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Interview: Alyssa Wong on “The Fisher Queen”

- Tell us a bit about “The Fisher Queen.”

“The Fisher Queen” was the first story I wrote at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop of Science Fiction & Fantasy. My instructor Andy Duncan convinced me that if I really wanted to write a mermaid story, I should follow my impulses and write one, and Nalo Hopkinson was kind enough to give feedback on it.

I love fish. No, really. Fish are one of my favorite life forms to study and observe. I think they’re very cute, but I also eat them. A lot. That strange dichotomy definitely gave birth, in part, to “The Fisher Queen.”


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

I wrote “The Fisher Queen” as a wedding present for my friend, Katie. Since her favorite fairytale is “The Little Mermaid,” I really wanted to write her a mermaid story.

I think I wrote four other stories, none of which managed to contain mermaids, before I could figure this one out. The closest I got to mermaids before “The Fisher Queen” was a story about sand whales, which, uh, isn’t the same thing at all.


- Was “The Fisher Queen” personal for you in any way, and if so, how?

Absolutely. Two prominent themes in “The Fisher Queen” are the effects of systematic violence against women and the costs of not speaking up in the face of injustice. These are issues that impact us, our loved ones, and everyone around us, every single day, and have the power to destroy us–sometimes slowly over a lifetime, sometimes in a burst of passion and hate.

It is also a story about being young, full of wrath, and surrounded by atrocities that you can’t yet name but also can’t ignore. I was very much like that when I was fifteen years old, and sometimes even now.


- Did you do any research for “The Fisher Queen?”

I had to do a lot of research. I grew up in the desert and I’ve been on a boat once, maybe twice; the strongest memory I have of being on the water was clinging to a rope in a tiny fishing boat, bobbing through a Chinese harbor, seasick out of my wits. I was probably 10 years old.

For this project, I watched a lot of documentaries about the Mekong and about fishing. I also watched a lot of River Monsters. Like, three seasons of it.


- Would you say that you wrote a transgressive story?  Lily exacts a harsh retribution on her father and the other crewmen of their fishing boat, but one could say that the behavior they engaged in, i.e., raping captured mermaids, is also transgressive; perhaps not to the society described in your story, but certainly to the reader.  Could you expound on this at all?

Rape culture is a distressing reality in both our world and the world of the story. However, Lily’s demands for justice are enacted through personal violence rather than rallying her community for greater societal change. Her methods are presented as undeniably destructive, but somehow, personally acceptable… and hopefully, by the end of the story, very satisfying.

Lily is a kind, violent, selfless, and selfish young woman. Having her choose to destroy her family through her final actions in the story is transgressive, but one could also argue that the family was deteriorating already: her father is a rapist, her sister and her mother are victims… everyone is a victim of this system, including Lily and her father.

The first stories I heard about mermaids as a kid were about how sailors, homesick and horny, either mistook or imagined various ocean animals as part woman, part fish creatures. Is it really a huge stretch of the imagination to wonder if some of these men, ‘starved’ for female sexual attention that they thought they deserved, might have raped animals or each other?

The world of “The Fisher Queen” is strange, perhaps, and the crimes are sickening, but they are very firmly rooted in our own reality. If the idea that rape is evil and deserves punishment, even and especially violent punishment, seems absurd, then this story is indeed, and sadly, transgressive.


- What are you working on now?

I’m working on a biopunk, neo-noir novel, a Southern gothic horror story, and am buckling down for a hardcore revision session with a sci-fi piece from Clarion.


- Anything else you’d like to add?

I owe a lot to my instructors Kelly Link and Karen Joy Fowler for pushing me to send “The Fisher Queen” out into the world, and to Ellen Datlow for guiding me through the short story market to F&SF.

Also, thank you for reading my story. It means a lot to me.

“The Fisher Queen” appears in the May/June 2014 issue of F&SF.

Interview: Jonathan Andrew Sheen on “The Shadow in the Corner”

- Tell us a bit about “The Shadow in the Corner.”

“The Shadow in the Corner” is an homage to the late HP Lovecraft. It’s my humble way of trying to play with the idea of making some of the standard tropes of horror work in the modern world. I sometimes seen “modernized” horror tropes that are attempts at subversion — “I defeated the vampire by shining a sun-lamp at him, because the lamp had the same wavelengths as sunlight” — and I always find that approach annoying. When you’re dealing with the supernatural, I feel like it’s a cheap ploy to treat it as if it’s bound by scientific principles. So I wanted to arm modern, competent, technological heroes with all the advantages that we have, lasers and computers and the internet and command of quantum physics, and still show them helpless in the face of Lovecraft’s Elder Gods.


- “The Shadow in the Corner” is a story in the Lovecraftian tradition: was there a specific story, by Lovecraft or another writer, which provided any inspiration for yours?

Well, there was “The Whisperer in the Darkness” — and the movie adaptation of it by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society — that gave me a feeling for looking at Miskatonic University as a real school that students would attend and where professors would do real scientific research. There was “At The Mountains of Madness,” which was the first Lovecraft story I read, again for ideas about the University. And, of course, “The Call of Cthulhu” (and here again, I can’t say enough about the importance and high quality of the silent movie version made by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society. Those folks are just amazing artists, and the conceit they use making their movies — making them in the style that would have been used had they been filmed when they were released in print — is stunningly effective.)


- Did you do any research for this story?

I read those stories, and looked around for the names of characters associated with Miskatonic. I already had vague notions of quantum entanglement, and I had a couple of science-savvy friends read the story to see if my use of it was too risible. (That said, I wasn’t all that concerned about solid science. It’s a Lovecraft Mythos tale — nobody’s reading that for the science!) I had, a few months previously, spent a day driving around Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts, which is the region generally believed to be that of Lovecraft’s fictional “Arkham.”


- What is it about cosmic horror that you find so appealing as a writer?

Well, I don’t know that it’s a theme I’ll be concentrating on going forward, but the idea that something can be so alien and incomprehensible that simply seeing it can rob a man of his sanity is a compelling one.

What moved me to write the story was the combination of two things:

First, the notion I’d already had — inspired, truth to tell, by a cute image on the Internet, showing a giant thing chasing a man down the foggy streets of a small modern town, with the caption “Miskatonic – It’s a great school just don’t read any of the textbooks aloud” ( — of Miskatonic University as a modern, real school, and what the history Lovecraft gave it would mean for people going there currently. I thought it would be a grim joke throughout Academe — but that those actually studying or working there would see absolutely no humor there.

The second was the notion of Agrawal Narendra’s method of escaping the horror in his mind. That awful image, when it arrived, carried with it the notion that an eldritch Thing from another dimension might invade ours through someone’s awareness of it, but it was the terrible act of self-destruction that told me I had a story here.


- What are you working on now?

“Working on” is too strong a word, but I’m playing with ideas about future law-enforcement involving cybernetically-upgraded federal agents and dogs. And, I promise, as much is it sounds like it, it’s in no way related to, nor similar to, my previous F&SF story (really, Matt Jarpe’s story with help from me) “The Bad Hamburger!”


- Anything else you’d like to add?

I had a lot of fun writing “The Shadow in the Corner,” and a wonderful experience with Gordon and Lisa and everyone I’ve had contact with at F&SF. It’s been a wonderful experience, and I hope to be able to come up with material to work with you all in the future.

“The Shadow in the Corner” appears in the May/June 2014 issue of F&SF.

Interview: Leo Vladimirsky on “Collar”

- Tell us a bit about “Collar.”

Collar is the story of two men whose need for each other will end up destroying one, or possibly both, of them.


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

Actually there were two main inspirations: one was a comment my father made a few summers ago. He was musing on how people complain about how expensive oil is, and yet energy is still so cheap it’s more economically viable to ship cast iron furniture across the globe than to make it at home.

The other came from an article I read (which actually pops up every now again) about the libertarian utopia of the island-city (as popularized in Silicon Valley just last night.) I think this particular article was by Peter Thiel.

So I just connected the dots and threw in a bit of a surfing beach here in NYC and my obsession with street markets.


- Was “Collar” personal for you in any way, and if so, how?

I can’t say I’ve ever been in such an extreme position as any of the characters, but I can see myself in any of their positions. But, like a lot of people, I’ve been out of work before and I know the claustrophobia and panic that set in over time.


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

So the whole synthfat thing was something that I researched. I remember reading about how the folks who swim the English Channel used to cover themselves in goose fat to keep warm. I thought that was a pretty visceral symbol and decided to write it into the story.

But… when I actually looked it up, it turns out that the fat was used to keep their skin from chafing in the salt water, not to insulate themselves. Apparently it would require some insane amount of fat to actually insulate them.

Luckily this is still fiction, so I’m allowed to take a few liberties…


- Is there anything you’d want a reader to take away from “Collar?”

That is entirely up to the reader. People have very different interpretations of this story and its world, which I love to hear. But I do think there is something optimistic in there, that we find a way to survive no matter what absurd conditions are placed on us.


- What are you working on now?

A director friend of mine and I are exploring whether Collar can live as a film, which is pretty exciting. I’m also working on a few more stories set in this version of NYC (there’s a reference to the Manhattan Bypass Bridge that I’ve been exploring.) And I keep trying to figure out how to turn Das Orbit (a blog fiction project I’ve been writing for years) into a novel.

“Collar” appears in the March/April 2014 issue of F&SF.

Interview: Jon DeCles on “Apprentice”

- Tell us a bit about “Apprentice.”

Well, of course it’s a Mickey Mouse story: but it’s worth remembering that the Dukas tone poem is based on a poem by Goethe.  There’s a lot more there than a cartoon, or an orchestra tune, and a lot of room to examine character and consequence.


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

My foster son Jonathon.  He is a brilliant craftsman, photographer, builder, you name it: but he has a tendency to get right to the end of a project and change directions, leaving the final thing undone. He came into my life when he was eighteen, and before that things were not so hot for him.


- Was “Apprentice” personal for you in any way, and if so, how?

Very personal, for obvious reasons.  Sometimes all a writer can do about his or her life is write about it.  I find that all the fantasy I have written over the last thirty years or so is autobiography.


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

Compassion.  I’m a disciple of Theodore Sturgeon, so everything I write is about love.  Love is never easy, which is why it makes for good story telling.  I’d like the reader, with me, to hope the Wizard will find a way around the problem.


- What are you working on now?

I’ve got a bunch of stuff on my desk.  An Ancient Greek werewolf story (I was running the Nemean Games, along with my wife, Diana L. Paxson, and I got interested is some legends), a modern vampire story involving Vodou, and the next book in the Piswyck Papers, “The Revenge of the Countess.”  There’s also a novel about theater set in a fantasy world.  I spend a lot of time on stage, so that, at least, is a world I know pretty well.


- Anything else you’d like to add?

Just that I am really happy to have a story in F&SF again.

“Apprentice” appears in the March/April 2014 issue of F&SF.

Interview: M.K. Hobson on “Baba Makosh”

Tell us a bit about “Baba Makosh”

The story is set during the Russian Civil War, which began in 1917 and lasted until 1922. It follows a small Red Army squadron who have been sent to search for Hell. Like all good stories, it contains politics, buffoonery, magic, and cruelty.

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

I love to write historical fantasy, I’ve always been fascinated by this period of Russian history, and I haven’t read many stories set in this particular milieu, so it seemed like an interesting challenge.

Was “Baba Makosh” personal to you in any way, and if so, how?

Sometime around 1920, my father’s father—Grandpa Koroloff—was gang-pressed into the White Army. There was a lot of gang-pressing going on in those days; one basically joined whichever side swept into one’s village and put a gun to one’s head first. By 1922, Grandpa was a machinist on the Imperial Russian Navy’s Minesweeper “Petrokl,” part of the Siberian flotilla in Vladivostok. In October of that year, with the Red Army closing in on the city, the entire White Russian Fleet—23 ships, bearing about 8,000 refugees—evacuated the port. Many trials and tribulations followed. With the government of Imperial Russia now defunct, the ships of the flotilla represented several million tons of heavy armament without a legitimate political flag to sail under. Whenever they tried to land, apparatchiks from the infant Communist government were there with writs and petitions and such, demanding the return of the ships and the refugees—an idea which was not especially popular with the flotilla’s commander, Admiral Uri Karlovich Stark, nor (as one might imagine) with said refugees. There was an extended stay in the Philippines, a terrible storm in which many lives were lost … but my own personal bottom line to this sweeping saga was that my Grandpa Koroloff eventually arrived at Angel Island in San Francisco, met my grandmother, and things just kept leading to other things until I showed up.

Some cheeky readers might suggest that this is the story I should actually have told. Unfortunately, it’s somewhat short on magic and rather long on plot; it would have taken me much more than a novelette to cram all that drama in. Maybe someday.
What sort of research did you do for this story?

I had to research the Russian Civil War and brush up on my Slavic folklore. Luckily I very much enjoy both researching and brushing up on things. I also created a Pinterest board of images to go with the story. Pinterest boards are a recent addition to my writing process which I find as immensely satisfying as they are distracting.
What would you want a reader to take away from “Baba Makosh?”

Someone who wears a long leather trench coat is making a very definite fashion statement, and that statement is “I am not to be trusted.”

What are you working on now?

I have several long stories in my novel cycle to complete, as well as the sequel to The Warlock’s Curse, the book I kickstarted in 2012. I’m very much hoping I can release some or all of these this year, as I’ve been singularly unproductive lately. It is leading me to question the very nature of my existence.
Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m serious about the long leather trench coats. If you see someone wearing one—especially belted—go the other way.

“Baba Makosh” appears in the Nov./Dec/ 2013 issue of F&SF.

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