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Interview: Deborah Coates on “Girls Who Never Stood a Chance”

Deborah CoatesTell us a bit about “Girls Who Never Stood a Chance.”

“Girls Who Never Stood a Chance” is about large and dangerous dragons suddenly appearing on the plains of South Dakota and what happens to a group of young women left to fend for themselves when their town and much of the rest of the state is evacuated.


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

Many years ago, I moved to Iowa for a job.  I didn’t want to move to Iowa.  I thought it was a boring flat place with nothing to recommend it.  Which, unsurprisingly, turns out not to be true.  And, as I learned to love Iowa, I also learned a new appreciation for other ‘boring’ states—Nebraska and South Dakota and Kansas.  Lots of stories take place in cities and that’s great.  People like cities.  I most often write stories about rural spaces, the people who live there, and the things that might happen there.

Dragons on the prairie was a ‘what if’ idea I had years ago—what if dragons suddenly appeared, what if most of the people cleared out, what if the rest of the country didn’t really care (it’s ‘just’ flyover country) what would happen to the people who didn’t or couldn’t leave? The second thing—the specific characters in this particular story—was partly inspired by a memoir, After The Eclipse, I read about a woman whose mother was murdered when the author was a young girl.  In addition to her mother’s murder, which was unsolved for many years, the memoir was about the generations of women who, for many many reasons—poverty, mental illness, generations of bad choices when there are no good choices–really never had a chance to grow old, to get out, to grasp a better life.

The girls in “Girls Who Never Stood a Chance” aren’t stupid.  They aren’t lazy.  In their own ways, they’re survivors, but they’ve never gotten the breaks, weren’t born in the right circumstances, have maybe made some crappy choices along the way, and now they’ve been left to fend for themselves in a dragon-infested world.


Was there any aspect of “Girls Who Never Stood a Chance” that you found difficult to write?

Often the hardest part of any story for me is starting.   I described more or less the entire plot of this story from beginning to end to a friend of mine in a car on the way to the airport several months before I really successfully began the story.  And it probably took a couple more months before I made much progress.  But then, once I had the structure and once I had the characters, other parts of the story fell into place.


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

I’d like to say that I don’t care and in some sense that’s true.  It will always be my story but readers don’t always bring the same things to the story that I do.  But I hope that they take away a feel for the time and the place and a realness to the characters.


Why do you write?

I write because I have ideas in my head and I want to see what I can make of them.  Like many writers, I have things I want to say and story is often a good way to say it.  I want to describe things that people don’t see or don’t see as beautiful or as important or as part of what makes up the world.  I also like both the ‘what if’ aspect of writing and the nearly final drafts where it’s like fitting puzzle pieces—discarding things that ought to work but don’t, finessing conversations and words, finally getting that one final piece to make sense to people who can’t see what’s in my head.  I struggle with all the middle drafts and often abandon stories half-written that I realize later were perfectly fine, but if I can wrestle them into some sort of order, I actually enjoy the polishing.

I’m a knitter and in knitting you start with nothing but a couple of sticks and some string and end up with something that lasts, that’s what I think writing is—starting with a couple of ideas and a keyboard and if you stick with it and tackle the mistakes you end up with a thing that will last, that other people can look at and maybe see what you hoped they would see.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

Everything, honestly.  The library we went to when I was growing up was quite small and my entire family were voracious readers.  Children were only allowed to check out a certain number of books at a time so we would hand my mother all the ‘extra’ books we also wanted.  We read what was there because that was what there was.  I read a ton of fantasy, a ton of science fiction, a ton of talking animal books.  I read horse books and dog books and Nancy Drew mysteries.  As an adult, my tastes aren’t quite as eclectic—I read mysteries and women’s fiction and fantasy and science fiction and NY Times bestsellers.  I don’t particularly enjoy dark or grim stories and yet I’m a big fan of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department of Q books and a number of other Scandinavian mystery authors, which are kind of dark.  I like character and setting.  I like complex characters who try to do the right thing.  I like a strong sense of place.  And those are some of the things I hope to include in my writing.

Outside books, I’ve been influenced strongly by growing up on a farm at the end of a dead-end road as well as moving to the Midwest and discovering the beauty of the prairie states.


“Girls Who Never Stood a Chance” appears in the July/August 2019 issue of F&SF.

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