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Interview: Debbie Urbanski on “How to Kiss a Hojacki”

Tell us a bit about “How to Kiss a Hojacki.”

I think the story’s intro in F&SF sums up the piece perfectly: it is a story about transformations. If I needed to elaborate, I would say it’s a story that examines how transformations affect our relationships and our ideas about love, especially when only one person in a relationship is being transformed.


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

Like most people, I’ve been following all the #MeToo stories these past years, and what I’ve found missing in the ongoing discussion is the questioning of coercive sex and certain power dynamics in committed relationships. What is owed to a partner or a spouse? Does marriage or commitments make certain behaviors more acceptable? I wanted to probe these questions and maybe open up the discussion a little.


Was “How to Kiss a Hojacki” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I used to have a very idealistic notion of love, believing that love would expand and change along with the people involved in it. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that of course there are limitations to most people’s love. Some changes in our partners are seen as acceptable, some aren’t. Sometimes we fall in love with a certain version of a partner and that might not be an accurate version. So when that person we love changes into who they really are, there can be accusations, feelings of betrayal, and a suggestion of a denial of self. When we love someone, do we love the actual real person, the authentic center of them, or do we love who we think they are? After some difficult years in a complicated relationship, I felt it was time to examine all this stuff in a story.


Was there any aspect of this story that you found difficult to write?

In earlier drafts I wrote what I felt was an accurate portrayal of the husband Michael, but the first readers I shared this story with advised that his thoughts were too extreme. Part of me was like, “But some people actually think like that! Someone really said those things!” But sometimes real isn’t true I suppose, so I spent some time dialing back and restraining the voice.


What would you want a reader to take away from “How to Kiss a Hojacki?”

Really, I’m fine with whatever the reader finds in this story to keep with them. I acknowledge it may be a difficult story to read so kudos to the reader for choosing to engage with it. But here’s my dream takeaway. Let’s consider the possibility of treating other people’s revelations about themselves, and other people’s discoveries about who they really are, with kindness and celebration and love and acceptance whenever possible. And let’s consider expanding our definition of what a committed relationship/marriage looks like. Actually let’s consider getting rid of a rigid definition altogether and let whoever is in that relationship define it fluidly themselves.


Why do you write?

I started writing in part because I couldn’t find my particular perspective or my particular life in books. But I have always loved the process of writing too, the discovery and creation and the revision. Also I’ve found the act of writing a story helps me understand or work through events going on in my life. Writing gives me a safe place to play out my own thought experiments and see what happens.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

I’ll look to the authors and books I love and keep rereading. Shirley Jackson, Alice Munro, Hilary Mantel, Ursula LeGuin, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Grapes of Wrath, and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song for starters. The Wall by Marlen Haushofer showed me speculative fiction, even apocalyptical fiction, can be quiet and slow and still gripping. That was a happy and important revelation. Also I’m grateful to my dad for giving me a thorough introduction to old horror and sci-fi films when I was a kid. A 16mm print of Night of the Living Dead was one of the first movies I remember watching. After that it was The Blob, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The Mummy, some movie about flying brains, Them!, and so forth. He taught me to watch (and read) widely, to ignore genre distinctions, and to find something to engage with in all sorts of stories.


What are you working on now?

I recently finished my first novel so I plan to enjoy writing some short stories for the near future. Currently I’m working on a political alternate reality story and I’m also playing around with mashing together horror and creative non-fiction.


“How to Kiss a Hojacki” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

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Debbie Urbanski’s website:


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