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Interview: James Sallis on “Bedtime Story”

What was the inspiration for “Bedtime Story,” or what prompted you to write it?

As with many of my stories, the first lines dropped onto me out of the blue; the story came as I went about finding out what those lines meant.

 

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

That the world does not belong, has never belonged, to any single group, race, religion, nation — or even species, including mankind.  Others will have their turn.

 

Why do you write?

One of my poems pretty much covers that: “Find beauty, try to understand, survive.”

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

That would be a very long list.  One of the first who made me want to do this myself was Theodore Sturgeon.  I go back to him again and again, still astonished every time.

 

How does your book reviewing inform your fiction writing, if at all?

It reminds me how many fine writers and how much fine writing is out there.  It keeps me honest.

 

“Bedtime Story” appears in the July/August 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1807.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/B004ZFZ4O

Interview: Ashley Blooms on “Hainted”

Ashley BloomsTell us a bit about “Hainted.”

“Hainted” is a story that I’ve wanted to write for a long time. I grew up in a very small Appalachian town that was dominated by the coal industry. My entire childhood and my whole family were shaped by the mines. I knew that I wanted, and needed, to reckon with the impact of that in my fiction, but I wasn’t sure how to begin until I found Dallas and Johnny.

 

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

This story actually came out of Clarion UCSD in 2017. Lynda Barry and Dan Chaon guided us through a lot of generative exercises during week one and the two characters from this story—a little girl and her best friend’s father—emerged from one of those exercises. So Dallas and Johnny started out as two very poorly drawn doodles in a composition notebook. 

 

Was there any aspect of “Hainted” that you found difficult to write?

Emotionally, I found the writing of the haints themselves to be difficult. For many Americans, coal mines are a distant concept or talking point in recent news cycles, but for me, the mines were always both tangible and inescapable. My dad was an electrician in the mines so there were always rolls of electrical tape all over the house that we’d use to patch leaky sinks or spliced wires or cut fingers. Coal dust from his coveralls swirled along the kitchen floor and the mines were evident in how stiffly he walked or how much he slept on his days off, his constant aches and pains. So the haints became a representation of many of those things, including what the miners lost physically and emotionally due to chronic pain. The haints are also cobbled together with pieces of coal, which speaks, I think, to the reality of black lung. Miners work so long and so closely with this substance that it literally becomes a part of them, but a part that doesn’t belong. I wanted to explore the connection that’s forged between miner and mine, which meant making the physicality of the work very present in this story. But as true as it felt to do that, it was also hard to occupy that space at times.

 

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

This is a hard question, because I can never know what the reader is bringing to the story or how much of themselves they’ll find within it. So I guess that’s part of what I want from every story I write—a moment of recognition or connection, the feeling of being seen or understood. I hope for any stranger to coal mining or southeastern Kentucky that they can see part of themselves reflected here, and in seeing that, come to know Appalachia as something not separate from the rest of the world, not isolated in time or space. I hope that anyone back home who reads this story feels within it the deep love and concern that I have for our home and that they see themselves portrayed with tenderness and with honesty. And I hope that readers enjoy the story as a story, as something that is entertaining and pleasurable that transports them someplace new for a little while.

 

Why do you write?

I write because I need help understanding myself and the world around me, but also because I need an escape from those things. I write because I get so grumpy when I don’t, and because stories give me a kind of joy that nothing else can. I write because I was a lonely kid and a lonely adult who believes stories are bridges to other people as much as they’re bridges to other places. 

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

I have so many! Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love had a very particular impact on me as a young writer, especially in giving me permission to write about things that I may have considered out of bounds before reading that book. Shirley Jackson, Octavia Butler, Marilynne Robinson, Louise Erdrich, Kelly Link, Daniel Woodrell, Lewis Nordan, Dorothy Allison, Stephen King, and many others.

 

What are you working on now?

For most of this year I was hard at work revising a novel, which I’ve recently begun submitting to agents. So now that the book is out of my hands, I’ve split my time between revising short stories that have been neglected for too long and toying with a new novel idea, because I’m a glutton for punishment.

 

“Hainted” appears in the July/August 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1807.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/B004ZFZ4O

Clicking on Ashley Blooms’ picture will take you to her website.

Interview: Cassandra Rose Clarke on “The Adjunct”

Tell us a bit about “The Adjunct.”

The Adjunct is my take on H. P. Lovecraft and teaching freshman composition for less than minimum wage.

 

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

I wrote this story during my last semester as an adjunct English instructor. At the time, I was teaching six classes for two different colleges. I had over 100 students (which meant I was grading over 100 papers at any given time.) I loved teaching, but I was also frustrated with it—including my students’ inability to learn any kind of citation system. The very concept seemed to drive them to unspeakable madness. It seemed only natural to explore these frustrations in a Lovecraftian milieu.

 

Cassandra Rose ClarkeWhat was the most difficult aspect of writing “The Adjunct,” and what was the most fun?

The most difficult aspect was taking the basic idea (evil citation system!) and turning it into an actual story with a plot arc and such. The most fun was definitely creating said evil citation system and trying to make it as confusing and opaque as possible.

 

Why do you write?

I’ve always loved stories in all their various forms—not just books, but movies, TV shows, even music and art. I love how we can use stories to explore complex ideas that might be difficult or boring to talk about otherwise. I also love playing with language.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

My biggest influence is definitely Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The first time I read One Hundred Years of Solitude it absolutely blew my mind. I’ve also been influenced by Margaret Atwood, Kelly Link, and Charles Baudelaire.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the sequel to my forthcoming Halo book, a new fantasy novel, and a poetic sequence about ballet and black metal.

 

“The Adjunct” appears in the July/August 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1807.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/B004ZFZ4O

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

Interview: Rachel Pollack on “Visible Cities”

Rachel PollackTell us a bit about “Visible Cities.”

“Visible Cities” belongs to the world of The Travelers, first ​featured in the story “Jack Shade In The Forest Of Souls,” published in F&SF in July/August 2012, so exactly 6 years ago.  The Travelers are the true sorcerers, shamans, magicians, witches, etc. of humanity, going back to our earliest beginnings, but always hidden from everyday human culture, which they call “linear.”  Up until now, all the stories have featured Jack, who is a noir character, based in part on an old television show called “Have Gun, Will Travel.”  For “Visible Cities” I decided to focus on Jack’s girl friend, the Dutch Traveler, Carolien Hounstra, first introduced in the second Traveler story, “The Queen Of Eyes” (which came in 7th in the Locus poll that year).  Carolien is a scholar and a thief as well as a magician, but for this story I decided to look at her origin.

 

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

I was actually asked by an editor if I wanted to write a story about cities.  I immediately thought of Italo Calvino’s great novel, Invisible Cities, and the title “Visible Cities’ was born.  The story quickly grew beyond the scope of the original suggestion–all the Traveler stories are novellas or novelettes–and since their “home,” in a sense, is F&SF I wanted to send it there.  Calvino wrote of magical wondrous cities described by Marco Polo to his master, Genghis Khan.  They were “invisible” because they were remote and mysterious.  I wanted to write of cities, places, known only to the Travelers, but in some special way “visible,” like The City Of Visible Shame, where people tattoo their sins and crimes all over their bodies.  But since I wanted this to be Carolien’s origin story I decided to send her on a quest to these strange places, in search of her teacher, who has mysteriously vanished.  Another fun inspiration was the address of a “pen pal” friend (I collect fountain pens, and many of us in that world write long letters to each other).  She lives on a street called Shadow Court, so that became one of the cities, a place where people believe that only their shadows are real, and they don’t exist without a shadow.

 

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

First of all, I was able to pay tribute to one of my heroes, Italo Calvino.  But I also lived for seventeen years in Amsterdam, so I enjoyed beginning the story there.  The character of Margarethe the Reader was based on the wife of the wonderful Nick Schors (long dead, sadly) who published my first Tarot book, 78 Degrees of Wisdom, in 1980 (and never out of print, with a third edition due out next year).  The Hebrew manuscript she has Carolien identify, The Book Of The Angel Raziel, is a real book, published, in Hebrew, in Amsterdam in 1701.  The English translation of some years ago was a main inspiration for The Raziel Tarot, a deck I co-created with artist Robert M. Place (the quotation Carolien “translates” is from the book).  And finally, the chant that begins “See what there is to see,” has appeared in one way or another in a good number of my stories, going back to the novel Unquenchable Fire in 1987.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Oh, so many.  Calvino, Philip Dick, Octavia Butler, Nicola Grifith, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, more recently Nnedi Okorafor–and various non-fiction writers taking radical approaches to mythology and spirituality, such as Annie Dillard, Normandi Ellis, and Roberto Calasso –the list goes on and on!

 

What are you working on now?

I’m playing with ideas about human/animal transformations.  I’m at the exciting stage where a story is beginning to emerge from masses of material.

 

“Visible Cities” appears in the July/August 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1807.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/B004ZFZ4O

Clicking on Ms. Pollack’s photo will take you to her blog.

Interview: Corey Flintoff on “The Queen of the Peri Takes Her Time”

Tell us a bit about “The Queen of the Peri Takes Her Time.”

The queen is drawn from various Middle-Eastern traditions, mostly Persian. The Peri are roughly equivalent to European fairies, although they lean to the darker side. The queen occasionally takes human lovers, because she’s excited by the humans’ ephemeral beauty and their desperate life force. Interactions between humans and immortals never go well.

The hero is the most recent of the queen’s lovers, and he’s terrified of her revenge, because he’s broken his promise to her. He enlists the help of an old revolutionary, a djinni and a skeptical young woman named Huda, but he discovers that the key to his survival really lies in his own greatest weakness.

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

I’ve always been fascinated by stories about hands, like The Red Hand of Ulster, The Hand of Fatima, etc. The hand is such a symbol of our power as humans. I had a scene in my mind about an old soldier with a missing hand, but I didn’t know how he’d lost it. I had to tell myself the prologue to the story, and that prompted the rest.

Corey FlintoffWas “The Queen of the Peri Takes Her Time” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

The story is based on my experiences as a reporter in the Middle East. One of the models for the character of Faiz Mungummery Khan was a Kurdish health official I met in Erbil. He had a photo on his wall that showed him among a group of young Peshmerga rebels who were fighting Saddam Hussein. He shook his head sadly. “They’re all dead now.” Other models for Faiz were remarkable men I met in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The djinni, Shamhurish al-Tayyar, is modeled on a guy I used to play pool with in Baghdad (that’s you, Ahmed 2). Huda is drawn from several very brave and resourceful interpreters and fixers I worked with during various wars and civil convulsions.

Has your training in journalism shaped how you approach fiction writing, and why turn to writing fiction at all?

I was a radio reporter for many years, and that makes you sensitive to the cadences of people’s voices, even when they’re speaking other languages. Since radio has no visual component, you have to provide that for your listeners with crisp physical descriptions, so that’s something I think about a lot. Why write fiction? It’s a healing thing for me, a way to provide resolutions for things I’ve seen in the real world that seem too awful to ever be resolved.

What are you working on now?

As in “The Queen of the Peri,” I like stories where old traditions and fears intrude on modern life. I’m working on stories about a wood nymph in a college town, a demon who’s portrayed in one of Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings, and trickster animals who assume human form.

I also write literary short stories, including a flash fiction that appears on American Short Fiction’s website this month, and a piece in the next edition of Glimmer Train.

“The Queen of the Peri Takes Her Time” appears in the July/August 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1807.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/B004ZFZ4O

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