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Interview: J.R. Dawson on “Marley and Marley”

Tell us a bit about “Marley and Marley.”

Marley is a girl who is orphaned at a young age. She also happens to be her only living relative. Old Marley returns to the past to take guardianship of Little Marley, and they’ve got some issues, to put it lightly.

 

J.R. DawsonWhat was the inspiration for the story, or what prompted you to write it?

I’m turning thirty this year. I had a weird decade of twenties. Sometimes I’d stop and look around and think, “What would my kid-self think of our adulthood? Would she be happy with the decisions I’ve made? Am I on track with my goals? Are there enough Disney movies and chocolate things and puppies in my house to make her proud?” These imagined conversations between the two of us started getting overwhelming, especially when I realized in some ways, I’d let her down, and in other ways, there’s no way an eleven-year-old could have fathomed adulthood in 2017.

 

Was “Marley and Marley” personal to you in any way? How?

It’s probably the most personal story I’ve ever written. Usually I make a bunch of fart jokes and give cool girls swords, but this story was quiet and close. It was about my marriage and my dog and my home and my childhood and my hometown and how a size 14 is a normal women’s pants size. Because it is.

 

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

Be kind to yourself. Reach out to loved ones, even when it’s scary. Especially now in these times, we need each other’s strength. People heal people.

 

What are you working on now?

I just finished a YA manuscript, a space opera with cool queer teens and David Bowie music. And I’m always writing new short stories. You can check out what I’m doing and receive updates by following me on Twitter (@j_r_dawson) and watching my website (www.jrdawson.org).

 

“Marley and Marley” appears in the November/December 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1711.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: David Erik Nelson on “Whatever Comes After Calcutta”

David Erik NelsonTell us a bit about “Whatever Comes After Calcutta.”

This is one of those stories that I think may have accidentally taken on a lot of political overtones that weren’t intentional. I guess that’s for readers to determine; I wrote it mostly in early 2016, well before a lot of what it feels like it’s about actually happened.  This story was locked up well before the election.

Nonetheless, when I go to sum up the story in a Big Picture way, I end up saying the same thing that I said about that election:

I totally hear where folks—angry, aggrieved, not-gonna-take-it-anymore folks—are coming from, because I totally agree with them:  They are getting screwed.  We just totally disagree on who is screwing them, or what is a sensible way to address that.

This story is about that, in a fundamental way.

 

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

My wife and kids and I were on a family vacation, driving through rural Ohio and I turned on NPR.  It was one of those shows where people tell long personal anecdotes—maybe The Moth or Radio Lab?—and the story in question was about a witchcraft investigation/trial in the farmlands outside Calcutta.  For some reason I took the speaker to be telling a story about Calcutta, Ohio (I suppose because we were driving through Ohio), not Kolkata, India.  I get sorta muzzy-headed on these long drives—we used to call this “highway hypnosis”—and there’s an opioid epidemic and . . . it just sorta seemed to make sense.  Then he said something about Bengal, and I realized he was talking about Kolkata, and part of me said “Well, that makes a lot more sense, really” and another part of me said “No, it doesn’t,” because I live in a college town, and meet plenty of folks from India (the engineer up the street, he and his wife are from Chennai), and I can say for a fact that I’ve met more Ohioans who believe in supernatural forces than Indians.

But, so, that’s what got me started.

 

Was “Whatever Comes After Calcutta” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Back when I was in college I used to eat lunch and study at this Coney fairly regularly (my wife tells me that “Coney” is a super-regional term; think “diner that also serves Greek food”).  One time I was in there and the cops came in to remove this guy who was half-a-bubble-off-plumb and getting belligerent.  The cops went and got the waitress who had called them and gave her this card to read.  It was like an incantation, casting him out; the verbiage reminded me of the exorcisms you’d see in the Sunday afternoon thriller on WXOM TV 20.  I guess under Michigan in order to charge someone with trespassing they have to be *knowingly* on the property against the property owner’s will.  So if a business had repeated problems with someone, the cops would have the complainant read out this generic trespass letter while they stood by as witnesses, and then tell the folks something to the effect of “Now, the next time you come in here, it’s automatically criminal trespass, a 30-day misdemeanor; go and sin no more” (or whatever).  But that really struck me, how it was like a magic spell that someone who the law recognizes as empowered can cast, like a magic missile targeted at the down and out.

Meanwhile, I’ve long kept tabs on the militia movement (being from Michigan, and a Jew, there’s a percentage in having a notion of how the wind is blowing in that neck of the woods).  So I got to see the “sovereign citizen” movement germinate, take root, and flourish at first hand.  It’s crazy talk, all of it—but given the experience of the law for folks who have few resources and dodgy education, it’s no crazier than the law that they’re subjected to every day.  I mean, if a waitress can read some magic words and all of a sudden I’m forbidden from getting lemon-chicken soup, why the hell can’t I maybe figure out the magic words not to have to pay for a driver’s license?

There’s something to that crazy logic—logic that, to me, is distinctly “militia logic,” but which is also clearly perfectly valid lawyer logic—that’s enduringly compelling.  It’s got a dark attraction, and I have nothing but compassion for anyone who gets drawn into it.

 

Did you do any research for this story?

I think I mentioned last time we talked, about “There Was a Crooked Man, He Flipped a Crooked House,” I subscribe to a “magpie and junk drawer” approach to research:  My brain locks on to odd shiny things and hordes them.  So, apart from a little light googling to get terminology right, most of the research was decades of accumulated shiny bits, including exotic names for one-light towns, trends in anti-gov’t activism, guns, witchcraft—regular stuff.

That said, I need to thank a lawyer friend, Anne Marie Ellison Miller, for being willing to field a lot of tedious questions as I struggled to get my brain around the lawyering universe.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m about 13,000 words in on a novella related to “There Was a Crooked Man, He Flipped a Crooked House.”  This one is tentatively titled “The Giftschrank, the Golem, the Dread Liberator.”

Project wise, I’ve been setting aside a little time each week to compose tracks from the made-up soundtracks of non-existent movies.  The results get posted here: https://www.davideriknelson.com/sbsb/index.php/category/music/beats-per-week/

 

“Whatever Comes After Calcutta” appears in the November/December 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1711.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. Nelson’s photo will take you to his website at http://davideriknelson.com/

Interview: Meg Elison on “Big Girl”

Tell us a bit about “Big Girl.”

I’ve always liked stories about scale, both giants and tiny people. I was enchanted by stories like The Borrowers when I was a kid, and I’ve often thought about how we perceive people’s place in the world, their responsibilities and worth based on their size. I have an affinity for things that cannot be controlled simply because they’re so big: I love kaiju movies and disaster porn because we are so relatively small. I love those videos that torture us with the scale of the universe and remind us that we’re like cinders in a chimney in the grander scope of things. I wanted to personalize that hopeless terror by making it a teenage girl, in herself, who is the whole scale.

 

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

“Big Girl” came to me as a reaction to the fact that women are always the wrong size, no matter where they are in life. There is no way to be right, no finish line. The most beautiful women in the world are harangued for any perceived imperfection, any dimple out of place or deviation from the taste or preference of the beholder. Girls and women are told to be smaller, be bigger, be rounder, be flatter, all our lives. I made Bianca grow and shrink with the world’s perception of a woman’s sexual capital, and I think any woman can see herself in that, even if she was never big enough to destroy a city. In telling the story in every voice but hers, I got to explore the ways in which women are often commodified and rarely heard.

 

Meg ElisonWas “Big Girl” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

“Big Girl” is deeply personal for me. I’ve been fat my entire adulthood. Every day, I have to navigate spaces that weren’t meant to accommodate me. I have a long-standing habit of apologizing, both verbally and with my posture, to people with whom I share space. I learned to make myself smaller, avoid bright colors and the spotlight to escape attention to my size. It has been a great revelation to be seen, as opinions and fashions have changed to allow me to be more of myself in public. I’ve been privileged to live in the age of people like Roxane Gay and Lindy West who have made unapologetic public fatness a part of their art. When I wrote the story of a giant girl, I was taking my own experience and amplifying it, taking it to its most extreme form. I took the dehumanization and isolation of existing at the wrong scale and made it so big that you can’t miss it. Much like me.

 

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

I hope that readers pick up on the dehumanization in “Big Girl,” which is about size, but also about gender, sexuality, nudity, race, and class. Dr. Seuss said “a person’s a person, no matter how small,” but I don’t know that everyone applied the same thing to “no matter how big.” I hope they see that the choices I’ve made in representing public rhetoric about a woman’s body, a girl’s body, a menstruating body, a poor person’s body, a Latinx person’s body, did not come out of nothingness. They come from my daily reading of Twitter and the New York Times. I hope they see that Bianca’s a person, despite all these things that we let people convince us make her ‘other.’

 

What are you working on now?

I’m currently at work on The Book of Flora, the third book in my Road to Nowhere series, the first of which won the Philip K. Dick Award. I’m also working on my first horror novel, inspired by a night when I passed out drunk in the back of a Lyft. I’m always working on short stories and essays. If readers like “Big Girl,” they may rest assured there is lots more on the way.

You can keep up with my new stuff by visiting megelison.com, or finding me on Twitter @megelison.

 

“Big Girl” appears in the November/December 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1711.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 Ms. Elison’s photo will take you to her website.

Interview: Larry Niven on “By the Red Giant’s Light”

Tell us a bit about “By the Red Giant’s Light.”

An editor friend invited me into an anthology, up to date stories about the solar system.  I chose Pluto, as I often have; but of course we know more now.  This story might not work for that book, given it’s way in the future.  I need to study Pluto more.

 

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

I’ve done many Pluto stories.  I set Pluto afire in WORLD OF PTAVVS, and that still looks possible: pockets of methane or ammonia, pockets of oxygen, just waiting for a rocket’s landing flame.

 

Can you tell us about any research you may have done for “By the Red Giant’s Light?”

News is flooding in from “New Horizons”.  I expect that will continue.  I love the picture of water ice islands afloat in liquid nitrogen seas.

 

What are you working on now?

STARBORN AND GODSONS by me, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes.  Jerry died before we could finish, but we turned in a draft yesterday.  Jerry’s last book.  It’ll be our final draft unless Eleanor Wood or an editor has suggestions.

GLORY AND HONOR (needs a new title) with Gregory Benford, a sequel to THE BOWL OF HEAVEN and SHIPSTAR. Greg’s name comes first: find it that way.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

I expect to be writing short stories for a while, with collaborators.

 

“By the Red Giant’s Light” appears in the November/December 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1711.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 Pluto and you will be taken to Mr. Niven’s website.

Interview: R.S. Benedict on “Water God’s Dog”

Tell us a bit about “Water God’s Dog.”

Many readers have probably figured out that the story is about life in our current economic situation, where the rich hoard more wealth than they could possibly need while the rest of us have to survive on less and less. And yet somehow many of us still worship these people as benevolent rulers, captains of industry, “job creators,” and so on.

Ur-Ena is the sort of person who finds financial success in our strange late capitalist hellscape. He’s empty inside of everything except the desire to serve his lord, driven by forces he does not understand, ever consumed by a hunger that is not his own—he’s the ultimate company man. He’s not particularly bright or interesting, but he’s pretty well-off financially, so people respect him.

The boy, Dumu-Inana, is a stand-in for the Millennial generation. He’s a whiny little jerk sometimes, sure, but he knows something’s wrong and he refuses to pretend that everything is okay.

 

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

I thought up the story while suffering through a long, painful job hunt and reading lots of career self-help articles.

“Water God’s Dog” is heavily influenced by the language and culture of Ancient Sumer. The specialized vocabulary and the names are all drawn from Sumerian. The protagonist’s name/title, Ur-Ena, means “dog/faithful servant of the Water Lord.” (“Ur” was a common component of personal names, and people were often named after some patron deity.) The boy, Dumu-Inana (“child of Inanna”) is named after a goddess who tried to conquer the Underworld. The name of the water god, Ganba, is the Sumerian word for marketplace. I also modeled the prose after Sumerian, which did not have a definite article and didn’t use many conjunctions. And the narrative draws heavily from the myth of Inanna’s Descent.

Unlike Judeo-Christians, who believe in a just universe governed by a benevolent god, or even the Egyptians, who at least saw the universe as an orderly place, the Sumerians seemed to view the world as a realm of chaos and decay. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers they depended on were constantly shifting, drying up canals and leaving farmland desolate. Their city walls constantly crumbled and always needed repair. In light of recent events, I find their mindset very relatable.

 

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

I’ve spent a long time studying Sumerian—not just the history, but the language, too. A major component of my senior project for my undergraduate degree was to translate Inanna’s Descent from Sumerian into English. (I relied on transliterations, though—not the original cuneiform.) In addition, I’ve written a few short articles about the role of queer sexuality in Sumerian religion.

 

Was “Water God’s Dog” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

“Water God’s Dog” captured a lot of my frustrations trying to find a decent job and make a living in the Great Recession. In the story, I’m the empty waterskin woman wailing at the altar, wondering why Ganba has so little interest in her offering. I think a lot of writers and artists are in this position, holding out their incredible talents to the free market and getting very little in return.

 

What would you want a reader to take away from “Water God’s Dog?”

Despite the overall somber tone of the story, I’d like for readers to come away with a sense of cautious hope. Things can change, if we keep struggling, though the journey will be painful.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m still working on the first draft of a gothic novel. I’m also writing an online serial sci-fi adventure novel about virtual reality and the military industrial complex. It’s called Hive, and it’s available on my website. https://rs-benedict.com/portfolio/hive/ In addition, I have a short story in Upper Rubber Boot’s upcoming anthology Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up To No Good.

 

“Water God’s Dog” appears in the November/December 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1711.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/

R. S. Benedict’s website: https://rs-benedict.com/

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