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Interview: Elizabeth Bear on “Erase, Erase, Erase”

Elizabeth BearTell us a bit about “Erase, Erase, Erase.”

“Erase, Erase, Erase,” is a story about trauma, dissociation, and personal responsibility as told through the metaphor of keeping journals. It’s about how we reinvent ourselves over time, and sometimes in process of destroying our attachment to painful pieces of our past, we destroy bits of ourselves, as well.


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

Well, I’ve never been a member of a terrorist cult, unlike the protagonist of this story! But I am a trauma survivor, and I have experienced the sensation of dissociation and of big swaths of memory that just… seem to have vanished from my recall. I was recently at Worldcon and re-met a person I’d apparently spent quite a bit of time with at a convention in Texas, an evening that she remembered quite clearly—and which I had no recall of at all.

I’m fascinated by memory and neurology, as my various work probably makes clear. My recent novel Ancestral Night deals heavily with the impermanence of memory, and how it changes over time.

As for the story itself, it’s a little bit nontraditional in format. It took a very long time to craft, given its length; about two years, if I remember correctly. (Of course, I do not remember correctly: that’s kind of the point.) But it’s made up of a lot of tiny moving pieces in suspension, a kind of nontraditional format that jumps around and doesn’t always offer clear transitions—sort of like memory.


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

Well, I have some things in common with the narrator of the story. They’re a writer, and a fountain pen and stationery nerd. I too am these things. I also definitely drew on my experience as a trauma survivor to make the protagonist’s experiences and damage feel true.


How did you discover the world of fountain pens, and what are some of your favorite pens and inks?

My mom is a fountain pen fan as well, and she got me hooked on them when I was very little. It’s been interesting to me to watch it become A Trend in recent years–suddenly I have lots of people to talk about pens with, and I’m spoiled for choice where ink is concerned!

My absolute favorite pen just in terms of user experience is probably a Pilot Custom Heritage 92 that I own. It has a medium-fine nib and it writes like a dream. (One thing I love about fountain pens is that they make it possible to write by hand for long periods without fatigue: because they work by capillary action, they don’t require any hand pressure, so they seem to float across the page. No writer’s cramp!) Another modern favorite is a Sailor Professional Gear, also with a medium-fine nib, and a Pelikan M400 with a fine nib.

I also have a couple of vintage pens that are very pleasant to use–an Eversharp with a very firm extra-fine point that makes a delightfully sharp line, and an Omas that just zips across the page.

I really like the inexpensive Chinese PenBBS pens as workhorses I don’t mind bringing on an airplane to faraway places. They’re made of beautiful acrylics and write very well. (I mean, fountain pens are generally not really inexpensive, though as a First Pen both the Pilot Metro and the Platinum Plaisir are great $10 gateway drugs.)

As for ink… good old Cross Violet is a lovely ink. I also really like a lot of the Pilot Iroshizuku line, especially Yu-Yake and Chiku-Rin. And Diamine Firefly, and J. Herbin Stormy Grey, and Sailor Bungubox Ink of Naotora…

Ahem. I have a small ink problem. I’m pretty much cut off for life from new ink purchases, as my supply currently exceeds my life expectancy by decades….


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

Oh, so much of it. It’s such a quiet story that making the tension come out was hard. The entire conflict is inside the protagonist’s head as they struggle to find ways to deal with their trauma and face up to pain and shame in order to (they hope) save the lives of others. Balancing that, and illuminating their confusion without confusing the reader—that was incredibly difficult.

It took me months to find a satisfying conclusion, as well. I think, structurally speaking, this was one of the more difficult stories I’ve ever written.


How do you view “Erase, Erase, Erase” in the context of your wider body of work?

I think thematically it’s of a piece with a lot of what I write. I keep coming back to ethics, personal responsibility, memory, trauma survivorship as central themes. But I think this story is a culmination of a lot of that work for me: I could not have written it even five years ago, because of the technical challenges involved.


What are you working on now?

Novel edits! I’m finishing up another White Space book, titled Machine, which is about a rescue doctor in deep space, and which borrows some tropes from the medical thriller genre. Then I have to write The Origin of Storms, which is the final book in an Indus-Valley-inspired fantasy trilogy.


“Erase, Erase, Erase” appears in the 70th Anniversary Issue of F&SF.

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Click on Elizabeth Bear’s photo (image by Kyle Cassidy) to visit her website.

You can also access the author’s newsletter archive here:


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