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Interview: Pip Coen on “Second Skin”

Tell us a bit about “Second Skin.”

Second Skin is a story about Saskia, a mute daughter of a wealthy family, and her evolving relationship with a local farmer. We follow Saskia via the patchworked memories of our narrator, the farmer, as she tries to cling onto her world, even though it doesn’t seem to want her.

 

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

Over one of our typically eclectic lab coffee hours, a colleague told me about the trick to encourage a ewe to bond with a different lamb after her own lamb died. It was a gorgeous little factoid and went straight into my steadily expanding list of story ideas. I don’t know how my colleague feels about being the inspiration for Saskia’s final act…

 

Pip CoenWas “Second Skin” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Thankfully, most aspects of this story came from my imagination rather than personal experience. I’m lucky enough to come from a family where arguments never escalated to the point of skin removal (although they came close once or twice). However, this is the second story I have published in F&SF that centres on a character who doesn’t fit into the world that was built around them. Although the resolutions are very different, it’s a theme that’s close to my heart and one I revisit often in my fiction.

 

Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for this story?

Shamefully little! I probably should have researched more about farms and farming, but I tend not to worry about that those details too much. Or to put it another way, if a reader is worried about those details, then maybe I didn’t make the core story interesting enough. On the other hand, I did research the tanning of leather for probably too long, trying to make sure the relative timings worked out. It led me onto some rather strange websites…

 

What was the most difficult aspect of writing this story, and what was the most fun?

The most difficult aspect was trying to develop the central characters and their relationship using the narrative lens of an introverted farmer interacting with a girl who can’t speak to him. Thanks to some great feedback from my writing group, I’m happy with the way it works in the final version. The most fun aspect was definitely the ending. I knew how the story would end before I started it—I usually do—and the imagery in this piece was particularly fun to play with.

 

What are you working on now?

I have several short stories in the works that I’m passionate about, so I’ll be trying to finish those and send them out later this year. The ideas piled up while I was writing a novella last year, and I’m enjoying returning to a shorter medium for now.

 

“Second Skin” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1905.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

Click on Pip Coen’s photo to visit his website.

Interview: Bruce McAllister on “Breath”

Tell us a bit about “Breath.”

Thanks to a family that lived by one ocean or another my entire childhood, I grew up in the biological sciences and marine sciences, have always loved animals and the sea (our father was a career Navy officer and oceanographer, to use the civilian term), and for fifty years now have been writing and publishing about animals and the sea.  My first published short story, as a teenager, was about a telepathic merboy whom invading aliens couldn’t defeat; my first published novel (the “Ace Special” HUMANITY PRIME—which wouldn’t have seen print without the editorial midwifery of Terry Carr), which came from that story, was a far-future stream-of-consciousness ode to the merpeople human beings would become on a distant planet; and in the late 80’s and early 90’s I published a series of stories about endangered species and how we might try to save them, resurrect them or modify them as they began to die in our world.  More recently (with two stories in F&SF—“Dreampet” and “Breath”), I find myself writing about the near-future genetic engineering of pets and other creatures and the dark side of corporate profits and fickle human nature even if love, like life itself, somehow manages to find a way.

 

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

I fished a lot as a kid when our father was stationed in San Diego.  These were my late elementary and middle school years (my brother Jack is four years younger), and they were wonderful years on a great bay and peninsula, Point Loma, with its tide pools, bat rays, bait barges, schools of mackerel and thirty-pound halibut, and sharks often much bigger than they should be where swimmers swim.   A couple of years ago, not having fished in decades, I bought a rod and reel and tackle and went out on a half day charter fishing boat from Newport Harbor to try to capture those old feelings.  It wasn’t the best season for fishing, and the handful of people on the boat were catching only “rock fish,” no yellowtail, nothing very big or glorious. That was fine with me; but, when I pulled up what was on my line, I saw the most beautiful creature I’d seen in my life from California waters, felt feelings I hadn’t felt as a kid, and knew I wouldn’t be fishing anymore.  I don’t say this with any judgment of others; it’s simply that the conflicts were too much for me personally at that point in my life, one where the joys of hunting and capturing (of owning what filled me with wonder) were suddenly messy–compromised by compassion, beauty and a desire to see beauty live on.  Those feelings of course gave rise too “Breath.”

 

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

No.  It’s a very short story; and as many writers will tell you, one kind of love or other—even if it takes the form of righteous indignation or rage or sadness and loss and longing or conflicting mixes of all of these—is how we get into a story; and I had the feelings I needed to launch and finish a very short story.

 

Why do you write?

Like many writers, I can’t really answer that question except to say that I go a little (or a lot) crazy if I don’t.  Sometimes I think I order the universe for myself by writing, and by ordering it I give it meaning for myself.  Sometimes I think I write in order to memorialize the events and feelings that have been most important to me, that they not be lost (as the replicant Roy in BLADERUNNER would put it) to time.  (Much of my SFF is autobiographical, especially in these later years.)  Often I just don’t know the answer, but I do have to write—even if there are periods when I don’t write enough.  (Yes, even writers who’ve been doing it for five decades can have their blocks.)

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

A long list of SFF writers, other “genre” writers and “literary fiction” writers.  We find in the published work of others—friends, colleagues, mentors, strangers living and dead—what we must to teach us the craft we need to make our own fictive magic and to affirm the spirit of what we feel compelled to write as a bridge between us and the world.  But a partial list would include Par Lagerkvist, William Styron, Ursula Le Guin, William Golding, Robert Ludlum, James Lee Burke, Lee Child, Harry Harrison, Fred Pohl, Barry Malzberg, A. E. van Vogt, William Gibson, and Cordwainer Smith.

 

What are you working on now?

Other stories in the “Dreampet” world, a novel expansion of my 2006 Hugo-nominee short story “Kin,” a novel based on the “Emilio” stories set in a dreamy Italian Renaissance, and other stories set in that northern Italian fishing village where, thanks to our father I spent a magical two years as a young teenager becoming addicted to SFF for the first time—a village I’ve written about a lot over the past fifteen years.  One always returns-or at least a writer like myself does—to what one loves.

  

“Breath” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1905.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: David Gullen on “The Moss Kings”

David GullenTell us a bit about “The Moss Kings.”

Magic has returned to the land, but its wielders are not nice, and are very powerful. In an attempt to resist their demands, a feudal, rural society takes the first faltering steps towards a form of scientific method. The story is told through the eyes of a messenger, a young man tasked with delivering bad news, who seeks his own place in a dangerous and changing world.

 

 

 

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

One way to look at genre fiction is as an ongoing conversation of ideas and treatments, an examination of what currently fascinates us informed by the achievements of contemporary writers, the back catalogue, and so on. While I don’t believe the genres form a movement, they do have direction. A story one writer tells can inspire another, sometimes obliquely, sometimes with a direct thought along the lines of ‘Ah, yes, but what if you did it this way?’ Most of the time for me stories, non-fiction, and everything else, go into what I think of as a subconscious melting pot that then – somehow – feeds back into what I do. In this case a particular tale pressed a few buttons directly, resonated with some ideas that hadn’t yet become a story, and drew them into focus.

 

Was “The Moss Kings” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I trained as a plant biologist, the world we live in is biological from the atmosphere to the oceans. Even some of the geology, like chalk deposits, would not exist without life. I enjoy inventing a botanical take on the fantastic in my writing – if the story will support it. The world of “The Moss Kings” was very accommodating, and the names of the magical entities arrived like gifts.

 

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

One of the things I adore about genre fiction is that a story can put you into a wider world of imaginary cultures with their own beliefs, hopes and fears, a past, an unfolding future, all set in real and mythic landscapes you feel you could walk into and discover more stories of your own imagination. If I’ve inspired any of that in some readers then I am very content.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Originally, Vance and Ballard, Tanith Lee, Gene Wolfe, Hugh Lofting. King Neptune (who baptised me when I was three years old, a story in its own right). For “The Moss Kings” I’m sure I channelled a mix of Robert Holdstock, Lord Dunsany, and Sylvia Townsend Warner. I’ve read far too many history books, and books on myths and fairy stories. And… this is a list that goes on and on, like that melting-pot of ideas. I doubt I could truly finish it, for one thing it keeps growing.

I also have my critical and supporting influences – my friends, mentors and other writers who give me sound advice and upon whom I can lean for support when I am in need.

 

What are you working on now?

Three main things at the moment: I’m part-way through the final draft of a fantasy novel before I send it out on submission; somewhere in the middle of an SF novel of cavern-cities at war on a dying world; and finally, staring out the window and stroking my beard about a short story I’ve been asked to submit to an anthology.

 

“The Moss Kings” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1905.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

David Gullen’s website: http://davidgullen.com/

David Gullen’s latest book, Shopocalypse, described as “A Bonnie and Clyde for the Trump Era” out from NewCon Press: http://www.newconpress.co.uk/info/book.asp?id=135&referer=Catalogue

Interview: Andy Dudak on “The Abundance”

Andy DudakTell us a bit about “The Abundance.”

It’s the story of a radical and possibly dangerous therapy for PTSD. It’s about how an empire or state manipulates its agents, much like a parasite manipulates its host. It’s a bit of a spy story, though mostly in flashback. This mixed bag is delivered in the form journal entries, amid naturalist-style observations of an alien ecology. So it’s odd, hopefully in a good way.

 

 

 

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

I’d been translating Bao Shu’s ‘The Lighthouse Girl’ for Clarkesworld and was inspired to try the epistolary form. I’d been trying to use the concept of extended phenotype in my stories for years, unsuccessfully, so that was still floating around in my head. I wanted to write something Darwin-esque, something monkish and studious and nature-obsessed. I felt like that would be therapeutic for me, just as it was supposed to be therapeutic for the narrator in the story. Writing in journal entries somehow made the process more of a role-playing exercise. It was just for fun or self-care or writing practice. I never expected to finish it, let alone sell it to F&SF!

 

Was “The Abundance” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Yes, in a number of ways. For example, I worked in Alaska as a winter caretaker, spending 8 months alone in the bush at a fly-in fishing lodge. I was 250 miles from the nearest road, without running water, electricity dependent on my sketchy generator maintenance skills, communication dependent on a satellite dish that was useless much of the time due to the northern lights. When I returned to Anchorage I had a hipster beard long before they were hip, and a stutter. So, I felt qualified to write about the isolation the narrator endures.

 

Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for this story?

I’ve been fascinated with extended phenotype and parasite lifecycles for a long time, so I’d read a lot about this stuff by the time I wrote the story. I’m not sure if that counts as research. It’s all about parasite genes expressing in host bodies, or genes expressing beyond the confines of the body to act on the environment, like genes for anthills and spider webs.

 

How does translating the work of other authors affect and inform your own writing?

I’ve tried to get Ken Liu to answer this question. He’s been translating much longer than I and finds it hard to pin down what the effects might be. I’ve been translating Chinese fiction for almost three years, and like Ken I’m still trying to figure out how translation work might be affecting my original stuff. In the case of ‘The Abundance,” Bao Shu’s ‘The Lighthouse Girl’ inspired the epistolary format (see above), but that could just as easily have happened reading a cool epistolary story for fun. Sometimes I think I’m more careful with sentence structure and word choice because of translating. On the other hand, I fear that learning Mandarin has lowered my English level. I sometimes think and dream in Mandarin. When I’m back in the States I speak it by accident. Maybe, in the final analysis (a phrase I never used until I had to translate it over and over again), I break even. Conceptually, maybe all this Chinese science fiction has broadened my perspective, though it’s hard to say how Chinese SF as a whole is different from anglophone SF. Both are huge mixed bags.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Ursula Le Guin, Ted Chiang, Greg Egan, Ken Liu, Stephen King, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Paul Mcauley, Vonda McIntyre, Peter Watts, John le Carre, and HBO, off the top of my head. Influence is tricky to figure out, though.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m revising an original story in which observation of the universe, i.e. higher consciousness, is causing accelerated expansion. It’s observation as dark energy. It’s a novelette with several layers of story, above and beyond my usual output, so it has been challenging. Meanwhile I’m continuing to translate for Clarkesworld. The current story is about a world where entropy is reversed, so lots of things are happening backwards. Also quite a challenge!

 

“The Abundance” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1905.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

Click on Andy Dudak’s photo to visit his website, or follow him on Twitter @Andy_Dudak

Interview: Rebecca Campbell on “The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest”

Tell us a bit about “The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest.”

It describes childbirth and the strange, disorienting first weeks home with a newborn. Since those experiences are already intense and kind of dream-like (or nightmarish?), it didn’t take much to nudge the story over into horror just by describing what we went through, then making it a little worse, a little weirder for the characters. That’s why I love writing SF/F/H, actually. A little strangeness makes stories like this feel more real, rather than less, maybe because the experience is already so strange.

 

Was this story personal to you in any way, and what prompted you to write it?

Oh man, yes. I actually came up with the idea the week we brought home our son, when I fell asleep and thought there was a fourth person in the house but couldn’t figure out who they were. I didn’t start writing the story until a few months later, but that slightly uncanny experience—in my own home, at a moment of physical exhaustion and startling newness—was waiting for me when I had the brain-space to write again. It was important to me that I process the experience in the way I process most important experiences: by making up a creepy story.

 

What would you want a reader to take away from “The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest?”

Primarily, I want people to feel a sense of the uncanny in the everyday one that doesn’t resolve in a comfortable way. In fact, that’s what I want readers to take from all my work.

After that, maybe a bit of compassion for new families. It’s hard for everyone involved, and you never know what someone’s experience is really like, behind their public face. We were pretty lucky through pregnancy and childbirth and with our son, but it was still an emotional earthquake.

 

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

Yes. Ultimately the story is about the vulnerability of children, their helplessness, especially as infants, and the terrifying realization you have as a parent that you more than anyone else in the world are likely to hurt your kid. After all, most of the hurt caused to children is caused by their parents. If there’s true-life horror, that’s it.

 

Why do you write? 

To make sense of things. To capture strange moments in ordinary lives. To leave a record. To be one tiny voice in a global conversation that started before I was born and will continue long after I’m dead.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

This is hard to answer, mostly because while I am one of nature’s fans, I’m not always sure that the writers I love have had a clear influence on me. Maybe because it seems like wishful thinking to say that Chekhov and Alice Munro are visible in my work? I love to read them, and please please please I hope they’ve influenced me.

I can, however, definitely see Angela Carter, and a little whisper of Haruki Murakami. Also, Ursula le Guin, Kelly Link. Daphne du Maurier and Robert Aickman. And all the nineteenth-century poetry I read as a kid. I read a lot of Tennyson, and I don’t think I can escape from his kind of picturesque, even when I’m writing about haunted houses rather than waterfalls.

 

What are you working on now? 

A novel! Still! Always. Forever. It’s actually closer to done than it was, so I’m pretty stoked. But I’ve also been thinking it’s close to done for a while. Every once in a while, I take time away because I come up with an idea for a short story, though I probably should be more focused. Of course, “The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest” is one such distraction, and I’m glad I allowed myself the novel-holiday to write about Jen.

 

“The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1905.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

Rebecca Campbell’s website: https://whereishere.ca/

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