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Interview: Sam J. Miller on “Shucked”

Sam J. MillerWhat was the inspiration for “Shucked,” or what prompted you to write it?

Some story seeds lodge in your head for a long time before you figure out the right soil to plant them in. “Shucked” was like that – I was eating lunch at my favorite restaurant on 125th Street (Uptown Veg, def check it out if you’re in the area) and I saw this tourist couple speaking Polish (?). The boy was breathtakingly beautiful, in a way that made me worried for him, while the woman he was with seemed like absolutely nothing on earth could faze her. The dynamic between them was so striking that it stuck with me. Years later, I thought it might mash up well with a gay version of the plot of the movie “Indecent Proposal,” and years after THAT I read Milan Kundera’s short story “The Hitchhiking Game,” a realistic tale about a couple who play a game that gets out of control and ends up totally wrecking them, and all the pieces of “Shucked” came together in my mind.

 

Why do you write?

Because it’s fun! And challenging. And because I love storytelling, and reading, and being part of the wild crew of weirdos and geniuses and poets and misfits that is the SF/F/H community.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

So many! Octavia Butler above and beyond all else. Ted Chiang, Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, Karen Joy Fowler, Julio Cortazar, Isaak Babel, Ray Bradbury, Holly Black, Toni Morrison, Jean Genet, Zora Neale Hurston, Kij Johnson, Jacqueline Woodson, Stephen King, Samuel R. Delany, Maria Dahvana Headley, Carmen Maria Machado, JY Yang, Nino Cipri, N.K. Jemisin, Alyssa Wong, Usman Tanveer Malik I COULD GO ON AND ON

 

You started your career in short fiction, but you’ve gone on to publish several novels in the past few years.  Can you tell us anything about the differences or similarities between writing long and short fiction, and which do you prefer?

The potentially-problematic analogy I keep coming back to is that writing novels is like a happy committed romantic relationship, and short stories are like one night stands, or random hook-ups. Both can be super fun and rewarding and hot and exciting, but in different ways, and it’s totally possible to have both in your creative life.

 

What are you working on now?

Final edits to my novel THE BLADE BETWEEN, which will be published by Ecco Press in late 2020 – it’s like HOUSE OF CARDS by way of Stephen King, about a gay guy who moves back to his home town and finds it’s being heavily gentrified, and helps mastermind a plot to drive the wealthy invaders out… except he might be manipulated by ghosts, and the conspiracy may get completely out of control and build to a metric ton of violence.

 

“Shucked” appears in the November/December 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2010-19.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/kelly-link-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-september-october-2019/

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 Sam Miller’s photo (credit to Kalyani-Aindri Sanchez) to visit his website.

Interview: M. Rickert on “Evergreen”

Tell us a bit about “Evergreen.”

“Evergreen” is a Christmas ghost story.

 

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

The inspiration for Evergreen” arose from a trip I took back to Saratoga Spring, New York where I lived many years ago. I went there to spend time with the family I had been a nanny for after the boy I had cared for (grown by then) died. I spent a few mornings in the same coffee shop I had used for a location in another ghost story I wrote, Journey into the Kingdom,” and the main character from that story makes an appearance in this one. The story is populated by the dead from my life and my imagination.

 

Was there any aspect of “Evergreen” you found difficult to write?

No.

 

Why do you write?

Well this is a pretty large question, and I’m not sure I know the answer. I am good at writing, and the lifestyle of solitude suits my disposition very well. I love the work on every level. I love the blank page, I love the arrival, I love the intense engagement with words and meaning and the mystical.

 

Many of your stories are concerned with ghosts and memory.  Why are these such pressing themes in your work?

I’m not sure what it is about ghosts exactly, except that they are rarely frightening in my work but act as conduits of melancholia and, in that regard, probably aspects of memory as well. I am very interested in ideas of perception and suspect this is rooted in my youth as a cross-eyed child. I was younger than six when I began remarking on the pairings I saw in my world, and how strange it was that only one was real while both seemed very present. I think this fascination with existence and reality began then.

 

What are you working on now?

I finished a novel manuscript this summer and it is currently under submission. We’ll see what happens there. I do suspect I’ll find more to pick at there, but for now I am keeping some distance. Since then I have been enjoying writing short stories, most of which feature an older protagonist. I have an idea for a collection of these, but a ways to go before I’ll have enough material.

 

“Evergreen” appears in the November/December 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2010-19.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/kelly-link-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-september-october-2019/

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: Gregor Hartmann on “A Hand at the Service of Darkness”

Gregor HartmannTell us a bit about “A Hand at the Service of Darkness.”

A police detective with a strong sense of ethics is dragged into a nasty political operation. It’s a problem many of us face: the world says do, your conscience says don’t. Is it possible to wiggle out of the dilemma?

 

 

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

Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia explores the various ways in which Asian intellectuals reacted to the impact of Western modernism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. It’s a fascinating book on many levels. It introduced me to peripatetic agitators who were often forced into exile, so they had to agitate for reform in their home countries while lurking in another. Tensen’s domination of Zephyr is a future example of the colonialism Mishra wrote about.

 

In fleshing out the world of your Zephyr stories, you’ve written in several different modes: sf, mystery, religious experience, etc.  How do you find the experience of trying out these various storytelling templates?

I wouldn’t say I have a template. Writing for me is like assembling a mosaic from kaleidoscopic fragments. I start with an idea. Bits of dialogue and action occur. Sentences grow into paragraphs and scenes. Pieces are rearranged and discarded. I keep an “outtakes” file. One of my metrics for knowing I’ve written enough is that for a 6,000-word story, say, I’ll have at least 6,000 words of discarded text. Eventually the pieces align themselves into something coherent. It’s frustrating because I often start out intending to tell a particular story, but then the characters and the situation take over and drag me in a different direction. Charlie keeps buying these runaway tales, so I guess the process works.

 

Did you do any special research for this story?

I’m not a gun owner. So to better understand Philippa, I went to a firing range and paid for three hours of instruction in handguns (from a trainer who turned out to be a retired homicide inspector!). We started with a Glock 17 and advanced to a Glock 19, which, despite the larger number, is a compact gun (lighter weight, shorter barrel, more easily hidden) suitable for a detective. Going through a couple of boxes of 9mm rounds did not make me an expert, but I feel now I can write a shooting scene more realistically.

 

What are you working on now?

Philippa and her detective trainee Jun (“The Unbearable Lightness of Bullets” in the March/April issue) are on another puzzling case.

 

“A Hand at the Service of Darkness” appears in the November/December 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2010-19.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/kelly-link-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-september-october-2019/

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: Benjamin Rosenbaum on “Rejoice, My Brothers and Sisters”

Benjamin RosenbaumTell us a bit about “Rejoice, My Brothers and Sisters.”

I guess I spend a lot of time thinking about what we, we humans, might become — partly because it reflects on who we are now, but only partly. I’m also just honestly consumed with curiosity.

I have a fascinated skepticism about the Rapture of the Nerds school of science fictional thought (which has probably passed its peak of popularity, but I still think about it). You know the one: we upload ourselves into the cloud and live as pure minds, or build ourselves indestructible robot bodies, and that’s the end of war and disease and death and unhappiness, all of which were just problems of running on an inadequate platform or being insufficiently optimized. Like the brain is a machine and the mind is software and the body is a peripheral you can upgrade, and epistemology is as transparent as glass, and society and culture the passive amalgamation of individual decisions…

What all that gets wrong is in glibly handwaving away our ineluctable embodiedness — which amounts to a kind of philosophical dualism — the body as vehicle. It betrays a kind of dread and discomfort with the messy reality of being a body, and a touching, simplistic naïveté about ethics and ontology. It’s a smooth, appealing lie.

What it gets right, though, is about our malleability. The inverse of the Rapture of the Nerds — which would be, what, the Lassitude of the Jocks? — comfortably imagines us just plugging along as we’ve always been, and that’s equally false. It’s like the Flintsones/Jetsons model of history, in which we project dishwashers, two-car-garages, bosses docking our pay and stay-at-home-mom, bridge-playing wives into the far past and future.

if we stick around and keep fiddling with things like we have been, learning like we have been, we actually are going to change dramatically. And it will be messy, and morally fraught, and ambiguous, and unimaginable. And there will be discontents.

 

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

I actually wrote the first draft of this for a contest. It had a very specific prompt, which was basically two set paragraphs, the original first (telephone pole, soggy teddy bears) and twenty-fifth (bullhorn, milk crate) paragraphs of the story.

I like prompts a lot.

The contest seemed to be going for a very realistic-contemporary-literary take on social justice movements, in those paragraphs. We were probably meant to be in Flint or Ferguson or Baltimore, and we were probably meant to apply, to that setting, the genre techniques of literary fiction: restrained prose, closely observed precision in details of contemporary life, muted but immense emotion lurking in the background, an obsession with emotional inner life coupled with a terror of sentimentality. These sorts of techniques animated all those stories of Sad White People at Dinner Parties, all those fortysomething college professors meditating on their affairs with undergraduates, all those weary women staring out of kitchen windows thinking of cancer, who I had to read in creative writing courses at a fancy college in the eighties.

Don’t get me wrong; I like lots of exemplars of that genre. I’m a fan of Anne Tyler; I’m a worshipper of Austen. But as a set of genre expectations, it can quickly grow stifling; if I am asked to restrict myself to those set of techniques for the length of an entire story, I am apt to decide that, like Charlotte Brontë, I can hardly bear “to live with these ladies and gentlemen in their elegant but confined houses”.

And surely they are not the only techniques to apply to such a historical moment.

I am, as an American, very concerned — not to say implicated — in the outpourings of long-overdue unrest over our racist carceral state. I also am very far, in social space, from the cracked sidewalk and soggy teddy bears that that contest wanted me to talk about. For me to try to address them head-on, with the techniques of literary fiction? I don’t think I could avoid tourism, appropriation, or mawkishness.

But I thought it would be interesting to flip the telescope around and look through the other end, not with, as Charlotte said of Jane, “a miniature delicacy”, not a close observation — but, rather, to view the agents of historical change as tiny figures, seen at a great distance.  To transport the soggy teddy bears very far from the scenes of my country’s daily brutality, to situate them in an exploration of entirely different issues, to render the familiar strange.

 

Was “Rejoice, My Brothers and Sisters” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

It’s always personal, and I rarely know how. At least at first.

“Start the Clock” (F&SF, Aug 2004) is about a plague that stops aging, and the society that results from it; it’s also very much about the frustrations of househunting with old friends, trying and failing to live next door to each other in Virginia in 2003, and the acute and disappointing gap between the spirit of our childhood vows and the reality of all our adult variables and compromises. But that interpretation wasn’t consciously present when I wrote it.

Okay: I am a dislocated outsider in the place that I live; an immigrant who sometimes feels like a castaway. Like I came here for a specific purpose, little realizing what I was getting myself into. “Here” means Switzerland, mainly, but I think I also mean this universe. I have a body, or I am a body, and that body is a terribly fragile thing, gradually disintegrating, unlikely to last even another century. Somehow I have ended up stuck in this body, in this strange strand of history that often feels unreal, put-on, like a dystopian punchline.

 

Why do you write?

I like to take the things that are happening in my brain and try to make somehow corresponding things happen in other people’s brains. It makes me feel less alone. I particularly like it when lots of people do this and we all put our ideas in each others’ brains and the ideas go zing-pang-pow back and forth.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Well my traditional answer to this question was all the people I grew up reading? I mean when I was little, Dr. Suess and Shel Silverstein and Maurice Sendak, and then Tolkein and Le Guin and Lloyd Alexander and Tove Jannson and T. H. White and Susan Cooper, and also Asimov and Heinlein and Pohl and Hal Clement and Alexei Panshin and Le Guin and Zelazny and Michael Moorcock and David Brin and Larry Niven (some of those have aged so much better than others!), and then when I was a little older, Delany and Tiptree and Le Guin and Russ and Octavia Butler, and Neil Stephenson, and also Kobo Abe and Donald Barthelme and Italo Calvino and Milan Kundera and Borges. That about takes us through high school, for prose fiction? It ignores all the films and comics and nonfiction and poetry and things. I mean, Marvel Comics and Lao Tse and the Talmud and Alan Moore and e. e. cummings too. It was almost impossible to read for fun in college, but I would not have read Gadamer or Geertz or Haraway or Kristeva or Spivak or the Ramayana or Moshe Idel or Gershom Scholem had I not gone, so fair enough. It was only after college that I allowed myself to discover Dostoyevsky and Austen and George Elliot.

This is probably more than you wanted, and I have not actually scratched the surface, because in many ways the biggest influences are actually contemporaries and compatriots, the people I trade manuscripts back and forth with and collaborate with and see excitedly at cons. If I begin to name them I will neglect too many; but you know, Cory Doctorow and Amal El-Mohtar and David Moles and Kelly Link and Ted Chiang and Meghan McCarron and Sofia Samatar and Jed Hartman and Mary Anne Mohanraj and Liz Gorinsky… oh, there are far too many to name. Also your mighty editor Charlie Finlay! Charlie is an amazing story doctor. It probably took me a decade after he started editing F&SF to cure myself of the habit of accidentally sending him stories to critique, forcing him to politely ask if they were submissions.

 

What are you working on now?

I am about to begin a final(?) round of edits for my forthcoming novel, “The Unraveling”, under the able hand of the brilliant Liz Gorinsky. It is due out from Erewhon Books in July 2020, and you should go preorder it at https://www.amazon.com/Unraveling-Benjamin-Rosenbaum-ebook/dp/B07WJ12KZN if alternate genders and dislocated revolutions and satires of modern parenting and ubiquitous sousveillance and anthropological thought experiments and wrestling with the kind of moral agency we actually have in a large complex world and how utopia doesn’t look like utopia from the inside are your cup of tea.

I am also working on a Jewish historical fantasy interactive fiction game set in 1881 in a shtetl on the border between Poland and Ukraine, and possibly a card game about revolutionaries in the asteroid belt, and maybe an alternate-anthropological story cycle about a matrifocal society with horses and swords, and also a lot of other things.

Also, my little sister, who is an accomplished indie filmmaker, is making a movie of my short story “Night Waking”, and it’s crowdfunding now on Seed & Spark, check it out: https://www.seedandspark.com/fund/night-waking

 

“Rejoice, My Brothers and Sisters” appears in the November/December 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2010-19.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/kelly-link-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-september-october-2019/

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. Rosenbaum’s photo ((c) 2015 Karen Rosenbaum) to visit his website.

Interview: James Morrow on “Bird Thou Never Wert”

James MorrowWhat prompted you to write “Bird Thou Never Wert”?

The story—novelette, really—began life as a potential contribution to Ellen Datlow’s avian horror anthology, Black Feathers. But when I sat down at the computer, what came out of my brain was not a horror story at all but a fable about the uses and misuses of magic. So Ellen and I looked at each other and agreed I should let my enchanted eagle fly off on his own.

 

Was “Bird Thou Never Wert” personal to you in any way? If so, how?

I suppose any piece of fiction about a fiction writer is ipso facto personal for its author. But the dimension of “Bird Thou Never Wert” that means the most to me is the animal rights subtext. During the composition process, the cruelties visited upon my enchanted eagle turned the story into a quasi-parable about humanity’s pathological attitude toward the biosphere, the malignant idea that nature exists essentially for our benefit.

 

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

My original outline merely called for a bird whose blood and feathers (employed as ink and writing implements respectively) could turn an amateur scribbler into a master of genre fiction. At some point I decided that my eagle must be an archetype of some sort, so I looked into Hindu mythology and eventually came upon the story of Garuda and Aruna.

 

What aspect of this story was the most fun to write?

In the earliest drafts, the story was framed as a critical essay, written by my female protagonist, Marsha Waszynski, introducing an omnibus of horror stories by the late, legendary Darko Cromdahl. But I came to realize there was something incoherent about that conceit. What editor in his or her right mind would publish a collection prefaced by an exposé declaring the book a fraud? My fix made me happy. Marsha’s knowledge of Darko’s modus operandi is something she’s been keeping to herself, and she shares that inside dope, privately, only when circumstances force her to come forward. Hence the story’s epistolary form.

 

Why do you write?

I love the potential of fiction to disorient people with ideas that would otherwise never have occurred to them. If I’m thrilled and unnerved by one of my thought experiments, I figure there’s a chance the reader will have the same response.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

I’m a satirist by trade, and I would have to put Voltaire, Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Sheckley, and Joseph Heller at the top of the list.

 

What are you working on now?

In the 1980’s I did a cycle of scriptural spoofs under the rubric Bible Stories for Adults. I’ve recently rebooted the series. So far I’ve completed “The Jawbone” (an anti-NRA take on the Samson legend), “The Great Fish” (a theological phantasmagoria riffing on the Book of Jonah), and “The Twin Cities” (narrating what really went down in Sodom and Gomorrah).

 

“Bird Thou Never Wert” appears in the November/December 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2010-19.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/kelly-link-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-september-october-2019/

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. Morrow’s photo to visit his website.

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