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Interview: Erin Cashier on “Fifteen Minutes from Now”

Tell us a bit about “Fifteen Minutes from Now.”

I basically was watching an episode of The Flash where Barry was saving lives in alternate timelines — despite the fact that by him going back and ‘fixing’ his own, he’d be negating those timeline’s very existence. That led me to thinking about what you’d actually do with that kind of power, obviously something dark and military, and “Fifteen Minutes from Now” was born.

 

What was the most difficult aspect of writing “Fifteen Minutes from Now,” and what was the most fun?

It wasn’t difficult once I had the voice, it’s a very tight voice-y piece, and I knew where it was going immediately. I wrote it like as a monologue intentionally, to turn it into something I could imagine an actor really chewing on and selling hard.

 

How has being a nurse influenced how you see the world and what you choose to write about?

I have a very dark sense of humor and have the world’s strongest stomach. If I tell you you don’t want to know what I did at work today I’m never, ever, wrong.

As far as how that influences what I choose to write about — in general, this piece aside, most of my work is more positive because I see how fragile the human condition is every day. We’re only here for a little while and life is a tenuous endeavor at best, so I usually try to be more encouraging and fun.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Dune, MUSE, Escaflowne, Dominica Phetteplace, Rachel Swirsky.

 

What are you working on now?

A young adult novel and a co-writing project with a friend.

 

“Fifteen Minutes from Now” appears in the January/February 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1901.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/B004ZFZ4O

Interview: Pip Coen on “The Fall from Griffin’s Peak”

Tell us a bit about “The Fall from Griffin’s Peak.”

“The Fall from Griffin’s Peak” is a story about Rosemary Hunt: an opportunistic thief who gets tricked into stealing a Griffin’s Tear, an absurdly difficult task with huge risk. Can she play the game well enough to come out ahead, and can she live with the results if she does?

 

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

For once, I know the answer to this! When I was at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop at UCSD, Karen Joy Fowler told us about what she called a “story of revelation”—one where the ending completely rewrites the readers perception of events and character motivations. I’ve tried to capture this a few times and mostly failed. The seed for this specific attempt was a side quest in the computer game “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.” Anyone who’s played that game can probably guess which one I’m talking about. Hopefully the effect worked for some readers at least!

 

“The Fall from Griffin’s Peak” is your first fantasy story.  Did you find it harder or easier to write than science fiction, or do you not make much distinction between the two genres?

Although this was my first foray into writing fantasy, the genre heavily outweighed science fiction on my childhood bookshelf. Back then, I probably spent more hours in secondary worlds than the real one, so writing this story felt like putting on comfy shoes I’d never worn before. It wasn’t harder to write than science fiction, but it certainly wasn’t any easier! Every story presents new challenges—if it didn’t, I’d probably lose interest before I finished writing it.

 

Why do you write?

I spend most of my days trying to understand how neural networks make decisions. It’s a job that necessitates a lot of care: both in collecting data and interpreting it. But like most scientists, I also love to speculate and hypothesize about the unknown, and some of my stories wouldn’t exist without the absurd debates that take place in our lab coffee hour. Writing genre fiction lets me leave the careful analysis behind and spend some time with far-flung possibilities (and impossibilities). There is nothing more rewarding than putting your imagination on a page and hearing that other people enjoyed reading about it.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

The single biggest influence on my writing career was one of the first short stories I read: “Selkie Stories are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar. It’s a phenomenal piece of writing that completely transformed my concept of what could be achieved in a short story. After reading it, I immediately trashed the (terrible) novel I was writing and started studying the art of short stories. I don’t think I’ll ever bottle the kind of magic that exists in “Selkie Stories,” but if not for that story, I’d still be bottling something closer to toilet water!

 

What are you working on now?

In 2018 I managed to finish a (short) novella. It was a labor of love, with an emphasis on labor, so while I try to find it a home, I’m retreating to the comforting balm of short stories for a while. I’m toying with some different ideas, mostly in the realm of science fiction. I hope a few of them will become fully fledged stories in 2019.

 

“The Fall from Griffin’s Peak” appears in the January/February 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1901.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/B004ZFZ4O

Visit the author’s website: http://pipcoen.com/

Interview: Leah Cypess on “Blue as Blood”

Leah CypessWriters often say that their stories are personal to some degree or another, but the writer is not necessarily his or her narrator.  How much do you tend to identify with your protagonists, in both this story and your other work?  What are your thoughts, if any, on authors writing protagonists that are either very similar or very different from themselves?

Blue as Blood was a very personal story for me, in a very specific way — I took one aspect of my personality and my emotional reaction to things, and a story came out of that. As a writer, that’s a frightening thing to do, because people will look at the story and think, “This is who you are,” when in fact it’s only a very small part of who you are. (And in my case, this is actually a part I don’t necessarily think is positive and generally try to suppress.)

It’s essentially an angry story, and I am not an angry person, so presenting that side of myself to the world (or at least to the readership of F&SF) has, to be honest, induced some anxiety in me.

 

An overarching question that “Blue as Blood” appears to pose is, who has the right to be offended?  Could you go into any depth on this idea as it relates to your story?

In this case, I would prefer to let the story to stand for itself. Although obviously my own thoughts and emotions about real-world situations went into the story, I almost never try to make my stories specifically parallel to any real-world situations. The Pinj are not a stand-in for some real-world thing, and neither is the color blue.

In fact, one of the ways I knew this story was ready to go was when a bunch of my critique partners all had different interpretations of it, but Nina’s emotions rang true to all of them — even to those who heavily disliked her.

 

Can you discuss any significance that you see in Nina’s character arc, that ultimately she becomes hardened in her point of view rather than changing it?

As I said above, this is an angry story, and I essentially gave Nina permission to be as angry as she wanted to. Even though I strongly prefer to write stories with happy or redemptive endings, and I considered such an ending for this story, I didn’t think that was what the story needed.

There was an early draft where Nina had a very different arc — the plot revolved around the leader of an underground movement of Pinj-sympathizers who recruited her; suffice it to say, it was one of those messy wrong turns that can completely wreck a story if you don’t recognize it and cut it in time. Luckily, I realized that Nina didn’t need to have another angry and extremist character to feel conflicted about. She was the angry and extremist character.

 

Could you discuss your decision to give Nina blue eyes? 

I knew from very early in the process that Nina was going to have blue eyes. When I started writing the story, in fact, I thought it was going to end with the reveal that her eyes are blue — it would have been a fact that influenced the story all along, but the reader wouldn’t realize it until the end. But as the story developed, that started to feel like a bit of a cheap trick to me. While her blue eyes are integral to the story, they aren’t actually the point of the story, so I revealed their existence earlier.

 

What do you think the fact that none of the characters in “Blue as Blood” can articulate a rational justification for the Pinjs’ and Nina’s beliefs about the color blue says about those beliefs?

Oh, I could go on and on about this, but I won’t. Suffice it to say, I think that for most people, rationality is not the sole underlying reason for any of their beliefs or attitudes. Some people are lucky enough to be able to rationalize well, and to have beliefs and attitudes that *can* be rationalized well in the culture they live in. Others are not.

(Note the words “most” and “only” in that paragraph; I’m not as extreme about this as I probably sound, and I’m aware that it’s only an opinion. But it’s an opinion that is very much in the forefront of this story.)

 

This is your third story for F&SF and they’ve all been so different. “Cupid’s Compass” (Sept/Oct 2016) was about marriage and happiness. “Neko Brushes” (May/June 2017) was a retelling of a Japanese folk tale. Do you see a common thread in your work that might not be obvious to readers or do you let inspiration take you off in many different directions?

The latter! Like most people, I have many different areas of interest, preoccupation, and concern in my life; my ideas tend to stem from any of these areas, and I approach each thing I write as its own contained unit. With that said, there are some things that loom larger in my life and tend to appear in a lot of my work (I’ve got quite a number of stories about parenting, for example). But there are also some that come out of more particular interests — i.e. I absolutely love retellings, but I don’t tend to feel the need to retell any particular folktale more than once. And “Blue as Blood” is, I think, different in tone from any of the other stories I’ve written so far.

Of course, sometimes a writer is the last person to see the truth about their own work; if someone else says they see a common theme in my books and stories, well, I wouldn’t necessarily argue with them.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

I believe that every single writer I read and loved as a child influences my writings now, often in ways that are opaque to me. For example: I’ve watched The Last Unicorn about twice a year since I was seven years old, until I literally knew it by heart; I used to mentally replay the entire thing in my head whenever I was bored in school. My first novel, Mistwood, starts with two men riding into an enchanted forest inhabited by a supernatural creature who is going to end up trapped in the form of a human girl — pretty much the exact opening of the film. And yet I didn’t realize how strongly Mistwood was influenced by The Last Unicorn until I had already sold the book and was working on revisions with my editor.

All of which is to say that when asked to talk about my influences, I really can’t do better than to rattle off the list of authors I read multiple times as a child, and therefore assume have influenced my work! David Eddings, Connie Willis, Dave Duncan, Juliet Marillier, Diana Wynne Jones, Edward Eager, L.M. Montgomery, Mercedes Lackey, Isaac Asimov, Herman Wouk, Agatha Christie… I could probably go on for another page, but I won’t.

And of course, it doesn’t stop. Those might be the authors baked most deeply into my subconscious, but I constantly discover new amazing works of fiction, and think, “Oooh, look how they did that, I want to do something like that, too.” Just this weekend, I read an incredible YA fantasy novel called The Graces by Eve Laure, and am now determined to write something where I pull off what she pulled off in that book. (Read the book, and find out what I’m talking about! Trust me.)

 

“Blue as Blood” appears in the January/February 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1901.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/B004ZFZ4O

Visit Leah Cypess’s website: www.leahcypess.com

Interview: Phyllis Eisenstein on “The City of Lost Desire”

Tell us a bit about “The City of Lost Desire.”

“The City of Lost Desire” is the next adventure in the life of Alaric, the teleporting minstrel, and occurs after “The Desert of Vanished Dreams” (F&SF, July/August 2016). The caravan that Alaric joined as an entertainer has finally completed its desert crossing and arrived at the ancient city that was always its goal, bringing trade goods that include fine furniture, salt from the mines of the desert, and a potent, addictive drug that the rich and royal of the city crave. Alaric is drawn by the mystery of the tower that stands outside the city and by the secrets that seem to pervade the royal palace and its inhabitants. And, as more than once in the past, people seem to want to keep him there for their own purposes.

 

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

I had spent some months playing with ideas for it, but nothing had actually crystallized, and only a very small piece of it had been sketched
out, when my husband asked if I was working on another Alaric story yet, and I decided to tell him what I had come up with so far. When I tell him about a story, I usually end up being committed to writing it because he will start reminding me (frequently) that I should be working on it. But at the time he asked, I was working on an epic fantasy trilogy, and I kept saying I wasn’t going to write the next Alaric story until I was finished with the trilogy. But trilogies being very long things, I just kept using it as an excuse to put off the next Alaric adventure because I didn’t have a complete story in my head, especially not an ending. Finally, when my husband reminded me yet again that I really ought not to wait another decade before writing it, I thought about it some more, came up with half a dozen titles, showed them to him, and he picked the one he thought worked best. As usual, he was right (he’s good at titles), and I decided to take a month or so off from the trilogy to get a good start on “The City of Lost Desire.” That, of course, inevitably meant I couldn’t resist going on with it until it was finished. So the title became my momentum and also the key to the story’s essence.

 

What was the most difficult aspect of writing this story, and what was the most fun?

The most difficult aspect of writing the story was gathering and linking up a lot of elements I had planted in the series over the years. Many of those elements had been intended, eventually, to have more significant meanings than they appeared to have in their original stories, and both the most difficult and the most rewarding aspects of them were what they all conveyed together as the series went on — for example, the drug, the lost city back in “The Desert of Vanished Dreams,” and the tower, among others. The most fun was definitely the tower, because there I was swooping back into science fiction (okay, science fantasy) territory, and I had known for years what belonged there and had looked forward to writing about it.

 

Why do you write?

I write because I can’t not write. I’ve been a writer since I first learned to use a pencil to print words on paper. I started with Westerns
and Captain Video and tried to create fiction in every genre I read in books or saw on TV or in the movies, including fairy tales, Greek
mythology, Jack London, and my favorite, science fiction. I wrote stories and plays and, until I was well into high school, tried hard to turn most English assignments into fiction, which some of my English teachers tolerated fairly well. My fourth grade teacher even let me produce and direct my plays for class, which resulted in quite a bit of Captain Video being presented there. My fourth-year high school Spanish teacher was also indulgent, letting me recruit classmates to act in my own Twilight Zone episode, as long as it was in Spanish. She was undoubtedly the only person in the audience, besides me, who knew what “La Zona de Crepusculo” meant.  (I always thought the combination of the discovery of Florida by Christopher Columbus and a Cape Canaveral rocket launch worked quite well, even though, in reality, Columbus never got anywhere near Florida.) With all of that behind me, my parents couldn’t resist my pleas for a typewriter, which, many years later, gave way to a series of computers. I had to revert to yellow pads for a couple of decades, when I worked in the advertising industry and only had time to do my own writing on the bus, the elevated train, and the subway on my way to work. But there I was, still writing, because that’s what I do.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Jack Vance has always been a very big influence on my work, but, growing up, I also paid a lot of attention to both the short and long fiction of Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Heinlein, Alfred Bester, A.E. van Vogt, and L. Sprague de Camp.

 

What are you working on now?

That epic fantasy trilogy I put on hold to write “The City of Lost Desire.” Its overall title is THE MASKS OF POWER, and the first volume is
THE WALKER BETWEEN WORLDS. It’s about coming of age, love, hate, and jealousy, war and conquest, gods who were once human beings, intelligent dragons who once ruled the world, and a lot of other things that interest me. And the symbol of wisdom is the rich purple amethyst, my birthstone (I couldn’t resist).

 

“The City of Lost Desire” appears in the January/February 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1901.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/B004ZFZ4O

Interview: Sean McMullen on “The Washer from the Ford”

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

The story has its origins in an abandoned novel from around twenty years ago. Neil Gaiman and I were exchanging emails about what we were currently working on. I was writing Australian Gods, and he was writing American Gods. As soon as I realised that I might be competing with Neil with an almost identical theme, I dropped the idea like a hot rock. However, I already had two chapters from Australian Gods published as standalone stories, and had several more planned.

At the time I lived on a street with a ford in it, and visited the local laundromat every Sunday night. Years later my daughter gave me an encyclopaedia of fantastic creatures and spirits, and for some reason I decided to read the entire thing. Bean Nighe, the Washer at the Ford, was featured in that book. Would a mythical Scottish spirit prefer to do her washing in a laundromat rather than a ford in the Twenty-First Century, I wondered? Probably, I decided. One night, while I was doing the laundry, I mapped out the story.

 

Was “The Washer from the Ford” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I did identify rather strongly with Peter, the narrator. I have always tended to look way younger than my actual age, and even when I was in my late Forties and a passably senior computer manager I was still referred to as “that kid” and not taken very seriously. Thus I constructed Peter, who is very good at his job but is socially invisible – although I did make him look older than his age instead of younger.

 

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

Apart from doing a lot more background reading about Bean Nighe and various other interesting immortals who might have migrated to Australia, I actually jogged in all the areas where the story is set – I do a lot of jogging, especially at night. My one departure from geographical reality was the ford itself, which is about a mile south of the story’s setting.

Much of the research on mythology was done when I was a professional folk singer while an undergraduate. I used to sing a lot of ballads featuring mythological creatures, and because singers were expected to tell the audience a bit about the ballad, I read a lot of folklore books. Similarly, the material about computer systems and security courses all came from my background in computer engineering. The only danger with this approach is that if you use it too often, your fiction and characters become too familiar from story to story.

 

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

The ending was very difficult. Having exposed the serial killer, what does Peter do next? Go back to a slightly improved version of his former life? Boring. He has had a taste of a kind of superpower, and he likes it. He is like the little mermaid in Han Christian Anderson’s story of the same name. She gives up her voice in return for legs, and Peter must remain celibate if he wants to retain second sight. Most of us would probably consider that to be a pretty bad deal, so why do it? I eventually decided that his gift of second sight had shown him that he can have an important role in life, spotting the deadly enchantments that the rest of us mortals cannot see, and saving us from them. I like the idea of him deciding that, it’s a comforting thought that people like him might exist.

What was fun? I am a pretty senior karate instructor, so the idea of constructing a character with zero martial arts experience and writing from his point of view was a lot of fun. I had to teach myself to be timid and helpless, and think like a person who was clueless about fighting. One approach I used was talking to the white belt students in my karate classes about how they would react or feel in similar situations. Thus Peter had to use a combination of second sight, internet searches and a prepaid phone to save his friend Jilly from Knight, the serial killer. It’s so easy to just punch out the bad guy, but a storyteller has to do better than that.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

The central theme of the story is the question of whether gods and/or magical creatures should always continue doing what they are known for doing. Bean Nighe washes the blood from the clothes of people who are about to die violently and they see her doing it. Do they understand her warning, run home and lock the door? Never. It is a task which allows her to exist, but it does no good for anyone else. Does Echo provide a worthwhile service by helping adulterers? Their husbands and wives would not agree. At least Peter tries to do more than just perform magical task which make him immortal.

Quite a few elements of the story were lifted straight out of real life, even though they seem to me less likely than much of the magical fiction. Peter stepping in a puddle and splashing water up Jilly’s legs was something that I once did – quite by accident – and the exchange that followed was pretty well word for word what was in the story. The lady with the urban fox was another, and the billionth scale model of the solar system is absolutely real. Why does life often seem less likely than fiction? I wish I knew. It would make writing fiction a lot easier.

 

“The Washer from the Ford” appears in the January/February 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1901.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/B004ZFZ4O

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