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Interview: Naomi Kritzer on “Cleanout”

– Tell us a bit about “Cleanout.”

It’s a story about hoarding, family, and family secrets.


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

About ten years ago, my mother-in-law died, and my father-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. They had a huge house, a thousand miles from where my husband and I lived, and they never threw anything away. When we cleaned it out, we had to dig through mountains of junk mail, credit card statements from the early 1980s, decades of detailed records about dog food purchases… But we also found some wonderful family treasures, like art created by my husband’s grandmother.

In talking about this with friends, one of the things that really struck me was how universal this experience is for people with aging parents. Sometimes you clean out the house after a death, other times while parents are still alive, if they need residential care and the house has to be sold. It’s usually an incredibly fraught process. Sometimes people are under time pressure. Sometimes there’s conflict with siblings or other relatives. And even when everything else goes well, it is still a huge amount of work.

Also, sometimes you find objects that clearly have a story associated with them, but no explanation; other times, you uncover family secrets.


– This is your first non-Seastead story for us since “Scrap Dragon” in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue.  What are you working on now?

I’m working on a story about a Little Free Library that is a portal to another world. (Little Free Libraries are boxes of books that people put out in front of their houses to give away, sheltered in adorable tiny hand-crafted houses: There are hundreds in my city, though friends of mine from other states have sometimes never heard of them.) I’m also working on another story about Beck (the protagonist of the Seastead series).

“Cleanout” appears in the November/December 2015 issue of F&SF.  You can buy it here:

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