Interview: Mel Kassel on “Crawfather”


    giant crayfish sculptureF&SF: How do you describe “Crawfather” to people?

    MK: “Crawfather” is one of my favorite titles I’ve ever assigned to a work, so sometimes I let it stand by itself and invite curiosity. Otherwise, I’m pretty literal about it: it’s a story about a Minnesotan family that fights a giant crawfish every year during their reunion.

    F&SF: What were some of the things that inspired this story?

    MK: So many of the stories I’m working on right now are about the conjoined appeal and danger of unquestioned ritual. Family, in particular, is a petri dish for arbitrary and often harmful ceremony. I wanted to interrogate longstanding family traditions, ideas of monstrosity, and generational divides in thinking.

    The setting and some of the broader family attributes are borrowed from the annual trips my own family would take to Minnesota every year when I was young. Each little subdivision of my mother’s relatives would stay in its own cabin, and we’d gather to swim and fish and eat.

    Gradually, I came to realize that we were the odd cabin out—we didn’t share the same fundamental worldview as the rest of the family. And as that schism became more and more clear, I became increasingly baffled by what seemed like their blanket opposition to change and newness. I wanted to try on that collective stubborn voice as it was confronted with a more extreme version of change.

    I also just love crustaceans! They’re old and hardy and bristling with all these great appendages.

    F&SF: Once you have all those pieces of inspiration, what’s your writing process like?

    MK: I drafted this story at Clarion in the summer of 2018, so I only had a week to write it, but it was the most enjoyable bout of writing I had there. This was my “fun” story, one with a ridiculous conceit and a slightly atypical POV, so I just leaned into the novelty and humor of it. Creating specific family members for one-off appearances was entertaining—Hank (the childless accountant) is a favorite. Having the setting fully-formed in my mind also made the first draft breezier than normal.

    I’m someone who edits as they go, which means I end up with polished beginnings and (very) rough endings. It took a while for me to clarify exactly how Nancy and Archie would take on the Crawfather, and how the rest of the family would react.

    F&SF: Last year you won the World Fantasy Award for “Ten Deals with the Indigo Snake” (published in the Oct 2018 issue of Lightspeed Magazine). What was that like, and has it changed anything for your career?

    MK: It was so wonderful to receive that award, and I was especially delighted to share it with fellow winner Emma Törzs. This is perhaps an obnoxious thing to say, but I earnestly didn’t expect it—I was at a screening of “The Lighthouse” in Iowa City while the ceremony was happening in California. I’d read the stories by the other nominees and been so impressed. I figured I’d just check the results after the movie and be content with the nomination. Instead, I had to quickly toggle from anxious bewilderment at the film to surprise and excitement at the win.

    I view it as a lovely personal marker. I want my first story collection to have a grab-bag of cross-genre credits, and the award gets me closer to that goal.

    F&SF: What are you working on now?

    MK: Theoretically, I’m revising the group of stories that will become my first collection, and gathering notes for a novel. It’s a new frontier for me, this much revision and note-taking—it’s hard and I don’t like it. I’m also preparing to teach an undergraduate class on writing and reading fantasy fiction in the fall, which I’m looking forward to very much.

    You can find Mel Kassel at these places…

    Twitter: @MelKassel

    “Crawfather” appears in the July/August 2020 issue of F&SF.

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    Issue 042 Author Interview: Hannah Frankel and “TheraBot”

    For those looking for more summer reading, our Issue 042 is still available! It has 12 stories by 12 fantastic women authors, including Hannah Frankel’s “TheraBot,” the topic of today’s author interview.

    LSQ: This story strikes such a chord right now, in a time when it seems like so many jobs are being either done by machines and computers already, or where AI replacement is being investigated. Was there any particular incident that inspired you to write “TheraBot”?

    Hannah: I was inspired by a genuine curiosity about what tech-augmented mental health looks

    like, in a world that is (happily) clamoring for more mental health, but in the context of needing it to be more affordable for more people to have access. In our economy, affordability often comes from technology and/or scalability. What would therapy look like as a corporate product? Would that be a bad thing? What would it do to people like me who are very happy inhabiting the field as it currently exists?

    LSQ: Velma was instantly relatable for me. Her observations of her colleagues and her interactions with them were so interesting and, at times, seemed painfully spot on. How concerned were you with accurately depicting this slice of the working world?

    Hannah: The thread of this story that is closest to my heart was depicting a working person’s efforts at emotional survival in a deeply hierarchical setting that legitimizes itself as a meritocracy. And this is such a common workplace type for our time that I thought other people might be able to relate. In that kind of day-to-day existence there’s so much wearisome bullshit, that most of us censor speaking in daily life because it’s counterproductive to our needs and goals, and happens to get censored out of most stories that get told because we assume it’s universal to the point of being boring. I have always admired the people who work in those settings, like Velma, who are aware of the bullshit, but somehow also remain resolute in being decent and generous to others.

    LSQ: This story was fascinating in part because it felt so realistic. Do you think we’re looking at a TheraBot future?

    Hannah: I wish I had that crystal ball! We’re starting to see products like TalkSpace and BetterHelp in the last few years, decentralized tech-driven mental health packages that let you access therapy remotely and asynchronously (such as over text) but also require tradeoffs. Chief among these, from what I’ve heard, is that people have a harder time forming a relationship and trust with their therapist. That said, in the age of COVID many therapists are exclusively seeing clients over video telehealth platforms, and since we’re forced into getting lots of practice I’ve noticed myself and my clients are getting better at using the technology in a way that feels more focused and intimate.

    For the most part mental health treatment works as kind of a decentralized cottage industry right now and while that protects practitioners like me, it keeps the product expensive and difficult to access. And yet, I believe I will do better work when I am allowed to do it on my own terms, in a way that I’m not confident I would if I were overworked and underpaid as a franchise worker. So it keeps it expensive, but it keeps providers healthy and able to give their best. The best solution to balancing everyone’s needs, however, is clearly not TheraBot as she appears in this story.

    LSQ: Who did you think of first when you were doing characterization for this story: Velma, Angie, or JoyCE?

    Hannah: Velma came first. I wanted to heroize an unglamorous working woman who tries to do the right thing with the system that she’s given. Someone with very little ego and very little interest in herself as a hero, and who deserves more recognition than she will ever get in her world. Good thing she is the heroine of a short story in ours!

    Interview: Rati Mehrotra on “Knock Knock, Said the Ship”


    Author photo of Rati MehrotraF&SF: How do you describe this story to people?

    RM: I say it’s a story about how a super cool ship AI and a refugee save their captain and crew from murderous space pirates. If that’s not enough to hook them, I add that there are multiple knock knock jokes, all told by the ship.

    F&SF: What made you decide to write “Knock Knock, Said the Ship”?

    RM: It’s the child of a story I wrote a few years earlier. That one didn’t quite work, but it gave me the bones to build this one. I had the world and the characters in my mind for a long time. The basic plot developed from Deenu’s refugee background. But mainly, I wrote this story because I couldn’t resist the ship AI’s attempts at humor. Those jokes just demanded to be written. And the ship is someone I would personally love to meet.

    F&SF: How was this story personal to you?

    RM: Kaalratri, the name of the ship, is one of the nine forms of the Goddess Durga. The name literally means ‘darkest night’. She is regarded as a fierce form of the mother goddess, who chases away evil and destroys fear and ignorance in her devotees. I grew up hearing stories of the mother goddess, and it is this reference which makes the story most personal to me. I like to think of the ship as a protective and powerful, if not wholly understandable, mother figure – much like the goddess herself.

    F&SF: Deenu and the ship have a great relationship and it must have been a lot of fun to write their dialogue. But what were the challenges of writing this story?

    RM: Yes, I think I’ve had more fun writing this story than any other. My main challenge was giving a satisfying resolution to the plot. I had this great set-up, but it took a while to figure out how I could wrap it up in a way that felt deserved and natural.

    F&SF: Can you talk a bit about your writing process?

    RM: It varies. I am capable of writing five thousand words in a day when inspiration strikes – or when I have a deadline, which is its own kind of inspiration. I can also go weeks without writing a single word. I don’t like to plan ahead too much. I am definitely a pantser, not a plotter. This means that I often have to go back and revise or delete what I’ve written earlier. It’s not a very efficient way of writing, but it’s the only one that works for me. Once I have a complete draft, I’ll set it aside for a few days, re-read and revise, then request beta reads. Once I have feedback, I’ll revise it again. Only then will I submit the story to a market.

    F&SF: What are you working on now?

    RM: I’ve just finished the draft of a YA fantasy novel based in medieval India that I’m very excited about. It’s full of monsters and mayhem! Fingers crossed I get to share it with the world one day.

    You can find Rati Mehrotra at:

    Twitter: @Rati_Mehrotra

    “Knock Knock, Said the Ship” appears in the July/August 2020 issue of F&SF.

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    Issue 042 Author Interview: Dana Berube and “The White Place”

    Welcome to another Issue 042 author interview, dear readers! Today we chat with Dana Berube about her story “The White Place.”

    LSQ: This is a wonderfully intense story! What was the inspiration for it?

    Dana: Thank you! So, Ti is one of the protagonists of a fantasy trilogy I’m writing. The idea for this story was sparked by a line in one of those novels, set many years later, where he grudgingly confesses to a friend, “I never sold myself…but I perhaps bartered a few times.” In that novel, Ti’s circumstances are improved, but he’s still trying to fill that empty place within himself. I wanted to explore how moments in his past led him to be the man he is in the present, where he desperately wants to connect with people but still struggles to do so.

    I also wanted to explore a failure of intersectionality. In fantasy, prejudice against magical beings has sometimes been used as a metaphor for some other kind of injustice. I’ve never seen the point in keeping it metaphorical. Ti lives in a messy colonial empire that is churning with inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-wizard hatred. As Ti reflects, his society’s prejudice against wizardry and homosexuality take different forms but stem from the same place. Logically, he and Berron should be allies. However, as we see in our own world, that’s often not how things work out. Systemic oppression grinds people down and keeps us fighting among one another for scraps. Berron isn’t a bad person; he’s just someone who found his own safe corner of an unkind world and never risked peeking beyond it. And for Ti, being both queer and a wizard just leaves him even more isolated.

    I don’t claim to have any answers or lessons to share about these big issues. Most of my writing is me trying to work through it all for myself.

    LSQ: There are a lot of interesting tidbits of a larger world sprinkled through this piece. Do you think you’ll write in this world again?

    Dana: Absolutely! It’s a big world that I’ve put a lot of time and love into. I’ve got maps! As mentioned above, this story is a standalone piece that is part of a much larger project that includes a novella and a trilogy of novels, set years later than this story. In the novella, Ti’s past as the exiled scion of a wealthy family and his quest for love and stability again collide, but this time with a much bigger bang. His attempts to repair the damage he’s done spark the three books of the trilogy (and more broken hearts and explosions).

    I am currently querying the first book in the trilogy, and I’d love to find a home for the novella.

    LSQ: Ti is a fascinating main character, and his awkward relationship with Berron feels so relatable. How do you approach characterization? What was the first thing you thought of when you came up with Ti?

    Dana: Ti has existed in my head in one form or another since I was in fourth grade (he was originally a cat-sized talking horse who could fly and do magic—yes, really). In his later incarnations, I’ve tried to take the archetypical strong, handsome, sword- and magic-wielding fantasy hero and deconstruct him. I’ve always been curious about the psychological scars that fantasy adventures would leave on the characters who live through them. And surely depressed and traumatized people can be fantasy heroes too? Ti is a powerful wizard who ultimately up-ends a kingdom, but he’s also deeply hurting inside.

    In this story, he’s not yet a roguish hero, deconstructed or otherwise. He doesn’t have a sword. He doesn’t have anything. He’s just a hungry kid trying to outrun himself. One artistic choice I made to emphasize that was to have him think of himself as just “Ti” instead of his usual “Tiberius.” Those extra syllables are too heavy for someone who’d rather dissolve their sense of self into nothing.

    I don’t have any set methods for characterization, but since I’m an artist, drawing the characters

    is a big part of how I try to “find” them. Do they come out looking cheeky or haunted? Do they dress a certain way, and why? I tend to let projects marinate for years before I put a pen to paper, so by then I usually feel like I know the characters pretty well. Of course, sometimes I’ll think I have a solid grasp on a character, and as soon as Istart writing, the character flips the script. I’ve had bad guys turn into good guys, genders and species change, you name it.

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

    Dana: Quarantine did something unexpected to my brain. After working on speculative fiction for the past twelve years and assuming that was my lane, my brain went, hey! Let’s write a realist fiction novella! It’s focused on the same themes I often write about—relationships, trauma, mental health struggles, and found family—just without any wizards (…yet). Writing non-fantasy has been funny because I keep accidentally defaulting to metaphors about swords and kings for characters who live in modern-day Boston. I don’t know if it will go anywhere, but if the novella does nothing other than keep me sane during these odd times, I’ll be satisfied.

    I have a short story about a pair of near-future, empty-nester Mongolian herders who adopt a Chinese reconnaissance drone coming out in Zombies Need Brains’ MY BATTERY IS LOW AND IT IS GETTING DARK anthology in July. I’m incredibly excited to be a part of that with so many other great writers. I’ve also got a bunch of other ideas percolating, including some short stories set in this world and an unrelated fantasy novel about revenge, power, and linguistics!

    Issue 042 Author Interview: Michèle Laframboise and “Ganymede’s Lamps”

    Hello, dear readers! How is Issue 042 treating you? Have you read Michèle Laframboise’s “Ganymede’s Lamps“? We have an interview with her below that you won’t want to miss!

    LSQ: Multiplying lava lamps, smart carpets, and moving walls⁠—this story and its setting are wildly imaginative! Where did you come up with these ideas?

    Michèle: My first inspirations were from the mind-blowing pics of Ganymede and Jupiter taken by NASA, where the swirls and bands looked to me like a lava lamp. It became one of the first sentences in the story, and it stuck there, even when I computed the angular size of Jupiter in the

    sky of a satellite in a locked down orbit (always facing its planet). The smart, litter-disposing carpet was not such a great stretch of imagination for anyone doing the chore of picking up litter. (Of course, make sure to choose a good setting if you want to keep your guests!) And the “stupid” walls blaring music and scrubbing the air were fun.

    My way of finding ideas for setting is to look at annoying problems (like, flossing my teeth) and imagine solutions (like, the dental cleaner microbots featured in my first published novels).

    LSQ: What was your favorite part about writing this story and why? What was the hardest part?

    Michèle: Easier was finding the lamps’ characteristics and describing the little rituals of cappuccino coffee in social gatherings. I loved coming up with the formidable Big Martha as the head of the colony (I’m working on a story about her own difficult youth). It was fun seeing the relationship between Beth and the adults around her, and their mixed reactions to her gift. The hardest thing was computing the apparent diameter of Jupiter in the sky and justifying the characters’ extra digits. I loved writing the mind-boggling images first and then checking the feasibility later. In the story, Jupiter’s strong magnetic field clashes with Ganymede’s, so the settlers link their under-ice machines with insulated wires (and typing in hexa-code works faster with 8-digit hands).

    LSQ: Are there any other projects you’re currently working on? If so, could you tell us a bit about them?

    Michèle: Yes I do. I am currently working on a steampunk trilogy with a different style of narration for each one. The first novel is done and in revision. In editing I take the occasion to enrich the culture, the names, and the idioms used. It is a risky project but I love building that universe and

    its inhabitants.

    A second SF novel, in a different setting, is in French, and will be out in 2021. The story is about friendship, guilt, and hope among teens growing up on a weird and hostile world.

    My own small company Echofictions reprints my short-stories and publishes fun and upbeat F&SF stories, and some semi-sweet stories.

    Too many projects, too little time.

    A lot of wonderful women in my life have been big women. They have had to cope with the social repercussions of not having the perfect silhouette. I love to put fat & savvy women in my stories. My short-story, “Women are from Mars, Men are from Venus”, follows a fat Martian scientist who lives through fat-shaming and overcomes her own difficult situation. I am preparing a short-story about Big Martha’s teenage days, the moral hazing and harassment she went through, and how she later went on Ganymede. There are people on the other Jovian satellites too, that should get their stories.

    Issue 042 Author Interview: EJ Sidle and “Minor Mortalities”

    Tuesday again? No problem. Our interview with Issue 042 author EJ Sidle on her story “Minor Mortalities” is sure to get you through the day.
    LSQ: Your story starts with quite the reader-grabbing line. Where did the idea for a necromancer-hitman come from?
    EJ: The answer isn’t as exciting as you might be thinking! The idea for the whole story was sparked by a Springsteen song (“Atlantic City,” if anyone is curious!). The necromancer angle felt like a natural progression as it all came together; I liked the idea of a hitman who could just keep bringing his victims back. Plus, I’d been researching necromancy for an unrelated project, so I think it was just on my mind!
    LSQ: We only see Theo and Alec in this story, but there’s major groundwork for a whole magical world here, especially with that cliffhanger of an ending. Have you written anything else set in this world, or do you plan to?
    EJ: I’m really good at making plans to write more within a world, or to turn a flash piece into something longer, but I’m far less good at following through! I certainly enjoyed writing “Minor Mortalities”, and I think there’s more of Theo and Alec’s story to tell. I suppose that means I have vague plans to carry on, but no real idea of what those plans will actually be!

    LSQ: What was the most enjoyable part about writing this story? The most challenging?

    EJ: My favorite part of starting a new piece is always the characters. It’s exciting to have a new dynamic to explore, and I always end up having an idea of who I’m writing about before I get to the actual plot!
    Most challenging was probably keeping the piece flash-sized. I wanted to make sure that the interaction between Alec and Theo came together in a way that felt plausible, but at the same time it needed to be succinct enough to allow the piece to keep moving forward without turning into a novel! It worked out in the end, but not without some heavy lifting on behalf of my amazing beta team!
    LSQ: Who and what are your major sources of inspiration?
    EJ: I’m a music lover, so often I get ideas for story aesthetics/character concepts from songs. Having the idea is only half the battle, though, so after that I think most of my inspiration to actually write comes from my critique partners and beta readers. Plus, I’m a member of an absolutely amazing writing group, and I think I get a lot of my long-term inspiration from sharing everyone’s trials and tribulations. It really does take a village!

    Interview: Madeleine E. Robins on “‘Omunculus”


    F&SF: How do you describe this story to people?

    MER: A Pygmalion/RUR mashup with no romance. I think George Bernard Shaw would approve.

    F&SF: What inspired you to mix Pygmalion with R.U.R., and how did you bring those pieces together to write this story?

    MER: I think it began after having a discussion with one of my daughters about the shared responsibility of teachers to teach and learners to learn. Teaching isn’t just a matter of opening a student’s head and pouring the information in—but that appealingly robotic image may have been what started me thinking about the story. After all, Henry Higgins, egoist that he is, believes that all the effort is his; even the flesh and blood Eliza in Pygmalion is a prop in his experiment, rather than a partner in learning. Henry Higgins does not do partners (Col. Pickering, in the original, and Rossum, in “’Omunculus,” are merely higher-status props in Higgins’ story). So I’ve got Henry Higgins and an automaton, which meant, me being me, that I would have to hook Higgins up with Rossum (a character who doesn’t exist in Câpek’s play). Pygmalion debuted in 1913; R.U.R. in 1920, so I figured my story takes place before Rossum improved his automata and sold the business to the characters in R.U.R. With the two of them—and Eliza—in place, the rest while not precisely easy, was pretty much laid out for me by the structure of GBS’ play.

    The other thing that appealed to me was that there is no possibility of a Higgins-Eliza pairing if Eliza is a robot (it’s not that kind of story). I could go back to Shaw’s original material with a clear conscience (I yield to none in my fondness for My Fair Lady, but GBS was adamant that Higgins and Eliza did not wind up together). Since there’s no chance of a Freddie Eynsford-Hill and Eliza romance either (really not that kind of story) that left me free to come up with an ending that also made use of those two redoubtables, Mrs. Higgins and Mrs. Pearce. I have a serious soft spot for tough old broads, no matter how well mannered.

    F&SF: Besides the soft spot for tough old broads, is there anything in this story that’s personal for you?

    MER: I’m sure there is… I suspect that most women have had the experience of being underestimated and undervalued by a man who saw them as a prop in his story. I would not say this is revenge—I am not the vengeful sort. But I am human, and writing the scene in the theatre where Eliza breaks down—intentionally? Not intentionally?—was very satisfying.

    F&SF: How has your writing process changed over the years?

    MER: I’m still either glacially slow or fairly rapid—it doesn’t seem to matter what the text is: some pieces just drag me along and some require unearthing. What hasn’t changed is that while I know the emotional destination I’m heading for I often have no idea how I’m going to get there until I look around and Hey! Presto! there I am.

    I never used to outline, but these days on most projects I almost always get to a point about two thirds in, where I realize I need at the very least to make notes on what has to happen and in what order. I’m also a lot more comfortable writing what I’d call placeholder text when I cannot nail down the exact phrase or word I want. Making myself crazy trying to nail the mot juste for a first draft is a form of procrastination; better to plough ahead and come back and fix things in the edit, as my recording-engineer partner says. I’m also much more aware of the sensory surroundings of my characters than I was as a younger writer—I think that came, in part, from a work-for-hire gig writing a Marvel novel staring Daredevil, who is blind but whose other senses are heightened. Since I couldn’t describe anything visually, I had to think of what the smells, and textures, and tastes were. It was a great experience.

    Oh: and in the very beginning I wrote sitting crosslegged with my typewriter on my knees (it was a Selectric, and weighed the earth). Nowadays I write on a laptop and while I still sit crosslegged, my knees are happier.

    F&SF: What are you and your happier knees working on now?

    MER: A fourth in my Sarah Tolerance alternate-Regency detective series (Point of Honor, Petty Treason, and The Sleeping Partner—all three can be found here), with a fifth beginning to distract me, which is not helpful. Also a fantasy novel set in contemporary San Francisco. And a challenge short story for my writing workshop. Sewing cloth masks for donation. And just at the moment, a loaf of sourdough bread. I am a Covid-cliche.

    I have nothing coming out right now (see “glacially slow” above), but I am blogging at, as well as at my own website,

    “‘Omunculus” appears in the July/August 2020 issue of F&SF.

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    Issue 042 Author Interview: Rachel Brittain and “Moonlight Plastics”

    It’s Tuesday again, and we have for you another dose of Issue 042 author interviews! Read on and let Rachel Brittain’s thoughts on her story “Moonlight Plastics” satisfy your craving.

    LSQ: At first, Sana thought she was being rescued by a mermaid or a siren. Explain the idea behind Em’s prosthesis.

    Rachel: That was actually the inciting image that inspired this story! I don’t know why, but the idea of someone appearing to be a mermaid, but whose existence could be explained by technical rather than magical means, just came to me one day. And I thought the idea of mermaid fin prosthesis seemed really awesome, to be honest. I’m not entirely sure how effective it would be in real life. But I liked the idea of a double amputee sort-of underwater recluse scientist making herself a prosthetic specifically suited to her environment.

    LSQ: Talking about scars, Sana said, “It meant your survival was hard fought. Proof of life.” What does this say about Sana as a character? Or the society she lives in?  

    Rachel: Sana comes from a very corporate, capitalistic world, where the life and health of everyday people aren’t prioritized. It’s given her a survivalist mentality that, in some ways, reflects the society she was raised by—every person for themself. That said, I do think her perspective on scars is an optimistic one. It reflects the reality of her situation, sure—scars happen—but it also lends respect to those scars. Scars show the body’s ability to survive and heal. And for someone like Sana, they also show how hard you’ve had to fight to survive, all the times you’ve been shot down and gotten up again. She probably glamorizes them a little more than is healthy, though.

    LSQ: Given the state of today’s oceans, how much of your story is meant to be a cautionary tale?

    Rachel: I don’t know if it’s meant to be a cautionary tale so much as a reality, if a somewhat futuristic one. Part of the inspiration behind this story was when I stumbled across information on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a particularly polluted area of the Pacific Ocean where warm water currents from the South Pacific and cold water currents from the Arctic converge into this huge field of spinning debris. It’s mostly broken down microplastics that aren’t even visible to the naked eye. So that really does exist today.

    I think it’s hard to see the reality of the effects we’ve had on the natural world and not think about where we’re headed. It’s not just up to individuals to make that difference, though. The fact that the corporate bottom-line matters more, in the end, than the choices either of these characters make is really telling.

    LSQ: “Moonlight Plastics” is part science-fiction and part spy/thriller. What genre speaks most to you as you write. What was the part of your story that you found most exciting?

    Rachel: I’m definitely an SFF girl at heart, but I also love a good spy story. I think the spy/thriller aspect is the one that developed more over the course of writing, whereas the science fiction was pretty established from the start with the idea of an underwater laboratory. But moral ambiguity is one of my favorite things to explore in writing, and I think the corporate espionage aspect really brought that out.

    LSQ: Can you tell us about other projects you may be working on?  Rachel: Definitely! I have several short stories in the works, ranging from alternate history to flash sci-fi, including a story being published in Andromeda Spaceways that I’ve been describing as a radioactive fairy tale. My agent and I are also working on finding a home for my YA contemporary fantasy novel about a magical coffee shop, as well as revising a YA book that’s basically my love letter to fandom set at a sci-fi convention. And working on several middle grade and adult SFF projects as well because I just have no chill, basically.

    Issue 042 Author Interview: Aimée Jodoin and “The Glitch”

    How’s your day going, dear readers? Are you ready for your weekly dose of Issue 042 author interviews? Today we’re satisfying your craving with Aimée Jodoin’s insightful answers to our questions about her story “The Glitch.”

    LSQ: The concept of Rehabilitation is fascinating, as a sort of a time slavery. How did you come up with the idea?

    Aimée: I adore time travel stories; they are to me a test of creativity and skill, plus they’re just entertaining. We often hear stories about people using time travel to change the past, but I am more interested in self-fulfilling prophecies, stories where people know that time cannot be changed and that they must make terrible sacrifices to maintain a time stream in which they are the victims in a power structure. While it doesn’t seem like it on a day-to-day basis, that’s the situation we are in: stuck in a time stream heading at the same pace in one direction with no way

    to change it. I look at that as a beautiful thing in my personal life, but in stories it’s more interesting to show the dark side of that. I knew I wanted the time traveling in the story to be involuntary, like the time structure is in our lives; unfortunately, people in private prisons today are essentially treated like slaves, and I believe it wouldn’t be far fetched, if people from the future needed laborers, for prisons to send convicts in this way. That’s the sad, brutal truth of the current system. In terms of the content of the story itself, like many writers I took an image from a dream I had. Cliche, I know. I don’t believe in any of that dreams-tell-you-things business; it was just an intriguing image of a person walking through a sort-of door frame that I knew in the dream to be a time travel device, and the person losing an arm, which was left behind in the future. I wish I had a better origin story than a dream, but sometimes that’s just how it goes. It’s what you do with the dream, how you develop the idea, that makes the story what it is.

    LSQ: The moral implications of the main character’s planned glitch are complicated. What do you think is the main factor that drives her to make that decision?

    Aimée: Ultimately, she wants her husband back, and she’ll do anything to save him from the clutches of Rehabilitation. She disregards the fact that she’s risking hurting someone else in causing a glitch, and she ignores the fact that trying to save him and only him instead of attempting to dismantle the whole system is morally questionable. Would it be more effective in the long-run to expose the wrongdoings of Rehabilitation to the public and try to shut it down? Of course. But it’s hard for people in those types of situations to step back and look at the big picture when they’re so emotionally involved in the details.

    LSQ: Your ending is somewhat ambiguous, but also terrifying in its implications. No matter what the outcome, something bad has happened. But also maybe something good. Did leaving it open ended heighten the sacrifice and risk?  

    Aimée: Yes, that was my goal: heighten the sacrifice and risk. I enjoy open endings because they leave questions and make you think, so long as they fulfill the purpose of the story and don’t leave you frustrated. I think “The Glitch” shows that people are willing to risk their lives and livelihoods when they’re in a horrible situation, and I don’t think it was necessary to show what happened to Michael in order to do that. I know what happens next in the story in my head, and if I added that to this story, it would be another one hundred pages rather than one or two to bring closure to this tale.

    LSQ: What about your story did you find to be the most interesting to write?

    Aimée: From the start, the voice of the story was the hardest to get down. The main character is no-nonsense, doesn’t care about the details, just wants to get to the point. So that consistency of sharp language was difficult but fun to write. Content-wise, it was the minutiae of the time travel that was most interesting to me. I want to write a million different time travel stories that have different methodologies, different moral implications, different characters driving the action. There are so many ways to write a time travel story. I never get sick of reading them!

    LSQ: Do you have anything else you are working on at the moment? Or do you have future plans? 

    Aimée: I was working on a novel about a pandemic, but I’m taking a break from that for now considering our current situation. I have a few short stories in the works and a handful of novel ideas that may come to fruition at some point in the future. I have played around with continuing “The Glitch” from where it left off and turning it into a novel-length story; it’s an exciting but intimidating prospect!

    Editor’s Note for the July/August Issue


    An editor’s note for the July/August issue seems almost redundant because this includes one of my rare editorials, just the third since I took over the magazine. (There’s a link to it down in the Table of Contents below.) On the other hand, some things have changed so much since I wrote it just over two months ago that rereading it today feels almost like traveling in a time machine to the distant past.

    So I’ll let that stand on its own and tell you about the rest of the new issue instead! Starting with where you can find it. Here in the U.S., many bookstores and newsstands are still closed, so if you can’t find us where you live, come find us where we live online.

    If you’re not a subscriber and you’d like to subscribe right now, here are some links!

    * Paper subscriptions here:
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    You can also buy single copies of this issue:

    * Paper copies from our website
    * Electronic copies, available worldwide and in every electronic format, from Weightless Books, starting July 1.

    Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August, cover by Alan M. Clark


    Alan M. Clark‘s disturbing cover art (because, let’s face it, who wants stanky demon feet treading on the stones where your pizza’s going to cook?) illustrates “All Hail the Pizza King and Bless His Reign Eternal,” a new novelet by David Erik Nelson.

    Three years ago, in our July/August 2017 issue, David Erik Nelson also had the cover story, that time with his novella “There Was a Crooked Man, He Flipped a Crooked House,” which readers are still sending us messages to tell us how much they loved it. His other stories for us include “The Traveling Salesman Solution” and “Whatever Comes After Calcutta.” Like any good pizza place, this new story delivers.


    Let’s talk about fantasy. M. Rickert is here to escort us to “Last Night at the Fair.” James Morrow shares one of his “Bible Stories for Adults, No. 37: The Jawbone.” John Kessel explores being haunted and finding balance with “Spirit Level.” And Stephanie Feldman leads us to an unusual portal at the end of “The Staircase.”

    Or we can talk about science fiction. Bennet North returns to our pages after a long absence with her space elevator story, “A Bridge from Sea to Sky.” Madeleine Robins mixes Pygmalion with R.U.R. to present us with “‘Omunculus.” And Brian Trent takes us to Mars to introduce us to “The Monsters of Olympus Mons.”

    But we’d really like to talk about four writers making their F&SF debuts. Rati Mehrotra shows us that even spaceships can have a sense of humor, or at least try to, with “Knock, Knock Said the Ship.” Ana Hurtado invites us to Venezuela with “Madre Nuestra, Que Estás en Maracaibo.” Mel Kassel brings us along to a family’s summer outing at the lake so we can see “Crawfather” for ourselves. And World Fantasy Award winner Natalia Theodoridou joins us with a story about climate change and “The Shape of Gifts.”

    We also don’t want to forget Mary Soon Lee, who offers up a sparkling bit of poetry with “A Quartet of Alphabetic Bubbles.”

    Plus we have all our usual columns and features, which you can find linked in the Table of Contents below.


    C.C. Finlay, Editor
    Fantasy & Science Fiction | @fandsf

    71st Year of Publication


    “Spirit Level” – John Kessel
    “All Hail the Pizza King and Bless His Reign Eternal” – David Erik Nelson
    “‘Omunculus” – Madeleine Robins
    “The Monsters of Olympus Mons” – Brian Trent


    “Knock, Knock Said the Ship” – Rati Mehrotra
    “Last Night at the Fair” – M. Rickert
    “Bible Stories for Adults No. 37: The Jawbone” – James Morrow
    “Madre Nuestra, Que Estás en Maracaibo” – Ana Hurtado
    “A Bridge from Sea to Sky” – Bennett North
    “Crawfather” – Mel Kassel
    “The Staircase” – Stephanie Feldman
    “The Shape of Gifts” – Natalia Theodoridou


    “A Quartet of Alphabetic Babbles” – Mary Soon Lee


    Editorial by C.C. Finlay
    Books to Look For by Charles de Lint
    Musing on Books by Michelle West
    Film: Darkness Visible by David J. Skal
    Science: What the Heck is an Analemma by Jerry Oltion
    Curiosities: The Contaminant by Leonard Reiffel (1978) by Thomas Kaufsek

    Cartoons by Arthur Masear, Arthur Masear, Danny Shanahan, Kendra Allenby, Nick Downes, Nick Downes

    Cover: By Alan M. Clark for “All Hail the Pizza King and Bless His Reign Eternal”


    We hope you’ll share your thoughts about the issue with us. We can be found on:


    A Change at the Magazine


    Today’s interview with Richard Bowes marks Stephen Mazur’s last official act as Assistant Editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

    After the writers and contributors to the magazine, the editor and publisher tend to get most of the credit for making it happen. But the truth is we couldn’t complete any of our work without the constant effort of a whole team of people.

    Stephen Mazur has been a key part of that team since December of 2009, or just over ten and a half years. During his first five years on the job, he was the first line of contact for writers submitting to the magazine. Back in those days — it’s just a decade, but surely it feels much longer — F&SF only accepted paper submissions. Stephen opened the mail and read all those stories, writing thousands of rejection letters and helping to discover some new writers along the way.

    When I became editor in 2015 and we switched over to electronic submissions, Stephen’s role gradually changed until he became my second reader, providing thoughtful and detailed notes on anything we were seriously considering for the magazine. If you ever got a rewrite request or a rejection with more detailed comments in it, chances are that Stephen’s hand was in that process somewhere along the way. In that role, he became an even stronger advocate for new writers and specific stories, sometimes arguing with me to give something he loved another look. He often ended up being right and I bought several stories only because of his intervention. He brought a sharp eye for great storytelling to his work, and there are many writers who will never know how much he did for them.

    He was also one of the magazine’s main points of contact for the writers we did publish, primarily by conducting our blog interviews with them. Although he was based in F&SF‘s business office on the other side of the country and was responsible for many things in that of the operation, which consumed the majority of his work time by the end, I could not have been as effective in my role as editor without him, especially early on when I was still learning the ropes. He did a lot to help me build up F&SF‘s social media presence, acted as a sounding board for me when I was thinking about upcoming issues, was always eager to generate ideas to promote and develop the magazine, and served as an excellent ambassador for F&SF at conventions and in other venues.

    Stephen is moving on to a writing-related job outside of publishing. His new employers will find themselves very lucky to have him. I suspect that he will come to think himself lucky too, as he can go back to reading fiction just for pleasure again. But the magazine, and I, in particular, will miss him. Please join us in wishing him good luck in his future ventures. Thanks, Stephen.

    C.C. Finlay, Editor
    The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction


    Interview: Richard Bowes on “In the Eyes of Jack Saul”


    Tell us a bit about “In the Eyes of Jack Saul.”

    “In the Eyes of Jack Saul” is an amalgamation of Victorian fiction and reality. Jack Saul was a real person and served, at one point, in a male brothel that was visited by several elites including Prince Albert Victor, grandson of Queen Victoria, for whom the era is named. The fictional inclusion was Oscar Wilde’s “The Portrait of Dorian Grey”, seen through the eyes of Jack Saul, as real a figure as the gay world has ever produced.

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

    The Rent Boys and Mary-Ann’s in somewhat different circumstances appeared throughout my life. As a kid in Boston I realized that I wasn’t like the other boys. I sought out the attention of other men and found myself in situations not unlike Jack Saul’s. Later when I became a writer, I discovered that these experiences grabbed me above all else.

    Was “In the Eyes of Jack Saul” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

    Gay material was fairly uncommon when I began writing stories like this one. People didn’t imagine there was much of a crossover between historical and gay stories. I knew it was working because it captivated me.

    Can you tell us anything about your writing process, for this story or in general?

    My writing process is this: I get an idea, I jump on it until I strangle it to death.

    Why do you write?

    It’s a bad habit, one I find hard to break.

    Who do you consider to be your influences?

    Many people write, I steal from my influencers. It gives me a jumping off place to begin my own stories.

    What are you working on now?

    Something I am calling “My Old Inner Life”. What that may amount to, I have yet to find out.

    “In the Eyes of Jack Saul” appears in the May/June 2020 issue of F&SF.

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    Issue 042 Author Interview: Dianne M. Williams and “Accidental Kaiju”

    Welcome to Tuesday, when we interview authors from our latest issue about their stories, writing processes, and inspirations! Today we’re talking with Dianna M. Williams about her story “Accidental Kaiju.”

    LSQ: What were the challenges in writing from the perspective of a lava monster who is also a precocious 13-year-old girl? 
    Dianne: Great question. How exactly does a teenage lava monster work a cellphone? I don’t know. Very carefully, I suppose. She must poke the screen with her claws and I bet she scratches the glass all the time. I don’t know how she sets up her science experiment, either, or who makes enormous red wagons for kaiju children. But I think that’s part of the fun in writing a world like this. Readers will populate the world with thoughts and images based on their own interests. One person might wonder about how big a kaiju cellphone has to be and another might think about insurance rates in a kaiju world, but there’s room for all of that. I like to leave room in stories for the world to grow its own roots in the minds of each reader.
    I think that, for me, writing from the perspective of a 13-year-old was harder than writing from the perspective of a lava monster! It’s been a long time since I was a teenager. I was an awkward kid and I have no wish to revisit those early years all over again. I never felt like I fit into the world quite right. My thoughts and feelings were so big at 13, like they couldn’t fit into the world around me, and they were still growing. It was easy to believe that there might be lava monsters out there who feel the same way. I had to change the details (I passionately wanted to be a marine biologist at Grendela’s age, which is definitely NOT suited to a lava monster) but that same awkward, out of place feeling was easy enough to find.

    LSQ: Grendela’s livestream made me very curious: how do you think humans would react to a livestream from a kaiju?

    Dianne: I think that humans have an enormous capacity to adapt to the strange and abnormal around us. There are all kinds of unusual things going on that I accept as part of my daily life. Whether it’s living through a historic lockdown right now, astronauts launched into space, or a viral video of a skydiving cat, life goes on for most of us. We take it all in and then we get back to our day-to-day living. I think Grendela would be equal parts fascination and vexation for the world. Some people would love her, some would hate her, but for the most part I think she’d be one more oddity on the internet that people mention at parties and then forget about. I do hope that she’d connect with some kids her own age who also care about the sciences so that she doesn’t have to feel so out of place.
    LSQ: Even though Grendela and her family are monsters, they read just like a normal human family. What advice would you give on effectively writing nonhuman characters with human attributes?
    Dianne: That’s such an interesting question because Grendela and her family were always just people to me. Giant people with odd rituals, yes, but Grendela still has wants and needs like any human child. The story exists because she has a need for acceptance, both within her family and within her larger community. Without that, she could do whatever she wants without looking for anyone’s approval. Families come in lots of shapes and sizes. Any sort of family you can imagine is out there somewhere. Put the right types of personalities together, the right pressure points, and you have a story. Here you have parents who want to accept Grendela, but they don’t understand her. You have a human community that doesn’t want to accept her, but they have the greatest chance to understand her. And you have one terribly awkward teenager in the middle. Grendela could just as easily be a human kid who doesn’t want to become a doctor like her parents. The biggest difference that I considered when writing her family wasn’t that they’re emotionally different than humans but that they have a different physicality. Claws instead of fingers, giant red wagons, tentacle hugs. Those things are just fun for me to write. But Grendela herself was always just a complex being trapped in a complex situation.
    LSQ: Do you have any other projects you’re working on? If so, could you tell us about them?  
    Dianne: I always have a few projects going, but nothing is set in stone just yet. I hope that by the end of the fall you’ll be able to read a story of mine about a much smaller type of creature who wants his own type of acceptance in the world.

    Interview: Robert Reed on “Who Carries the World”


    My daughter loves art, eats history, and works the Internet like a champ. Donatello’s wooden statue of Mary Magdalene was spellbinding for her, and when she showed/shared the image with me, I knew that I had to write about a prophet consumed by her cause.

    But what kind of story?

    The Great Ship seemed like the perfect venue. Aliens and high-technology. And I have several durable characters who might happily do the job. Perri and Quee Lee, for example. They’re always up for adventure. So sure, why not them? Except I soon decided to focus on Perri alone, shifting the usual dynamic.

    About the story’s broad history … well, the machinations of why I decided on this and not that doesn’t particularly interest me. And I’m so rarely in the mood to wander back through the original attempts in Google Docs. What I do recall is that Perri was very cooperative. Which is only reasonable, since I know him and his wife better than I know any of my neighbors. But how to handle the mind-holding-an-entire-world business? How could such a thing be managed, in fiction and in reality? And most importantly, how would the afflicted think and speak?

    Before I could settle into the writing, I had to “believe” my what-if.

    Once that was accomplished, everything else was relatively easy. Perri as a detective trying to solve a crime … that was a very pleasant business, and I’m wondering now what else I might coax him into investigating in the future.

    I originally intended to write a different ending for “Who Carries the World.” Which is not that unusual in my business, and I can’t recall what it might have been.

    And here is some distracting trivia: I suspect that the flying organism at the beginning of the novelette is not what it seems to be. The Great Ship is inhabited by secrets, you see. And these secrets have taken an interest in the small motions and mammoth lives of certan people. My people.

    Or maybe the critter is just a fancy bird.

    I’m just the writer here. I’m not allowed to know all that much.

    “Who Carries the World” appears in the May/June issue of F&SF.

    You can buy a paper copy of the issue here:

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    Issue 042 Author Interview: Caite Sajwaj and “The Wish”

    Tuesdays at LSQ are kind of a big deal, because each week we drop an exclusive interview with one of our current authors. Today let us treat you to our delightful chat with Caite Sajwaj, author of “The Wish.”
    LSQ: Reading the end of this story put a huge smile on my face. It reminds me of my favorite fairy tales, the ones with happy endings. What was your inspiration for it?
    Caite: When I was very young—seven or eight, probably—my mother took me to a school book fair and I picked out a collection of short stories called “Instead of Three Wishes” by Megan Whalen Turner. Those stories have been knocking around in my head for decades at this point, and “The Wish” is very much an ode to the titular story of the collection.
    There’s this trope in a lot of fairy tales that fairies and witches and whatever else are very transactional with their favors. The miller’s daughter owes Rumpelstiltskin her firstborn child. The Little Mermaid owes the sea witch her voice, and sometimes more. In most fairy tales, you probably couldn’t ask for a piece of gum or bum a cigarette without trading your soul or something. “Instead of Three Wishes” explores the flip side of this trope, and that was my intention with “The Wish” as well. The only thing I hadn’t figured out when I started was the ending. I fully intended for Cressida to spite Rowan with an airtight wish that he couldn’t misconstrue, but she apparently had her own ideas…
    LSQ: Your descriptions are so vivid, especially of smell, that I was ready to get off that bus with Cressida too. Do you jot down interesting things you experience that you think you might put into a story later?
    Caite: All those sensory details are pulled from my own experiences, but I don’t usually write them down. I prefer to let these experiences age a bit before I use them. Memory is fallible, but when writing fiction that can be a good thing! A fuzzy memory is easier to embellish and repurpose. Cressida’s original description of the bus is inspired by an hour I spent in transit from my hotel to the airport. The man behind me reeked of smoke and he kept coughing on the back of my head. I felt like I was hot-boxed with the embodiment of pestilence. So those feelings of disgust and claustrophobia became the inside of the bus.
    LSQ: What’s the first thing that comes to you when you’re plotting a story? A particular scene, a character, a word or phrase?
    Caite: The first thing that came to my mind when plotting this story was a phrase, and it was “the final resting place of a thousand ancient farts.” Just kidding. Okay, I’ll be serious now. For me, stories always start out with a scene. In “The Wish,” it was Rowan giving the wish/business card to Cressida. Once you have that initial scene, the rest of the plot comes from asking questions. Why did Rowan give her the wish? What does she do with it? In the first scene of the piece I’m working on now, a man steals a witch’s handbag and I won’t say any more than that.
    LSQ: This was a fun, complex, satisfying short story. Do you have a preferred story length in your writing?
    Caite: Novels are my first love, but writing short stories is a great way to hone your craft and feel the satisfaction of actually finishing something. The authors I love most—Kelly Link, Holly Black, Neil Gaiman—are masters of long and short form and I aspire to the same.

    Interview: Rebecca Zahabi on “Birds Without Wings”


    Tell us a bit about “Birds Without Wings.”

    Zoe is hitch-hiking across Spain with her boyfriend Alex – but as the story progresses, they are separated along the road, and we discover that there are shifters in the country, fake people which can replace your loved ones, and you would never know… The story progresses from that premise. I can’t tell you more without spoilers! It’s a story about love and change, and life on the road.

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

    I’ve lived with my partner for 7 years now, and of course we’ve both changed during that time. When I started writing this story, I was wondering – why does our love feel special? Lots of couples separate. There is no good reason to believe we won’t too, in time. To me, that is a frightening thought: the fact that what we have spent so much time building together, trust and love, can be overturned. That love, as well as people, can die. So I started playing with that idea: what if he changed – what if I changed? We weren’t the same people we were when we met. We could change again, and change more. What if he looked the same, spoke the same, was still the person I loved – but what made me love him had been taken away?

    Of course in this story, the change is more than simply growing apart, or growing up; but I think it comes from the same place, this fear that we won’t recognise the people we love.

    Was “Birds Without Wings” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

    As I’ve said, I was writing from a personal place when I started this story. Aside from that, I’ve done the same trip as Zoe – the Santiago pilgrimage, picking the path across the North of Spain. When I was 18, I went hiking for a month, stopping in a different inn or youth hostel every night. I walked through the South of France, reached the border, and crossed over to the Northern Camino, which I followed until Bilbao, where I turned back. I didn’t do any hitch-hiking – I walked all the way – and I was alone, but it was an interesting setting which I wanted to put in a story. And it really did pour down with rain the whole time!

    In this story and in your previous one for F&SF, “It Never Snows in Snowtown,” a recurring theme in your work seems to be the idea that evil lurks beneath the surface of people and places we trust.  Can you talk about this at all?

    I think we take a lot for granted – the people around us, modern comforts such as food, heating, transport, etc. And we don’t spend much time worrying about what would happen if we lose it, because it feels so set in stone. But as we’ve seen with this pandemic, not everything is set in stone; people, and circumstances, can change quickly, leaving us treading quicksand. I think that’s why I often wonder what evil, or darkness, can lurk beneath the surface. Sometimes it was always there but we didn’t see it – like in It Never Snows in Snowtown – and sometimes it appears – like in Birds Without Wings.

    Why do you write?

    That’s a difficult question! For lots of reasons. Because I can’t not write; the voices whispering in my ear want to be heard. Because I believe (and I hope I’m not wrong!) that I have something useful to say. But mostly because we need stories: they change and shape our mindscape, and our mindscape changes and shapes the world. 

    Anything else you’d like to add?

    I hope readers enjoy the story and, if so, I’ve got an exciting announcement: my début novel, The Game Weavers, is coming out this fall 2020! I mentioned it briefly in the interview for Snowtown, but I can tell you a bit more now. We follow Seo Kuroaku, a champion of Twine, a high-pressure international sport. Played in arenas where thousands come to watch, weavers craft creatures from their fingertips to wage battle against fearsome opponents. But Seo is harbouring a secret. When he is outed, he has to find a way to get his life back on track, whilst facing the biggest match of his life.

    Watch this space!

    “Birds Without Wings” appears in the May/June 2020 issue of F&SF.

    You can buy a paper copy of the issue here:

    You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here:

    You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here:

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