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Interview: Richard Bowes on “Dirty Old Town”

Dust Devil on a Quiet Street by Richard Bowes Tell us a bit about “Dirty Old Town.”

The title is a song by Ewan MacColl, the great British Folk Song composer. It was written around 1949/50 when I would have been 5 or 6 and living with my parents in a housing project in South Boston.

His is a tough love song – the opening line is:

“I met my love by the gas works wall” and it goes on from there.

The “Pogues” did a version that attracted American attention.

My story is about two kids touched by magic, who are enemies, who are lovers a bit, who are related somehow and who grow up and grow old over the years.

One of them acts in a television series, set in the Boston of the Whitey Bolger Years and titled “Dirty Old Town.” The show reconstructs visuals of the tough old city of the narrator’s youth.

 

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

A few years ago I wrote a piece titled, “Stories I Tell To Friends” for Mathew Cheney & Eric Schaller’s Wonderful Online Magazine, The Revelator.  In it I surprised myself by outlining the places I’d lived in Boston from 1944 to 1962 when I left.

I find myself now writing stories that fill in the details, especially those Surrealistic, Darkly Magical and Scary details which I well remember. “Dirty Old Town” has more than a few.

 

While many authors weave elements of their lives into their stories, less write fiction that is deliberately semi-autobiographical.  Why is it important to you to put so much of the details of your past into your stories, and how do you decide what details to alter and what details to leave unchanged?

Maybe the terms, “deliberately,” and “decide,” are misplaced.  I believe that most writers weave their pasts into their fiction. The autobiographical author is a tradition that goes back to E.T.A. Hoffman who put himself into his own Gothic horror stories. James Thurber (on whom I was raised by my parents) used himself – real or imagined – as often as not in his stories. Newspaper columnists, from Twain to Breslin, inserted themselves into their partially invented worlds.

Just this morning writing a contemporary ghost story, I remembered details of a famous homicide, which I knew about because I happened to work with someone involved. Will I use myself in this? Could be.

 

What would you want a reader to take away from “Dirty Old Town”?

This was a time. This was a place.  This was magic of a certain kind. The author’s memory and/or understanding may be askew. But this is what they have to share with the reader.

 

What are you working on now?

Stories for anthologies (Ellen Datlow’s “Black Feathers,” “Mad Hatters And March Hares” and others) that may lead back to memories I haven’t considered.  I have in mind a “Mosaic” or “Fix Up” novel in which Boston stories might find themselves. Wish me luck!

And thanks so much for asking!

 

“Dirty Old Town” appears in the May/June 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1705.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

You can subscribe to the electronic edition of F&SF at the following links:

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

If you click on the picture of Mr. Bowes’s most recent book, “Dust Devil on a Quiet Street,” you can purchase it directly from the publisher.

Interview: Zach Shephard on “The Woman with the Long Black Hair”

Tell us a bit about “The Woman With the Long Black Hair.”

This story came from a Codex Writers’ Group prompt, in which authors were asked to “use cloth, thread or weaving as a metaphor or as a theme for your story.”  I wanted to try writing something lyrical (mostly because it’s not really my strong suit), so I got the idea of a goddess made of thread, who unravels as the tale goes on.  Unfortunately, by the time I started writing, I’d completely forgotten to make my prose lyrical.  Whoops.

In any case, brainstorming about the possible functions of thread led me to two thoughts: strangulation and warmth.  (In fact, I may have even come up with those thoughts in that order, which probably says more about me than I’d care to admit.)  Naturally, I realized right away that these two things are on opposite ends of the positivity spectrum, which effected my decision to have different characters give different accounts of this goddess:  some good, some bad.  Then, to make things more interesting, I figured I’d have her punish those who told good stories, and reward those who told bad.  This led to a theme of self-loathing, which is a familiar topic for me because I live a mile from the Pizza Hut buffet and constantly make bad decisions.

 

In general, what do you find to be the challenges of writing flash fiction?

I haven’t really thought about this before, as flash-fiction doesn’t seem any more difficult to me than writing of any other length.  It’s all a struggle.

Still, one note I do get for a lot of my flash stories (particularly during Codex competitions, when I’m getting brief feedback from ~30 authors on every story) is some variation of “Needs more space.”  I apparently have a bad habit of trying to cram elephant-sized ideas into shoe-box-sized containers.  Basically, my process for writing flash is as follows:

 

  1. Come up with idea for tightly plotted 5000-word story.
  2. Write that story in 750 words.

 

As you can probably imagine, it doesn’t always go so great.

 

In particular, could you talk about the ways in which you sketch the sense of a deep and detailed world in just a few pages, something that “The Woman With the Long Black Hair” does very well.

I wish I knew the trick!  Unfortunately, the truth is that I just got lucky with this one.  For every “The Woman With the Long Black Hair” I write, there’s a handful of failed flash-fiction stories decomposing in my trunk.  If there exists some formula for detailed world-building within a very small space, I haven’t discovered it yet.

That said, the best advice I could give would be a tip I came across while reading about my all-time favorite author, Roger Zelazny.  After struggling for so long to get published, Zelazny read through his manuscripts with an analytical eye to figure out what he was doing wrong.  This led to the identification of a common problem:  he was over-explaining things.  Whether it was the technical elements of an SF story, details about a character’s emotional state, or anything else, he was just spending too many words telling his audience exactly what was going on.  He realized that, as a reader, he wouldn’t want an author assuming he couldn’t read between the lines–that’d be insulting to his intelligence.  So he started cutting big chunks of his stories away, trusting the audience to figure things out for themselves.

As a reader, I feel the same way Zelazny did.  I always say I’d much rather be scratching my head at the end of a story, wondering what’s going on, than having the author explicitly state all the pertinent information.  In the former case I might feel stupid, but that’s my fault for not figuring things out–I can’t blame the author.  In the latter case, it feels like the author thinks I’m stupid, and that’s just insulting.  (Even if it’s true.)

As such, I try to explain things as minimally as possible, whenever I can.  I’m mostly doing it so the reader can feel good about figuring things out for themselves, but the side benefit is that it sometimes allows me to pack more world-building into a smaller space–after all, if you’re careful (or lucky!) enough, you can imply entire paragraphs of setting using only the blank spaces around a single sentence.

 

What are you working on now?

Not being so lazy when it comes to writing.

(Full disclosure:  it’s not going great.)

 

“The Woman with the Long Black Hair” appears in the May/June 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1705.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

You can subscribe to the electronic edition of F&SF at the following links:

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Zach Shephard has a website where you can learn more about his published and upcoming fiction: http://www.zachshephard.com/

Interview: Brian Trent on “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone”

Tell us a bit about “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone.”

This story is a key component of my “War Hero” universe, the stories of which chronicle humanity’s expansion into the larger galaxy. They’re also meant to be a contrast to the usual “let’s terraform everything to suit us” trope; I think it more likely that we’ll alter ourselves to align with the alien beachheads we colonize. Traditional definitions of humanity are bound to change as we do. “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone” is set at the beginning of that odyssey, and therefore at the earliest iteration: what happens to individual identity when mind-uploading allows the multiplication of individuality? How does our own identity transform as each version encounters unique experiences (which have the potential to become points of divergence)?

 

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

I was fascinated by reports of SAS activities in World War II’s aftermath, when British operatives hunted down Nazi war criminals who had escaped Nuremberg justice. According to the tales, the operatives would locate the fugitive, confront him or her with their true identity, and then execute them… often with the same German-made firearm that had been used against captured SAS during war-time. Filtering that through a future lens of technology and colonial expansion made for a story brimming with possibility.

 

 

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

In addition to reviewing the aforementioned items, a lot of the research I did was in terms of daily imagination exercises: the technique I use in developing all of my fiction. “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone” shifts locations and eras, and so I spent a lot of time visualizing what life would be like in each, how politics and culture would evolve, and how individuals (even off the same uploaded Save file) might diverge based on the new data-sets they find themselves steeped in. In the course of this, I developed a “shadow plot” that is going on behind the scenes and ultimately drives the entire story, though it’s only glimpsed by the narrator. Generally speaking, I enjoy constructing plots with different layers, in which events are always occurring regardless of how cognizant the characters are. It’s like real life. Especially for the character of Harris Alexander Pope: it’s not just the story that’s “in media res”, but the main character, too.

 

What would you want a reader to take away from “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone”?

I do think the bioethical questions here are going to become real world debates sooner than we might expect. And of course, it’s always a worthwhile discussion to ask what sides of human nature do we want to define the future with. In this story we have the deliberate juxtaposition of technological and cultural marvels with the ongoing horrors and dehumanization of the war engine: the violent elements that drive it, that trickle down from it, and the individual’s place within it.

 

What are you working on now?

In addition to continuing this universe through short fiction (my F&SF story “Last of the Sharkspeakers from last year is set thousands of years after this story, but very much on the same timeline), I’ve recently completed a novel that concerns the ongoing experiences of Harris Alexander Pope as humanity presses on into the galaxy. And I have a dark fantasy series, RAHOTEP, available on Kindle. There are so many reasons to love science fiction, and one of my favorites is to consider its relationship to historical frameworks. The genre certainly shines a light into potential futures, but I think it also provides illumination into both what we are and what we can choose to be.

 

“A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone” appears in the May/June 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1705.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

You can subscribe to the electronic edition of F&SF at the following links:

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Brian Trent’s website, blog, and links to further work can be found at www.briantrent.com or by clicking on the photo above.

“The Long Fall Up” Wins the Nebula Award for Best Novelette

Congratulations to all the winners and honorees at this year’s Nebula Award Ceremony hosted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Those of us here at the magazine offer special congratulations to William Ledbetter, who won the Nebula for Best Novelette for his story “The Long Fall Up,” which originally appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Locus Magazine lists all the winners here: http://www.locusmag.com/News/2017/05/12490/

This picture of him accepting the award is courtesy of the Twitter feed for @sfwa.

William Ledbetter accepting the Nebula Award for Best Novelette.

William Ledbetter accepting the Nebula Award for Best Novelette for “The Long Fall Up.”

Interview: Shannon Connor Winward on “Witch’s Hour”

Shannon Connor WinwardTell us a bit about “Witch’s Hour.”

The seed for “Witch’s Hour” came from my interest in food history. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but when I was in college I decided if I had chosen any other career it would have been “food anthropologist.”  I love food—the archaeology of food, food origins, food as culture.  And of course cooking and eating food.  I still might go back to school for it after my kids are grown—I’ll be a world-traveling food-expert grannie.  But for now I just write about it.  “Witch’s Hour” combines all of my favorite ingredients: history, death, ghosts, magic, fierce female characters, and (of course) food.

 

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

I’ve had the idea to set a story in a medieval kitchen for a while now, but didn’t know what story I wanted to tell until I was invited to write for an upcoming “hauntings”-themed anthology; there had to be an actual, supernatural haunting as well as a character who is psychologically haunted.  That led me to Esmelda, a woman with magical and culinary talents who’s haunted by her childhood abuser, both figuratively and literally.  But the anthology was postponed, so on a lark I sent it to F&SF, which has always been at the top of my bucket-list of publications.  And here we are! Now I have to write a new story for the anthology, which is due out in late 2017.  I think I’ll manage.

 

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

I read quite a bit about life in medieval castles, food storage in the middle ages, and traditional old world recipes.  There’s a rabbit-based dish (conies) in the story that I lifted straight from an online archive.  I’d love to try it in real life, but I doubt my kids would eat it.

 

“Witch’s Hour” manages to make a vivid medieval fantasy out of unusual characters: the kitchen staff.  Did you find anything difficult or intriguing in focusing on a cook rather than a king or a knight?

To me, what happens in a kitchen is high drama.  It was fun to put the politics and royal intrigue on a back-burner and tell a story from the shadows.  I wrote it all very quickly and organically; the hardest part was figuring out how to handle the psychology of the main character, who has been through some terrible things but is also cruel herself at times.  She has a heart, but it’s been sliced and diced, and it shows.

 

What are you working on now?

I launched a literary journal this spring, Riddled with Arrows.  We’ll be opening to submissions for our summer issue soon.  As for my own work, I just finished a dark-fantasy novella; it still needs finessing, but I’m excited because it’s more action-oriented than what I typically write.  After that I’ve got a number of short stories in the queue, and maybe some longer projects.  I’ve been circulating a novel for a while, and toying with another one.  My writing life has been sluggish due to family issues, but I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel—and it’s full of stories.

 

“Witch’s Hour” appears in the May/June 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1705.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

You can subscribe to the electronic edition of F&SF at the following links:

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Click on Ms. Winward’s photo to visit her website, www.shannonconnorwinward.com

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