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Interview: William Ledbetter on “The Beast from Below”

William LedbetterTell us a bit about “The Beast from Below.”

It’s the story of a love-sick sheriff in 1950s rural Oklahoma where nothing exciting ever happens, who is suddenly confronted with a monster that has destroyed a house and apparently killed a family. The object of his forlorn love is a gun-toting, fast-talking lady mayor of the nearby town who sees the monster as a chance to put her little town on the map.

 

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

I have a long-time love for these giant critter movies from the 50s and early 60s and have collected the best ones on DVD. I still watch them when I have a free Sunday afternoon, much to the dismay of my poor wife who just groans and rolls her eyes when she enters the room to see soldiers and scientists fighting a building-sized insect. Of course, we now know that radiation exposure doesn’t create these kinds of monstrosities, and since those early days science fiction has grown more sophisticated and explores much deeper and more realistic issues, but that doesn’t stop me from loving these old stories.

When a friend proposed an anthology filled with speculative fiction stories set in Oklahoma during the 1950s my mind of course turned to those old movies. The anthology never got off the ground, but I had so much fun writing the story and liked the characters so much, that I had to finish it and try to find it a home.

 

What aspect of “The Beast from Below” was the most fun for you to write?

My goal in writing this story was to pay homage to these old movies, but I’m the first to admit that due to social mindsets of the period, those plots and characters are rife with problems. So I set out to turn some of these tropes and stereotypes upside down without losing the “flavor” of the giant monster movie. Instead of a woman added to the plot as nothing more than a prop for the male hero to save, Mable Harjo is a smart, professional, strong-willed and competent native American woman. Instead of a steely-eyed, brilliant scientist who saves the world by finding the beast’s one weakness, Doctor Lawrence is a self-aggrandizing blowhard and coward. And my reluctant hero, Harry, is more of an Andy Griffith type sheriff instead of the typical square-jawed military officer.

 

What are you working on now?

I’ll be announcing the sale of a novel later this spring and have just finished edits on that. I have a story coming out in the July/August F&SF, new stories later this year in Analog, Asimov’s and a Baen anthology called “Homo Stellaris.” I’m also working on another novel and various short fiction projects. For those who might have missed it, I also run a contest for Baen Books and The National Space Society called the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award Contest, where we give an award and publication for stories about humanity’s near future in space. I also edited an anthology containing sixteen of the best stories from the first ten years of that contest called Jim Baen Memorial Award: The First Decade. The details about this anthology and all the above-mentioned stories can be found on my website: williamledbetter.com

 

“The Beast from Below” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1803.htm

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