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Interview: Lynda Rucker on “Where the Summer Dwells”

– Tell us a little bit about the story.
Oh dear! I’m never very good at talking about stuff I write. I’d much rather have someone tell me about the story. Okay. Here goes. Although an atheist, I am fascinated with the idea of encounters with the numinous. In fact, it would not be wrong to say that nearly everything I write is dealing with that on some level. I am especially intrigued with how people cope with the rest of their lives in the wake of such an encounter. “Where the Summer Dwells” is, in part, about that. It’s also about memory, and loss, and longing, and growing up. 
– What was the inspiration for “Where the Summer Dwells,” or what prompted you to write it?
This is a story that came from lots of little bits and pieces over a long period of time. It actually started living in my head sometime in the mid-to-late oughts; I was working on a graduate degree in medieval English literature and taking what I thought might be a permanent break from fiction writing. Of course, I was still scribbling down bits of stories now and again, because they kept taking shape in my brain and refusing to leave me alone. At the time, I was living in Portland, Oregon, and I watched a documentary about the South called Searching for the One-Eyed Jesus, a romanticized but evocative portrait of the region where I’d been born and raised. Although I hadn’t lived there for well over a decade, it was one of several things I encountered around the same time that made me homesick, and somewhere along the way I started thinking of a summer I’d spent with my best friend in high school exploring abandoned houses and cemeteries and endless back roads in rural Georgia—oddly, because I’m not nostalgic about being a teenager or where I grew up (and the story’s not about my friend!). And I liked the documentary but from it came the idea of a dilettantish filmmaker imagining the South as a sort of exotic theme park. (And that doesn’t offend me—I’m endlessly fascinated with all the different ways that outsiders and insiders, visitors and locals, view their environments.)
The feeling of the story, the recollections of those long-ago explorations, the characters, and the train tracks were all more or less in my head from the start, although for a long time the story simply lived on my hard drive as some vignettes and some photos grabbed online of abandoned train tracks. Eventually I found my way back to writing fiction again and the story was there, waiting. 
– What kind of research, if any, did you do for this story?
None. Well, I did look up the kind of camera Seth might have. That information’s already out of date by now, though!
– This is your F&SF debut, correct?  How long have you been writing, and would you say that “Where the Summer Dwells” is typical of what you write?
Yes, this is my F&SF debut. In fact, I’ve only submitted to F&SF a couple of times in the past because I rarely write fiction that I think is right for the magazine—I mostly write horror fiction.
I’ve been writing, literally, since I could hold a pencil and print or peck out letters on a typewriter. I started seriously submitting fiction in the late 90s, although I took four or five years off, as I mentioned above.
I think the style and some of the preoccupations of “Where the Summer Dwells” are fairly typical of what I write, but as I also mentioned above, I mostly write what I think is horror fiction. However, sometimes people tell me they don’t like horror but they like what I write. I think that has more to do with misconceptions about the scope of good horror fiction and what it can do than my writing, specifically. But I’m also pretty bad at saying what my own fiction is, and it turns out that at least some people consider this to be a horror story as well.
– What might you want a reader to take away from your story?
I don’t tell the reader what to do, or even what I want them to do. That’s dangerous territory. When I release a story into the wild, the story becomes a part of anyone who wants it. Maybe that’s what I want a reader to take away. The story is yours now, whatever it means to you, if you’d like to have it.
– What are you working on now?
I’m working on several short stories. I’d like to put a collection together and people keep asking me about one and so I’m going to try to focus on that in the year ahead. I’ve got a YA novel circulating which is, to quote from my blog, a “dark fantasy novel about bereavement, family secrets, and the great god Pan.” I’m also working very hard on a book for adults—a horror novel? shall we call it a ‘supernatural thriller’?—set in the present, but in part about thirties/forties pulp writers and secret societies and other things I’m not yet ready to talk about.

“Where the Summer Dwells” appears in the Sept./Oct. 2012 issue.

Interview:Peter Dickinson on “Troll Blood”

– Tell us a little about “Troll Blood.”

Twenty plus years ago my wife, Robin McKinley, was asked to write a short illustratable story about a mermaid.  She had no ideas so since we were living then in a small English village, we walked down to the village pub to see if we could dream up some kind of a plot over supper.  By the time we’d finished eating we’d come up with half a dozen possibilities, and before we got home we had a grandiose plan to write a sequence of four collections of stories about the mythical creatures if the four elements, each of us contributing three stories per book.  It took longer than we expected as our stories kept (particularly in Robin’s case) turning into full-length novels.  The Water volume took us seven years, and Fire another seven. Then PEGASUS, which she’d started for the Air volume, expanded into a sequel; and .  when it showed signs of becoming a trilogy we decided to bite the bullet and let me publish my Earth and Air stories as a single separate volume, which will be coming out under the auspices of Small Beer Press later this year.  By then TROLL BLOOD must have been sitting in my bottom drawer for several years.

– What was the inspiration for this story, and how did you come to write it?

        I don’t like the word “inspiration”.  Of the fifty-odd books I’ve written I don’t think more than half a dozen began with any kind of “Wow!” moment.  Usually I’ve had a vague feeling that there might be a book there and have sat down at my desk at the regular time of day and written an experimental page or two, and with luck other pages have followed naturally.  I probably did that with TROLL BLOOD — needing to write a story about trolls — there aren’t a lot of usable earth creatures — that phrase slipping into my mind — someone with troll blood in his/her veins — how did it get there? — and we’re off!

– What kind of research, if any, did you do for this story?

Read some books.  I don’t remember which ones.  Most of the apparently scholarly stuff about the burnt manuscript I made up.

– Some authors say that their stories are personal to them.  If that’s true for you in this case, then how so?

I don’t understand this question.  I can’t imagine any worthwhile writer being happy about the idea that somebody else could have written one of his/her stories.

– Would you say “Troll Blood” is typical of the kind of story that you write?

Well, I’ve written a good deal of fantasy of various kinds, but a lot of other stuff as well. 

– What are you working on now?

Nothing new.  I’m almost eighty-five and the wells are empty. I’m  currently getting my pre-digital books into a form in which they can be published on-line. 

“Troll Blood” appears in the Sept./Oct. 2012 issue of F&SF.

Interview: Ken Liu on “Arc”

– Tell us a little bit about “Arc.”

Lena Auzenne, the protagonist, is an artist who works with plastinated bodies (like the Body Worlds exhibits). Then she learns about a new medical procedure that puts the aging process on hold. For her, the two become inextricably entwined in her life.

– What was the inspiration for this story, and how did you come to write it?

I wrote this after reading Sonia Arrison’s _100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity …_ (the book has a very long, search-engine-friendly subtitle which I’ve cut short here for the sake of aesthetics). To simplify somewhat, the book is a discussion of the many implications—social, legal, psychological, and otherwise—of the longevity revolution, when many individuals in the West will be able to live long past the age of 100 and stay healthy and vigorous for the bulk of that span. It’s very interesting; I recommend it.

A second source of inspiration comes from US Patent 4205059, “Animal and Vegetal Tissues Permanently Preserved by Synthetic Resin Impregnation,” and US Patent 4302157, “Method for Preserving Large Sections of Biological Tissue With Polymers.” These are the “plastination” patents issued to Gunther von Hagens of Body Worlds.

I saw a kind of parallel between making death appear like life and stretching life out to defer death — both seem to be about suspending time. And I wanted to write a story to explore them.

– What research, if any, did you do for “Arc?”

Besides following up on some of the scientific sources cited in Arrison’s book (I try to always go to primary sources), I watched some videos on the plastination process.

I really think YouTube may be one of the greatest research tools for a writer.

– Many, if not all, of your stories have an emotional poignancy to them, and I was wondering if you could speak to that at all; perhaps why/how you find yourself drawn to write serious material.

Some of the thematic shifts in my work no doubt have to do with the births of my two daughters. Being a father has changed my emotional center of gravity, made me pay attention to things I haven’t thought much about before, and altered the way I feel about what is meaningful in my life.

Since I use writing as a way of thinking, it’s probably inevitable that my recent fiction would reflect my changing thoughts.

– What might you want someone to take away from reading “Arc?”

It’s a cliché in fiction for someone offered a chance at immortality to either suffer terrible consequences or to refuse it — indeed Arrison ridicules this pattern in her book. The notion that death gives life meaning is a failure of imagination.

So I rewrote this story many times, trying to get Lena to be content with living forever, but the story just would not work.

In the end, Lena decides to shape her life into an arc, because giving our lives a pattern is what we mortals yearn to do. We want to make our life into a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

(This is not to say that this is the only kind of story that can be told. I’ve since tried to write another story where the heroine, faced with the same choice, chooses differently, and I think I succeeded. But that required a very different kind of character from Lena.)

Whether the narrative drive _should_ be how we think about our own life is something I invite the reader to think through with me.

– Is this story personal in any way to you in its subject matter or in the writing of it, and if so, how?

While writing the story, I wondered if my daughters will indeed live to see the human race conquer death. And I realized that I was okay with possibly belonging to the last generation to die. Lena and I are not so different, after all.

“Arc” appears in the Sept./Oct. 2012 issue of F&SF.

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