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Interview: Van Aaron Hughes on “The Body Pirate”

– Tell us a bit about “The Body Pirate.”

“The Body Pirate” is set on a world where humanoids and birdlike creatures form (seemingly) symbiotic pairings. The birds dominate the pairings, considering themselves the “souls” while the humanoids are merely “bodies.”  Our protagonist Adela has co-pioneered technology to allow a single soul to divide its time between two or more bodies.  This has unintended consequences, both to the society and in Adela’s personal life.


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

I got the initial concept of a bird/human pairing from a Counting Crows song lyric.  (“There’s a bird that nests inside you, sleeping underneath your skin. / When you open your wings to speak, I wish you’d let me in.”)  What made me want to write a story about these pairings was the notion that a human and bird might sometimes be a unit, but other times operate independently.  So bird, person, and bird+person would be in one sense a single character, but in another sense three different characters.  I loved that, both because I thought it would be interesting to represent visually on the page, and because I hardly know anyone who always behaves consistently and predictably.  Creating these different variations on a given character’s personality struck me as a nice metaphor for how human beings really work.


– Was “The Body Pirate” personal for you in any way?  If so, how?

Everything I write is personal on some level, and every protagonist of mine will suffer difficulties that parallel, at least metaphorically, things I’ve experienced.  But also, this story partly grew out of a desire to understand myself better.  The version of me that goes to a law office and writes briefs and takes depositions is, in a very real sense, not the same person who shows up at SF conventions and writes weird stories like “The Body Pirate.”


– How did the challenges of POV and formatting influence the writing of this story?

I fell in love with the idea of splitting the narrative into two columns when Adela splits into her bird and human halves.  But it was a bit tricky.  It meant coming up with a whole new set of pronouns (e.g., a single bird or human is “I”; a bird/human pairing is “we”; and group of pairings is “weall”).  And it meant that when Adela split, the narratives about her two halves had to be the same length.  At first I wasn’t sure that would work, since one half was doing hugely important research and getting embroiled in life-or-death conflicts while the other half was babysitting the kids.  But the more I worked on this piece, the more I realized how much Adela’s home life was at the core of the story I wanted to tell.


– What might you want a reader to take away from “The Body Pirate?”

I’m just hoping the people who enjoy the story outnumber the ones who say, “Whaaaat?”


– What are you working on now?

I’m just finishing up a short story set on a haunted asteroid.  (I don’t know if it works, because I can’t scare myself.)  And I’ve written the ending of a novel set on the world of “The Body Pirate,” in which the humanoid creatures start a war of independence.  Nearly everything I write, I do the ending first, so we’ll see if I have the nerve to complete an entire novel in this strange setting.


– Anything else you’d like to add?

Just to express my gratitude to Gordon, Charlie, everyone at F&SF, and all the magazine’s readers.  I have been a reader, fan, and collector much longer than I’ve been a writer.  To appear (for the second time!) in F&SF, which I’ve been reading since I was a boy, is a tremendous thrill and honor.

“The Body Pirate” appears in the July/August 2015 issue of F&SF, which can be purchased here:


One Response to “Interview: Van Aaron Hughes on “The Body Pirate””

  1. The Body Pirate | Van Aaron Hughes on September 9th, 2015

    […] The big news on the writing front is my novelette “The Body Pirate” appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.  Here’s an interview I did with F&SF about the story. […]

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