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Interview: Stephanie Feldman on “The Barrens”

Stephanie FeldmanTell us a bit about “The Barrens.”

“The Barrens” is about five teenagers who venture into New Jersey’s vast Pine Barrens in search of a pirate radio station and its elusive DJ. They should be more worried about what might find them first.

The piece is a twist on horror movie tropes, but it’s also about storytelling and desire, as well as the environment and folklore of the mid-Atlantic, where I grew up and still live.

 

 

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

This story started with one very specific inspiration: My Favorite’s song “Let’s Stay Alive” from the album Love at Absolute Zero, which I played quite a bit back when I was a college radio DJ. Here’s a line from the song: “On the pirate radio station, in my car with no destination, as bright and lost as the stars above, we will reinvent love! Let’s stay alive, let’s stay alive, let’s stay alive…” In my story, the pirate radio station becomes the destination and “let’s stay alive” becomes a literal imperative. The song has this shimmery, pure, desperate spirit that captures adolescence, and I wanted to write a story with that same energy.

My other goal was to take my first straight dive into horror. I grew up on horror movies and my work has always nodded to the genre—it was time to come home.


Was “The Barrens” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

It draws on my own memories of being a teenager. All the characters desperately want something: to be loved, to experience something bigger than themselves, or to simply feel alive. Like them, I also turned to music when the rest of my life felt unsatisfying.

The story reflects my adult experience, too. I moved to the suburbs a few years ago and felt a bit stuck and bored. I’ve been using my writing to rediscover greater Philadelphia—to turn it a little weird and mysterious. I’ve never been a Jersey girl, but I’ve always been Jersey-adjacent, and I loved digging in to the local legends and folklore for “The Barrens.”

 

What was the most difficult aspect of writing “The Barrens,” and what was the most fun?

Usually my process is thorny and angst-ridden, but I had so much fun writing this story. Maybe it comes back to my inspiration—the reckless energy of the music—or maybe it was imagining those kids speeding through the dark woods, both hunter and hunted. It was all adventure. (The characters would likely disagree.)

 

What are you working on now?

I’ve spent the past year putting together the anthology Who Will Speak for America?, forthcoming from Temple University Press in July, with my co-editor Nathaniel Popkin. As a writer, I find these times both urgent and challenging. It’s as important as ever to write honestly and fearlessly about who we are and what we care about. At the same time, the political chaos can be stifling. So I’m thrilled to share the voices of over 40 fiction writers, essayists, poets, and artists from across the genre spectrum, including Charlie Jane Anders, Sam J. Miller, Malka Older, and Fran Wilde, all writing on the subject of identity and the current political crisis. (Royalties go to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which fights on behalf of the most vulnerable among us.)

I have a story, “The Elites,” in Gordon Van Gelder’s recent anthology Welcome to Dystopia.

I’m also working on a novel and a few stories. Most of these projects are engaged with horror, and some of them explore Pennsylvania folklore and legend. I’m filling the suburbs with monsters.

 

“The Barrens” appears in the May/June 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1805.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

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

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Clicking on Ms. Feldman’s photo will take you to her website.  You can also find her online here: twitter.com/sbfeldman

Interview: Matthew Hughes on “Argent and Sable”

Tell us a bit about the story.

“Argent and Sable” continues the development of Baldemar, a poor boy who first became an assistant to a debt collector then segued into a career as a wizard’s henchman.  A mission his master sent him on brought him into contact with an interplanar entity — the Helm of Sagacity — who “altered” the young man so that he could be sent on a perilous quest that the entity had sent plenty of others on over the millennia, all of whom ended up badly.  But Baldemar succeeded, and now he is trying to discern just how different he now is, starting with exploring the quality of luck that the Helm gifted him with.

 

Matthew HughesWhat was the inspiration for “Argent and Sable,” or what prompted you to write it?

In the largest sense, I’m exploring the Dying Earth that the brilliant Jack Vance ceded to sfdom, and doing it through the development of roguish characters:  thieves, thaumaturges, and henchmen.  A lot of Baldemar’s experiences so far illustrate how magic works (and how it sometimes doesn’t).  In the next episode, “The Plot Against Fantucco’s Armor,” wizardly rivalries overlap into high-level political intrigue, which will lead Baldemar to a new kind of work.  Then, in the episode after “Fantucco,” which I’m just finishing, we move into a Dying Earth police procedural.

If I’m doing this right, the reader ought to be getting a wider picture of how a world of wizards and walled cities might work.

 

Continuing their introduction at the end of “Jewel of the Heart,” you have delved into two new fluxions from which wizards draw their powers: argent and sable.  Do you have any plans to explore these new fluxions in further Archonate stories?

Oh, yes.  Indeed, in Gardner Dozois’s anthology, The Book of Magic, coming out in October, I have a story called “The Friends of Masquelayne the Incomparable,” in which argent and sable fluxions are crucial to the plot.  Spoiler alert:  the title is an oxymoron, Masquelayne doesn’t have, and doesn’t deserve, any friends at all.

 

What are you working on now?

Once I’ve finished up the new Baldemar novelette, I’ll be in a wait-and-see mode.  I’ve got a new suspense novel coming out in hardcover, One More Kill, which George R.R. Martin was kind enough to blurb for me.  He said, “Fans of Lawrence Block’s Keller stories are going to love ONE MORE KILL.   I certainly did.   Matt Hughes kept me up all night, turning pages.”  I’m looking to do a deal for the North American rights which might lead to my writing a sequel.  But I’m also looking for a publisher for Ghost Dreams, about a burglar and a ghost, for which I might also do a sequel.

A couple of things I’d like readers to know:  I’ll be at WorldCon in August, ready to sign any work of mine, and I’m still hoping to attract more pledges by patrons to my Patreon account, so that I can afford to keep on writing.   Link:  https://www.patreon.com/user?u=4687520

 

“Argent and Sable” appears in the May/June 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1805.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

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

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

In addition to Mr. Hughes’s Patreon account noted at the end of the interview, if you click on his photo, you’ll be taken to his website.

Interview: Andy Stewart on “Likho”

Andy StewartWhat was the inspiration for “Likho,” or what prompted you to write it?

When I finished writing “Wormwood Is Also A Star,” (F&SF May/June 2013) I didn’t immediately anticipate continuing with that world or any of its characters. There seemed to be a finality and a solemnness to the piece. But then I read a photo essay about the “stalkers” of Pripyat, the young men and women who, armed with dosimeters and flashlights and cans of spray paint, would trespass into the Exclusion Zone, exploring the urban ruins—that’s when ideas began to percolate. I started thinking about Pripyat, not just as a setting, but as a symbol—a ghost-town, a modern-day apocalypse, a place that has become mythological in its own right—and I wanted to explore all this in greater detail. Rereading the extraordinarily good Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers helped to remind me of the SF tradition I was working within as well. There was more to explore in this alternative world.

 

Was there any aspect of this story that you found especially difficult to write?

One of the hardest parts of writing a ‘close’ alternative history (meaning, that the alternative thread is very nearly identical to our own) is that current world events can often get in the way. I consider “Wormwood” and “Likho” to be as much political thrillers as they are sci-fantasy, both dealing with the tenuous relationship between Ukraine and Russia through the years. The Maidan Revolution in Ukraine was unfolding just as I started penning the first draft of “Likho.” I knew I wanted to write a main character who had been on the front-lines of that cause, as it embodied the ongoing fight for democracy in a world bending toward fascism. However, when Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula occurred soon after, I actually had to stop writing for a bit. Real history was beginning to catch up with my fiction. I had to be very careful not to step on the immediate, both in service of the story, but also to make sure I wasn’t trivializing a current life-and-death conflict. Thankfully, a full civil war did not erupt in Ukraine, and did not result in a Cold War-esque division of the country, like Germany, which is the political situation Sonya and Klim, the main characters of “Likho,” find themselves in. But, honestly, it remains a frightfully close reality in my mind, especially as world events continue unfolding in eerie similarity to the Cold War era.

In response to finding inspiration, history is absolutely directly related to current events, and inspiration has to come from both. The impetus for political action and reaction today have to be traced way back to the old national wounds, and the old victories. I guess that’s a major theme with the characters in “Likho” as well. There’s a continuum, whether that be political, emotional, or in mythology and legend.

 

You’ve now written two novellas in this world do you think you’ll have more stories to tell here, or perhaps work these stories into a novel?

I’ve actually written a third section in this sequence that features Mitka’s estranged daughter, Rossi, in a near-future Ukraine on the brink of peace after being divided along East/West political ideologies for years. I’ve interwoven these narratives to create a novel manuscript I’m calling Black Tin. It fits in that “fix up” tradition we sometimes find in the SF market, something like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Icehenge, or Gene Wolfe’s The Fifth Head of Cerberus, but I think it also works as a traditional generational narrative as well. I’m hoping to find a home for it soon.

 

“Likho” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1803.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

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

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Clicking on Andy Stewart’s photo will take you to his website: http://www.mr-andy.com/

Interview: William Ledbetter on “The Beast from Below”

William LedbetterTell us a bit about “The Beast from Below.”

It’s the story of a love-sick sheriff in 1950s rural Oklahoma where nothing exciting ever happens, who is suddenly confronted with a monster that has destroyed a house and apparently killed a family. The object of his forlorn love is a gun-toting, fast-talking lady mayor of the nearby town who sees the monster as a chance to put her little town on the map.

 

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

I have a long-time love for these giant critter movies from the 50s and early 60s and have collected the best ones on DVD. I still watch them when I have a free Sunday afternoon, much to the dismay of my poor wife who just groans and rolls her eyes when she enters the room to see soldiers and scientists fighting a building-sized insect. Of course, we now know that radiation exposure doesn’t create these kinds of monstrosities, and since those early days science fiction has grown more sophisticated and explores much deeper and more realistic issues, but that doesn’t stop me from loving these old stories.

When a friend proposed an anthology filled with speculative fiction stories set in Oklahoma during the 1950s my mind of course turned to those old movies. The anthology never got off the ground, but I had so much fun writing the story and liked the characters so much, that I had to finish it and try to find it a home.

 

What aspect of “The Beast from Below” was the most fun for you to write?

My goal in writing this story was to pay homage to these old movies, but I’m the first to admit that due to social mindsets of the period, those plots and characters are rife with problems. So I set out to turn some of these tropes and stereotypes upside down without losing the “flavor” of the giant monster movie. Instead of a woman added to the plot as nothing more than a prop for the male hero to save, Mable Harjo is a smart, professional, strong-willed and competent native American woman. Instead of a steely-eyed, brilliant scientist who saves the world by finding the beast’s one weakness, Doctor Lawrence is a self-aggrandizing blowhard and coward. And my reluctant hero, Harry, is more of an Andy Griffith type sheriff instead of the typical square-jawed military officer.

 

What are you working on now?

I’ll be announcing the sale of a novel later this spring and have just finished edits on that. I have a story coming out in the July/August F&SF, new stories later this year in Analog, Asimov’s and a Baen anthology called “Homo Stellaris.” I’m also working on another novel and various short fiction projects. For those who might have missed it, I also run a contest for Baen Books and The National Space Society called the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award Contest, where we give an award and publication for stories about humanity’s near future in space. I also edited an anthology containing sixteen of the best stories from the first ten years of that contest called Jim Baen Memorial Award: The First Decade. The details about this anthology and all the above-mentioned stories can be found on my website: williamledbetter.com

 

“The Beast from Below” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1803.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

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

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Interview: Wole Talabi on “The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi”

Wole TalabiTell us a bit about “The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi.”

“The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” starts with an incredibly destructive battle in a far-off corner of the universe between a super-sentient being and an unspecified enemy over a powerful artifact. There is an explosion and the artifact is flung to earth, specifically, Warri, Nigeria in the early 1990s where a precocious young girl named Ejiro discovers it. As she explores its powers, she finds that it allows her consciousness to be in multiple places at once, and, when a political protest led by her father threatens to become violent, she finds that it allows her consciousness to merge with others, forming a powerful kind of pseudo-hive-mind.

 

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

I wrote the first 1000 words of this story back in 2013. I knew I wanted to set a story in early 1990s Warri (the time and place I grew up) and the character of Ejiro came very clear in my mind from day one. Even the opening scene with the insane space chase and explosion that created the object was a clear vision when I started… but I could never quite figure out how the alien object would affect Ejiro once she encountered it. Early last year, frustrated at how increasingly divided much of world seemed to be, I remembered the story and went back to it, considering ways in which all of humanity could communicate and be more understanding of each other. A sort of separate but shared consciousness seemed like one natural evolution state of empathy. The object seemed perfect for this purpose. After that, the story came quickly.

Nick Wood’s excellent novel Azanian Bridges (about an empathy enhancer) was also an influence, I read it just after I finished the second draft of the story.

I should also mention that before I wrote this story, I used to think that stories about people finding powerful magical/mystical/alien objects were a bit cliché but then I read James Alan Gardner’s The Ray-Gun: A Love Story which is quite wonderful. And what I learned from that story was: the object and how it’s found don’t really matter for the story, what matters is what the character does with it and how it affects their lives and the lives of others.

 

Was “The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Well, like I mentioned, the story is set in an industrial housing camp in early 90’s Warri, Nigeria. I grew up in a steel company housing camp in the 80’s and 90’s so a lot of Ejiro’s environment and the descriptions of Ejiro’s life come from my own memories and experience. There’s a lot of personal nostalgia in the story (e.g. reading Cyprian Ekwensi novels, rewatching The Princess Bride, sneaking sips of Gulder Beer…) and I really enjoyed writing it.

 

The conclusion that your story reaches, that humanity will bring an end to conflict and build a better world if we meld together into a unified, shared consciousness, seems to criticize much of popular sf, which tends to have a more individualistic message.  Could you talk about these differences, how you came to the conclusion in your story, and how you see your story in conversation with the broader sf field?

Well, I already mentioned that when writing the story I was thinking about how poorly humanity communicates, how much we misunderstand each other and easily we fragment. To my mind, one of the major problems with humanity as a group is lack of trust. Many of us fundamentally want the same things but we don’t know for certain what any other human in the world is thinking or feeling and why (unless they are similar enough to us for us to approximate this or in love with them enough for it to not matter) and so it is easy to mistrust others and come into conflict with them in a bid to protect ourselves. In engineering terms, our overall group efficiency is pretty low. I wanted to begin to explore the concept of a partially shared mind as a way of improving understanding between people. While I’m not the first to do this, as you noted, often, in much of (western) SF canon the concept of a group consciousness is typically treated negatively probably due to its association with insects (and perhaps communism?) and often implies loss of individuality, identity, and personhood. Species exhibiting these traits are often represented as zombie-like (e.g. Star Trek’s Borg). These are all fair criticisms but to primarily consider the concept of a group consciousness as negative and dismiss its benefits is over-simplistic. There can be balance. Not a hard line between myself and themself but a soft one. A sort of dual state. An ability to share consciousness while maintaining a sense of self should be something we aspire to because a shared mind/consciousness can be extremely valuable in improving knowledge, resolving conflict and quickly establishing trust and understanding between individuals. This story is one science-fantasy experiment in this line of thinking. I further explore this concept in another soon-to-be published story When We Dream We Are Our God as well and will probably continue to do so. Octavia Butler’s Patternmaster and Netflix’s Sense8 come to mind as stories that also take a more complicated view of group consciousness. I don’t dismiss the potential downsides of a shared consciousness (some readers may pick up on a mildly sinister tone I occasionally use in parts of the story) but just because historically, much of human development has been attributed to individual efforts or to small groups imposing their way on others, that does not mean it is the best way or that it should continue. We would probably have developed more, better and faster if we’d been more effective as a group. So I think a kind of shared consciousness or something like it is an important component for an improved, future humanity and should be a more prominent part of the greater SF conversation.

 

What are you working on now?

Well, I just finished the manuscript for my first fiction collection to be published by Luna Press in early 2019. I have a few stories that will be published later this year and so now I’m trying to finalize an SF action-thriller novel I’ve been working on for a while. I keep a list of what I’ve written, along with links to read on my blog so folks can keep updated. https://wtalabi.wordpress.com/published-fiction/

 

“The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1803.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

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

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

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