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Interview: Jim Kelly on “The Man I Love”

Tell us a bit about “The Man I Love.”

“The Man I Love” is a big-hearted ghost story in conversation with Jean-Paul Sartre’s gloomy existentialist play No Exit, which it seeks to refute.  It takes place in a mysterious bar that opens “only on Mondays, fifty-two times a year.” It’s about longing and loyalty. Also it’s short – just a bit longer than flash fiction.

 

James Patrick KellyWhat was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

Years ago I helped start a statewide flash fiction competition here in NH.  At a “Three Minute Fiction Slam” ten contestants read a three minute story in front of a panel of judges, who give instant feedback about what they’ve just heard.  After all have read, the judges declare a winner.  The Slam competition runs from January to March and has been going on for a decade.  I judge some of the regional Slams scattered around our little state.  Then comes the finals where the regional winners compete for a cash prize.  Typically 80-90 writers compete and hundreds of audience members cheer them on!

Last year I started teaching a free two night workshop on the art and craft of writing and presenting a three minute story.  My goal was to help writers prepare for competition.  On the first night we talked about how to write for a Slam and on the second the workshoppers read their stories and I gave them the kind of feedback I’d give at an actual Slam.  I wrote a draft of “The Man I Love” to demonstrate to the workshop what a three minute story might look like.  The only problem was that my draft was about a thousand words long and a three minute story can’t be much more than six hundred.  No problem! I gave the workshoppers the thousand word draft and told them to hack four hundred words out of it.  I was not surprised that what remained was pretty pathetic, which is to say that “The Man I Love” failed as a three minute story.  But I knew that I’d captured a moment of true feeling and I realized that my narrator needed more to do. So I filled in obvious omissions and when I was done, I had this sweet short story of nineteen hundred words. And as soon as I finished it, I knew I was sending it to F&SF, which is the magazine which launched my career many, many (but don’t ask) decades ago! Alas, for career purposes, I’ve found it necessary to spread my stories around, but I always return to F&SF.  In fact, I’ve been fortunate to sell to every editor since Ed Ferman.  So I’ve got serious history with this magazine and I’m proud to be back!

 

Was “The Man I Love” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I think the most personal part of this story for me is how much the song, “The Man I Love,” means to me.  I admit that I get emotional pretty much every time I hear this classic torch song.  As mentioned in the story, there have been many, many versions and the hardest part of the writing of the story was to find a way to quote as much of the achingly sad lyrics as possible without getting F&SF in copyright trouble.  But the story captures some of what I feel when I listen to this song, especially in its last lines. When I read it for the first time at a convention, I’m not ashamed to say that I was choked up at the end.

 

Why do you write?

What a question!  I guess I write mostly to explore what I think about this complex world and all the great and awful people in it.  But I am also always thinking of readers, although not necessarily specific ones. So I might write a story especially for readers who – say — don’t believe that a woman can be a starship captain. Or that AI can achieve personhood.  Or, in this case, that ghosts might ponder their existential dilemma.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

I have been very much influenced by the cohort of writers who started publishing about when I did: Connie Willis, John Kessel, Lucius Shepard, Karen Joy Fowler, Bruce Sterling and Nancy Kress.  That’s just six; I could name six more without breaking a sweat!  We grew up in this genre reading and critiquing and, yes, learning from each other. Of the sf writers who came before me, I always cite Damon Knight, Ursula LeGuin, Robert Silverberg and Robert Heinlein.  But recently I’ve been rereading the great Cordwainer Smith, a master short story writer who I first encountered as tween, and I realize he has been whispering to me for my entire career.

 

What are you working on now?

Just now I am briefly between projects and have been throwing myself into promoting King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats, my short novel that was published by Subterranean Press in February.  Maybe you think this isn’t writing, but while I am convinced that we are living in a new Golden Age of Short Fiction, it is also the case that there are more great stories being published than anyone has time to read!  To be a writer today, you must not only write well but also help readers find your best work.  To that end, I’ve been giving the audiobook version of my novella away for free. It’s narrated by my Grammy-and-Audie-award-winning friend, Stefan Rudnicki.  If you’d like a listen, here’s the link:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/cdgq95qzahuwsc3/King%20of%20the%20Dogs%20download.mp3?dl=0

Like I said, it’s totally free but if you wanted to give something back, why not stop by my website and telling me what you thought?  For that matter, I’d love to hear your reactions to “The Man I Love.” I promise to write back!

 

“The Man I Love” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/elizabeth-hand-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-march-april-2020/

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 (all formats): https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-6-issue-subscription/

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

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

Interview: Brian Trent on “Death on the Nefertem Express”

Tell us a bit about “Death on the Nefertem Express.”

A luxury train on another world must keep ahead of the deadly sunrise, treating its passengers to a thrilling and luxurious experience. When the train is sabotaged—and with just thirty minutes to spare before dawn breaks—it falls to space pirate Jolene Fort (“never convicted”) to solve the mystery.

Some readers may recall Miss Fort from my Galaxy’s Edge story “Breaking News Involving Space Pirates.”  She is part of an ongoing, planet-hopping series in which she finds herself embroiled in various mysteries… usually as an unwilling participant. Incidentally, “Breaking News Involving Space Pirates” will be republished later this year in the Cosmic Corsairs anthology from Baen Books.

“Death on the Nefertem Express” tells another Jolene Fort adventure, as she races against the clock to figure out who the saboteur is, why they would commit such a crime, and how to rescue the crew and passengers before it’s too late.

 

Ten Thousand ThundersWhat was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

It’s remarkable what several bottles of wine on a train can do for you.

As a kid, I grew up on a steady diet of mystery fiction. My mother was an aficionado of Daphne Du Maurier and Agatha Christie, which resulted in my exposure to both luminaries. Appetite whetted, I took on Poe’s Dupin stories. In one summer I tore through a Sherlock Holmes collection, and that autumn discovered a paperback of Father Brown mysteries. In my teenage years I moved on from “gentleman detectives” to the hardboiled variants of Raymond Chandler.

Then, with these nutrients swimming in my blood, I became a science fiction writer. Underlying both genres is a shared block of DNA, after all: the logical extrapolation from available facts. Much of my writing is fed by this taproot. My novel Ten Thousand Thunders is a sci-fi mystery, as is “The Memorybox Vultures” (published in F&SF in Sept/Oct 2018). I enjoy combining the genres, and created my Jolene Fort series to that end.

In 2019, I found myself on one of Connecticut’s only remaining steam trains. It was a far cry from the nation-hopping Orient Express, as Connecticut is a small state, and the train didn’t even complete a circle: its route was akin to the narrative topography of Mad Max: Fury Road: heading to one destination, hitting the brakes, and shifting into reverse. Nonetheless, there was wine. The trip was touted as a sunset, wine-sampling expedition. About a half hour into the journey, we got to experience that sunset. The light hit the western windows. The passengers were ablaze in red and gold. The train seemed to be burning. “Death on the Nefertem Express” was born in that moment, and I spent the rest of the trip entertaining myself with the idea and characters you’ll meet in its pages.

 

Can you tell us anything about your writing process for “Death on the Nefertem Express?”

I researched trains, tanks, and an array of heavy-duty vehicles to design the Nefertem Express. I also investigated the old-timey luxury trains of yesteryear. I wanted to create the ultimate expression of that opulent, absurd, and haughtily grandiose style (this is a train that contains a swimming pool and smoking lounge, after all.) It’s another reason why I enjoy writing Jolene Fort, because she comes at these scenarios as a pragmatic outsider, forced to interact with bizarre specimens of humanity. One of the tropes of mystery fiction is the eccentric cast; I used that to showcase the indulgences of this future society… a society which should be plenty recognizable to us today.

 

Weird World War IIIWhat are you working on now?

Would you believe, bronzepunk? I’m on an alternate history kick right now. The sequel to Ten Thousand Thunders is coming, too. And I’m busy with a new novel. Later this year, I’ll have some new stories in F&SF, and in October my speculative Cold War thriller “Shadow Rook Red” will be featured in the Weird World War III anthology from Baen Books. As always, readers can see the newest news on www.briantrent.com.

 

“Death on the Nefertem Express” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/elizabeth-hand-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-march-april-2020/

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 (all formats): https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-6-issue-subscription/

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

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

Interview: Dare Segun Falowo on “Kikelomo Ultrasheen”

Dare Segun FalowoTell us a bit about “Kikelomo Ultrasheen.”

“Kilelomo Ultrasheen” is the story of a birth into power based on my relationship with hair. I have very ordinary coarse hair, “goat-droppings” as they say, but I grew up in a hairdressing salon, in assistance of my mother. It was very interesting to remember how I dwelt in that completely feminine space while still trying to find boyness, in that feeling of being surrounded by false hair and creams and nail polish. To write the story I had to also remember the pain and bliss of the customers when they had the right ‘hand’ on their head and make that into a sort of vague magic system. You see some people’s hands just hurt your head and others bring your peace.

 

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

A while back, FIYAH declared a Hair Issue and the deadline was about a week after I found out. So I didn’t want to write it, but I kept on confronting myself about how hair is a fundamental part of my life. I still visit my mother’s hair salon to collect the house key and sometimes chill with the babies of customers. The energy remains the same. There’s a meditation to watching a million thin braids grow out of a living head. I also marvel at how well some my mother’s stylists (actual assistants who want to learn the secrets of the work) adapt to specific aspects of hair making. They get so good that they become the only ones who know how to do this specific thing and the customers refuse all who try to do it, until they arrive. I learnt to see value as a symptom of putting your back into it and doing the right actions, though watching hairdressing.

 

Was “Kikelomo Ultrasheen” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Well, as I’ve stated, I grew up around hair. I worked and washed and rolled Nigerian hair for the dryer a lot. I could do long braids but never mastered the cornrow. Washing hair is pure therapy and I wish we all made it a clause in our friendships. Touching another person’s head is the height of spiritual ministration, so I attempted to envision the rise of an unwilling priestess of the head via hairstyling. The head is also known as ori in Yoruba metaphysics. Ori is the center of all being: the Yoruba knew this before Western science declared the brain the computer of the body.

 

Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for this story?

Memory sifting and asking my baby sister, Faith, to give me a list of her favorite hairstyles. My mother also added some corrections. The rest was a result of immersion and rewriting till balance presented itself.

 

Can you tell us anything about your writing process for this story?

When my sister gave me her list of hairstyles, I realized writing it in chunks with each ingeniously named hairstyle as verse title would best reveal the authenticity of the tale. I wrote fast and got rejected, probably because the story was still quite amorphous, so fresh. I got several rewrites and edits in and retried submission at F&SF. The rest is history.

 

Why do you write?

Freedom from obscurity. To unravel and reveal that which hovers beneath and at the back, the rush of big feeling that dictates my life. Sometimes, I feel writing will never capture just how much there is to feel and see, but I must continue. Looking through a pinhole best defines the process. It can be stressful and it can be exhilarating, but reduced to basics for me; it is the right way to reveal what is within.

 

What are you working on now?

Fleshing out the juicy prompt for an old (2016) short story that I found in my mail from an old collaborator. The themes he set out resonate too well now, so I must exhume it somehow. There’s a lot of kaiju. Also I am a few hundred words into crafting my mystical debut novel. Feels like weightlifting.

 

“Kikelomo Ultrasheen” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/elizabeth-hand-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-march-april-2020/

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 (all formats): https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-6-issue-subscription/

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

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

Visit the author’s website: dragonsinlagos.wordpress.com

Interview: Ian Tregillis on “Come the Revolution”

Alex IrvineTell us a bit about “Come the Revolution.”

“Come the Revolution” is the story of a mechanical woman, born on a magical assembly line into a life of painful eternal servitude. Though the process that created her and her fellow mechanicals imbued them with intellects and emotions and unique personalities (all the things that make us human, in other words) they have no free will. Every moment of their lives is spent doing their human masters’ bidding, lest they suffer terrible pain.

The more she learns about the world (its cruelties and kindnesses) and her place in it, the more she yearns to change it.

 

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

I’ve had the good fortune to hear from readers who enjoyed the Alchemy Wars books. Once in a while, when people tell me they’ve enjoyed that series, they express a hope that I’ll do more with that world. I don’t know if I’ll write more books in that world, but there is plenty of room for stories. I liked the freedom of telling a story that was tangentially related to the novels — meaning I wouldn’t have to invent a world and its rules all over again — while simultaneously exploring a new space.

 

Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “Come the Revolution?”

Backing up a bit… when I sat down to write the Alchemy Wars trilogy, I posited a massive change to history around the year 1675 or so. The invention of the Clakker — a tireless, superhuman clockwork slave eternally animated by alchemical magic — would have altered European history (and, eventually, world history) not unlike the way various meteoric impacts have altered life on Earth. As this particular meteor would have smacked Europe in the midst of a war between several powers including Catholic France and the Calvinist Netherlands, I imagined the emergence of Clakker technology would have influenced not only warfare and the fate of nations (fasten blades to your Clakker’s arms and you effectively have a clockwork Terminator) but also religion, the subsequent evolution of philosophical thinking, and even the development of other technologies. (Why bother to invent a steam engine when you can just snap your fingers and say, “Hey, you, go turn that crank 24 hours a day for the next 50 years”?)

The upshot of all this hypothesizing was that I had to give myself a crash course on the state of Catholicism and Calvinism in the late 17th century. In particular, I tried to get a handle on how various groups might have viewed questions of predestination, free will, and even the existence of the soul, pre- and post-Clakker. I also tried to learn a little bit about the philosophies of Descartes and Spinoza, as these became touchstones for several debates that occur over the course of the trilogy.

This was challenging. I am neither a philosopher nor a historian. (Yet I have a bad habit of formulating story ideas that play with history. Perhaps someday I’ll stop doing this to myself.)

By the time I sat down to write “Come the Revolution,” my large-scale historical interpolations (good or bad) were already locked down. (Once it’s published, it becomes canon, whether you want it to or not.)  So unlike the novels, this novella required little to no “true-historical” research — it takes place firmly in that radically altered Europe. Instead, I had to research the alternate history I’d devised.

Several years had passed between when I wrapped up the trilogy and when I started “Come the Revolution.” So… I’d forgotten a few details. Also, when I cracked open my notes, I found I had somehow managed to never establish a solid timeline for many of the events that took place prior to the trilogy and which are mentioned in passing throughout the books. I was honestly a bit shocked — it’s really unlike me to play things by ear.

I ended up skimming through the books, and my disappointingly scant notes, to infer a timeline. In order to make “Come the Revolution” consistent with the novels, I had to place the forging of poor Maklobellathistrogantus closer to the time of Christiaan Huygens (inventor of the Clakker!) than I’d originally intended. In fact, for a short while I worried that I wouldn’t be able to shoehorn her origin story into the continuity. But I managed to squeeze her in. I think.

 

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

Clakkers can be extremely challenging characters to write. That was true when I started chapter one of The Mechanical, and it was still just as true three books later when I typed the final sentence of The Liberation.

When viewed from exterior points of view — say, through their leaseholders’ eyes — they’re frequently seen as little more than walking furniture. Though they have emotions and desires and personalities, the Clakkers tend to hide this from their makers. So when interfacing with humans they necessarily present a very sterile, and of course servile, façade. They do this out of self-preservation, of course, but it makes them boring… unless you happen to be in the point of view of a rare human who knows Clakkers are more than they appear. But those folks are rare.

It doesn’t get much easier when writing from inside a Clakker’s point of view. How do you write an compelling character who has no free will?  A character who has no free will and who dares not show the slightest hint of shrugging under that yoke?

They’re heart and soul (pun intended) of the universe presented in “Come the Revolution.” But they’re tricky. Mab was no different. Even though I knew who she was in the instant she’s first activated in the Forge, and who she would later become, the constraints on her made it a challenge to capture that evolution in a meaningful, compelling way.

 

Can you tell us anything about your writing process for this story?

In terms of Mab’s character arc, I had to work backward a little bit, which is not how I usually do things. Starting out, I knew exactly who and what Mab would be by the end of the story, but not how she got there. I knew a few little things when I created the character, but I’d never gone to the trouble of fleshing them out.

So I spent some time contemplating her long journey from that first moment of consciousness in the Forge to the Mab I already knew. I thought about the kinds of experiences that would resonate with her personality and sculpt her. Although Clakkers are potentially very long-lived, the story takes place over just a few decades, so it’s a story about Mab growing from infancy to full adulthood, much like a human being. How does a happy and curious child, just beginning to learn about the world, turn into an angry dangerous adult?

 

Why do you write?

I ask myself that question all the time. Very frequently in the past couple of years, as a matter of fact, because when I started work on “Come the Revolution,” I was just emerging from a years-long, burnout-fueled writing hiatus. During that time off, I thought long and hard about my relationship to writing, what function it served in my life, and whether I wanted to keep doing it.

In the end, I arrived at the same answer I would have given you if you’d asked me this question ten years ago. I write for the feeling of personal achievement. When I finish a project, whether it’s a short story or a novella or a trilogy, I feel proud of myself for putting the work in. Even things that never sell and never see publication give me a sense of satisfaction. Perhaps not always satisfaction with the work itself (what writer is ever satisfied with their work?) but satisfaction that I achieved something — even if that achievement is simply
following the project through from beginning to end. I enjoy being able to say, “I created this.” I started writing at a time in my life when I feared I might stagnate if I didn’t give myself new long-term goals. I’ve been very fortunate to have books and stories published. For me, that never detracts from the desire to achieve something new — to write another book, to sell another story. It’s not like climbing Mount Everest and then saying, “Well, there’s nothing left to conquer.”

 

What are you working on now?

When the burnout overcame me a few years ago, I had several unfinished stories in the hopper. Most of these were barely begun, just a few pages at most, but they were constantly in the back of my mind. When I was able to pick up writing again, I systematically worked my way through that backlog. “Come the Revolution” was the first of these unfinished stories. The next was a story called “When God Sits in Your Lap” that is forthcoming in Asimov’s September/October issue. The next story after that was a novella written for the Wild Cards shared universe, which has sold and will appear in the world someday. In the course of finishing off those stories, several new ideas presented themselves to me, so I had to tackle those stories, too. I’ve been more productive with short fiction recently than I had been in the previous decade.

I’ve also returned to some fairly extensive research I undertook as prep work for a novel. I don’t know if I’ll finish that novel. Even if I do, I don’t know if it will see publication. But like those unfinished stories, it will keep nagging at me until I do something about it.

 

“Come the Revolution” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/elizabeth-hand-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-march-april-2020/

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 (all formats): https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-6-issue-subscription/

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

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

Ian Tregillis’s website: http://iantregillis.com/

Interview: Matthew Hughes on “The Last Legend”

Matthew HughesTell us a bit about “The Last Legend.”

It’s a standalone novelette set in my extrapolation of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth milieu.  Those who read the second volume of my Henghis Hapthorn trilogy, The Spiral Labyrinth, might catch a reference as to how the story fits into the overall arc of the Archonate universe, but the story is meant to be appreciated (or not) on its own merits.

 

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

The late and great editor Gardner Dozois had a tendency to invite me into his signature anthologies, either on the first round or if he had a hole to fill when somebody failed to deliver as promised.  When he died, he was putting together The Book of Legends, the third volume in the series that began with The Book of Swords and continued with The Book of Magic, both of which had novelettes by me.  He sent me an email asking for something along my usual lines that fit the title of the antho.

Whenever Gardner asked me for a story, I would drop what I was doing and write one.  This was partly because it was an honor and a pleasure to write for him, but also because he would always have some advance money from the publisher, and would pay authors who got their books in early.  Since I live on what I make from writing, augmented by some small pensions, I right away wrote “The Last Legend,” and sent it in.  Gardner liked it and sent me money.

Then he died and the question of whether the other invited authors would write their as-yet unstarted stories led to some confusion.  Finally, Bantam declared that the project was canceled.  I got the rights back, so I offered it to Charlie Finlay, who bought it for F&SF.

 

What are you working on now?

I’ve written a 55,000-word draft of Barbarians of the Beyond, an authorized sequel to Jack Vance’s The Demon Princes quintilogy.   I’ve sent the draft to John Vance, Jack’s son, and if he likes my approach, I’ll polish it up and we’ll see what can be done with it.  I’m thinking it might draw some attention, and might even be considered for magazine serialization.

After that, I’m looking at bringing back Cascor the discriminator, Raffalon’s sometime collaborator, and writing some adventures for him, in association with the characters Ioveana and Ifgenio, from the story, “The Vindicator.”

 

“The Last Legend” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/elizabeth-hand-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-march-april-2020/

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 (all formats): https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-6-issue-subscription/

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

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

Click on Mr. Hughes’s photo to visit his website.

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