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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.

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


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