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Interview: Lisa Mason on “Aurelia”

Lisa MasonTell us a bit about “Aurelia.”

I call “Aurelia” my Alfred Hitchcock story. Great wealth, a troubled marriage, a mysterious, possibly psychologically challenged wife, a fabulous but spooky mansion, a murder mystery. If Hitchcock’s film “Vertigo” had supernatural elements—and I wish it did!—that would approach my vision for the story.

I’ve always been fascinated by stories that present the supernatural from a psychological point of view. “My Dear Emily” by Joanna Russ springs to mind. I’m particularly fascinated by the chapter in The Unicorn Tapestry, by Suzy McKee Charnas, which is told from the point-of-view of a psychotherapist who has been asked to counsel Dr. Edward Weyland, a faculty member and professor at her college who has acquired a reputation for being mentally unsound. At first, Weyland resists her therapy, then he begins to describe what sounds like an extreme urban lifestyle. It is revealed, finally, that these are his hunting habits in New York City and he is a vampire.

I wanted Aurelia to be a mystery, perhaps psychological, perhaps not.


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

There is an incredible Mediterranean mansion in the Sausalito hills named Villa Aurelia, which I had an opportunity to tour at length. I was so inspired by the house that I looked up the name and discovered that “aurelia” derives from the Latin “aureus,” meaning golden. The word describes a chrysalis, deriving from the Greek for golden, the final pre-adult stage in the life cycle of a butterfly, in particular certain nymphalid butterflies. The chrysalis is decorated with fine gilt features.

Aurelia, in her human incarnation, is like a chrysalis before she manifests as a full-blown, supernatural, blood-drinking—plot spoiler omitted!

Robert refers to her villa as a golden cocoon. He senses that the house itself has supernatural power.

Coincidentally, I happened to be reading an anthology of vampire stories that included the E.T.A. Hoffman classic “Aurelia.”  I’d never encountered the story before, which is not a typical vampire story. There, too, the Big Reveal of the wife’s true nature is the whole point of the story.


How do you view Robert, the protagonist of your story? Is he sympathetic or does he get his just desserts?

Oh, he’s an SOB. But he’s a charming and witty SOB with whom you’d like to go to your favorite Italian restaurant and drink a lot of merlot. At thirty, he’s totally cynical about love and marriage and already promiscuous. He’s hardworking but he carefully considers whether his conduct as an attorney is unethical, how he can avoid getting into trouble, and does it anyway.

He’s loyal to his best friend Trevor, to the law firm they work for. And he sincerely loves Aurelia and supports her “right to be different.”

However! Aurelia has bespelled Robert right from the start. She’s sensed him from afar, sought him out. He senses her presence watching him before he even meets her. She proceeds to make him her human servant.

Plenty of supernatural entities require human servants to negotiate their way in the human world, people the supernatural entity doesn’t kill or transform into their own kind. Dracula has a human servant, Renfield, who is driven mad.

So even though Aurelia seems as if she’s been taken advantage of by Robert, in fact she’s the one in control. His activities in the human world are of no interest to her. She needs him to take care of the house, of her, and provide her with progeny. Which he does.

So it feels as if he’s gotten his just desserts. But for me, Robert’s end is tragic, the inevitable, inexorable result of him discovering the truth about Aurelia.


What did you learn for this story that you did not already know, if anything?

I researched butterflies, how they undergo amazing physical transformations in their lifetimes, what they eat—not only nectar from blossoms! How they use scents to attract mates and repel enemies, and relentlessly pursue procreation. Some females mate with multiple males to ensure they conceive. Some lay multiple eggs, some species a single egg.

Aurelia chooses Robert because of his strong reproductive urge. As a human servant to a supernatural entity, he realizes he’s become a sex addict in the human world. He’s not happy about that. He senses that his addiction stems from Aurelia’s bespellment.

Aurelia doesn’t care—she needs his urge toward her in order to produce the daughter she needs to continue her supernatural line.

Also, in terms of research, I wasn’t that familiar with E.T.A. Hoffman’s body of dark Victorian fantasy beyond his story, “Aurelia.” I learned about his other classic story, “The Nutcracker.”


Anything else you’d like to add?

“Riddle” in the September-October 2017 68th Anniversary issue of F&SF and now “Aurelia” in the January-February 2018 issue have started a mini-trend for me of dark modern fantasy. I mostly write science fiction and modern fantasy. In both of those F&SF stories, I plumbed some depth of darkness in myself—to my surprise.
Then I realized I’d written another dark modern fantasy, “Felicitas,” that fits right in with this mini-trend. The story also presents a supernatural female monster and her troubles with men and sex.

“Felicitas” is written entirely from the supernatural entity’s point-of-view and was published in Desire Burn: Women Writing from the Dark Side of Passion (Carroll & Graf), edited by the late Janet Berliner, who was the president of Horror Writers of America at the time. I republished the story in Strange Ladies: 7 Stories, my collection of previously published short SFF fiction. You will find the ebook on all the retailers. As of December 2017, you will also find the book in print at Enjoy!


“Aurelia” appears in the January/February 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

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Clicking on Ms. Mason’s photo will take you to her website.

You can also find Ms. Mason on social media:



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