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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.

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