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Interview: Jeremy Minton on “The Care of House Plants”

Tell us a bit about “The Care of House Plants.”

I’m not quite sure how to categorise it. It’s either an SF story with a massively mean streak, or it’s a horror story disguised as a techno-thriller. The conception is archetypal. A pair of innocent strangers arrive at a place where something weird is happening and get into lots of trouble.

In this case, the strangers are a couple of enforcers from a biotech consortium hunting a researcher who has run off with one of their products, and the weird place is an English country cottage where the vegetation has got badly out of hand. There are mysteries and lies. Secrets to uncover. There is swearing and violence and blood.

 

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

My writing group runs this competition where you can grab an appealing title out of a long list of options, then write a story based on that title. Well, the title I’d picked for myself was beautiful and euphonious and deeply evocative, and I couldn’t figure out a damn thing to do with it.

I’d been prodding at it for a couple of days, trying to turn it into something, and not having any joy. And I was getting quite grumpy about it, because that’s my natural state when I’m stuck.

So, my wife and I went to this craft fair in a town down the road, and I was stomping around, looking at things and not really seeing them because my mind was taken up with this title. And there, in this little box of second hand books, I see an old gardening manual called “The Care Of House Plants.” (I’d love to say that it was “Just lying there amongst the zinnias” like Audrey II in Little Shop Of Horrors, but sadly that wasn’t the case.) The moment I registered the title my brain went, “That’s a horror story” and the story situation had pretty much presented itself before I got back to my car.

Of course, nothing is ever that simple. Pretty well all the elements which occurred to me in that burst of inspiration, the house, the snow, the strangers, the plants, the little old lady, were still there in the final version. None of them was how I originally imagined. Most of the time, the character and plot changes were the result of technical issues. The characters had to turn into what they did and act the way they acted because of the way the world of the text turned out to work.

 

Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “The Care of House Plants?”

To be honest, the thing which consumed most time for me was looking up names of flowering plants. Ironically, I’m terrible at gardening; I’m the kind of person who can plant mint and have it die. But I do a pretty solid visual imagination, and it took quite a while to figure out the kinds of plants which would fit my internal image of the rooms which Harry and Grayling were going to discover.

As for the science, well, what can I say? There’s a line of Douglas Adams’s from the radio series of the Hitch-hikers Guide To The Galaxy which I like to keep in mind when I’m constructing a plot: “What will Zaphod’s mission turn out to be? Will it be challenged and exciting, or will it just be a monster wanting to take over the universe for no very good reason?”

With House Plants, I had the image of the house and the idea that the plants were somehow monstrous, and I really wanted to do something with that, but so long as the plants just felt like unreasonable monsters the whole thing seemed deeply unsatisfying. I needed a reason why the plants were there and were causing trouble, and the search for that reason gave me most of the technical aspects of the story.

Two things, which turned in to the basis for the solution, came together in a rather happy way. One was the thought that this was an industrial process gone wrong. The second was given to me by the podcast, No Such Thing As A Fish. For those who happen not to know it, this is a weekly comedy podcast in which the research team behind the BBC show QI discuss interesting and unusual facts which they have discovered. In this case, the fact in question concerned the subject of mycorrhizae, which are a fungal network linking together various different species in an ecosystem and allowing them, in a strange and rather beautiful way, to pool resources and even share a sort of version of non-verbal information about predators and other environmental threats.

The overlap between biological and computational systems is something I find endlessly fascinating, and it’s a theme I go back to it on a regular basis. In consequence this idea was right up my street. It seemed to me that the idea was something that bio-engineers might want to use, and also an idea which could go wrong quite easily. I think it’s fair to say that I have pushed the idea, and the capacities of the plants, a long way farther than is technically plausible, but I guess that’s the joy of being a writer rather than a scientist.

 

What are you working on now?

There’s a great long list of short story ideas all clamouring for attention, but sadly they’re going to have to clamour for a while longer because for the last three years or so everything has been queued up behind this novel-shaped thing, involving criminal conspiracy in a post-human, post-Global Disaster world which I’m desperately trying to get finished before events push it out of the realm of speculative fiction.

For me, there’s this long, pretty open-ended period during story construction where I know I’ve got something to work on, and I’m kicking around ideas and situational interactions and seeing the kind of things which go together but don’t actually have a story, in terms of character and action and narrative shape. Eventually, if I’m lucky, something will coalesce out of this mess of ideas and concepts, like life emerging out of the primeval ooze.

About six week ago, that process of emergence started to occur and I felt like I was getting a solid form for the story. The way I’m thinking about it at the moment is that it’s a bit like Reservoir Dogs except that the criminals are human-like robots and rather than robbing an LA jewellery store, they’re trying to lift a rogue AI off the back of a two hundred metre long mechanical centipede.

I imagine that work on this is going to keep me occupied through until the end of the year, after which it would be really nice to go back to doing more work on some short fiction. And even nicer if I could get something else into F&SF which wasn’t introduced with the phrase, appeared a decade ago.

 

“The Care of House Plants” appears in the September/October 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1709.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: Rebecca Campbell on “On Highway 18”

Tell us a bit about “On Highway 18.”

“On Highway 18” is about the volatility of friendship at the end of high school. It’s about small towns and hitchhiking and pit parties and the many ways in which young women are vulnerable.

It’s also about a ghost and about what we leave behind when we grow up.

 

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

My growing understanding of my own past, and experiences I had, as well as experiences I escaped (though others didn’t). Ghost stories are about something lost returning, and that’s often how my own memories feel to me.

I’ve always loved the story of the phantom hitchhiker, which is both a ghost and a kind of prefigure—a message about what could happen to a young woman alone, and a record of something that did happen. Just like all good urban legends, the ghostly figure on the highway also brings a sense of dread into an otherwise ordinary landscape. It’s a way to access the deeply weird that co-exists with the everyday.

 

Was “On Highway 18” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Very personal—which made it hard to write, though probably therapeutic. I used my own experience hitchhiking in the story—in fact, the only time I was ever afraid hitchhiking was also the last time I hitchhiked, and I used that in the story as a turning point for Petra’s character.  I also used the unsettling early experiences young women often have when they start attracting attention: men shouting from cars, men asking if you want to “party.”

 

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

A sense of place: small logging towns, Canada’s Pacific coast, pit parties with cheap car stereos playing Bon Jovi. And a sense of time: before cellphones & social media when people couldn’t necessarily be found if they didn’t want to be.

I also wanted to explore an emotional landscape, where we can be haunted by alternative possibilities as well as the dead.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m scrambling with a novel, and I’m always working on short fiction, mostly about islands and rainforests and hauntings (that seems to be my territory).

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for reading! If you want to see my other stuff check out whereishere.ca

 

“On Highway 18” appears in the September/October 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1709.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: Lisa Mason on “Riddle”

Lisa MasonTell us a bit about “Riddle.”

As a writer and a reader, I’m much more interested in inner space than outer space. In stories about people living on society’s fringe than in starship captains or kings. In tales exploring consciousness, gender, and identity than in tales of derring-do, fisticuffs, and gun battles. (Though there are some fisticuffs in “Riddle.”)

I prefer tight, bold prose and try to achieve that effect in “Riddle.”

 

 

 

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

I have no idea—for once. This is one of the darkest stories I’ve ever written. I will say I wanted to set a supernatural story in my fascinating old neighborhood of North Beach in San Francisco

“Riddle” is what bubbled out of my subconscious mind.

 

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

Oh, yes! I lived for some years in North Beach with my husband, Tom Robinson. Tom has degrees from the San Francisco Art Institute, the Academy of Art University, and the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts. He’s a working artist, jeweler, and sculptor and at the time, he’d gotten the lease on a dream art studio.

The place was an entire flat above a belly dancing club in a Stick-Eastlake Victorian building on Broadway between Montgomery Street and Columbus Avenue. Twenty-foot ceilings, an entire wall of exposed brick, another of floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves.

Half a block west on Broadway is Enrico’s with its broad patio where, at three in the morning, we would see U2, Diana Ross, and Bill Cosby (yes, he was a foul-mouthed jerk even then). Two blocks down to Columbus and half a block up to the intersection of Grant Avenue and Vallejo Street is the Caffé Trieste, a coffeehouse situated at that location since 1956. The Beat poets congregated there—Philip Lamantia, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bob Kaufman, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. Burroughs published science fiction in F&SF! Or at least his novel, Nova Express, was reviewed in F&SF in the 1960s.

I took Bruce Sterling to the Trieste when he was in town for the premier issue of Wired Magazine. Bruce was on the cover and a number of people were reading Wired when we walked in. Surreal!

Around the corner was the Roma Caffé. I took Robert Silverberg there for pizza and Ellen Datlow for omelets on the back patio.

When you head two blocks down on Columbus Avenue, you’ll find Vesuvio, another gathering place for nearly sixty years. My favorite spot is the John Wilkes Booth on the mezzanine.

So North Beach is a very cool neighborhood. Coolness isn’t enough to drive a story, though. I needed a high concept. A supernatural high concept. I found that in “Riddle.”

 

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

Once I had my supernatural hook, I researched (plot spoiler alert!) sphinxes.

The classic legend tells of the sphinx in the desert who waylays travelers and poses a riddle. If a traveler can’t produce the answer, she kills and devours them.

Then Ulysses on his travels encountered the sphinx. She asked, “What walks on four legs at sunrise, two legs at noon, and three legs at sunset? He correctly answered, “Man. As a baby he crawls on hands and knees. As an adult he walks on his own two legs. And as elderly, he walks with a cane.” Infuriated, the sphinx turned to stone and that’s what we see before the Great Pyramid in Egypt.

Greek and ancient Egyptian iconography portray the sphinx as a male animal—a man’s head and chest atop a lion’s body like the Great Sphinx at Giza. French sphinxes from the Louis the Fourteenth era, however, depict sphinxes as voluptuously female. (Leave it to the French!)

I knew I wanted my sphinx to be voluptuously, wickedly female.

 

What would you want a reader to take away from “Riddle?”

That love is complicated. Human consciousness is complicated. And life…you can’t be too sure about life. Fiction is meant to provide structure for our chaotic reality. I strove to make that point in “Anything For You,” published in the September-October 2016 F&SF. But sometimes fiction needs to point out the chaos.

I deliberately left an ambiguity at the story’s end, which I hope readers will ponder. If any reader wants to discuss this with me, I’ve got a Facebook Author Page and I’m on Goodreads. Come visit and we’ll talk!

 

What are you working on now?

I’ve just published a short novel, One Day in the Life of Alexa, with my ebook publisher, Bast Books, for the purpose of placing it in an international fiction competition with a 20,000 pound prize. So now the title is available as a brand-new beautiful trade paperback and as an ebook worldwide on Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords. The first review, on Goodreads, says, “Incorporates lively prose, past/present time jumps, and the consequences of longevity technology…An absorbing read with an appealing narrator and subtly powerful emotional rhythms.”

Also, I’ve just re-released in print Summer of Love, a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist, and The Gilded Age (originally titled The Golden Nineties), a New York Times Notable Book. This is an Author’s Preferred Edition set, with Tom Robinson’s beautiful covers. Both are feminist historical novels as well as extrapolations into the far future when women’s issues—and humanity’s issues—have taken a different turn. Those two books are as timely as ever and I’m very glad to republish them in print and as ebooks worldwide on all the retailers.

More of my backlist books will be forthcoming in print in the next several months. And another dark modern fantasy, “Aurelia,” is forthcoming in F&SF in 2018.

I’ve got an SF novel in the works and, always, more stories!

For more news about upcoming projects, print books, ebooks, stories, interviews, blogs, cute cat pictures, Tom’s bespoke art and jewelry, and more, please visit me at www.lisamason.com.

 

“Riddle” appears in the September/October 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1709.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: Gwendolyn Clare on “Tasting Notes on the Varietals of the Southern Coast”

Tell us a bit about “Tasting Notes on the Varietals of the Southern Coast.”

The story is about a master vintner sent to sample and make a record of the wines in a foreign country while a military invasion takes place.

 

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

This is unusual for me, but in the case of “Tasting Notes” I can actually point to a specific moment of inspiration. I attended a wonderful talk by medievalist Michael Livingston at the Nebula Conference last year, and in describing his research on the Battle of Crecy, he mentioned acquiring key information from, of all things, a cook’s journal. I was fascinated with the idea of reconstructing major political events from the perspective of someone whose concerns are tangential to those events — people like that cook, who was more worried about how many chickens the English king was eating than he was about the battle they were marching toward.

As you can probably tell from the story, I am also an incurable wine snob. Anything worth enjoying is also worth analyzing to death — that’s my motto. It’s a particularly interesting challenge to try to describe senses like taste, smell, and mouthfeel, because there’s such a paucity of words for those (in the English language, at least).

 

What are you working on now?

My debut novel comes out in February 2018 from Imprint/Macmillan. Ink, Iron, and Glass is a steampunk historical fantasy full of mad science and man-made pocket universes, set against the backdrop of the Italian unification movement. Currently, I’m drafting the as-yet-unnamed sequel.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m very excited to make my first appearance in F&SF!

 

 

“Tasting Notes on the Varietals of the Southern Coast” appears in the September/October 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1709.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/

Click on the image of Ms. Clare’s forthcoming book and you’ll be taken to her website: http://www.gwendolynclare.com/

 

Interview: Robert Reed on “Leash on a Man”

Robert ReedTell us a bit about “Leash on a Man.”

I used to own a red husky, and I’ll never love another dog as much.  At least I hope not.  Included in my Roxie memories are two leashes:  A twenty foot lead that lasted for years and then finally failed at the clip, not in the invincible fabric itself.  And a six foot leather leash that proved equally long-lived.  She also wore a succession of pinch-collars.  Pinch-collars with their spikes were the only way to effectively control her behaviors while we ran together.  Choke-collars would have strangled her.  Simple collars and halters would have ruined my shoulder and slammed my face to the ground.  She was stubborn and very strong, and unlike any other dog that I’ve known, she could manage a long lead and not get tangled.  We became a team.  This isn’t some spiritual bullshit.  We were six legs and two heads and a single agenda.  And it’s important to note here that leashes run in both directions.  The man holding the leash can imagine himself being in charge, but the reality can be rather more complicated.  Just ask a Siberian husky who’s running this clumsy slow nose-blind man through the deer-infested woods.

 

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

“Leash on a Man” is the title.  And by that, I mean that I came up with the title and liked it without knowing what it meant.  But that puzzle made me curious.  I decided to write a story wearing those four words on its head.  This kind of adventure happens sometimes.  I don’t remember examples just now, but I’m sure it has happened before to me.  I got to thinking about the difficulty in determining who was in charge when a leash is strung between two personalities, and I know a man who used to be a prison guard, and I’ve watched a few prison movies.  So there.

 

What would you want a reader to take away from “Leash on a Man?”

What to take away from “Leash?”  Maybe I hope that readers end up believing that several of these lives are going to have fascinating trajectories.  But I wouldn’t count on me writing about them.  I feel this is a once-and-out circumstance.

 

What are you working on now?

Working on now?  Mostly I’m writing a sequel to MEMORY OF SKY, which also happens to be a novel taking place on my Greatship.

 

“Leash on a Man” appears in the September/October 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1709.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 Mr. Reed’s photo will take you to his website.

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