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Interview: Rick Bowes on “Rascal Saturday”

– Tell us a bit about “Rascal Saturday.”

My story, Rascal Saturday, is set a couple of generations down the line in a time of global warming and growing political chaos. In this future, Manhattan is nicknamed, “The Big Arena.”

At the center of the story is a gifted but unstable and corrupt Irish American Family, the Dineens. The Dineens are famous in our world, and are secretly the self-proclaimed rulers of the city of Naxos and its Fey-like population. Naxos is in an alternate world to which they have access.

Janina Dineen, a young scion of the house, is seeking to end this injustice.


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

I tend find myself writing series of stories that share a common themes and settings. “Rascal Saturday” is one of a group that started with “Tales That Fairies Tell,” in Paula Guran’s original anthology, Once Upon A Time (2013). Last Year’s Nebula Award nominated novelette “Sleep Walking Now and Then” ( was another one. The story, “Anyone With A Care For Their Image,” came out this year in Uncanny, and “Time is a Twisting Snake,” was in the newly resurrected Farrago’s Wainscot early this year.

These days, my novels are fix-ups – related stories assembled into a narrative line. That’s how my Minions of the Moon (1999), From The Files Of The Time Rangers (2005) and Dust Devil On A Quiet Street (2013) were created. Each of those books contained chapters that had once been original stories in original anthologies, in online magazines and in print magazines: especially F&SF. Some won awards and some were on short lists and in Year’s Best collections.

Maybe something like that will happen with these “Big Arena” stories. That doesn’t depend on me nearly as much as it does on where the stories take me.


– Was “Rascal Saturday” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I tend to write Urban Fantasy and it tends to be first person and varying degrees of “personal.” But I also write in a mode that’s a bit more Science Fictional. “From the Files of the Time Rangers” was about Time Travel and 20th Century U.S. politics and the upcoming Singularity as well as the Ancient Gods and their modern servants.

Two of the first three genre pieces that I wrote were paperback original novels. Both were published in the mid-1980s. Warchild and Goblin Market were both about Time Travel. The third novel, Feral Cell was dark Urban Fantasy and more personal. It was about alternate worlds and Cancer, which I had at that time.


– What are you working on now?

At the behest of Steve Berman at Lethe Press (who published my novel (Dust Devil On A Quiet Street) I’m working on a fix-up novel about being a gay kid in Boston, circa the late 1940’s – 1962. Several of the stories have been published “Stories I Tell To Friends” (The Revelator), “Seven Days of Poe” (Where Thy Dark Eye Glances), “Fordham Court,” (Interfictions).


– Anything else you’d like to add?

Selling a story to any venue makes me feel I need to do something in return. I want the story to succeed, get critical attention, award attention, and get selected for Year’s Best anthologies. Sometimes that happens more often it doesn’t. When I started selling stories in the early 1990’s, there were two prominent review sites for spec fiction stories; Locus Online and Tangent. Almost 25 years later, many things have changed but that’s still the case.

“Rascal Saturday” appears in the September/October 2015 issue of F&SF.  You can purchase it here:

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Interview: Nick Wolven on “We’re So Very Sorry for Your Recent Tragic Loss”

– Tell us a bit about “We’re So Very Sorry For Your Recent Tragic Loss.”

Adam Gopnik did this profile of Michel Houellebecq in the New Yorker a while ago. It’s all about the nature of satire. Gopnik says at one point that a satirist is someone who “likes to take what’s happening now and imagine what would happen if it kept on happening.” Which makes all sci-fi writers satirists of a kind, I guess–except that in most sci-fi, what keeps on happening is awesome: the spaceships get better, the robots get smarter, everything’s on a grander scale. So you could maybe say that satire is like sci-fi, but with less awesomeness.

This story is satire. It asks what things will be like if we keep doing what we’re doing, using technology the way we’re currently using it. Specifically, it asks what’ll happen if we use the incipient “internet of things” the way we’re already using our internet of screens. The results are fairly Black Mirrorish.


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

Well, I think tech is in a pretty bleak place right now. Communications tech, anyway. Especially if you contrast it with the kinds of dreams we were dreaming twenty years ago. The guiding ethos has gone from being populist to consumerist–which always means the advertisers are running the show. You create some service or gadget or content that gets people hooked, which delivers customer feedback, which allows you to create even more addictive services and gadgets and content … it’s a merry-go-round. There are still some people working on interesting ideas, but we’re seeing a lot more of what I’d call gratuitous innovation, little tweaks and upgrades, new services that are basically rebranded variations on old services, all of it designed around that old adman’s gambit: you flatter the consumer with this kind of phony attention, then sucker-punch him with status anxiety. We did this with cars for sixty, seventy years, tinkering in the margins, trying to make the business of transportation work on the same principles as the fashion industry. We did it with drugs. For that matter, we did it with marriage.


– What kind of research, if any, did you do for this story?

It’s probably obvious. I’d been reading a lot of Luddite-lit when I wrote this. So not hard research, but certainly relevant background. Nick Carr, Sherry Turkle, Lanier, Postman, plus old-school cultural critics like Lasch and Lippmann and Galbraith. I mean, all tech criticism is really cultural criticism in disguise. My grandfather used to have some saying to the effect that a cynic is just an idealist who’s aging badly. I think what you see with a lot of these so-called Luddites is this almost mystical belief in the transformative power of technology. Definitely with Lanier, somewhat with Carr–they’re like these big grouchy grumpuses on the outside, but inside they’re stuffed with wispy cottony woo-woo. They really believe that every laptop holds a clue to our humanity. So I find them paradoxically inspiring. The standard counter in the popular press is to say something like, “What’s wrong with technology? Look, I just used my phone to find a new hair salon.” It’s the complacency of that second attitude that I find depressing.


– What would you want a reader to take away from this story?

Most people just read short stories so they can figure out where to submit their own short stories. So I guess I hope to give a reader something more enjoyable than a quarter hour of market research.

Earlier this year I did read one short story that literally made me jump to my feet. I remember standing up in my subway car, clenching my fists, thinking to myself, “Holy shit, this is literature, I’m reading literature.” What made it great was it was so unexpected. I’d never heard of the author before. I mean, my stop was coming up anyway, but I did jump up prematurely, if you know what I mean. I had an urge to pace. You always hope for that kind of wild surmise, but it comes along pretty rarely.


– What are you working on now?

Nothing I do with my time could ever be described as work. But I’m getting interested in psychometrics, AI, and the concept of randomness. They’re related in interesting ways. Psychometrics is all about how we measure our minds, and any system of measurement has biases, simplifications. So that has a lot of implications for AI, and vice versa. I should mention that I’m an AI skeptic, though. And randomness is key to probability theory, which is key to statistics, which is key to accurate measurement. So to the extent that we’re taking a numerical approach to the study of mind, this curious concept, randomness, is going to be increasingly important for understanding what it means to be human.

Actually, randomness is super interesting, even though no one can quite define it. Information theory, hierarchical complexity, even things like time and causality, they all seem to go back to this notion that no one understands very well. Predictable unpredictability, it’s like a kind of magic key for connecting the ideal world of math with the messiness of observed reality. So I’m banging together a sci-fi novel that plays with those ideas.

“We’re So Very Sorry for Your Recent Tragic Loss” appears in the September/October 2015 issue of F&SF.  Buy it here:

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Interview: David Gerrold on “Monsieur”

– Tell us a bit about “Monsieur.”

I started thinking about vampirism as a disease instead of a supernatural condition. And the more I thought about vampires in that context, the more I realized that the way vampires have been portrayed in a lot of movies and books and TV shows doesn’t deal much with the daily minutiae of a vampire’s life, what’s really necessary for survival.

I wrote that first section, the part in italics — realized I was heading in the wrong direction, and took a giant step back — the meta thing — and began to look at vampire fiction the way a vampire might. The rest of the piece just flowed from there.


– “Monsieur” reads like the beginning of a novel. Is there more to Jacob’s story?

After I finished “Monsieur,” I knew I wanted to know more. There was a lot more to tell. So I kept writing. “Jacob in Boston,” “Jacob in Seattle,” “Jacob in San Francisco,” and finally “Jacob in New Orleans.” When I was done, I had 75,000 words. So, yes, that first story is the first chapter in a novel — and we printed up a special collector’s edition in time for the World Science Fiction Convention. I think there will be copies available on Amazon by the end of this month as well.


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

I have to point to a story in the July/August 2014 issue of F&SF. A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i. by Alaya Dawn Johnson. (Which went on to win the Nebula award.) It struck me as a brilliant piece in so many ways, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I wanted to know more about the world suggested beyond that story — so much so that I almost wanted to write it myself.

But what happened was something else. As I said above, I started thinking about how a vampire would have to survive in our world. I’m not through with that thinking. I might have more to say in the future.


– Do you think any aspects of your writing have changed as you’ve gotten older?

I’ve always been interested in the conflict of ideas — and the moral and emotional dilemmas those conflicts create in human beings. It’s what James Blish always said, “Who does it hurt? That’s who your story is about.”

But more and more, I think I’m writing a lot deeper than I used to. I’m doing more of what I call “transfusion stories.”

There’s that thing that writers say. “Writing is easy. Sit down at the keyboard and open a vein.” If I finish a story and I need a transfusion, I know I’ve gone someplace important. I can tell by the depth of emotion I’ve invested in the story.

I can point to “The Martian Child” and “thirteen o’clock” and “Entanglements” (May/June 2015 issue of F&SF) as transfusion stories. That’s my goal, to write more stories that come from that vein…

“Monsieur” appears in the September/October 2015 issue of F&SF, which can be purchased here:

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Interview: Marissa Lingen on “Ten Stamps Viewed Under Water”

– Tell us a bit about “Ten Stamps Viewed Under Water.”

I wrote it while I was in a lake house alone with my in-laws for a long weekend. There were nine of us, not two, and everyone was quite cheerful and having a good time, but I think the “it’s just us and the snow outside” experience probably had a subconscious effect on me!

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

I had the title first. I honestly don’t even remember how I got the title. And then I thought about the sorts of stamps you see, how they would translate to a fantasy setting, and it became a very stressed out fantasy setting very quickly, because what would be interesting about the stamps of a fantasy setting that is utterly peaceful and running smoothly? And really, the head of a queen: that’s a little alarming when you take it out of context. I think honestly it was Queen Elizabeth II’s head that really had me off and running. (Obviously it is not QE2 in the story.)

– Was this story personal to you in any way? If so, how?

My grandfather was a stamp collector, and my grandfather-in-law still is one. So my associations with the hinges and the tweezers and the little dishes of water soaking stamps off envelopes and all the paraphernalia of stamp collecting are all very positive–much more positive than this story would indicate!

– What are you working on now?

Oh gosh. Lots of stuff. Right at the moment, I am obsessed with fungus, so that’s going in a lot of different directions. Some of them apocalyptic, some of them therapeutic…lots of mycological science fiction, is I guess what I’m saying here.

“Ten Stamps Viewed Under Water” appears in the September/October 2015 issue of F&SF, which can be purchased here:

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Interview: Van Aaron Hughes on “The Body Pirate”

– Tell us a bit about “The Body Pirate.”

“The Body Pirate” is set on a world where humanoids and birdlike creatures form (seemingly) symbiotic pairings. The birds dominate the pairings, considering themselves the “souls” while the humanoids are merely “bodies.”  Our protagonist Adela has co-pioneered technology to allow a single soul to divide its time between two or more bodies.  This has unintended consequences, both to the society and in Adela’s personal life.


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

I got the initial concept of a bird/human pairing from a Counting Crows song lyric.  (“There’s a bird that nests inside you, sleeping underneath your skin. / When you open your wings to speak, I wish you’d let me in.”)  What made me want to write a story about these pairings was the notion that a human and bird might sometimes be a unit, but other times operate independently.  So bird, person, and bird+person would be in one sense a single character, but in another sense three different characters.  I loved that, both because I thought it would be interesting to represent visually on the page, and because I hardly know anyone who always behaves consistently and predictably.  Creating these different variations on a given character’s personality struck me as a nice metaphor for how human beings really work.


– Was “The Body Pirate” personal for you in any way?  If so, how?

Everything I write is personal on some level, and every protagonist of mine will suffer difficulties that parallel, at least metaphorically, things I’ve experienced.  But also, this story partly grew out of a desire to understand myself better.  The version of me that goes to a law office and writes briefs and takes depositions is, in a very real sense, not the same person who shows up at SF conventions and writes weird stories like “The Body Pirate.”


– How did the challenges of POV and formatting influence the writing of this story?

I fell in love with the idea of splitting the narrative into two columns when Adela splits into her bird and human halves.  But it was a bit tricky.  It meant coming up with a whole new set of pronouns (e.g., a single bird or human is “I”; a bird/human pairing is “we”; and group of pairings is “weall”).  And it meant that when Adela split, the narratives about her two halves had to be the same length.  At first I wasn’t sure that would work, since one half was doing hugely important research and getting embroiled in life-or-death conflicts while the other half was babysitting the kids.  But the more I worked on this piece, the more I realized how much Adela’s home life was at the core of the story I wanted to tell.


– What might you want a reader to take away from “The Body Pirate?”

I’m just hoping the people who enjoy the story outnumber the ones who say, “Whaaaat?”


– What are you working on now?

I’m just finishing up a short story set on a haunted asteroid.  (I don’t know if it works, because I can’t scare myself.)  And I’ve written the ending of a novel set on the world of “The Body Pirate,” in which the humanoid creatures start a war of independence.  Nearly everything I write, I do the ending first, so we’ll see if I have the nerve to complete an entire novel in this strange setting.


– Anything else you’d like to add?

Just to express my gratitude to Gordon, Charlie, everyone at F&SF, and all the magazine’s readers.  I have been a reader, fan, and collector much longer than I’ve been a writer.  To appear (for the second time!) in F&SF, which I’ve been reading since I was a boy, is a tremendous thrill and honor.

“The Body Pirate” appears in the July/August 2015 issue of F&SF, which can be purchased here:

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