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Interview: Rati Mehrotra on “Knock Knock, Said the Ship”

Author photo of Rati MehrotraF&SF: How do you describe this story to people?

RM: I say it’s a story about how a super cool ship AI and a refugee save their captain and crew from murderous space pirates. If that’s not enough to hook them, I add that there are multiple knock knock jokes, all told by the ship.

F&SF: What made you decide to write “Knock Knock, Said the Ship”?

RM: It’s the child of a story I wrote a few years earlier. That one didn’t quite work, but it gave me the bones to build this one. I had the world and the characters in my mind for a long time. The basic plot developed from Deenu’s refugee background. But mainly, I wrote this story because I couldn’t resist the ship AI’s attempts at humor. Those jokes just demanded to be written. And the ship is someone I would personally love to meet.

F&SF: How was this story personal to you?

RM: Kaalratri, the name of the ship, is one of the nine forms of the Goddess Durga. The name literally means ‘darkest night’. She is regarded as a fierce form of the mother goddess, who chases away evil and destroys fear and ignorance in her devotees. I grew up hearing stories of the mother goddess, and it is this reference which makes the story most personal to me. I like to think of the ship as a protective and powerful, if not wholly understandable, mother figure – much like the goddess herself.

F&SF: Deenu and the ship have a great relationship and it must have been a lot of fun to write their dialogue. But what were the challenges of writing this story?

RM: Yes, I think I’ve had more fun writing this story than any other. My main challenge was giving a satisfying resolution to the plot. I had this great set-up, but it took a while to figure out how I could wrap it up in a way that felt deserved and natural.

F&SF: Can you talk a bit about your writing process?

RM: It varies. I am capable of writing five thousand words in a day when inspiration strikes – or when I have a deadline, which is its own kind of inspiration. I can also go weeks without writing a single word. I don’t like to plan ahead too much. I am definitely a pantser, not a plotter. This means that I often have to go back and revise or delete what I’ve written earlier. It’s not a very efficient way of writing, but it’s the only one that works for me. Once I have a complete draft, I’ll set it aside for a few days, re-read and revise, then request beta reads. Once I have feedback, I’ll revise it again. Only then will I submit the story to a market.

F&SF: What are you working on now?

RM: I’ve just finished the draft of a YA fantasy novel based in medieval India that I’m very excited about. It’s full of monsters and mayhem! Fingers crossed I get to share it with the world one day.

You can find Rati Mehrotra at:

Twitter: @Rati_Mehrotra

“Knock Knock, Said the Ship” appears in the July/August 2020 issue of F&SF.

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