life, he’s her closest friend, probably the only being she trusts, and she still ignores his advice. She never admitted she was wrong. He’s got his work cut out for him. I said there was no deep, hidden meaning. However, if anyone wants to draw parallels between our current political situation and monkeys who start wars, well, be my guest."
Cunningham is currently working on some projects in the paranormal romance sub-genre. "[That] market is like a gift from above to me because I get to combine all my interests: romance, action, myths and the supernatural, all tied up with a funny twist," she said. "I was a finalist in Romantic Times Magazine’s latest American Title contest with a story involving angels, demons, and a Latino werewolf street gang. I’m trying my darnedest to sell a novel, so maybe I’d better write a few more. I may haul some of those fantasy fragments out of the closet. Maybe it won’t take me another 18 years to send [F&SF] a story again."
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