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Interview: Sarah Pinsker on “Talking to Dead People”

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

I wrote it for a Halloween contest in one of my writing groups. Somebody gave me a prompt of an empty swimming pool, which I used in the story as one of the unsolved murders. I had just read Molly Gloss’s wonderful novel “Falling From Horses.” This story is nothing like that one, but I closed that book and wanted to write something with a narrator who was addressing the reader fairly directly, confiding as if interviewed. The rest of it flowed from there. I think the first thing I had after the prompt was the “House of Whacks” pun, which gave me direction for the story.


Was “Talking to Dead People” personal to you in any way?  If not, how did you get into the head-space necessary to write this main character?

“Talking to Dead People” isn’t personal to me in any way, other than the fact that I think the Nutshell studies are really cool. I found the narrator’s head pretty easy to get into. She started out observing Eliza, who I had a better idea of from the beginning, so I was able to learn more about my narrator through her observations of the world around her. She painted herself from the outside in. From there it was a matter of figuring out when to deploy which of the important things I needed her to divulge about herself. Timed release.


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

I had to learn more about the Nutshell studies, and more than I’d known before about Lizzie Borden. Actually, I started the story with Lizzie Borden in mind, then I read up on a whole bunch of different famous murders before deciding I had it right the first time.


What are you working on now?  And how does it feel to win a Nebula Award?

I’m working on two novelettes. I’m also putting together a collection. I just got back from an amazing science fiction trip to Beijing, where I didn’t have a whole lot of chance to write, so I need to get my head back in the game.

Winning a Nebula was amazing. The whole evening was lovely. As someone who grew up reading the award winners, I was so honored to stand on that stage and join that list.


“Talking to Dead People” appears in the September/October 2016 Special David Gerrold issue of F&SF.

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