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Interview: John Schoffstall on “The First Day of Someone Else’s Life”

John SchoffstallTell us a bit about “The First Day of Someone Else’s Life.”

This story was written during a dark time in my writing life, when I felt like a failure. I had spent a couple of years writing a novel and a year trying to find an agent for it, without success. I hadn’t written short fiction in a while, but I continued to read it, and noticed that reader interest in short form, at a low ebb around 2004-2008, seemed to be reviving. I thought I’d try my hand at short fiction, instead. That turned out to be a good plan. Since then I’ve written a number of short stories, sold a few, a few more are still out with editors, and some more are in early drafts. In addition, I have sold another novel, HALF-WITCH, a fantasy, which will be published by Small Beer Press in 2018. Please watch for it! My writing life feels more positive these days, although it will always remain true that writing fiction that sells to editors and pleases readers is one of the toughest tasks you can set yourself.


Could you discuss the ideas from which this story arose?

As I said, I was in a state of near despair. But despair can be strangely liberating. I told myself, why not try the difficult, the impossible, the stuff everyone says not to do? What did I have to lose?

And that’s why the story is told in 2nd person point-of-view, a POV that most people hate. I hate it, too. So, it was a challenge. Could I redeem this despised POV? I tried to do that by giving it a twist, making it not the voice of an invisible narrator, but the voice of another character in the story. The story, therefore, is pseudo-2nd person. It’s actually 1st person POV, but expressed in an unusual way. The weird POV, I hope, helps set the story’s atmosphere, in which Mook doesn’t know who he is or what he’s supposed to be doing.

I’ve noticed that many of my stories have ‘identity’ as one of their themes. That seems to be the case here, as well. Who am I? What am I? Will I ever find out? Some people find answers to these questions that satisfy them. Many don’t. Some find answers they don’t like.

I also wanted a near-future story, crammed with ideas about what the world might be like, and what human life would be like, for better or worse, in that world. The story background reflects my conception that government and economic structures that have appeared stable for the past two centuries are now showing signs of breaking up, of fissioning into more finely granular structures, perhaps recombining into new things. The nation-state, for example, has been a stable political structure since the Congress of Vienna. At the beginning of the 20th Century, socialists expected the nation-state to fracture along class lines: German workers would have more in common with French workers than Germans had with Frenchman, they thought. World War I violently disproved that idea. But today the nation-state is still under stress in many places, by affinity attractors such as militant Islam. What other forces might fracture nation-states into new forms?

I also wanted to follow current technology and see where it leads. An arms race between increasing surveillance and those who prefer to thwart it; increasing number and varieties of psychoactive drugs and increasing acceptance of their use; evolutionary and emergent forms of economic reorganization; the spread of crypocurrencies.

I’ve always been fascinated, amused, and horrified by those images of a-girl-in-a-test-tube that found their way onto the covers of many pulp SF magazines in the 1930s and 1940s. I wanted to take this concept and turn it on its head.


What kind of research, if any, did you do for “The First Day of Someone Else’s Life”?

I didn’t do specific research for this story in particular, but for years I have subscribed to New Scientist and Science News for ideas in current science and tech. I write down ideas that strike my fancy, and sometimes go back and use them. I read The Economist for a broad view of world events. Perhaps because of the lingering shades of the British Empire, the Economist has a wider and deeper view of the world, and pokes its nose into more curious places than American media.


What are you working on now?

A far-future novel, of a time when the earth orbits a dying white dwarf star, godlike transcended beings are everywhere underfoot, and science and magic are living together in sin.


Anything else you’d like to add?

I have a new author website at and social media presence on Facebook at and on Twitter @JohnSchoffstall


“The First Day of Someone Else’s Life” appears in the May/June 2017 issue of F&SF.

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Clicking on Mr. Schoffstall’s photo will take you to his website.


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