Issue 041 Author Interview: Rachel Delaney Craft and “Black Crocodile”

    Welcome to our chat with Issue 041 author Rachel Delaney Craft about her story “Black Crocodile.”

    LSQ: The images of the drought, the struggling village, the livestock, the monk, the buffalo calf, and the mangoes are so vivid throughout your story. How did you conjure such strong sensory details? Have you written about Buddhist culture before?
    Rachel: They say we read to escape, but I think we often write to escape as well. Part of the joy of writing this story was the research I did on Buddhism and Thailand–reading personal blogs, perusing photos online, essentially trying to transport myself there so I could portray the setting and characters accurately (though I’m sure I didn’t succeed 100%). I always start my research with nature, because that’s what interests me most: the climate and weather, the plants and animals, the relationship between the people and the land. These ideas were integral to this story in particular, where the people, livestock, crops, and drought are all tightly interconnected.
    LSQ: Do you consider this a coming of age story? What do you see as the narrator’s purpose when she’s finished with her transformation at the end?
    Rachel: Absolutely. Like most teens, Kanokwan is grappling with the joy and heartbreak of first love, taking on more responsibility at home, and worrying about her future. She is also searching for a purpose in life, which is something many of us (myself included) struggle with long after adolescence. She finds new purpose in caring for the buffalo, and after her transformation, her purpose becomes protecting the buffalo and the village. I love the idea that sometimes what we need most is to be needed by others.
    LSQ: Deep reading of this story could conjure many types of symbolism hidden within. Do you have anything along this line you’d like the reader to focus on?
    Rachel: I never intended to cram in so many symbols–water, mangoes, snakes, colors, just to name a few. Instead, they emerged naturally as the story progressed. What I love about symbols is how every reader interprets them differently based on their own unique worldview and experience. So I would say go into every story with an open mind, and let yourself discover as you read. Think about which symbols emerge and what they mean to you. If a story resonates with you, read it again–you’ll probably discover something new.
    LSQ: What was the most challenging aspect of this story to write and why? What are you most proud of?

    Rachel: I think the greatest challenge, and the thing I’m most proud of, was patience. I worked on this story for four years before it finally found a home at LSQ. I workshopped it with critique partners, submitted it to magazines, got rejections and feedback from editors, and revised, revised, revised. The process was slow but rewarding, because with each new draft I watched the story bloom a little more. The story’s various layers, its themes and images and symbols, needed that time and patience to grow.

    Issue 041 Author Interview: Lydia Pauly and “Radio, Out by Pluto”

    It’s time for another Issue 041 author interview—this week, meet Lydia Pauly and learn about her story “Radio, Out by Pluto.”

    LSQ: The concept of the passage of time features heavily throughout your story. How does the passage of decades impact the Processor?
    Lydia: With this story, I wanted to talk about alienation. I wanted to describe how I felt: a woman who is being involuntarily removed from the world around her, but is choosing to struggle against it and find her way back. However, I think that a lot of how I feel and what I experience can’t be expressed in English, or in any language. In other words, lots of what I want to say doesn’t feel right when I speak about it directly. That’s not me trying to be pretentious; I don’t think that I experience anything particularly unique. But that experience doesn’t translate well into language, and it stops us being able to talk about it. Part of being a writer is understanding these limitations of language, and figuring out how to use it to express these slippery ideas. In the same way that an artist might find that the only tool they have is a black ballpoint pen, and they have to work out how to use it to depict a scene full of color and movement.
    The passage of time in this story is one of the ways I’m trying to describe alienation indirectly. Twenty Earth years pass and it’s of no consequence whatsoever to the Processor. It could have been ten, or even fifty. Does the amount of time really matter? Time no longer affects her the same as it did when she was human. She was human once, and remembers what it was like to age and see the Earth’s seasons. However, she’s removed from that now; it no longer applies to reality. Her internal experience is removed from her external experience.
    It’s sad. She feels that there was once a time when she understood the world around her. Somehow, that’s been lost.
    The other side of this is that I think I write a lot about characters in a period of death. When time no longer has consequence to you, you’re in a period of stasis, which is all death is. Twenty Earth years go by, quietly. Nothing happens. Once the story starts moving, and she’s trying to reach out, the amount of time that passes shrinks. The years start punctuating the story. It takes on meaning again. We start moving from death back into life again.
    LSQ: Do you know the backstory of the Processor? What made you choose her eyes as the only human part left?
    Lydia: The only backstory I have for the Processor is that I wanted to write about someone who’s been almost completely objectified for work. Their body has been taken from them and replaced with someone else’s creation, not designed to keep them alive but to keep them working as long as possible. There are a few hints throughout the story of how disconnected the Processor feels from her own body, and little attempts she makes to reclaim it. To use a cliché, she’s a ghost in a machine, experiencing a different sense of time and body from the reality of the story.
    I feel like our eyes are the most personal parts of us, which is why I wanted her to keep them. If you died in a horrible accident and the only thing left were your hands or your feet, no one would look at that and recognize who they belonged to. However, if they had your eyes, they might. I feel like we assign a lot about our eyes to our personality.
    I don’t like writing about characters who are in complete despair, either. I didn’t want to write about the Processor as someone who’s been completely taken over and remodeled. I think there’s a little part of me that’s still desperately trying to find its way back to reality, despite feeling so far from Earth, and I like to reflect that in my characters. Think of a tiny flame in a middle of an otherwise black-out night. Those are the kind of people I like to write about. Which is why I wanted her to keep her eyes.
    LSQ: The feeling of isolation and the need to communicate is pervasive here, even with a main character who is now mostly artificial. Can you speak to this? Is this the last remnant of the Processor’s humanity? 
    Lydia: The feeling of isolation is just coming from talking about alienation. Alienation is the extreme version of isolation. You can be isolated, but still in touch with who you are and feel that the body and personality that exists in you is actually you. Alienation is when you stop feeling that your body is your own, or that your personality is your own. Alienation is realizing that you feel like the simulacra from Lem’s Solaris.
    I’m not sure that I would assign the still-living need to communicate as the last remnants of the Processor’s humanity either. I think it’s more just wanting to talk about how a person would survive such isolation and alienation. I don’t just want to talk about someone who feels that they have no connection to their body or their reality. I want to talk about someone who suffers through that, but still desperately reaches out, despite that. I like to write about characters who are able to be the kind of person that I need to be.
    LSQ: Where did the idea for this story come from? What was the most challenging part about writing it and why?
    Lydia: I read a lot. But really, that only helps at the end, once I’ve done all my thinking and working out what I want to say. Before then, I consume a lot of visual and audio material: films and music, particularly. I take all of this non-language material and throw it into my subconscious. Something in there will resonate, and I can feel something grab onto it. Once it does, I do nothing else but obsess over it. I just have to watch it, read it, or listen to it over and over and over. In the case of Radio, Out By Pluto, it was the album Planetarium by Sufjan Stevens, and James McAlister with Bryce Dessner (which I still listen obsessively to now). There’s just something about that particular music, with some of those particular lyrics that I really respond to. It’s a two-way relationship, too. I feed my subconscious all this outside material, and then it gives me images back: tiny satellites orbiting around Pluto, androids with human eyes, far-away aliens that can’t communicate in a common language. My job as the conscious part of my body is just to pay attention, figure out why my subconscious wants to talk about this, and translate it into something that people can read. In this case, it was talking about alienation.
    The most challenging part of this is the same, as with any story: making sure it still feels genuine by the end. Part of that is just always testing your material with your subconscious. Does it still resonate in the same way that it did with that first material it latched onto? And is it still saying something that readers can understand? Are you being a solid bridge between the two?
    The other side of this is that there’s a lot of pressure in science fiction to assign yourself to a particular sub-genre: literary, soft/hard, realism, etc. You can feel guilty, especially when you start publishing work, because you’re now contributing to a collective genre voice. You feel a duty to start lending your voice to a faction that you agree with. However, as discussed, I struggle to feel connected to anything. I feel like I am entirely separate from everything around me, and I want my work to be the same. That way, it stays true to whatever is trying to communicate.

    Interview: Dare Segun Falowo on “Kikelomo Ultrasheen”

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    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

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    Interview: John Possidente on “Red Sword of the Celiac”

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    John PossidenteTell us a bit about “Red Sword of the Celiac.”

    It’s the story of a book reviewer who gets an unattractive assignment that turns out to be not what it seems. Their discovery arc seems to include a slightly cynical but essentially loving whirlwind tour through two decades of overused SF tropes. It might be allegorical. Or symbolism. It might not. Also, there’s a cat.

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

    This one started with the title (which was nice, because coming up with titles can be a real pain). I was chatting in too much detail with someone about the symptoms of their celiac disease–because everything is interesting if you’re a writer, right?–and the phrase popped into my head. “The red sword” sounded like a fantastical euphemism for the gut pain celiac can cause. It also sounded like the title of an old pulp novel. I’d just finished reading Breakfast in the Ruins, a book of essays by Barry Malzberg, and suddenly I had the idea to write a review of that nonexistent pulp novel (which of course was the third in a trilogy). Borges and Lem rolled over in their graves, and here we are.

    Was “Red Sword of the Celiac” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

    Only in that I had enormous fun looking back on all the stories and novels and films from those times and choosing which tropes to include. Lots of fond memories.

    Why do you write?

    I want to say, “because it’s fun,” but that seems flippant, because sometimes it’s hard work. Mostly I think it’s that the ideas, the characters, the stories assemble in your head, and you get excited about them; it would feel like a waste and a shame to leave them there, uncommunicated. Showing a story to somebody and seeing that they enjoyed it, that’s a great feeling. The collaboration between the text and the reader–finding out that someone got something else out of it, a meaning entirely different from what you intended–that’s delightful.

    What are you working on now?

    Too many things. I tend to jump around between projects, depending on which one I’m excited about–which is a terrible, horrible, inefficient way to work and I don’t recommend it to anybody, except that Ray Bradbury said that’s how to do it, to write where your passion is. I guess he did okay, so maybe it will work out for me.

    “Red Sword of the Celiac” 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

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    Issue 041 Author Interview: Devon Widmer and “Star Bound”

    Dear readers! Meet Issue 041 author Devon Widmer as she discusses her story “Star Bound.”

    LSQ: Astroherpetology! Please tell us where the idea for this story came from. 

    Devon: Sea monsters… in spaaace!

    There are so many fun hypotheticals to explore when writing about extraterrestrial life. It’s interesting to think about how life might evolve dramatically differently on other worlds (What if life developed with alternative chemical building blocks—silicon rather than carbon-based life, for instance? What kinds of creatures might crawl out of an ammonium ocean? Could a planet in a red dwarf system sustain life?). However, there’s something so exciting about the idea of being able to hop into a spaceship with your significant other and fly off together to explore an Earth-like world—somewhere reminiscent of home but full of new creatures and new discoveries.

    In the real world, the prospect of extraterrestrial life has already led to the development of the field of astrobiology. In “Star Bound” I wanted to think about all the fun scientific disciplines that might arise in a universe where planets teeming with life are commonplace. Scientists in the field of astroherpetology, for instance, would study extraterrestrial creatures that had evolved similarly to Earth’s amphibians and reptiles. A marine astroherpetologist, like Dr. Vivian Huang, might specialize in ocean-dwelling extraterrestrial amphibians and reptiles—including any reptilian space sea monsters!Beyond all that, however, the idea for “Star Bound” could be boiled down to “space wives explore the universe making exciting new scientific discoveries while loving and supporting each other!”

    LSQ: Loving female relationships are the backbone of this story and, in fact, there is an all-female cast, right down to the aquatic creature — a rarity. How did these characters start in your mind? Was one character easier to write than others? If so, why?

    Devon: I’m a woman in science myself, so it feels natural to populate my sci-fi stories with women scientists. However, regardless of the type of story I’m writing, I make a deliberate effort to include a variety of female characters. There are a lot of stories out there with majority-male and even all-male casts, but it’s still relatively rare to find stories populated with more women than men. That means that female-female relationships (both romantic and platonic) haven’t as frequently been given the depth they deserve in fiction, so it’s a lot of fun giving those dynamics a lot of space in stories like “Star Bound.”

    The characters of Terra and Vivi started as a way for me to explore my varied experiences as a researcher and then grew into their own people from there. Terra, like me, likes to keep inside her comfort zone, scientifically and personally, so it was fun to pair her with a character like Vivi who encourages her to try new things. Meanwhile Vivi has my enthusiasm for chasing down any new project that presents itself and thus needs someone like Terra to help reign her in so she doesn’t burn herself out by taking on too much at once. I had an easier time writing Vivi, ironically because she is less like me in terms of personality. Sometimes it’s difficult to write a character that shares some of my own insecurities!

    I also wanted to use these characters to emphasize some of the aspects that I think are often

    missing from depictions of scientists. Both in real life and in fiction, scientists are expected to be all about the research, sidelining other aspects of their life like relationships or parenthood. Instead of pushing their relationship aside, I wanted Terra and Vivi to confidently showcase their love. They get to be brilliant and happy without having to choose between the two. They are also expectant parents who worry about giving their unborn child a good life but, importantly, not because being a scientist is somehow incompatible with being a fully committed parent. They get to be good parents and good scientists. This was an important aspect for me because I had my daughter while I was a graduate student in chemistry, which is not a common experience for graduate students in the sciences. There’s still some stigma around pregnant people working in scientific environments, so I wanted Terra to be able to continue traveling the universe and going on science adventures with her wife.

    LSQ: Do you think you’ll visit Vivi and Terra again? How do you see their future play out?

    Devon: I would definitely love to write about more of Vivi and Terra’s adventures. Any universe with the potential to stumble upon extraterrestrial sea monsters is a universe worth exploring. I would also be interested in checking in with them as new parents and later when their child is old enough to begin participating in their science adventures. I imagine growing up with two science-minded parents would be challenging—especially when each parent has their own field of focus/passion!

    LSQ: Tell us a bit about your other writing projects.  

    Devon: Most recently, my short story “The Passing of the Reaper Journal” came out as part of Pixie Forest Publishing’s At Death’s Door anthology just a few weeks ago. My horror short “The Manicurist” was also recently published at Theme of Absence.

    A good selection of my other works can be found via my amazon author page (amazon.com/author/devon). I also have many more projects in the works, so please feel free to connect with me via social media if you are interested to see what is coming out next!

    Interview: Ian Tregillis on “Come the Revolution”

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    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/

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    Issue 041 author interview: Josie Nuñez and “Down in the Kettle Bog”

    Welcome to Tuesday, where we interview an author of our current issue! Today we chat with Josie Nuñez about her story “Down in the Kettle Bog.”

    LSQ: A modern, benevolent coven in the Berkshires – please tell us: what inspired this take on witches and what made you choose this location? How do you think these witches compare to the current take on witchcraft in pop culture? 

    Josie: My depiction of witches comes from two things, mainly: Terry Pratchett and the Girl Scouts. The witches of Pratchett’s Discworld series are women who gather to protect their communities by doing the work no one else can do, whether that’s fighting off monsters or delivering babies. As a Girl Scout learning the secrets of the wilderness in between community

    recycling projects, I felt something a tiny bit like that dynamic. The similarity stood out to me when I read the Discworld books years later. A troop isn’t so different from a coven. You put some young ladies around a campfire and they’ll argue, they’ll help each other, they’ll have adventures together. The idea of benevolent witches isn’t new (think of Bewitched and Sabrina the Teenage Witch), but it’s experiencing a moment in the pop culture spotlight right now. Tumblr is full of people’s ‘witchsona’ artwork. Bookstore shelves are filled with novels about witches. At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I’ve loved witches since before they were cool, and I wanted to write my own take on them.

    As for the setting, I went to college in the Berkshires. The area is incredible. There are tiny pink salamanders in Hopkins Forest so pale that you can see your hand through their bodies when you hold them. There are chestnut saplings clinging to life deep in the mountains, survivors of a chestnut plague that swept through America a hundred years ago. I’ve walked onto a kettle bog moss mat with my botany class and felt it wobble beneath my feet. The valley turns purple at sunset, and isn’t that magic?

    LSQ: The Frogman is an interesting adversary. What made you choose this antagonist?

    Josie: Bullfrogs are horrifying to me. They’ll eat anything, including each other. I wanted to use that menacing part of nature to address the complicated ways that tragedy strikes, how sometimes, nasty things just happen, and we can’t always blame it on someone in particular. Is the Frogman just doing what he does? How deliberate are his actions, and does that even

    matter? Ultimately, Julian’s isolation is her biggest enemy.

    LSQ: What was the most challenging aspect of this story to write and why? What is your favorite part of it?

    Josie: Writing grief is hard for me. I’ve distanced myself from the losses in my life. This was an exercise in confronting this horror I’ve only felt at a careful remove. I have experienced depression; mine’s chronic, whereas Julian’s is more acute, but even if I haven’t been in her exact situation, I know what it’s like to want to detach from your feelings to escape your pain.

    My favorite part to write was anything with Amy. She popped fully formed into my head, a riff on the daughter of my old Girl Scouts troop leader. That girl could have led armies, and so could Amy.

    LSQ: Are you working on any other projects currently? If so, can you tell us about them?

    Josie: I am working on a full-length novel set in the same world as “Down in the Kettle Bog”. After I finished the short story, I knew that there were other stories about the witches lurking half-formed in my mind. I’m excited to share them someday.

    Interview: Matthew Hughes on “The Last Legend”

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    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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    Interview: Amman Sabet on “Say You’re Sorry”

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    Amman SabetTell us a bit about “Say You’re Sorry.”

    Say You’re Sorry” is a story about the power that apologies hold over us.

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

    I’m not really sure. The premise probably came out of one of those “what if” scenario conversations you have with friends or family. One or two rough drafts of other stories also merged into this one (some characters and scenarios, etc.) giving it some shape.

    Was “Say You’re Sorry” personal to you in any way? If so, how?

    I grew up in and around NYC, and I’ve worked in a bunch of design offices. I drew from a personal canvas when assembling the backdrop and relationships.

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

    I found it a little difficult because when you write a story about saying sorry, you naturally go to the perspective of people saying sorry to you, instead of the other way around. Once I went there, things opened up.

    Why do you write?

    I want to be liked. Stories, with luck, interact with readers on their writer’s behalf and maybe even become appreciated. My naked hope is that, through this, I have a chance at appreciation (at a not-uncomfortable remove).

    What are you working on now?

    I’m revising a workshopped draft of a novel about a portrait artist living through a major food epidemic, as well as several short stories that I am trying on endings for. I’m also finishing up a graduate degree.

    “Say You’re Sorry” 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

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    Issue 041 Author Interview: Rosemary Melchior and “Salt”

    Welcome to Tuesday, when we interview authors in our latest LSQ issue! This being the inaugural week of our Issue 041, we welcome author Rosemary Melchior to sit in our comfy chair made from the internet and answer some questions about her short story “Salt.”

    LSQ: Can you speak to the title of the story?
    Rosemary: I wanted something that could tie to the main character’s arrival and signal her departure on the island – the scent of salt water.
    LSQ: The cold of the island is ever-present and well described. How were you able to conjure such vivid descriptions of such a bitterly cold and unforgiving landscape?
    Rosemary: Thank you! I traveled to Iceland a few winters ago and did a road trip around the western coast – I pulled a lot of the feelings from that experience.
    LSQ: The ending is extremely satisfying. Did you know that’s how Sigga’s story would end before you started writing, or did it work its way out in the process?
    Rosemary: I knew the last line before I knew anything else, and the story was built around paying off that moment.
    LSQ: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story and why? What do you like best about this story and why?
    Rosemary: The most challenging aspect of this story was keeping Sigga’s end goal a surprise, while still leaving clues that there was more on her mind than just survival.
    What I like best is that Sigga gets to go out and seek her revenge, using the strengths that they tried to punish her for (more girls burning it down in 2020 please).

    Issue 040 Author Interview: Laura J. Campbell and “Slipping Through the Stars”

    Dear readers! Grab a cup of your favorite drink and sit down and enjoy our chat with Issue 040 author Laura J. Campbell about her story “Slipping Through the Stars.”

    LSQ: What made you go for a political domination angle rather than the more typical hostile alien takeover angle that stories focused on human space exploration tend to go with?

    Laura: I think that when we enter space – colonization, distant exploration – we’ll take our human condition with us. The concept of how we will handle our own drama on an intergalactic scale fascinates me. It is a projection of our current world; yes, there are hostile threats from afar, but the politics and power plays of the neighborhood are more immediate. I simply projected that onto an intergalactic stage.

    LSQ: Your characters are all very focused on their roles, but they still read as people who are unique and likable. How do you pull this off?

    Laura: Living in Houston I am very much surrounded by people like this. Houston is a vibrantly diverse city; it is also a highly technical city. The city has one of the world’s foremost medical centers, NASA, and is an international hub for the energy industry and law. Many of my friends and colleagues are involved in space exploration, surgery, highly specialized areas of law, or the energy sector – all have to be extremely focused on their roles. Yet when you get to know people, they are multifaceted (even quirky). The professional careers are in juxtaposition with musical side-gigs, painting, culinary pursuits, sports, and other activities. So that concept of extreme focus in balance with a personal life comes naturally.

    LSQ: Mary Osprey is such an awesome character with huge potential for more adventures. Do you have any future plans for her, or more stories set in this world in general?

    Laura: Absolutely. The Earth Secret Service and the Mars Colony have taken on a life of their own. As for Dr. Osprey, I can’t imagine Queen Rigel not providing plenty of opportunities for future adventures. 🙂

    LSQ: Are there any writers who have influenced your work?

    Laura: Definitely Edgar Allen Poe – his works were read to me as a child. Also Kipling, Dickens. I have to give a shout-out to Mary Shelley – I think that by writing Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, she opened the door for women writing in horror and science fiction. Likewise Dorothy L. Sayers and Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie, Lady Mallowan, DBE, who opened up the world of mystery. And the Brontë sisters, who wove wonderful dark worlds. In the modern era, I think films also have an influence – John Carpenter and Alfred Hitchcock, for example. I tend to not rely upon shock or graphical detail – I try to intentionally leave shadows for the reader to fill with their own wonder or dread.

    F&SF 1-Day Sale

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    The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction – July/August 2019 cover - click to view full sizeToday only the July/August F&SF is $4.99, a big savings from the usual price of $8.99, and read G. V. Anderson’s Nebula-nominated novelette “A Strange Uncertain Light.”

    Issue 040 Author Interview: Emilee Martell and “Nora’s Potion Jar”

    Hello, dear readers, and welcome to our latest chat with an Issue 040 author. Today we talk with Emilee Martell about her story “Nora’s Potion Jar.”

    LSQ: This issue’s theme is “potions and poisons.” What drew you to this theme, and why choose a little girl as a protagonist?

    Emilee: I was drawn to this issue’s theme because it seemed to lend itself so well to fantasy, a genre that I wanted to explore more in my short stories. I actually first wrote a story that focused on the “poison” part of the theme, which predictably ended up full of murder and mayhem. I decided it wasn’t a good fit for Luna Station, though. I tried to write a new story on theme, but kept hitting a wall. Finally, a certain Tumblr post reminded me of a great way to tie in the “potion”

    theme: the near-universal experience of going out into the yard as a five-year-old to concoct a magic brew out of whatever happened to be laying out in the grass. The reversal from a dark murder story to a lighthearted child’s fantasy turned out to be just what I needed.

    LSQ: What are the challenges in writing a story about a child without it turning too childish for an adult audience?

    Emilee: I’ll admit I was anxious about this! There’s certainly still a campy, warm-and-fuzzy, “the magic was inside you all along!” element to the story. But I tried to make that feel genuine, like a special moment in Nora’s life, instead of a tired trope. Overall, I wanted to write the way a child thinks: straightforward and laser-focused – at least when they’ve given themselves a job. It doesn’t occur to Nora that this anything other than serious business.

    LSQ: Are there any writers who have influenced your work?

    Emilee: For this story in particular, I actually thought a lot about Calvin and Hobbes, which was a great favorite of mine growing up, and its creator, Bill Watterson. Like Nora, Calvin has fantastical adventures that, for him, are just part of his everyday life. I read somewhere that the magic of Calvin and Hobbes came from Watterson’s utter commitment to the world he crafted in this comic; the characters never break the fourth wall, never speculate about why they do what they do. Watterson never blinks. That was what I was trying to replicate in “Nora’s Potion Jar”: a kind of colorful whimsy that’s only prevented from being cutesy by the fact that to the protagonist, it’s pretty mundane.

    LSQ: Are you working on anything else at the moment? If so, can you tell us a bit about your other projects?

    Emilee: I always have a long list of projects! Right now, I’m trying to find a home for the above-mentioned murder story, and finish a very strange nonfiction piece about how Asian raccoon dogs nearly became an invasive species in the American Midwest. But I’ve had to put my short fiction on the back burner for the moment: I’m in Pitch Wars and madly revising an adult sci-fi novel through February. It’s about a social worker, a gang lord, and a government agent uncovering magic and corruption in a high-tech city, and needless to say, it is not nearly as lighthearted as “Nora’s Potion Jar” – though it has its moments!

    Interview: Matthew Hughes on “Air of the Overworld”

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    Matthew HughesTell us a bit about “Air of the Overworld.”

    It’s a continuation of the development of Baldemar, the wizard’s henchman, who started off as an exceptionally street-smart ten-year-old in “Ten Half-Pennies,” then became a debt collector’s apprentice and finally henchman to a vainglorious thaumaturge named Thelerion.  Then he came to the attention of a kind of god that had its own agenda for him, and which made some changes in Baldemar’s being that made him more useful to the god.  After a side-trip into politics and police work, those changes brought him to the notice of other thaumaturges.  And now, in “Air of the Overworld,” a powerful wizard wants to use the henchman for purposes that pose an existential threat to Baldemar.  So, once again, he has to find a way to foil those who do not wish him well.

    Was this story personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

    Somewhat.  Looking back on my life, it has occurred to me lately that, like Baldemar, I was often a henchman to powerful figures in the worlds of politics and business, while also being a fish out of water in those milieus, having begun my life as one of the working poor.  So I know what it’s like to be a part of somebody else’s plans, with little power to change them.

    Can you tell us anything about your writing process for “Air of the Overworld?”

    Not much.  I start at the beginning and keep on going to the end.  One draft, a polish, and there it is.

    What are you working on now?

    I’m writing The Do-Gooder, a sequel to a suspense novel, One More Kill, that has come out in limited edition hardcover in the UK and will be out in paperback and ebook editions in North America later this year.  Both are about an ex-Special Forces officer, unfairly invalided out of the US Army, who falls into a “hobby” of killing people who have done great harm and got away with it.

    Anything else you’d like to add?

    I’ve come to an agreement with Jack Vance’s son, John, that I will be writing a sequel to Jack Vance’s iconic Demon Princes series.  I’ll work on it this summer, after I finish The Do-Gooder.

    Also, I’d like to plug once more my big historical/magical realism novel, What the Wind Brings, that I waited more than forty years to write.  I’ve just received a very kind review of the novel from Dr. Joseph Bruchac, an eminent author of traditional tales from indigenous cultures who has a story in the upcoming May/June issue of F&SF.

    He says the book is, “. . . one of those stories that you wish would never end as you are reading it. Its evocation of the clash of cultures —Indigenous, African and Spanish– in 16th century Ecuador is more than merely memorable. It is what I would call required reading for anyone interested in the early colonial history of the Americas.”

    “Air of the Overworld” appears in the January/February 2020 issue of F&SF.

    You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2001.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. Hughes’s photo to visit his website.

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    Interview: Auston Habershaw on “Three Gowns for Clara”

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    Tell us a bit about “Three Gowns for Clara.”

    “Three Gowns for Clara” is a story about the story of Cinderella, or another way of putting it: what did the story of Cinderella look like from the outside? It is told from the POV of a local seamstress, pressed and harried by the fact that every single girl in the kingdom needs a ball gown on short notice.

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

    One of the things I’ve consistently thought about since seeing the Disney animated Cinderella as a kid (and many, many times since then) is how awful it must be to be sitting on the outside of that particular tale. Consider the plight of the Grand Duke–here’s a guy who presumably has a lot of other, more important things to do, and yet he has his life threatened and his decorum totally overturned by a psychotic monarch hell-bent upon grandchildren. He’s attacked with a sword! He has to go to EVERYONE’S HOUSE trying on shoes all night long! That’s abuse! Now, even with all that, the guy is still the Grand Duke and has a lot of wealth and privilege to fall back on. What about the little people? The ones who aren’t Cinderella? That’s where this story comes in. And, incidentally, I also think the story is true to the central theme of Disney’s Cinderella, in which Cinderella states “They can’t order me to stop dreaming.” Here I take that sentiment and explore it a little further.

    Why do you write?

    I can honestly say I have no idea. I can’t remember not writing. I have always, always been obsessed with stories; I love telling them, I love hearing them, I love talking about them. Sit with me for twenty minutes and I’ll tell you at least fifteen anecdotes. Writing, for me, is a way to release all the pent-up excitement of all the stories running around my head. If I didn’t do it, I’d go nuts.

    Who do you consider to be your influences?

    This is also one of those really complex questions that defy simple answers. If I were to say which authors I admire most, I’d include the likes of Neal Stephenson and William Gibson and Ursula K. Le Guin, but I don’t in any way write like any of them (I can’t! I wish I could!). In terms of my development as an author, I can credit Lloyd Alexander, Robert Jordan, Robert Louis Stephenson, Weiss and Hickman, and Robert E. Howard with shaping a lot of what I do–I remember reading them and really starting to think about what a story or a novel is and is not. In truth, probably the greatest influence over my writing has been Dungeons and Dragons, which I’ve been DM-ing consistently since I was 12 or 13 (almost 30 years!), but of course if you look at “Three Gowns for Clara” you see nothing of the kind in there. So, who knows?

    What are you working on now?

    My current novel project is a time travel tale in which I give a time machine to a low-level mob enforcer and he gets himself into an awful lot of trouble (sort of a “Doctor Who Meets Quentin Tarantino” kind of thing). As for stories, I always have about three or four in the fire at any one time, but who knows when/if any of them will be done or make it to print. Keep your eyes open, I guess!

    “Three Gowns for Clara” appears in the January/February 2020 issue of F&SF.

    You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2001.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

    The Far Far Better Thing, the final book in Auston Habershaw’s fantasy series The Saga of the Redeemed, was released in March.  You can visit his website by clicking on his photo.

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    Issue 040 Author Interview: Nicole Lungerhausen and “Tell Me Something Good”

    Welcome to our chat with Nicole Lungerhausen, Issue 040 author of the short story “Tell Me Something Good“!

    LSQ: There are plenty of stories about men having doubts about fatherhood when their wives are pregnant, but yours has a woman in that role. What made you decide to take this road less traveled?

    Nicole: I wish I could say that I made a conscious decision from the start to take the road less traveled. It probably would’ve taken me a lot less time and fewer drafts to write the story if I had! But as with most things I write, I didn’t really decide what kind of story “Tell Me Something Good” was going to be, so much as have Naomi and Jenn, the main characters, show up on my right brain doorstep and say, “Hey, you don’t know us but we’re here to visit. And we’re going to stay awhile because we’ve got some things to say.”

    Although Naomi and Jenn arrived together, Naomi was the point of view character from the beginning. I was really interested in her perspective because she is so directionless and seems to carry a lot of unacknowledged fear. On one hand, this makes total sense because she’s recently gotten out of prison and is trying to put her life back together. But the way Naomi exists in the world also comes from getting the message from her parents in her youth that what she wants is unacceptable. For her, it’s easier to live without thinking about her own wants at all.

    Then enters Jenn, who is so driven, clear, and ambitious about what she wants to do with her life, and Naomi falls under the spell of all that charisma and buoyant energy. I wanted to explore how and why a person will go along with the desires of the person they love and not question whether they share those same desires until it’s too late. Putting Naomi right into the thick of big life stuff with marriage, pregnancy, and impending motherhood seemed like a good way to go about that exploration.

    LSQ: What makes Dream Awake daydreams different from regular daydreams?

    Nicole: I imagined Dream Awake as making regular daydreams into more immersive full-sensory experiences. I know when I daydream, sight and sound are most prominent and I experience the other senses far less or not at all. With Dream Awake, all the senses are involved: sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. While I envisioned Dream Awake as allowing the user to be more directed about what they want to experience, it is definitely not a perfect VR nanotech drug. In Naomi’s case, her use of Dream Awake somewhat backfires because the drug ends up manifesting the desires of her unconscious mind, rather than the good life with Jenn she believes she wants.

    LSQ: What do you think you would see if you did Dream Awake?

    Nicole: Oooh, that’s a good question. It stumped me for a bit. . .

    The smart-ass answer, courtesy of that sublime 80s movie Real Genius, is that I’d see myself standing in sort of sun-god robes on a pyramid with a thousand naked people screaming and throwing little pickles at me.

    The real answer is far more mundane. If I did Dream Awake, I’d want to see an event I’ve already experienced in my life. Like the last time I snorkeled at the Waipio tidepools on the Big Island of Hawaii before they were wiped out by the Kilauea eruption in 2018. Or my first bite of this white chocolate mousse they served at my grandparents 30th anniversary wedding party when I was seven years old; it’s my first food memory and I’d love to experience it again.

    LSQ: What was the most challenging part of this story to write and why? What was the most enjoyable and why?

    Nicole: The toughest part for me was figuring out Naomi’s journey. In the first draft of the story, I had Naomi and Jenn doing Dream Awake together in their apartment. Jenn was in the process of trying to get pregnant and the big secret that was revealed during the couple’s Dream Awake experience was that Naomi had been in prison. And that was pretty much the end of the story.

    When my critique group looked at this first draft, they were kind but also put my feet to the fire and said, in the nicest way possible,  “Is this really what the story is about? We think you can do better.”

    All told, I did about 20 drafts of this story, and it was only when I got up around draft #14 or #15 that I finally figured out Naomi’s journey. And that was thanks to a revision exercise in this terrific writing book called Naming the World. The exercise asks you to incorporate a gift into the next draft of a story lacking adequate conflict. When I revised the story based on this prompt, a bunch of things fell into place. Like the fact that being in prison isn’t the secret Naomi is keeping from Jenn; it’s that she has major doubts about becoming a mother and being part of a family. And also that Jenn should be pregnant at the start of the story so as to give Naomi’s quest greater urgency.

    One of the most enjoyable parts of writing this story was fleshing out the relationship between

    Naomi and Jenn. I love how they interact together and play off each other, the sense of humor they share, the love they have for each other, even in the midst of struggle. Me and my husband are very much a classic “opposites attract” couple, so I had a good time writing a same-sex couple who have a similar dynamic.

    I also enjoyed writing the scene between Naomi and her father. I hadn’t included any scenes with her parents in the early drafts. But once I got a better handle on Naomi’s journey, I wondered if it would make sense to include a scene between her and her parents. I drafted it, figuring at the very least I’d get some useful back story out of it. The scene ended up being so easy to write – what you see in the finished story is very close to that first draft – and fit so well within the story. This was an unexpected treat, considering all the other scenes in the story were much harder for me to get right!