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Interview: Jenn Reese on “The Right Number of Cats”

Tell us a bit about “The Right Number of Cats.”

When I experience grief, I am always surprised by the disconnect between my actions and my thoughts. Why did I just put the mail in the microwave? Why did a wet leaf stuck to the car window make me burst into tears? Why am I standing in the bathroom staring at the mirror, and how long have I been here? In this story, I wanted to capture that sense of unmooring from cause and effect. I wish this story also held the answer to saving ourselves from the pain of grief, but I’m afraid I haven’t figured that one out yet.

 

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

I wrote the story in response to a prompt provided by one of my writers’ groups, although the initial prompt didn’t make it into the final version of the story. That’s how these things go sometimes — your brain or the words jump from one place to the next and you sometimes don’t remember how you arrived at your final destination. In this case, I began with the arrival of a strange cat and went from there.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

My biggest influence for this piece was probably “The Body,” a season 5 episode of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer in which the characters deal with the death of Buffy’s mother, Joyce. There is a moment when one of the characters can’t find a particular sweater to wear, and in her grief, the entire world seems to hinge on that one, inconsequential detail. I love how messy everyone is, how their reactions are in character and so out of character at the same time.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m revising a middle grade novel that, much like this story, involves magical animals and larger, darker themes. It’s the story of girl dealing with a sudden change in her living situation and the animals from a card game that “come to life” and complicate her acclimation. It’s also about recovery from child abuse, making friends, and staying open to hope. I’ll be able to announce it later this year, and it will be published in 2020.

 

“The Right Number of Cats” appears in the January/February 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1901.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: Erin Cashier on “Fifteen Minutes from Now”

Tell us a bit about “Fifteen Minutes from Now.”

I basically was watching an episode of The Flash where Barry was saving lives in alternate timelines — despite the fact that by him going back and ‘fixing’ his own, he’d be negating those timeline’s very existence. That led me to thinking about what you’d actually do with that kind of power, obviously something dark and military, and “Fifteen Minutes from Now” was born.

 

What was the most difficult aspect of writing “Fifteen Minutes from Now,” and what was the most fun?

It wasn’t difficult once I had the voice, it’s a very tight voice-y piece, and I knew where it was going immediately. I wrote it like as a monologue intentionally, to turn it into something I could imagine an actor really chewing on and selling hard.

 

How has being a nurse influenced how you see the world and what you choose to write about?

I have a very dark sense of humor and have the world’s strongest stomach. If I tell you you don’t want to know what I did at work today I’m never, ever, wrong.

As far as how that influences what I choose to write about — in general, this piece aside, most of my work is more positive because I see how fragile the human condition is every day. We’re only here for a little while and life is a tenuous endeavor at best, so I usually try to be more encouraging and fun.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Dune, MUSE, Escaflowne, Dominica Phetteplace, Rachel Swirsky.

 

What are you working on now?

A young adult novel and a co-writing project with a friend.

 

“Fifteen Minutes from Now” appears in the January/February 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1901.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: Pip Coen on “The Fall from Griffin’s Peak”

Tell us a bit about “The Fall from Griffin’s Peak.”

“The Fall from Griffin’s Peak” is a story about Rosemary Hunt: an opportunistic thief who gets tricked into stealing a Griffin’s Tear, an absurdly difficult task with huge risk. Can she play the game well enough to come out ahead, and can she live with the results if she does?

 

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

For once, I know the answer to this! When I was at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UCSD, Karen Joy Fowler told us about what she called a “story of revelation”—one where the ending completely rewrites the readers perception of events and character motivations. I’ve tried to capture this a few times and mostly failed. The seed for this specific attempt was a side quest in the computer game “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.” Anyone who’s played that game can probably guess which one I’m talking about. Hopefully the effect worked for some readers at least!

 

“The Fall from Griffin’s Peak” is your first fantasy story.  Did you find it harder or easier to write than science fiction, or do you not make much distinction between the two genres?

Although this was my first foray into writing fantasy, the genre heavily outweighed science fiction on my childhood bookshelf. Back then, I probably spent more hours in secondary worlds than the real one, so writing this story felt like putting on comfy shoes I’d never worn before. It wasn’t harder to write than science fiction, but it certainly wasn’t any easier! Every story presents new challenges—if it didn’t, I’d probably lose interest before I finished writing it.

 

Why do you write?

I spend most of my days trying to understand how neural networks make decisions. It’s a job that necessitates a lot of care: both in collecting data and interpreting it. But like most scientists, I also love to speculate and hypothesize about the unknown, and some of my stories wouldn’t exist without the absurd debates that take place in our lab coffee hour. Writing genre fiction lets me leave the careful analysis behind and spend some time with far-flung possibilities (and impossibilities). There is nothing more rewarding than putting your imagination on a page and hearing that other people enjoyed reading about it.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

The single biggest influence on my writing career was one of the first short stories I read: “Selkie Stories are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar. It’s a phenomenal piece of writing that completely transformed my concept of what could be achieved in a short story. After reading it, I immediately trashed the (terrible) novel I was writing and started studying the art of short stories. I don’t think I’ll ever bottle the kind of magic that exists in “Selkie Stories,” but if not for that story, I’d still be bottling something closer to toilet water!

 

What are you working on now?

In 2018 I managed to finish a (short) novella. It was a labor of love, with an emphasis on labor, so while I try to find it a home, I’m retreating to the comforting balm of short stories for a while. I’m toying with some different ideas, mostly in the realm of science fiction. I hope a few of them will become fully fledged stories in 2019.

 

“The Fall from Griffin’s Peak” appears in the January/February 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1901.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

Visit the author’s website: http://pipcoen.com/

Interview: Leah Cypess on “Blue as Blood”

Leah CypessWriters often say that their stories are personal to some degree or another, but the writer is not necessarily his or her narrator.  How much do you tend to identify with your protagonists, in both this story and your other work?  What are your thoughts, if any, on authors writing protagonists that are either very similar or very different from themselves?

Blue as Blood was a very personal story for me, in a very specific way — I took one aspect of my personality and my emotional reaction to things, and a story came out of that. As a writer, that’s a frightening thing to do, because people will look at the story and think, “This is who you are,” when in fact it’s only a very small part of who you are. (And in my case, this is actually a part I don’t necessarily think is positive and generally try to suppress.)

It’s essentially an angry story, and I am not an angry person, so presenting that side of myself to the world (or at least to the readership of F&SF) has, to be honest, induced some anxiety in me.

 

An overarching question that “Blue as Blood” appears to pose is, who has the right to be offended?  Could you go into any depth on this idea as it relates to your story?

In this case, I would prefer to let the story to stand for itself. Although obviously my own thoughts and emotions about real-world situations went into the story, I almost never try to make my stories specifically parallel to any real-world situations. The Pinj are not a stand-in for some real-world thing, and neither is the color blue.

In fact, one of the ways I knew this story was ready to go was when a bunch of my critique partners all had different interpretations of it, but Nina’s emotions rang true to all of them — even to those who heavily disliked her.

 

Can you discuss any significance that you see in Nina’s character arc, that ultimately she becomes hardened in her point of view rather than changing it?

As I said above, this is an angry story, and I essentially gave Nina permission to be as angry as she wanted to. Even though I strongly prefer to write stories with happy or redemptive endings, and I considered such an ending for this story, I didn’t think that was what the story needed.

There was an early draft where Nina had a very different arc — the plot revolved around the leader of an underground movement of Pinj-sympathizers who recruited her; suffice it to say, it was one of those messy wrong turns that can completely wreck a story if you don’t recognize it and cut it in time. Luckily, I realized that Nina didn’t need to have another angry and extremist character to feel conflicted about. She was the angry and extremist character.

 

Could you discuss your decision to give Nina blue eyes? 

I knew from very early in the process that Nina was going to have blue eyes. When I started writing the story, in fact, I thought it was going to end with the reveal that her eyes are blue — it would have been a fact that influenced the story all along, but the reader wouldn’t realize it until the end. But as the story developed, that started to feel like a bit of a cheap trick to me. While her blue eyes are integral to the story, they aren’t actually the point of the story, so I revealed their existence earlier.

 

What do you think the fact that none of the characters in “Blue as Blood” can articulate a rational justification for the Pinjs’ and Nina’s beliefs about the color blue says about those beliefs?

Oh, I could go on and on about this, but I won’t. Suffice it to say, I think that for most people, rationality is not the sole underlying reason for any of their beliefs or attitudes. Some people are lucky enough to be able to rationalize well, and to have beliefs and attitudes that *can* be rationalized well in the culture they live in. Others are not.

(Note the words “most” and “only” in that paragraph; I’m not as extreme about this as I probably sound, and I’m aware that it’s only an opinion. But it’s an opinion that is very much in the forefront of this story.)

 

This is your third story for F&SF and they’ve all been so different. “Cupid’s Compass” (Sept/Oct 2016) was about marriage and happiness. “Neko Brushes” (May/June 2017) was a retelling of a Japanese folk tale. Do you see a common thread in your work that might not be obvious to readers or do you let inspiration take you off in many different directions?

The latter! Like most people, I have many different areas of interest, preoccupation, and concern in my life; my ideas tend to stem from any of these areas, and I approach each thing I write as its own contained unit. With that said, there are some things that loom larger in my life and tend to appear in a lot of my work (I’ve got quite a number of stories about parenting, for example). But there are also some that come out of more particular interests — i.e. I absolutely love retellings, but I don’t tend to feel the need to retell any particular folktale more than once. And “Blue as Blood” is, I think, different in tone from any of the other stories I’ve written so far.

Of course, sometimes a writer is the last person to see the truth about their own work; if someone else says they see a common theme in my books and stories, well, I wouldn’t necessarily argue with them.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

I believe that every single writer I read and loved as a child influences my writings now, often in ways that are opaque to me. For example: I’ve watched The Last Unicorn about twice a year since I was seven years old, until I literally knew it by heart; I used to mentally replay the entire thing in my head whenever I was bored in school. My first novel, Mistwood, starts with two men riding into an enchanted forest inhabited by a supernatural creature who is going to end up trapped in the form of a human girl — pretty much the exact opening of the film. And yet I didn’t realize how strongly Mistwood was influenced by The Last Unicorn until I had already sold the book and was working on revisions with my editor.

All of which is to say that when asked to talk about my influences, I really can’t do better than to rattle off the list of authors I read multiple times as a child, and therefore assume have influenced my work! David Eddings, Connie Willis, Dave Duncan, Juliet Marillier, Diana Wynne Jones, Edward Eager, L.M. Montgomery, Mercedes Lackey, Isaac Asimov, Herman Wouk, Agatha Christie… I could probably go on for another page, but I won’t.

And of course, it doesn’t stop. Those might be the authors baked most deeply into my subconscious, but I constantly discover new amazing works of fiction, and think, “Oooh, look how they did that, I want to do something like that, too.” Just this weekend, I read an incredible YA fantasy novel called The Graces by Eve Laure, and am now determined to write something where I pull off what she pulled off in that book. (Read the book, and find out what I’m talking about! Trust me.)

 

“Blue as Blood” appears in the January/February 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1901.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

Visit Leah Cypess’s website: www.leahcypess.com

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