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Interview: Kat Howard on “A User’s Guide to Increments of Time”

– Tell us a bit about “A User’s Guide to Increments of Time.”

It’s the story of two chronomancers, time wizards, who fall in love, and then have a very bad breakup.


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

The prompt came when I was looking for a recording of a specific piece of classical music. Which exact piece and why I was looking currently escapes me, but in the course of my search, I came across a playlist of music where each song had 60 beats per minute. One of those songs was the piece mentioned in the opening of the story – Bach’s “Air On the G String.” Listening to it, I had an image of a woman, swaying in time with the music, her hands moving in the air, but not like she was conducting, like she was doing magic. And so I wrote the story that went with her.


– Was “A User’s Guide to Increments of Time” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I don’t like to say that anything I write isn’t personal, because to me that implies that I don’t care about the story. But in terms of, was there some specific motivation drawn from life, or some specific detail that I stole from myself and gave to one of the characters in it, no.


– What would you want a reader to take away from this story?

I would hope they find some pleasure in the reading experience, but there’s no moral behind it. Except maybe don’t piss off a wizard.


– What are you working on now?

I am extremely superstitious about talking about things while I am writing on them, so I will be as unhelpful as possible, and say only that I am actively working on a novella and a novel right now.


– Anything else you’d like to add?

If you’re looking for more short fiction from me, I have a story that will be out in the April issue of Lightspeed, called “The Universe, Sung in Stars.” It’s about tiny, wearable pocket universes, among other things.

And my debut novel, Roses and Rot, which is about many things like art and sacrifice and sisters and magic, but has no tiny, wearable pocket universes in, will be out from Saga Press in early 2016.

“A User’s Guide to Increments of Time” appears in the March/April 2015 issue.

Interview: C.C. Finlay on his ascension to the Editorship of F&SF

– How does it feel to be the new Editor of F&SF?

I’ve never been skydiving but I suspect that jumping out of a plane for the first time feels a lot like this. Right now everything is rushing past and it’s a little bit scary and a whole lot exhilarating. I’m trying to enjoy it and at the same time I’m trying to remember to do everything I’m supposed to do so there’s no awful crash.


– Give us the story of how you got the job.

Gordon Van Gelder (F&SF’s publisher and previous editor) may be the best person to tell that story. He was the first editor to buy my fiction and he’s published more stories by me than anyone else. Over the years we’ve talked a lot about the magazine and its history and direction. When he asked me if I had ever thought about being an editor, I said “Yes,” and when he gave me the chance to guest edit an issue last year (July/August 2014), I jumped on the opportunity. That issue worked out, so he gave me the chance to guest edit again and then that turned into the job.


– What is your editorial vision for the magazine going forward?

It seems to me that over 65 years and through 8 previous editors, F&SF has had an amazingly consistent vision. First, F&SF publishes a wider range of genre fiction than anyone else. Fantasy and science fiction are both right there in the title, but from the very beginning F&SF has also published horror, weird fiction, alternate history, and anything else that falls under the rubric of “speculative fiction.”  Second, the magazine looks for a very high quality of writing. F&SF has always been the magazine where you might end up reading literary writers like Kurt Vonnegutt or Joyce Carol Oates alongside core genre writers like Ray Bradbury or Ursula K. Le Guin, and it all fits together. Third, the magazine’s editors have always looked for new voices: F&SF was one of the first magazines in the 1950s to really welcome women writers into the genre, and it was one of the first genre magazines to publish a lot of translated fiction, and it’s continued that tradition in other ways ever since. Finally, F&SF has always been entertaining. It’s always had stories that were fun to read as well as thought-provoking.

My vision to carry on that tradition. My tastes are different than Gordon’s, and I’ll publish some different stories and writers than he did. I’ve also introduced some new tools — like electronic submissions — that will make it possible to find a wider range of stories and writers. But I think the ultimate vision for the magazine will be the same, even if, over time, the issues will feel different and reflect my taste in stories.


– More specifically, what kinds of stories are you looking for?

I love stories that surprise me in some way with their ideas, their characters, their plots, their language. I love stories that do more than one thing well — beautiful language and a compelling idea; fast-paced adventure and a complex, interesting theme; diverse, complicated characters and cool science, or any other combination. I love stories that take some kind of risk and make it work. I love the stories I didn’t know I needed until I read them.


– How do you think your tenure as editor will compare/contrast to past F&SF editors?

I used a skydiving metaphor earlier, and I think it applies here too. I won’t really know until I eventually touch ground. In the meantime, I’ve been completing my collection of F&SF issues back to 1949. I’ll be reading them when I have time and trying to learn everything I can from the editors who’ve come before me.


– What challenges and opportunities do you think F&SF faces in competition with the other print magazines and the online markets?

“Competition” feels like the wrong word to me. I don’t feel like the data shows that readers choose one magazine and read no others. The more good markets there are, the better it is for writers and readers. The circulation of the print magazines has been increasing in recent years. I think that in part that’s because the success of online markets has created more readers and developed more interest in finding good stories. In addition, the rise of ebooks and electronic editions has made it possible to reach more readers in the formats they prefer.

F&SF occupies a special position in the field — because of its history, because of its diversity of stories. Because of the quality of the physical object, for people who still want the experience of holding or collecting a paper magazine. The challenge F&SF faces is finding ways to make new readers aware of the magazine. The opportunity is that I think there are a lot of potential new readers.


– What administrative changes are coming to the magazine now that you’re taking over the Editor position?

The biggest change is the switch to electronic submissions. This breaks down barriers and makes it possible for lots of writers to submit, no matter where they are in the world or whether they can afford postage for their MSs. We’ve already bought stories from writers in China, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and South Africa. In the long term, I think it will greatly add to the diversity of voices in the magazine. That will be good for writers and readers, and it’s something I’m very excited about.


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