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Interview: Elaine Vilar Madruga on “Elsinore Revolution”

Elaine Vilar MadrugaTell us a bit about “Elsinore Revolution.”

It’s not one of my most recent stories. I wrote it almost a decade ago. Back then, I was studying for my bachelor’s degree in theater arts, and Shakespeare’s plays had a direct impact on my whole creative process. I had one of those moments of epiphany that light up a specific creative process, an exercise of forces a writer willfully obeys through the birth of writing. I not only wanted to write about Shakespeare and his work in the science fiction mode, but I also wanted to go deeper, down a dark rabbit hole, in an attempt to find a story that spoke of circularity, eternal recurrence, and an eternal wheel that binds writers—and their characters—to the creative machinery. What moves us when we write? What program ties us and conditions our art? Are we really independent as creative entities? These were the questions that at that time obsessed me. Then, I found a point, a character to circumscribe my story: Ophelia, no longer a victim of her circumstances, nor a deranged maiden, nor a suicide victim with flowers around her neck, but a rebel, a revolutionary body, a virus within the power machinery. And all of a sudden everything was written.

 

What was the inspiration for this story?

My writing examines the anthropological and philosophical reflection that revolves around art and the process of creating it. It’s almost an obsession. Although this word at times has negative, almost pathological, connotations, obsession is the precise dimension that has always catalyzed my work. The writer always works on the basis of obsessive stimuli, which sometimes serve as nightmares, or at least as recurring methods for the beauty of fear. I wanted to write a story about revolution and rebellion, about how a rebel can be a “virus” in society. Also about how the society, the machinery, usually deals with eliminating an anachronistic, discordant, and dissonant element, which presents a danger to the already established natural rhythm. In addition, there was Shakespeare’s imagery. Also, the human in his stories has always seemed concomitant with the notion of ​​the fantastic—as long as we understand the fantastic not as a supernatural element, but one adjacent to the real. At the crossroads, at the moment when I, as a writer, take a step and enter the dark play of references, my principles of creation and, specifically, the engines that surround this story are established.

 

Do you often write at very short lengths, and what challenges and opportunities does it present to you as a writer?

I consider myself a writer of brief texts who has turned to longer fiction and novels as her main mode of expression. Put another way, I’m a poet who writes narrative and a playwright who writes poetry. Short texts are, for me, particles of beauty and horror the writer must be able to reflect, as a bird in flight, on the purity of the text (and its silent impurity). A short story is always an exercise of forces, which allows to handle such essential notions as synthesis and seeks well-rounded stories—sufficiently stand-alone stories to reach a reader with only a few pages. It’s a method, if so desired, of facilitating dialogue with an imaginary interlocutor. Without a doubt, shorter fiction is a challenge. It demands ease and concretion as well as vivid yet hazy characters, full of the power of words to condense a story that, in addition, sheds light and casts shadows.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Faulkner and Saramago, Rimbaud and Sartre, China Miéville and Samanta Schweblin.

 

Los años del silencioWhat are you working on now?

This week I’ll start writing the third volume of my trilogy El trono de Ecbactana, a science fiction series that has occupied much of my time. It’s a story about the beauty and ugliness of being human, about its cancers and its allures. In addition, I’m working on a collection of short stories where the real and the fantastic are mixed, and a science fiction novel with the provisional title Chinatown, whose axes of meaning address human trafficking. I’m trying to combine narrative with poetry and dramaturgy, because I suffer from a certain degree of textual hyperkinesia, which makes me feel dissatisfied with a single genre.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

I write from Cuba and Canada, two countries that organize my creative discourse—two countries that are polar opposites and constantly force me to move and change my expressive resources. Somehow I feel this metamorphosis, both spatial and symbolic, is my axis of creation. I believe in the mutable. And what changes and breathes.

 

“Elsinore Revolution” appears in the January/February 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2001.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-january-february-2020/

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 (all formats): https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-6-issue-subscription/

Amazon US (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

The author’s latest book, Los años del silencio, is available for purchase by clicking on its image.

This interview was conducted in Spanish and translated by Toshiya Kamei, who translated “Elsinore Revolution” into English.

Interview: Michael Cassutt on “Banshee”

Michael CassuttTell us a bit about “Banshee.”

“Banshee” is the story of a powerful but shadowy “horse-holder” in the space business who discovers that his ways of manipulating people — at work and at home — are no longer working.

 

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

I think there were two…. one being a father’s awareness that his child is living a life he couldn’t predict and cannot understand. The other, outer-directed, was exploring the idea of a charismatic leader — what is it like being in that leader’s orbit. What does one accept? What does one change… if anything?

I also had an independent notion about the evolution of space technology, and it seemed to fit in “Banshee”.

 

Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “Banshee?”

In one sense, absolutely zero. I don’t recall any specific research for the story. But a more comprehensive answer would be… thirty years of learning how NASA and international space programs work, how decisions were made, and by whom.

 

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

Lately I find that my greatest challenge is cutting extraneous material. In an early version of the story I had at least two pages on Nik Salida’s career, and while it was fun for me to write, it was too much inside baseball.

The fun for me is always that moment where I’ve solved the basic questions — where is the story set, who are the characters, how are they hurting or helping each other? And can just write the dialogue.

 

Can you tell us anything about the differences or similarities between writing for television and writing novels and short stories?

For me, the major difference between screen and prose writing is the ability, in prose, to live in a character’s point of view for as long as you want. You can ignore the passage of time.

The fun of scriptwriting is being able to set a scene or describe action in, say, two lines, something you usually can’t do in prose.

What’s the same is the dialogue, the interplay between characters.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

My earliest SF influence was Heinlein, though I later found Delany, Zelazny, Silverberg, Le Guin, and Malzberg to be shaping my work.  I’d like to think I’m still open to learning new things — I’ve enjoyed recent stories by Sarah Pinsker and Ken Liu, and was knocked out by Liu Cixin’s REMEMBRANCE OF EARTH’S PAST trilogy.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m between TV projects at the moment so am working on a new novel, largely mainstream with an SF/fantasy element….

 

“Banshee” appears in the January/February 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2001.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-january-february-2020/

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 (all formats): https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-6-issue-subscription/

Amazon US (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

Interview: Julianna Baggot on “The Key to Composing Human Skin”

Tell us a bit about “The Key to Composing Human Skin.”

Propaganda has always existed and yet tech has forced it into a such a furious machine that it’s become a different kind of beast. I think about how governments lie — and, specifically, how President Trump’s relationship with the truth, his own truth, his denials, his motivations, his turns on his colleagues and friends, have been absorbed into our culture, into our children, into our bodies. And yet we all have truths that we hide from others and ourselves. I wanted to talk about propaganda and how governments want to control information. I wanted to show a version of a future America in which there’s surveillance and messaging and mass incarceration for those who disagree. I wanted to tell a mother-son story. I didn’t know that there would also be a love story.

 

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

I had this rash as a kid. It started in one spot but would roam. I’d fall asleep with it on my stomach and wake up with it on my back. I also have a huge forehead and there was this joke about renting it like a billboard. But this is what’s happening on Facebook and other places. My personal space, my online persona, is used for advertising. In thinking about that and the memory of the rash and my ideas about propaganda vs. the truth, the idea came to me — as it did to Hertzella — that we could become the vehicles for propaganda ourselves — our bodies as billboard space. We could become vehicles for governmental messaging. And as Facebook has been used for just that purpose — interference with our elections through false narratives — it feels relevant. But what if we could shift that and use the machinery for good? What would combat propaganda? Personal truths?

 

Was “The Key to Composing Human Skin” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

My mother was intense. She had obsessive compulsive disorder (still does, but is now happily medicated). She worried about my health, she fretted, deeply. And I love her for all of that fretting. The tenderness of the mother-son story here is an expression of the tenderness I feel for my own mother.

 

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

Taxidermy. I’ve never done the work myself and never would; I don’t like the idea of manipulating dead animals, and yet I’m transfixed by the strangeness of this practice and it required a good bit of research. Not my first time writing about taxidermy.

 

Can you tell us anything about your writing process for “The Key to Composing Human Skin?”

Once I fell into it, it came to me quickly. Writing stories has become a strange practice. I’ll have an idea for a story but I won’t know how to get at it. And I’ll wait for a long while sometimes until the first line presents itself. Once that happens, the first sentence has made a million authorial decisions for me, and so sometimes, after that, it’s much faster. Though there was a gap between the bulk of the story and its ending. It covers so much ground — the kind of sweep of time more often found in a novel — and so there were leaps to manage at the ending, and then finding a way to drill down to a singular moment.

 

Why do you write?

I’ve answered this question so many different ways. All of them true, speaking of the truth. I think that writing is the place where my mother’s obsessive compulsive disorder touched down in me, there’s that. It’s become a way I process the world, a coping mechanism. It’s been how I make a living — more during some stretches than others. It’s a marriage, a practice. It’s become part of my identity — for better and for worse. I do imagine not writing. Or try to. And, to be honest, I can’t really imagine the freedom of that possibility. And, likewise, I can’t imagine the suffocation.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

These swing around wildly. Early on, playwrights — Mamet, Wasserstein, Durang… Then magical realists. Then Jean Toomer, Michael Cunningham, Zora Neale Hurston. I admire LeCarre; it took me forever to know that. I really admire Micah Dean Hicks who’s first book came out last year. I’ve been reading Siobahn Carroll, who’s oddness I adore. I love the New Weird, fabulism… My familial traditions of storytelling can’t be overlooked. It’s how we live and breathe. But, these days, I’m most altered by nonfiction — books on seizures, pain, AI, neurology, botany, epidemiology… That’s where many of my ideas come from.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m supposed to be working on a novel, but I’ve rewritten it so many times that I’ve come to openly despise it. It glares at me. I glare at it. So I turn my back on it from time to time and write stories. Right now, I have three titles of new stories and I’m not quite sure what any of them are about. This happens sometimes. One is about Louis Pasteur, post-stroke.

 

“The Key to Composing Human Skin” appears in the January/February 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2001.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-january-february-2020/

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 (all formats): https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-6-issue-subscription/

Amazon US (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

Julianna Baggott’s website: http://juliannabaggott.com/

Interview: Melissa Marr on “The Nameless”

Tell us a bit about “The Nameless.”

“Red Riding Hood with rage and swords” is my personal definition. It’s the story of several women who are tired of the onslaught of “wolves” and the consequences of the predatory nature of “wolves.” It’s one of five “rage stories” I wrote in 2019. It is likely safe to say the political climate of late has evoked some feelings.

 

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

I’d been trying to do a short story a year. In this case, I’d re-read Herland for a lecture recently. What if women found a way to form a safe, remote society like Herland but instead of welcoming the invasion of men, as they do in C Perkins-Gilman’s cautionary tale, they were cognizant of the threat that patriarchal relationships posed to their autonomy?

 

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

I could offer the obvious—rape survivor, feminist, mother—but that is just part of my bones at this point. I suspect you can find one of those in all I write and do. Different here is my love of the sword and a strong tendency toward violence. I am proficient in marksmanship with my handguns, as well as with historical longsword and single-hander. Not SCA. Not choreographed fight. Sword is fought with intent to injure, and I earned my broken bones and blackened bruises as I learned.

My default practice is German historical longsword. I had been training with the most award-winning Historical European Martial Arts coach in the U.S. and a coach in the Netherlands on occasion. I even flew back to work with the U.S. coach after my move to Arizona. Unfortunately, a partially collapsed lung in 2016 and mild stroke in 2018 have limited me. But, I thought I’d use my knowledge on the page since I cannot continue as much in the real world.

 

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

Short fiction is 100% fun for me. I do it for myself. No contract. No plans. I taught shortfic at university, pre-writing-life, so it’s a pleasure outlet I reserve for myself still.

 

Can you tell us anything about your writing process for “The Nameless?”

My shortfics are always drafted start-to-finish in a day or several days. I tinker for a while, but I line up the bones in one swoop. I wrote this in Dec 2018/January 2019, and on a whim decided to try to submit to F&SF. It was the first time I’d tried since selling that first novel in 2006.

 

Why do you write?

Valid question. I suppose it’s growing up without television in a rural home with a storytelling family. Aside from Jewish German ancestors, my family is wholly Scots or Irish on both sides. Story is simply what you do. I come from roots poor in most practical ways but rich in of whisky, sweat, and story. There are downsides to that world, but it also means I grew up understanding that story was important, that nature held truths, and that you don’t go back on your word even if it wasn’t in a written contract. I try to hold true to that.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

In terms of my beliefs about writing: Faulkner, Hardy, Kate Chopin.  In terms of story, I suspect it’s mostly folklorists. In terms of life, my memory of my grandmother is my guiding light.

 

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

Whatever they see fit, I suppose. Ultimately, I’m very much a believer that Faulkner’s Nobel speech is it, why we write, and why writing matters. He noted that people not only have an “inexhaustible voice” but a “spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance” and that a writer’s “duty is to write about these things” (Faulkner). That same logic applies to the highbrow and genre, poetry and prose.

 

What are you working on now?

Oddly, perhaps, I’m finishing photography for a book on wild horses. I didn’t publicize my photography because, like sword and kayak and baking, I do it to pursue peace. My editor at Penguin saw it and asked about doing a book. So, I’m stalking wild horses with my camera. I’m also finishing final edits on a faux-Victorian fantasy novel for young readers (also for Penguin) and just finished my first adult fantasy novel in years that began as a “coping” mechanism after a rattlesnake bite in September. It was a horrific pain to have fangs jab into me, so I started writing after each nightmare. I ended up turning my fear into a novel.

 

“The Nameless” appears in the January/February 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2001.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-january-february-2020/

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 (all formats): https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-6-issue-subscription/

Amazon US (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

Melissa Marr can be found at http://www.melissamarrbooks.com/ and on Twitter @melissa_marr

Interview: Charlotte Ashley on “The Joy in Wounding”

Charlotte AshleyTell us a bit about “The Joy in Wounding.”

“The Joy in Wounding” is a loose interpretation of the second part of the Classical Greek story, “Cupid and Psyche.” Most people know the part where Cupid falls in love with Psyche and carries her off to marry her, keeping her literally in the dark as to who her important husband is. But the second half, following Psyche after she has been exiled from her husband’s home, is far more colourful: Psyche wanders the earth for years, serving multiple goddesses. She undergoes a series of impossible trials, each of them properly Herculean, including collecting black water from the river Styx, facing down dragons, and entering into the underworld.

I wanted to explore that side of Psyche’s story, bringing to life the sort of woman who comes out of a kidnapping and forced marriage with a Hero’s journey. Of course, my final version ended up pretty angry at Psyche’s treatment in the original. So my Psyche kicks ass, but she (and her sisters) are very much raging at their fates.

 

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

When I saw Bob Eggleton’s artwork for this issue, especially with the green, windswept cliffs in the foreground, my imagination immediately flew to the landscapes of neoclassical artwork and their romantic depictions of Classical mythology. That ended up just being a springboard, since once I had decided to “rescue” Psyche and her sisters from their original story, I found darker themes than frolicking nymphs and cherubic gods would suggest. The real island of Lesbos is actually a lot hotter, dryer, and more yellow than those lush green paintings too, but that didn’t stop the neoclassicists and it didn’t stop me.

 

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

I like to think every story about an older woman raging spectacularly against a fate she doesn’t want to be pinned to is fundamentally about me. Yes, a lot of me went into this story. I’m very aware that life isn’t fair, but that has never stopped me from moving heaven and earth
to make things right anyway.

 

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

I was already very familiar with the source material. I worked in an independent bookstore for 15 years, and just before they closed their doors, I splurged and bought gorgeous new editions of Mythology by Edith Hamilton, The Book of Greek and Roman Folktales, Legends, and Myths by William F. Hansen, and Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. My head was full of it. So my research mostly focused on Helenistic-period life on the Aegean Sea. I wanted to get the details right insofar as I could to really bring to life the messy business of wandering the earth in that period.

 

Why do you write?

Mostly, so I can read my own work. Sometimes you get the itch to read a really specific kind of story, and I found long ago that the very best way to scratch that itch and get exactly the story you want is to write it yourself. For every story I publish, I must have twenty more that I
have written just for me. I am slowly but surely coming around to the idea that people other than me have that same itch to scratch, and might actually appreciate “my” stories.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Alexandre Dumas is the big gimme, right off the bat. I love him, I love his work, and I think everyone should read him. He soothes the soul. Many of my favourite authors cite him as an influence – Umberto Eco, Nick Harkaway, Michael Chabon, Arturo Pérez-Reverte. I think that’s company I’d like to be in. But Dumas’s legacy extends beyond swashbuckling adventure into historical fiction more generally, and I am in awe of what the best literary historical storytellers have written: Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall books, even Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. They are absolute inspirations, all of them.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m working on one novel (an 18th century dieselpunk ice age novel set on Canada’s east coast) and one accidental novel (a strange thing about cave monsters and romance that was meant to be a writing warm-up but which has stolen a lot of my time and interest.) Those will probably be in the pipe for eons, though. More imminently, I have been doing some RPG writing. That should be published before long!

 

“The Joy in Wounding” appears in the November/December 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2010-19.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-november-december-2019/

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 (all formats): https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-6-issue-subscription/

Amazon US (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

Clicking on Charlotte Ashley’s picture will take you to her website: http://once-and-future.com/

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