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Interview: Amanda Hollander on “A Feast of Butterflies”

Tell us a bit about “A Feast of Butterflies.”

A constable assigned to a corrupt and backwater county learns he must solve the disappearance of five young men whose powerful families believe has something to do with a mountain girl who eats butterflies.

 

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

My friend and I were traveling in Bogotá together when we stopped in front of mural that depicted a young woman eating a butterfly. After staring for a few moments, I told my friend that I was going to write a story about it. The next day, my friend’s husband called from Minnesota to say that their house had burned down. We changed our plans, returning immediately to the States. A month later, after I went back to look at my photos from our very short trip and again saw the butterfly-eating woman.

What was she hiding? Who looks at a butterfly and decides to devour it? Then as the answers started coming, I realized I was seeing her from outside, so the next question was who was watching her. The answer became a bit complicated because everyone in her community watched her.

Communities are often incredibly cruel to anyone who refuses to bury the wrongs done to them. Again and again, communities punish victims of crimes, rather than the perpetrators. What do you do when the people who should lift you up decide to ostracize you? To throw you to the wolves for their own convenience of memory? Who is the one person who is willing to look a little more closely, with less bias at the person pushed to the fringes? Answering that led me to the constable. Beyond that pain comes a wonderful possibility: what happens when one person decides to subvert a corrupt system?

 

Was “A Feast of Butterflies” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Profoundly. My friends and I have had many conversations about trauma and justice over the years. What happens when you repeatedly see power so grossly abused in a way that can feel impossible to confront? When two alleged sexual predators hold lifetime spots in the highest court in the nation and another occupies the position of greatest political power? Political abuse and political corruption are old stories. Biblically old. We love fiction about justice, but in reality? To pursue justice as a society means to be willing to accept uncomfortable truths. Without that, we fail. And injustice? (I mean real injustice, not an angry fool who feels things are unfair when they must adhere to a social contract that respects individual autonomy and equity.) Injustice warps you. It seeps into your nightmares. It strangles you in your sleep and when you wake up, you realize with dawning horror that you did not dream. It physically changes you. How do you show that?

In a happier respect, the story also has a landscape influenced by spending time in the Shenandoah Mountains as a child. I grew up in a family of hikers. Summer weekends often involved traipsing on mountain paths. I vividly can picture the swallowtail butterflies there, and the river. I once nearly tread on a copperhead snake that was sunning itself on a rock. I remember other hikers yelling and jumping back, but I thought how amazing it was that the snake ignored me. It just wanted to warm itself. I especially remember the humidity, the way the air settled in my lungs.

 

Can you tell us anything about your writing process for this story?

I knew that I wanted to explore techniques from fabulist storytelling and fairy tales. They allow psychological distance but can enhance emotional intimacy because there are blanks you can fill in. They allow as much room for questions as answers. Also, the naming has such interesting possibilities. What happens when a character is known through their role in a community rather than by a personal name? Cinderella/Ashchenputtel is the ash girl or cinder girl because she is most defined by others for being filthy, which is a result of mistreatment. Snow White has pale skin, often seen a characteristic of those royal or aristocratic who do not labor outdoors but also operates as a mark of frailty and possibly impermanence. Little Red Riding Hood or Little Red Cap achieved renown through her outfit of a remarkable color (for any adherents of Darwinism there’s probably something very interesting to be observed about the color standing out perhaps too starkly in a dark wood). Or you have other characters defined by their professions: the Baker, the Prince, the Woodcutter, the Huntsman, or even more distant, the profession of their husband: the Baker’s Wife, the Fisherman’s Wife. The choice to avoid names and use titles that reflected how these characters are viewed by those around them rather than how they wish to be known. Which is what makes their secret lives so much more delightful. Like all of us, they are more than what the world sees.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Elizabeth Peters, whose quote “Laughter is one of the two things that make life worthwhile” has been a guiding principle for both my life and my writing, even though that may not be obvious in this particular story.

Octavia Butler. My dog-eared, eighth grade copy of Kindred has moved into every home I’ve ever had.

Connie Willis, but especially To Say Nothing of the Dog, Uncharted Territory, and Bellwether, all of which I have re-read in a manner one might describe as obsessive.

Howard Ashman, whose work inspired me to start writing my own lyrics (and built my confidence in learning new vocabulary as, incidentally, he was the reason I became more comfortable with a dictionary thanks to his use of words like “expectorate” and “blather”)

And, in no order whatsoever: Dorothy Dunnett, Dorothy Sayers, Dorothy Parker (all the Dorothys!), Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Bizet, Howard Ashman, Mildred D. Taylor, Evelyn Sharp, Mark Campbell, Shel Silverstein (I maintain that “They’ve Put a Brassiere on the Camel” is one of the great classics of American poetry), Mel Brooks, Jean Webster, Gary Larson, Anna Julia Cooper (criminally under-read American intellectual; A Voice from the South should be mandatory reading), Stephen Schwartz, Mary Astell (A Serious Proposal to the Ladies has some of the sharpest satiric lines I’ve ever read), Langston Hughes, Howard Ashman, Isabel Allende, Jonathan Swift, Pablo Neruda, Stephen Sondheim, Oscar Hammerstein, Rosario Ferré, Irving Berlin, George & Ira Gershwin, Eva Ibbotson, Marc Chagall, Gwendolyn Brooks, Verdi, Gary Geld, Cole Porter, Arthur Sullivan, Charles Dickens, Samuel Richardson, John Donne, and last but never ever least, Dolly Parton.

Oh, and Howard Ashman.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you to anyone who gave their time to read this story. It’s very near and dear to me.

 

“A Feast of Butterflies” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/elizabeth-hand-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-march-april-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:

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

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

Mural by @veraprimavera

Interview: Elizabeth Bear on “Hacksilver”

Elizabeth BearTell us a bit about “Hacksilver.”

“Hacksilver” is a story about a man coming back to his family home from going viking, discovering that his brother has been charged with a horrific murder and that the blood-debt has fallen upon him.

Fortunately, he’s a very clever man…

 

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

I like stories about tricksters, and I like Nordic-inspired stories. This particular one takes place in a corner of the Eternal Sky world that we haven’t visited before, and once I had the character and the setting, the rest just sort of flowed.

 

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

Well, I’ve been researching and writing Nordic-inspired fantasy for close to thirty years, so I suppose the best answer is, “a lot.” I think it’s important to read primary sources to get the flavor of the culture and the way people engaged with their world.

Also, Magni (the horse in the story) is based on a real Icelandic Horse owned by a friend of mine.

 

Why do you write?

I’m forbidden from talking about the geas.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Oh, it changes every time I think about it. James White, Roger Zelazny, Fritz Leiber, Octavia Butler, Anne McCaffery, Joanna Russ, C. J. Cherryh, Diane Duane, Barbara Hambly, Kurt Vonnegut…

…ask me tomorrow and get a different list. :D

 

What are you working on now?

Currently, I am trying to write a very slippery book three to the Lotus Kingdoms trilogy, the structure of which keeps slithering out of my grasp. The first book is called THE STONE IN THE SKULL and that one, thankfully, is finished and published. As is book two!

Coincidentally, that’s set in another part of the same world as Hacksilver!

 

“Hacksilver” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/elizabeth-hand-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-march-april-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

Elizabeth Bear’s website: https://www.elizabethbear.com/

Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Interview: SL Huang on “The Million-Mile Sniper”

Tell us a bit about “The Million-Mile Sniper.”

What would assassinations look like if they took place over planetary distances?

“The Million-Mile Sniper” asks that question, but with a twist. I played with my background, which is working professionally in movies and television, to warp that narrative through storytelling and conspiracy and romanticism . . . all far, far in the future.

 

S L HuangWhat was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I’m a weapons expert and former firearms professional, and now I’m a science fiction author. Naturally, it kept circling around in my head to wonder about how I could adapt riflery over planetary distances.

I had the title before anything else. “The Million-Mile Sniper” is such a great title—I had to write something to fit it!

 

 

 

Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “The Million-Mile Sniper?”

Less research, more math. Which was fine with me, as I do a lot of math for my books in the Cas Russell series, which are about a superpowered math mercenary. For “The Million-Mile Sniper,” I wanted to make sure to do enough of the calculations to make sure I was in the ballpark for realism on the sniper shot.

But I did also do a fair bit of digging into rail guns and reviewed my knowledge of astrodynamic rendezvous from college, when I wrote a paper on it!

 

Can you tell us anything about your writing process for this story, or more generally?

I write short stories very fast—all in one chunk. Of course, that’s only after I have an idea, and I’d been knocking this one around in my head for a while. Then I wrote the story all at once one evening. I checked the math and science afterward and filled in some details, but the story was essentially written in one gulp.

That’s very typical of how I write shorts! Novels, sadly, are a much more cumbersome process for me. I wish I could write those all at once, too.

 

Why do you write?

A question I’ve navel-gazed about a lot recently.

I think the answer I’m coming to is that I write to explore, and to create a thing I’m proud of.

Which doesn’t bode very well for my career, honestly! I like poking at new things, and my sense of reward is from the completion of the piece, not the paycheck… especially when I feel like I’ve achieved a piece of writing that was previously outside my comfort zone. Which means I have a lot of trouble writing toward marketability or personal branding, no matter how hard I try.

I kind of wish I could say I wrote for the money. That’s certainly a consideration—I’m a full-time writer, so it’s my income, and what people will pay me for does impact what I work on. But I feel like I tend to make non-optimal career decisions in favor of chasing something shiny.

If I could convince myself only to worry about the money, I could probably brand myself a lot better. On the other hand, right now my brand seems to be math, swords, and women and queer people who shoot at things, which I feel pretty good about.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Ooo, this question is always so hard for me to answer, because the people I’ve read who have influenced my writing . . . well, there’s an endless number of them, to be honest.

So I think I’m going to try to answer this question a little differently—I want to talk about the people I’ve met who’ve really influenced the kind of writer I want to be, in the sense of how helpful and giving they are, and how as they achieve success they reach back and boost others. The Big Name Authors I want to emulate, if I can, as I start to build more success. Ken Liu is such a model of this I feel—I can’t count the number of people I know, including me, whom he’s helped out in some way, even with his incredibly busy schedule. He’s one of the kindest and most generous authors I know (and his writing, of course, is incredible! Read Ken!). Seth Dickinson is another one—just such an excellent human. When I was brand new I had a signing with Seth and of course his line was out the door and I, being new, had almost nobody, and literally every person who came up to him, Seth said to them, “And you should check out Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang!” and also directed them to me. I’ve never forgotten that. I tucked it away as something I hope to be able to do for someone else someday. And so many other people—Charlie Jane Anders, Kate Elliott, Jim Hines, Chuck Wendig—oh wow I could really go on and on here, too; SFF is full of such wonderful human beings. There are just so many good folks who I consistently see helping newer authors, boosting people, blurbing tons of debuts, running events, speaking up for folks with less of a platform, and so many other heartwarming things.

They’re the type of authors I want to try to model myself after as I move forward in my own career.

 

What are you working on now?

I have a book coming out at the end of April—CRITICAL POINT, the third book in my scifi thriller series about an antiheroine whose superpower is being able to do math really, really fast. She uses it to kill a few too many people!

I’m super excited about CRITICAL POINT, as we get a lot of character development for my miscreant cast . . . and also a lot of explosions. Many, many explosions. My editor and I work hard to try to make the books stand alone, but for readers who want to start at the beginning, ZERO SUM GAME is the first book in that series.

Next, I have a fairy tale retelling coming out this fall. BURNING ROSES is a remix of Chinese and Western folklore, in which Hou Yi the Archer from Chinese mythology teams up with Red Riding Hood. In my version they’re both middle-aged queer women, and to match Hou Yi’s bow and arrow skills, Red Riding Hood is an expert with a rifle. The two of them team up and go on adventures while angsting about their families.

Also featured: Goldilocks as an abusive con artist, Beauty from Beauty and the Beast as an escaped human trafficking victim, and birds made out of fire.

Of course, those books are done! I would tell you what I’m on sub with right now, but I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about it yet. I do feel I can give away that the new work contains some number of the following elements: swords, queer women, people at shooting at things, or queer women wielding swords and shooting at things. Or all of the above!

Yeah, maybe I have a brand after all.

 

“The Million-Mile Sniper” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/elizabeth-hand-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-march-april-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

You can find SL Huang’s website by clicking on her photo.  On Twitter: @sl_huang

Interview: William Ledbetter on “Hungry is the Earth”

“Hungry is the Earth” is about a young woman trying to keep herself and her little brother alive after a very successful alien invasion. It’s personal and small in scale, as most of my stories are, yet addresses some large and interesting issues. I’ve always enjoyed alien invasion stories, but so many of them are focused on humanity finding the alien invaders’ weakness and using it to win in the end. I’ve long wondered if that would be truly possible. I think that once we do encounter an alien intelligence they could be so strange we might not even recognize them as sentient, let alone be able to defeat them in a toe to tentacle fight.

 

This story was inspired by a sculpture by the local artist Stacy Tompkins. It was given as a prompt for the Art & Words show that is run by fellow F&SF writer Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam. When I saw the stalk covered with big red berries, growing out what looked like a hat, I immediately thought of some alien invasive species of plant and my imagination took off.

 

The story I was supposed to write for Art & Words had a word limit of 800 words, but as I started writing, this story kept growing larger and larger. The finished product is what you see in the pages of F&SF and about 2,200 words, but I had to also create a much trimmed down version for the art show. The 800 word unpublished story that eventually accompanied the artwork in the show was quite different. I  primarily left out much of the information about the invaders, which was a shame, yet the story still worked. So I hope you’ll all excuse me if I roll my eyes when a writer says there is absolutely no way they can cut another 30 words from their 12,030 masterpiece to accommodate something as arbitrary as a publisher’s required word count.

 

I’m currently working on the sequel to my novel “Level Five” and it’s almost finished. It has the working title of “Level Six” and will hopefully be out later this year, at first only in audio format through Audible Originals. Then, I should have some time to write more short fiction!

 

I also wanted to mention that I helped run a writing contest last year for the Dream Foundry (found at Dreamfoundry.org) which is a wonderful organization formed for, and dedicated to, helping beginning speculative fiction writers and artists. It was an amazing experience and we received a lot of great stories and artwork, so we are planning to have a contest again this year. If you’re a beginning writer or artist, keep your eye on the above mentioned website.

“Hungry is the Earth” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/elizabeth-hand-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-march-april-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 image above is the story prompt that inspired Mr. Ledbetter’s story.  It is a sculpture by artist Stacy Tompkins; photo credit by Stacy Tompkins.

Interview: Gregor Hartmann on “A Solitary Crane Circles Cold Mountain”

Tell us a bit about “A Solitary Crane Circles Cold Mountain.”

In the near future there’s a revolution on Gaia. The new government is determined to end human expansion into space. A Foundation left over from the previous era (= ours) is scheming to launch one last starship before the sky closes. Lili is a sociophysicist trying to devise a ship social system that will be stable for the 400-year journey and not degenerate into civil war and cannibalism.

 

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

In October 2017 I attended a conference of the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, an organization that wants to launch space probes toward other solar systems. Hopefully within our lifetime, not in the distant future. One of the presenters was Ore Koren, now an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Indiana University Bloomington. A science fiction fan, he was interested in the problem of how to design a society that would remain stable for centuries despite being isolated inside a generation ship. His approach was to use countries with a high population density to generate predictive estimates for civil disobedience. The concept of a “constitutional captaincy” is his. He was constrained by scientific rigor and realistic modeling; I was able to riff on his idea and make up stuff.

 

Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “A Solitary Crane Circles Cold Mountain?”

I read novels about generation ships. It’s a frequently utilized idea. Heinlein. Wolfe. Aldis. Bear. Steele. Robinson. Baxter. I’m not sure if that counts as “research,” since everyone was winging it, but it interesting to see how other writers framed the idea and what sort of dilemmas they forced the crews to address. I am pleased to have come up with an unorthodox way to make that voyage succeed. One reviewer called my solution hideous. I must concur.

 

Can you tell us anything about the writing process for this story?

It was my usual shambolic and chaotic journey toward something that worked. So many outtakes!

 

What are you working on now?

Zephyr, a cold paxoformed moon orbiting a gas giant, is the venue for many of my stories that have been published in F&SF. Inspector Song of the Zephyr Stability Police and her detective trainee Jun are investigating another intriguing murder with political overtones.

 

“A Solitary Crane Circles Cold Mountain” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/elizabeth-hand-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-march-april-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

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