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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:

“The Curse of the Myrmelon” appears in the July/August 2015 issue of F&SF, which you can order here:


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

  1. Archonate | “Myrmelon” review and interview on July 2nd, 2015

    […] I’ve done an interview about the genesis of the story and what people call “the writing process” with Stephen […]

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