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Interview: Nick Wolven on “Carbo”

Tell us a bit about “Carbo.”

“Carbo” is an ancient tale. One of the world’s oldest tales. It’s the tale of a boy and his car. Formerly known as the tale of a boy and his horse, and before that, as the tale of a boy and his dog. It’s a tale of the attachments young men form in the moody, wandering period before they’re entirely ready for human attachments. Or maybe it’s just a story about a robot who wants to be loved.

 

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

Gordon [Van Gelder, F&SF Publisher] had sent me an article about the apocalyptic implications of self-driving cars—something to do with our creeping surveillance state and Big Bad Data and Orwellian EZ-Pass systems—which I took to be a kind of editorial elbow in the ribs. So the topic had been on my mind. One day I was out driving and the concept simply appeared to me, in a weirdly explicit and literal fashion—I mean the words themselves actually manifested in my vision, like something from the Book of Exodus, like a screenplay pitch, like trails of marquee-neon laser-scripted on the windshield: MAN HAS MISOGYNIST CAR. Once a phrase like that has crawled its way across the cornea of your inner eye, it’s almost impossible not to write a story.

 

Was “Carbo” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

“Carbo” is a story for all men, for all time.

 

Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “Carbo?”

The trouble with talking about research is that I never know if I’m adding to my air of writerly authority or puncturing the illusion of writerly authority. When other writers are asked this question, they always say something like, “Oh, yes, I visited six obscure libraries, interviewed all the world’s leading experts, and now know everything there is to know about Mycenaean cuisine.” Whereas I’m afraid I’ll blurt something boneheaded and unglamorous like, “Yes, I finally looked up what a carburetor is.” I wish I could say I prowled in dusty archives, I pulled down crumbling tomes of yore, I accessed elusive bodies of knowledge. The truth is I’ve been watching a metric ton of car-jock YouTube videos.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a novel of adventure and intrigue, romance and mystery, deceit and derring-do, about the sexy and crowd-pleasing subject of technological unemployment.

 

“Carbo” appears in the November/December 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1711.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: John W. Sexton on “Down at the Goblin Boutique”

What was the inspiration for “Down at the Goblin Boutique,” or what prompted you to write it?

The basic concept is really a twist on something that occurs in many folktales and myths, where a series of warnings lulls the unwary into thinking that they are being aided and advised. Around the time that I was playing with this idea for a new poem I was leafing through the poems of Christina Rossetti and came across an old favourite, Goblin Market. The title immediately engendered another idea, not of a market that sold suspect fruit as in the original poem, but of a shop that sold something far more sophisticated, that catered to a more discerning and perhaps wealthier customer. Once I struck upon the notion of a coat with magical properties, the poem began to reveal itself to me bit by bit.

 

John W. SextonDo you see yourself as a fantasy and science fiction poet or as a poet who sometimes uses the tropes and language of fantasy and science fiction?

I see myself as a poet working within the tradition of the Fantastic. And as such a poet, practising the craft now for over forty years, I would identify with the Fabulist and Metaphoricist schools of thought.

Being a European my main influences in both would also obviously be largely European, so on the Fabulist side there would initially have been poets like Walter de la Mare, Tomas Tranströmer, W. B. Yeats, Vasko Popa and Lewis Carroll. However, when I started out as a young poet I was also reading a lot of fiction, and much of that was actually science fiction, and so I very quickly formed the opinion that the realm of the fantastic was a better way to express ideas. Even in the mainstream literature that I was reading in those days, and I’m talking now about the late ‘70s, there appeared to be a trend that confirmed this, for I was also reading Thomas Pynchon, Robert Coover, Borges, Emma Tennant, Angela Carter and Beckett, all of whom seemed to work aspects of the fantastic into what they did. J. G. Ballard’s short fiction, especially, had an elevated hallucinatory effect in terms of how he seemed to treat time and space in a psychological way. He brought you inside his fictions in such a subjective, interactive way that was truly subversive; and all this was achieved largely through the manipulation of language.

When I read that Ballard had said that “science fiction is the poetry of the 20th century” I bought completely into the idea. So, although I was writing fiction I still saw it as part of the poet’s vocation. This is when I discovered the short fictions of Harlan Ellison, who in those days frequently experimented with new ways of writing stories, many of which to me seemed to mimic techniques found in poetry, from repetitive patterning to prose poetry to concrete design of the page. So when I started out as a young poet the literature of the Fantastic was all-pervasive in what I was then reading. But Harlan Ellison had another significant influence on me. His often expressed complaints in those days that he had been ghettoised by the label “science fiction writer” always struck me as confused, for he seemed to confine himself to the very genre publications and publishers that he complained were limiting him. It seemed to me then that the only resort was to try and publish in the mainstream journals, so that’s what I did. And I’ve been publishing my fabulist poetry in the mainstream ever since. And believe me, it’s never been without resistance from the poetry marketplace.

 

In the United States, poetry doesn’t seem to be part of the mainstream consciousness today as much as it was, say, 100 years ago. Why do you think contemporary poetry has found a home among fantasy and science fiction readers?

You know, if you look at poetic tradition going back the last two hundred years, I think you’ll find that most cultures always had a healthy showing of fantasy amongst their poets. The Gothic tradition, for instance, seems to have sprung up everywhere. In America you had Poe and all those who followed after him. And in America the Gothic seems to have evolved into the Weird and in that way was kept alive and evolved further. But if you look at your mainstream you’ll find you also have poets who practise Fabulism as an integral part of what they do. You’ll find plenty of the elements of the Fantastic in poets like W. S. Merwin, John Ashberry, Slyvia Plath and Thomas Lux. And long before Lux you had Philip Lamantia.

In Ireland poets tend to write poems of the Fantastic as a matter of course, but they publish them in the mainstream journals because we have no tradition of science fiction poetry journals over here. In Ireland our solution seems to have been different to what happened in America. You created journals to accommodate your poetry, whereas we in Ireland seem to have stubbornly forced the existing journals to accommodate us! In Ireland this may have been somewhat inevitable, because in our culture the supernatural and the motifs of folktale and myth were often habitually used by writers here anyway, so the journals perhaps found it quite natural to continue publishing and encouraging such work.

 

Besides you, who are three other contemporary poets that our readers ought to go out and find right now?

At the risk of offending my fellow brothers in poetry, I’m going to recommend three women. To my mind the best poetry these days seems to be written by women anyway. It has emotion, resonance and passion, and that’s what I personally require as a reader. I’m also going to be partisan and choose three Irish poets, because I feel your readers will probably not be previously acquainted with them.

The first I’d like to suggest is Máighréad Medbh. When I first came across her over twenty years ago she was described largely as a performance poet; then she became political, and then confessional. Recently she emerged as a mystic and now, currently, she appears to be writing a kind of science fiction. What an absolutely marvellous and dynamic poet she is – always evolving, never still. That’s the kind of poet that inspires readers. Her most recent poetry collection is “Parvit Of Agelast” (Arlen House), an epic fantasy sequence in verse about a strange city and its equally strange inhabitants.

Next I’d recommend the poet Eileen Sheehan, whose poems even of the everyday are often imbued with the resonance of folktale. Her poems are often redolent with mysteries, and can be found in her collections “Song of the Midnight Fox” and “Down the Sunlit Hall” (Doghouse Books).

Finally I’d like to mention Eleanor Hooker, whose poetry vacillates between the haunting and the haunted, between terror and wonder, between the internal and the Other. Her two collections are “The Shadow Owner’s Companion” and “A Tug of Blue” (Dedalus Press).

(Photo of John W. Sexton courtesy of Niall Hartnett.)

 

“Down at the Goblin Boutique” appears in the November/December 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1711.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: J.R. Dawson on “Marley and Marley”

Tell us a bit about “Marley and Marley.”

Marley is a girl who is orphaned at a young age. She also happens to be her only living relative. Old Marley returns to the past to take guardianship of Little Marley, and they’ve got some issues, to put it lightly.

 

J.R. DawsonWhat was the inspiration for the story, or what prompted you to write it?

I’m turning thirty this year. I had a weird decade of twenties. Sometimes I’d stop and look around and think, “What would my kid-self think of our adulthood? Would she be happy with the decisions I’ve made? Am I on track with my goals? Are there enough Disney movies and chocolate things and puppies in my house to make her proud?” These imagined conversations between the two of us started getting overwhelming, especially when I realized in some ways, I’d let her down, and in other ways, there’s no way an eleven-year-old could have fathomed adulthood in 2017.

 

Was “Marley and Marley” personal to you in any way? How?

It’s probably the most personal story I’ve ever written. Usually I make a bunch of fart jokes and give cool girls swords, but this story was quiet and close. It was about my marriage and my dog and my home and my childhood and my hometown and how a size 14 is a normal women’s pants size. Because it is.

 

What would you want a reader to take away from this story?

Be kind to yourself. Reach out to loved ones, even when it’s scary. Especially now in these times, we need each other’s strength. People heal people.

 

What are you working on now?

I just finished a YA manuscript, a space opera with cool queer teens and David Bowie music. And I’m always writing new short stories. You can check out what I’m doing and receive updates by following me on Twitter (@j_r_dawson) and watching my website (www.jrdawson.org).

 

“Marley and Marley” appears in the November/December 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1711.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: David Erik Nelson on “Whatever Comes After Calcutta”

David Erik NelsonTell us a bit about “Whatever Comes After Calcutta.”

This is one of those stories that I think may have accidentally taken on a lot of political overtones that weren’t intentional. I guess that’s for readers to determine; I wrote it mostly in early 2016, well before a lot of what it feels like it’s about actually happened.  This story was locked up well before the election.

Nonetheless, when I go to sum up the story in a Big Picture way, I end up saying the same thing that I said about that election:

I totally hear where folks—angry, aggrieved, not-gonna-take-it-anymore folks—are coming from, because I totally agree with them:  They are getting screwed.  We just totally disagree on who is screwing them, or what is a sensible way to address that.

This story is about that, in a fundamental way.

 

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

My wife and kids and I were on a family vacation, driving through rural Ohio and I turned on NPR.  It was one of those shows where people tell long personal anecdotes—maybe The Moth or Radio Lab?—and the story in question was about a witchcraft investigation/trial in the farmlands outside Calcutta.  For some reason I took the speaker to be telling a story about Calcutta, Ohio (I suppose because we were driving through Ohio), not Kolkata, India.  I get sorta muzzy-headed on these long drives—we used to call this “highway hypnosis”—and there’s an opioid epidemic and . . . it just sorta seemed to make sense.  Then he said something about Bengal, and I realized he was talking about Kolkata, and part of me said “Well, that makes a lot more sense, really” and another part of me said “No, it doesn’t,” because I live in a college town, and meet plenty of folks from India (the engineer up the street, he and his wife are from Chennai), and I can say for a fact that I’ve met more Ohioans who believe in supernatural forces than Indians.

But, so, that’s what got me started.

 

Was “Whatever Comes After Calcutta” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Back when I was in college I used to eat lunch and study at this Coney fairly regularly (my wife tells me that “Coney” is a super-regional term; think “diner that also serves Greek food”).  One time I was in there and the cops came in to remove this guy who was half-a-bubble-off-plumb and getting belligerent.  The cops went and got the waitress who had called them and gave her this card to read.  It was like an incantation, casting him out; the verbiage reminded me of the exorcisms you’d see in the Sunday afternoon thriller on WXOM TV 20.  I guess under Michigan in order to charge someone with trespassing they have to be *knowingly* on the property against the property owner’s will.  So if a business had repeated problems with someone, the cops would have the complainant read out this generic trespass letter while they stood by as witnesses, and then tell the folks something to the effect of “Now, the next time you come in here, it’s automatically criminal trespass, a 30-day misdemeanor; go and sin no more” (or whatever).  But that really struck me, how it was like a magic spell that someone who the law recognizes as empowered can cast, like a magic missile targeted at the down and out.

Meanwhile, I’ve long kept tabs on the militia movement (being from Michigan, and a Jew, there’s a percentage in having a notion of how the wind is blowing in that neck of the woods).  So I got to see the “sovereign citizen” movement germinate, take root, and flourish at first hand.  It’s crazy talk, all of it—but given the experience of the law for folks who have few resources and dodgy education, it’s no crazier than the law that they’re subjected to every day.  I mean, if a waitress can read some magic words and all of a sudden I’m forbidden from getting lemon-chicken soup, why the hell can’t I maybe figure out the magic words not to have to pay for a driver’s license?

There’s something to that crazy logic—logic that, to me, is distinctly “militia logic,” but which is also clearly perfectly valid lawyer logic—that’s enduringly compelling.  It’s got a dark attraction, and I have nothing but compassion for anyone who gets drawn into it.

 

Did you do any research for this story?

I think I mentioned last time we talked, about “There Was a Crooked Man, He Flipped a Crooked House,” I subscribe to a “magpie and junk drawer” approach to research:  My brain locks on to odd shiny things and hordes them.  So, apart from a little light googling to get terminology right, most of the research was decades of accumulated shiny bits, including exotic names for one-light towns, trends in anti-gov’t activism, guns, witchcraft—regular stuff.

That said, I need to thank a lawyer friend, Anne Marie Ellison Miller, for being willing to field a lot of tedious questions as I struggled to get my brain around the lawyering universe.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m about 13,000 words in on a novella related to “There Was a Crooked Man, He Flipped a Crooked House.”  This one is tentatively titled “The Giftschrank, the Golem, the Dread Liberator.”

Project wise, I’ve been setting aside a little time each week to compose tracks from the made-up soundtracks of non-existent movies.  The results get posted here: https://www.davideriknelson.com/sbsb/index.php/category/music/beats-per-week/

 

“Whatever Comes After Calcutta” appears in the November/December 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1711.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. Nelson’s photo will take you to his website at http://davideriknelson.com/

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