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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 The 800 word unpublished story that eventually accompanied the artwork in the show was quite different.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 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.

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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.


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