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Interview: Stephanie Feldman on “The Staircase”

Stephanie FeldmanF&SF: How do you describe this story to people?

SF: A group of teenage best friends visits a staircase that’s rumored to lead to another dimension. When one of the girls walks down—and climbs back up again—their relationships will never be the same. “The Staircase” is about contemporary legends, gossip, paranoia, and friendship.

F&SF: What made you decide to write this story right now?

SF: I started this story some time ago. I’m not sure why this idea felt so urgent, but thinking about it now, in the summer of 2020, I’m drawn to its investigation of our most intimate bonds. These friends have thrived on a feeling of “us against the world.” (Today, they would probably be lobbying their parents to be a quarantine pod.) That kind of loyalty is appealing, but it’s also demanding and high-pressure. What happens when it explodes?

F&SF: Both of your stories for F&SF so far — “The Barrens” and “The Staircase” — feature characters who are young adults, but the stories don’t quite feel like YA stories. It seems to us that part of the tension in both stories comes from the gap that exists between our knowledge as older adults and our memories of what it was like to be that particular age. Are we completely off base?

SF: I agree. I don’t think of either of these stories as YA. (Though, to be fair, I tend not to think about any labels or genres when I’m writing.) I like writing about young people, but I’m not so interested (at least, right now) in writing for young people. My first audience is myself. So while both stories aim to capture something genuine about that age, they also include insights I’ve gained in my adult life.

F&SF: What’s the appeal to you of writing characters who are this age?

SF: I’m obsessed with storytelling and teenagers are such great folklorists! Rumors, urban legends, sub-cultures… “The Staircase” is also about friendship and identity, in-groups and out-groups, and teenagers feel like natural protagonists for exploring those issues.

Maybe it also just rings true to send a teenager out on an adventure like this. I don’t think I’d be any less excited to discover a mysterious staircase at this stage in my life, but I probably wouldn’t have the time or inclination to explore it, let alone an equally excited friend to accompany me.

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

SF: I always start with freewriting and brainstorming. I try to sketch out a central conflict, one that works on both a plot and emotional level. What is this character trying to do and why? What matters to them? How do they need to grow or heal?

Next, I write a super messy draft from beginning to end. I have to think about a story holistically. Then I go back and start revising. And, of course, I can’t get anywhere without feedback from writer friends and critique partners.

F&SF: What are you working on now?

SF: It’s been hard to find time to write during the pandemic, but I’m slowly adding words to a ghost story novella. It’s another piece that draws on folklore and my local environment—well, the Poconcos, so kind of local—but it’s also a love story, which I don’t write too many of. Usually, my characters are behaving badly toward each other, so I’m enjoying some good, old-fashioned true love and compassion.

I’m also preparing to teach two online writing classes this fall, one for Blue Stoop on the foundations of fiction and another for Catapult on developing the novel. Both classes are open to both beginning and experienced writers. I’ll be sharing more on my website (see below).

You can find Stephanie Feldman at…

Website: stephaniefeldman.com/
Twitter: @sbfeldman

“The Staircase” appears in the July/August 2020 issue of F&SF.

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