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Interview: Jim Kelly on “The Man I Love”

Tell us a bit about “The Man I Love.”

“The Man I Love” is a big-hearted ghost story in conversation with Jean-Paul Sartre’s gloomy existentialist play No Exit, which it seeks to refute.  It takes place in a mysterious bar that opens “only on Mondays, fifty-two times a year.” It’s about longing and loyalty. Also it’s short – just a bit longer than flash fiction.


James Patrick KellyWhat was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

Years ago I helped start a statewide flash fiction competition here in NH.  At a “Three Minute Fiction Slam” ten contestants read a three minute story in front of a panel of judges, who give instant feedback about what they’ve just heard.  After all have read, the judges declare a winner.  The Slam competition runs from January to March and has been going on for a decade.  I judge some of the regional Slams scattered around our little state.  Then comes the finals where the regional winners compete for a cash prize.  Typically 80-90 writers compete and hundreds of audience members cheer them on!

Last year I started teaching a free two night workshop on the art and craft of writing and presenting a three minute story.  My goal was to help writers prepare for competition.  On the first night we talked about how to write for a Slam and on the second the workshoppers read their stories and I gave them the kind of feedback I’d give at an actual Slam.  I wrote a draft of “The Man I Love” to demonstrate to the workshop what a three minute story might look like.  The only problem was that my draft was about a thousand words long and a three minute story can’t be much more than six hundred.  No problem! I gave the workshoppers the thousand word draft and told them to hack four hundred words out of it.  I was not surprised that what remained was pretty pathetic, which is to say that “The Man I Love” failed as a three minute story.  But I knew that I’d captured a moment of true feeling and I realized that my narrator needed more to do. So I filled in obvious omissions and when I was done, I had this sweet short story of nineteen hundred words. And as soon as I finished it, I knew I was sending it to F&SF, which is the magazine which launched my career many, many (but don’t ask) decades ago! Alas, for career purposes, I’ve found it necessary to spread my stories around, but I always return to F&SF.  In fact, I’ve been fortunate to sell to every editor since Ed Ferman.  So I’ve got serious history with this magazine and I’m proud to be back!


Was “The Man I Love” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I think the most personal part of this story for me is how much the song, “The Man I Love,” means to me.  I admit that I get emotional pretty much every time I hear this classic torch song.  As mentioned in the story, there have been many, many versions and the hardest part of the writing of the story was to find a way to quote as much of the achingly sad lyrics as possible without getting F&SF in copyright trouble.  But the story captures some of what I feel when I listen to this song, especially in its last lines. When I read it for the first time at a convention, I’m not ashamed to say that I was choked up at the end.


Why do you write?

What a question!  I guess I write mostly to explore what I think about this complex world and all the great and awful people in it.  But I am also always thinking of readers, although not necessarily specific ones. So I might write a story especially for readers who – say — don’t believe that a woman can be a starship captain. Or that AI can achieve personhood.  Or, in this case, that ghosts might ponder their existential dilemma.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

I have been very much influenced by the cohort of writers who started publishing about when I did: Connie Willis, John Kessel, Lucius Shepard, Karen Joy Fowler, Bruce Sterling and Nancy Kress.  That’s just six; I could name six more without breaking a sweat!  We grew up in this genre reading and critiquing and, yes, learning from each other. Of the sf writers who came before me, I always cite Damon Knight, Ursula LeGuin, Robert Silverberg and Robert Heinlein.  But recently I’ve been rereading the great Cordwainer Smith, a master short story writer who I first encountered as tween, and I realize he has been whispering to me for my entire career.


What are you working on now?

Just now I am briefly between projects and have been throwing myself into promoting King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats, my short novel that was published by Subterranean Press in February.  Maybe you think this isn’t writing, but while I am convinced that we are living in a new Golden Age of Short Fiction, it is also the case that there are more great stories being published than anyone has time to read!  To be a writer today, you must not only write well but also help readers find your best work.  To that end, I’ve been giving the audiobook version of my novella away for free. It’s narrated by my Grammy-and-Audie-award-winning friend, Stefan Rudnicki.  If you’d like a listen, here’s the link:

Like I said, it’s totally free but if you wanted to give something back, why not stop by my website and telling me what you thought?  For that matter, I’d love to hear your reactions to “The Man I Love.” I promise to write back!


“The Man I Love” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here:

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here:

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here:

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Interview: Brian Trent on “Death on the Nefertem Express”

Tell us a bit about “Death on the Nefertem Express.”

A luxury train on another world must keep ahead of the deadly sunrise, treating its passengers to a thrilling and luxurious experience. When the train is sabotaged—and with just thirty minutes to spare before dawn breaks—it falls to space pirate Jolene Fort (“never convicted”) to solve the mystery.

Some readers may recall Miss Fort from my Galaxy’s Edge story “Breaking News Involving Space Pirates.”  She is part of an ongoing, planet-hopping series in which she finds herself embroiled in various mysteries… usually as an unwilling participant. Incidentally, “Breaking News Involving Space Pirates” will be republished later this year in the Cosmic Corsairs anthology from Baen Books.

“Death on the Nefertem Express” tells another Jolene Fort adventure, as she races against the clock to figure out who the saboteur is, why they would commit such a crime, and how to rescue the crew and passengers before it’s too late.


Ten Thousand ThundersWhat was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

It’s remarkable what several bottles of wine on a train can do for you.

As a kid, I grew up on a steady diet of mystery fiction. My mother was an aficionado of Daphne Du Maurier and Agatha Christie, which resulted in my exposure to both luminaries. Appetite whetted, I took on Poe’s Dupin stories. In one summer I tore through a Sherlock Holmes collection, and that autumn discovered a paperback of Father Brown mysteries. In my teenage years I moved on from “gentleman detectives” to the hardboiled variants of Raymond Chandler.

Then, with these nutrients swimming in my blood, I became a science fiction writer. Underlying both genres is a shared block of DNA, after all: the logical extrapolation from available facts. Much of my writing is fed by this taproot. My novel Ten Thousand Thunders is a sci-fi mystery, as is “The Memorybox Vultures” (published in F&SF in Sept/Oct 2018). I enjoy combining the genres, and created my Jolene Fort series to that end.

In 2019, I found myself on one of Connecticut’s only remaining steam trains. It was a far cry from the nation-hopping Orient Express, as Connecticut is a small state, and the train didn’t even complete a circle: its route was akin to the narrative topography of Mad Max: Fury Road: heading to one destination, hitting the brakes, and shifting into reverse. Nonetheless, there was wine. The trip was touted as a sunset, wine-sampling expedition. About a half hour into the journey, we got to experience that sunset. The light hit the western windows. The passengers were ablaze in red and gold. The train seemed to be burning. “Death on the Nefertem Express” was born in that moment, and I spent the rest of the trip entertaining myself with the idea and characters you’ll meet in its pages.


Can you tell us anything about your writing process for “Death on the Nefertem Express?”

I researched trains, tanks, and an array of heavy-duty vehicles to design the Nefertem Express. I also investigated the old-timey luxury trains of yesteryear. I wanted to create the ultimate expression of that opulent, absurd, and haughtily grandiose style (this is a train that contains a swimming pool and smoking lounge, after all.) It’s another reason why I enjoy writing Jolene Fort, because she comes at these scenarios as a pragmatic outsider, forced to interact with bizarre specimens of humanity. One of the tropes of mystery fiction is the eccentric cast; I used that to showcase the indulgences of this future society… a society which should be plenty recognizable to us today.


Weird World War IIIWhat are you working on now?

Would you believe, bronzepunk? I’m on an alternate history kick right now. The sequel to Ten Thousand Thunders is coming, too. And I’m busy with a new novel. Later this year, I’ll have some new stories in F&SF, and in October my speculative Cold War thriller “Shadow Rook Red” will be featured in the Weird World War III anthology from Baen Books. As always, readers can see the newest news on


“Death on the Nefertem Express” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here:

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here:

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here:

You can subscribe to the electronic edition of F&SF at the following links:

Weightless Books (all formats):

Amazon US (Kindle edition):

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):

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