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Interview: Auston Habershaw on “The Masochist’s Assistant”

Auston HabershawTell us a bit about “The Masochist’s Assistant.”

This is a story about a young man named Georges who works as an assistant to a master mage. Georges lives in a very socially stratified society and he hoped his position as famulus (wizard’s assistant) would improve his social standing. His master, however, lacks all social graces, making it difficult for Georges to have the life he’s always dreamed of. Oh, and his master is constantly committing suicide and then resurrecting himself—it’s very embarrassing!

 

What was the inspiration for this story and any of the characters in it?

This story is set in the world of Alandar, which is also the setting for my current series of fantasy novels. I often use short fiction as a means of world-building, and in this story I wanted to explore the complicated rules of etiquette and propriety in the Kingdom of Akral. To do this, I needed somebody who flaunted those rules, and so I came up with Master Hugarth. The precise details of the story, though, didn’t become clear to me until I’d come up with the original title.

 

“The Masochist’s Assistant” was not the original title of this story.  Can you tell us the original title, why you decided to change it, and how difficult or easy it was to think of a new title?

The original title was “The Mithridatist.” I heard the word on some NPR show where they were going through obscure vocabulary words. Mithridatism is the process of building an immunity to poison by taking small amounts of that poison, which I thought was both a cool word and a cool idea for a kind of sorcery. So, I have Master Hugarth trying to build a gradual immunity to death by exposing himself to ever more complex forms of death.

The problem with the title arose, essentially, because the word “mithridatism” comes from the name of an Ancient Greek king (Mithridates VI). I know that sounds weird, but bear with me: I didn’t want to actually use the word in the story, because there *is* no ancient Greece and no Mithridates VI from which the word would originate and, unlike a lot of other more common words that originate from things on planet Earth, you pretty much can’t know the word mithridatism without also learning about the Greek king. The word is also sufficiently obscure that I felt I needed to define it or nobody would know what I was talking about, but defining it would always lead back to a reference to ancient Greece which, in a secondary world fantasy, I felt was too odd. It would be like having the characters ride a Lipizzaner horse or thumb through Webster’s Dictionary. So, long story short, I decided to change the title just to avoid all that cognitive dissonance. It’s a bit of a shame, though, since I really dig that word.

As for the new title, it was comparatively easy to come up with, which is rare for me. I usually have an awful time titling stories.

 

The Oldest TrickWhat are you working on now?

I’m currently working on Book 3 and Book 4 of the Saga of the Redeemed, the aforementioned fantasy series set in the same world as this story. I’m hoping Book 3 will be released later this year.

Beyond that, I’m also writing short fiction (mostly between novel deadlines) and hope I can get another story published in F&SF soon! It was a great experience working with Charlie Finlay and one I hope to repeat as often as possible!

 

“The Masochist’s Assistant” appears in the July/August 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1707.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/

Clicking on Mr. Habershaw’s author photo will take you to his website, where you can learn about his writings and publications: https://aahabershaw.com/

Interview: Sean Adams on “An Obstruction to Delivery”

Sean AdamsTell us a bit about “An Obstruction to Delivery.”

Based on the true and tragic story of what happened when, in 1984, the town Glennfork, Vermont experimented with a new subterranean mail route, we follow a post office forced underground by the actions of a rambunctious young mail carrier, Peter Ponducci, who’s since disappeared. They no longer have to worry about weather or appearances as they walk the tunnels, but they do need to worry about whoever–or whatever–is killing their coworkers and reducing them to piles of bones.

Also, there is no Glennfork, Vermont. I made that up.

 

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

I wrote the story my first semester in grad school. Most workshop leaders required you only put up two stories each semester, but there are often slots to go a third time. I signed up for one. It felt like a real nothing-to-lose situation. The two stories I’d already put up, while satirical, were definitely more straightforward. There was no harm in going off the deep end and trying something a little weird.

The idea itself had been knocking around in my head for a while. I had initially imagined it as a series of vignettes about the postal workers in the tunnels, the plot being built mostly on their various relationships and workplace drama. Then I thought, these tunnels would be a great place for a monster to live. So I added a monster, and it was like, well, I guess this is about a monster now.

 

Was “An Obstruction to Delivery” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

It feels very personal to me more now than when I wrote the first draft. I’d always enjoyed reading speculative fiction, and a lot of my stories before this one had been speculative-ish, with elements of weirdness or the otherworldly, but this feels like my first real foray. And since I’ve started, it’s been hard to stop.

 

What are you working on now?

I’ve got a story coming out in the literary magazine The Normal School about the career of an actor who only plays cadavers, and then a few other stories that are almost ready to send around. Mostly, though, I’m focusing my efforts on finishing a draft of a novel. It’s about the relief effort following the collapse of a strange city in the desert. I’m calling it “The Heap” and not just when I’m mad at it.

 

“An Obstruction to Delivery” appears in the July/August 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1707.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/

Clicking on Mr. Adams’s author photo will take you to his website: http://imsean.tumblr.com/

Interview: G.V. Anderson on “I Am Not I”

G.V. AndersonTell us a bit about “I Am Not I.”

Summarizing my own stories is always a painful challenge, but I’ll do my best! “I Am Not I” is a grotesque fantasy story about a young Sap woman conning an odious Varian shopkeeper out of a lot of money. Despite being set in the far future, it has a 19th century aesthetic, and explores the issues of class and identity. There’s plenty of body horror, and bees. Lots of bees.

 

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

My stories are always influenced by whatever I’ve just read. Five years ago this summer, I’d just finished “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters, and was itching to write a story about a conwoman with an ambiguous identity. So I cobbled together a few thousand words, which were very different from the ones your readers will be seeing, and my writing group at the time encouraged me to keep at it.

The inspiration for the honey man, I remember very clearly. The photographs online of lotus pods grafted onto various body parts – most people have seen those, I expect. They gave me nightmares, but I knew it would make an amazing visual for a character.

 

Was “I Am Not I” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

My grandmother passed away from lung cancer in April 2016, and “I Am Not I” was the story I worked on in the months afterwards. It gave me something to focus on – it was a respite. For that reason, it will always evoke a difficult period in my life.

 

Can you discuss the twists and turns that various previous drafts of this story took, and how you eventually brought the story to its final form?

As I mentioned above, I started writing “I Am Not I” five years ago – it took four years in total to complete. Early drafts ranged from 6,000 to 13,000 words and the original setting was good old Victorian London. Madame was French and her emporium sold spells in jars, not body parts.

I enjoyed writing it, but the story never clicked. The spells-in-jars idea seemed better suited to another project I had in mind. So I decided to let my imagination run wild, and things finally came together. My stories almost always have some element of body horror, and this really came through in “I Am Not I.” It was fun thinking up all the horrible things in Madame’s emporium.

Even with these elements in place, I had a lot of work to do. I’d never attempted a novelette before so my pacing was all off; the narrator’s backstory came infuriatingly late (I was trying too hard for that mid-point twist that “Fingersmith” does so well); Heechi had a huge subplot, bless him; and the auction never happened.

A lot of writers helped me during this time, but I must give a particular shout-out to Paul A. Hamilton. His early enthusiasm for the story pushed me to revise and revise again, way past the point when I would have given up and called it good. It would not be the same story if not for his tireless patience, so thank you, Paul!

 

What are you working on now?

I actually finished a short story today, about a post-apocalyptic cannibalistic society. I also have both a novel and a novella in progress, but I’m a slow writer, so I can’t say when they’ll see the light of day!

 

G.V. Anderson has been nominated for the 2017 World Fantasy Award in the Short Fiction category for her short story, “Das Steingeschöpf.”  To help cover the cost of her air fare from London to Texas, she has set up a GoFundMe at the following link, through which you can donate if you so choose: https://www.gofundme.com/flights-to-wfa

 

“I Am Not I” appears in the July/August 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1707.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/

Interview: Robin Furth on “The Bride in Sea-Green Velvet”

Robin FurthTell us a bit about “The Bride in Sea-Green Velvet.”

Creatively speaking, “The Bride in Sea-Green Velvet” marks a real breakthrough for me. I often laugh about it, but I’m very aware that just a couple of centuries ago, the way I view reality could have gotten me burned at the stake! I love fantasy, but I also love traditional folklore and every form of magical practice. In this story, I wanted to bring together traditional seafaring beliefs—ones in which mermaids and sea monsters exist—with the type of spell-casting that people have done for centuries. I’m not talking about Wicca or Gardnerian magic, but about something more primal and instinctual. The magician Austin Osman Spare said that magic needed to be practiced as an art form, so as I was creating Sir Henry’s spell for bringing his inanimate bride to life, I tried to imagine what I would do in such a circumstance.  I’m a fan of medieval grimoires, so I thought a lot about ingredients used in those old spells, as well as the kind of chanting that would go along with it.

 

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

I have always loved stories of transformation and magic. They are the oldest tales in the world, and for me, they remain the most powerful. I grew up reading Russian Wonder Tales, Hans Christian Andersen, and the Brothers Grimm, and in college I fell under the spell of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The first time I saw the work of the sixteenth century Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, I was amazed. His portraits of people made entirely of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and books were like images drawn from my own imagination. Archaeology, ancient history, mythology, and ancient religions are also passions of mine, and each of these areas of interest fed into “The Bride in Sea-Green Velvet.”

Back in 2013, I watched a BBC documentary about Pompeii and Herculaneum. In it, an anatomical facial reconstruction specialist took two skulls–one of a man from Pompeii and one of a woman from Herculaneum–and rebuilt them to show what they would have looked like with flesh and skin. Although the man’s skull seemed to be treated with strict scientific interest, what really intrigued me was the reaction that the woman’s skull elicited from the men handling it. They named her Bella Donna–Beautiful Lady–and enthused about every aspect of her loveliness, from her cranial sutures–which indicated she was very young–to her large eye sockets and unusually symmetrical bone structure. Watching the program was both fascinating and unnerving. Until that time, I’d never realized that even stripped to the bone, a beautiful woman could captivate the imagination…

Another influence was the discovery of Seahenge in Norfolk–a Bronze Age timber circle that had been hidden under sea mud for millennia. Buried in the center of the circle was an upside-down oak. No one knew why the tree had been placed this way, but some archaeologists surmised that it was to ritually join the world of the living to the world of the dead.

These two stories about the ancient past were already percolating in my mind when I traveled to Aberystwyth with my husband Mark. At the time I was rereading Patricia A. McKillip’s wonderful fantasy trilogy, The Riddle-Master’s Game. While Mark was on campus giving a paper on the Welsh poet and painter David Jones, I sat in our room overlooking the sea. The gray waves crashing against the sand made me think of McKillip’s shape-shifting Earth-Masters. What would ancient gods of the sea be like, I wondered, and what would they demand of those who served them . . .?

Over a two-year period, the skull of Bella Donna, the upturned oak of Seahenge, and McKillip’s Earth-Masters began to weave themselves into a story. In the eerie light of the southwest coast of England at the Summer Solstice, the tale took on a life of its own.

 

Was “The Bride in Sea-Green Velvet” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Over the past twenty-five years I have published poems in numerous respected journals and magazines, and I have spent much of the last decade writing about Stephen King’s mythical land of Mid-World, but in “The Bride in Sea-Green Velvet” I finally found a way to share something of my secret imagination–a place haunted by old gods and dark magic.

 

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

It’s interesting you asked this question, since I ended up doing a lot of strange research for this tale.  In order to get my details right, I had to research forensic facial reconstruction, which is a fascinating area. My Masters Degree focused on Edwardian Era fiction (both US and UK), so the Edwardian setting was a very familiar one for me. That being said, I still wanted to make sure my details were correct, so had to research everything from Edwardian clothing and the pre-decimal monetary system to what an Edwardian gentleman would drink to cure a hangover! The description of Sir Henry’s estate was based on several stately homes near where I live in England. All of them had originally belonged to religious orders, but after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, they passed into the hands of the king’s allies.

I’m fascinated by the ancient landscape of the British Isles, and by the fact that so many ancient sites of the southwest are linked by Neolithic stone avenues. Years of visiting these powerful places influenced the landscape I describe in this story. The church I mention, which contains a carving of a mermaid holding a comb and a mirror, actually exists in Cornwall, though the mermaid isn’t on the church’s facade but on the side of a pew. The cliffs full of fossilized sea creatures which Sir Henry has to climb down with a rope is also real and exists on the northeast coast of England. (My husband and I go fossil-hunting there with our brother-in-law and his kids.) But perhaps the weirdest research I did was into ancient rituals.  The chant I use at the end of the story is taken from Precatio Terrae, an ancient Roman prayer to the earth goddess who both gives life and accepts the dead back into her womb.

I love fantasy, but I’m also fascinated by the form magical practice takes in our world. I’ve read a lot of Dion Fortune’s work, as well as the writings of other members of the Golden Dawn, so I wanted to make the magic in my story seem plausible. Granted, few magical practitioners have access to the skeletons of mermaids or attempt to create life from inanimate objects, but within the confines of my world, where such things are possible, I wanted to create believable and powerful rituals. Whether they work or not is up to the reader. (And if anybody tries them and they actually DO work, please let me know!)

 

What are you working on now?

Over the last ten years I’ve co-written about fifteen Dark Tower graphic novels for Marvel Comics, all of which are based on Stephen King’s Mid-World. Now that the Dark Tower film is finally hitting the big screen, we’re taking a break from the comics for a while. Comic book deadlines are notoriously tight, so now that I have a breather I’m trying to finish up some of my own stories as well as—believe it or not—two novels. I also have a short piece of graphic fiction coming out in Femme Magnifique, a great anthology about inspirational women. It’s edited by Shelly Bond, who for years was the head of DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint.  My piece is about Ursula Le Guin, who has been a tremendous inspiration. My partner was the wonderful artist Devaki Neogi.

For the past two years I’ve been a consultant for the Dark Tower film. That has been a fascinating journey into a whole new creative medium. Although much of my professional work has focused on Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, I recently finished another Concordance about his work. This one covers the Bill Hodges Trilogy, which is a series of thrillers with a supernatural twist. Like my Dark Tower Concordance, it is published by Scribner. Right now it is available in ebook form, but a limited print edition is also in the pipeline.

But back to fiction—which is my first great love—I can’t tell you how honored I am to have appeared in the pages of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Over the years you have published so many of the authors I love.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. I’ve really enjoyed it! If anyone out there would like to read more about my work, I’m finally setting up a website at robinfurth.com.

 

“The Bride in Sea-Green Velvet” appears in the July/August 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1707.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/

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