Interview: Robert Reed on “Who Carries the World”

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    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: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

    You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-may-june-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:

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    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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    Interview: Rebecca Zahabi on “Birds Without Wings”

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    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: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

    You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-may-june-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:

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    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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    Interview: Holly Messinger on “Byzantine”

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    Tell us a bit about “Byzantine.”

    I call it a gay demon romance set during the Siege of Constantinople. I wanted to play with the “deal-with-the-devil” trope, to figure out why a demon might enter into a bargain with a human in the first place, and who might come out ahead in such a deal? For self-indulgent writerly reasons I set that story against the historical backdrop of the Conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire in 1453.

     

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

    “Byzantine” is the origin story of a villain, and I’d been composting it for a while—I had the characters in mind, I just needed to find them a setting with the appropriate grandiose background. This isn’t a Bond-type villain who has grand plans for taking over the world; he’s a pure sociopath, but clever enough to keep the world from noticing how much destructive potential he has. I wanted to explore the motivations of such a villain, and I needed to set that against the stage of major world events, to illustrate how the struggles of kings, especially in the name of faith, can outshine the predatory or indifferent acts of evil that take place in the shadows.

     

    Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “Byzantine?”

    I initially chose the Conquest of Constantinople somewhat at random, because I needed the backdrop of a long siege with plenty of carnage, but once I started doing research I became fascinated by the military history, the politics of the world stage at the time, and the character of Mehmet II, who was a bleeding genius and probably a sociopath himself (this was a guy who had his baby brother drowned in the bath while his father’s body was still warm). He ended up being a magnificent foil for the antihero of my story, because both of them are dudes whose inner lives will never be known, only inferred from their actions and the myths they create of themselves. And maybe when a guy succeeds in conquering the world, the myth he writes of why he did it is probably not that inaccurate.

     

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

    Honestly, this one came together so easily I kept second-guessing myself, thinking it wasn’t going to work: that it was a cheat to use actual history for the backbone of the plot and I was just writing my own fanfic. And both those things may be true but it doesn’t mean the story can’t work on its own machinery. I wasn’t sure until the next-to-last scene whether it would come together, but a writer’s subconscious is a marvelous thing. Once I got to that “Aha!” moment—or as I prefer to call it, the “Oh, shit!” moment—I could see the whole architecture of the thing and it was solid.

     

    Can you tell us anything about your writing process for this story?

    I’ve been deep in the historical fantasy trench for a while now and I’ve kind of developed a pattern. I write the beginning of the story, get the setting, characters, and hook in place. Then I step back for a bit, do some research, make sure I have a feel for the setting and the worldbuilding. Often then I will write the ending, or what I think will be the ending, just to stake out the emotional arcs and/or the plot backbone. After that it’s advance, survey, research; lather, rinse, repeat until I get to the climax. “Byzantine” was so dependent on actual events, and the events themselves were so jaw-droppingly cool, it was more a matter of deciding what I was going to leave out. At the two-thirds mark in the story there was a turning point I knew needed to happen in my character arc, and I had to find an event during the siege that I could turn to my purpose. And that’s sort of my process in a nutshell—finding those parts of history I can exploit to serve my story.

     

    Why do you write?

    I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t invent stories. I remember being 7 or 8 years old, watching Wonderful World of Disney and suddenly understanding how plot worked. I wanted to write a sequel to The Apple Dumpling Gang. I went to first grade the following Monday and stapled together a little booklet in which to write my opus, and the teacher took it away from me because I wasn’t doing my seatwork. That set the pattern for my school and work life to date.

     

    What are you working on now?

    I just wrapped up the rewrites for my second Jacob Tracy novel, Curious Weather. Hopefully the pandemic won’t delay its release too badly. Ironically a major subplot of that novel has to do with creating a vaccine for a deadly magical contagion. Next up is a novel about Trace’s pal Boz and his adventures. Werewolves, Chinese coal miners, and worship of money-demons feature heavily in that one.

    “Byzantine” appears in the May/June 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/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-may-june-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 Holly Messinger’s website: www.hollymessinger.com

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    Interview: Richard Larson on “Warm Math”

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    Rich LarsonTell us a bit about “Warm Math.”

    A claustrophobic escape pod thriller featuring espionage and psychosurgery.

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

    “Warm Math” is obviously a riff on “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin, but I’ve never actually read that story — I just know the basic plot. It’s also inspired by Chuck Palahniuk and Memento, plus a long conversation that took place in a semi-flooded park in Gatineau.

    Who do you consider to be your influences?

    I’m more influenced by specific works than by specific authors. There are many writers who produce a whole bunch of stuff I’m ambivalent about, but one thing I love obsessively. For instance, CS Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen of Attolia, or MT Anderson’s feed. The writer I can think of who produced a whole bunch of stuff I love obsessively is Kenneth Oppel.

    What are you working on now?

    I use interviews as a way of procrastinating, so what I am not working on now is a novel about a despised prodigal returning to his icy homeworld to hunt down an ancient sapient machine and break a mining strike. It’s a mish-mash of many influences: the poem Beowulf, novels like Rose and Germinal, an old online game called Galidor Quest, and shows like Rick and Morty and Bojack Horseman. 

    Sometimes I think it’ll turn out great. Sometimes I do interviews.

    “Warm Math” appears in the May/June 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/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-may-june-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. Larson’s photo to visit his Patreon page.

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    Interview: Joseph Bruchac on “An Indian Love Call”

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    Joseph BruchacTell us a bit about “An Indian Love Call.”

     “An Indian Love Call” is the second -– or maybe the third -– short story in a series I am writing about two contemporary Native American characters who are very unlike the stereotypes of our people that still keep turning up in film and fiction. They are neither noble savages nor murdering aboriginals. Nor are they vanishing. (Hmmm, that last word may find its way into my next story about these guys.)  I want to blow up –– real good –– preconceptions about Indians.

    My narrator, Billy, is blessed (or cursed) to have my second character Arlin Sweetwater as his lifelong best friend.  Blessed, because no one is as loyal as Arlin and cursed because Arlin is, quite frankly, what you might call a sweetly innocent mad scientist. 

    Both of these guys are very tuned in to the 21st-century and, in Billy’s case, just about every aspect of American popular culture you could imagine. Thus the title of this story and the one that appeared in F&SF before it: “The Next to the Last of the Mohegans.” 

    Humor –– contrary to the popular image of native Americans as being stoic and humorless –– is a very big part of all our Native American cultures. But the funny stories we tell are meant to not just entertain but to teach. There is (and I hope readers will agree) a good dose of humor and irony in the story, as well as a good bit of cultural information, including indigenous language and traditional tales still present among my Mohegan cousins. 

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

    My inspiration for the story was, quite frankly, the main characters themselves. They keep coming back to me and telling me there’s more to hear. 

    I have to say, too,  that I have long been inspired by Native elders and friends of mine who were among the funniest folks I’ve ever met, even though they never became “famous.”

    Comedians are some of my favorite people and comedy is one of the most brilliant ways of teaching that we are human beings are blessed with. Though I never met him, Jonathan Winters – – who was Native American – – was one of the heroes of my childhood. And Charlie Hill, who was Oneida and the first American Indian comedian to make it onto the national stage is another shining light I am proud to have met.  My old friend Vine Deloria Jr. (Lakota) devoted an entire chapter of his classic book CUSTER DIED FOR YOUR SINS to American Indian comedy. Whenever I met up with Vine and he started telling jokes, I always had to listen very carefully because often the point of those jokes was not just to make me laugh but to point out to me something I needed to pay attention to in my own life. 

    Some—if not all— of our best contemporary native American writers are also deeply aware of the importance of humor. My old friend the brilliant and very serious Laguna Pueblo writer Leslie Silko has made great use of humor in some of her stories and poems. Trickster wisdom—as the Chippewa author Gerald Vizenor might put it. And how can I not mention another of my First Nations writer amigos Drew Hayden Taylor (Anishinabe) who titled a recent collection of his sci-fi stories TAKE ME TO YOUR CHIEF and has another book called ME FUNNY?

    What was the most difficult aspect of writing “An Indian Love Call,” and what was the most fun?

    What was the most difficult aspect about writing the story? Right now, is figuring out what was most difficult. Like a lot of the stories I write, it sort of told itself and I went along for the ride. I guess the hardest part was knowing when to stop and not to overdo it. I hope I managed that. 

    One of the things about Native American humor is that more often than not we make fun of ourselves and not others – – it’s not a mean spirited sarcastic kind of humor. You often find yourself in the butt of the joke. But, I think I have to be very careful in what I was saying about this. Another of my dear friends, the Kiowa author of the classic novel HOUSE MADE OF DAWN, N. Scott Momaday put it to me this way: “Joseph, as your uncle, let me caution you! American Indian humor is a very serious thing.”

    And, as to what was the most fun? Spending time with these two characters again. Some thing I intend to keep on doing.

    Why do you write?

    At some point, very early in my life, writing chose me. It isn’t just something I do. And it’s not something I do for money. It is in my heart and in my spirit and I hope to be worthy of that gift I’ve been given. 

    On a very serious note, decades ago one of my dear friends Dewasentah, who was the clan mother of the Eel Clan of the Onondaga nation, presented me with a small eagle feather and a miniature lacrosse stick — both in an envelope with the name Ga-neh-goh-hi-yoh on it —when I was making my yearly visit to the Onondaga Nation School to teach classes in Creative writing and storytelling to the kids. “You’ve  been coming here so long,” she said “you need an Onondaga name.  It means The Good Mind and you should have that name because your writing is a gift from The Creator.”

    I try, in whatever I write, to live up to that name — which is an awfully big task. 

    Who do you consider to be your influences?

    My influences are so many it would be hard to list them all.In terms of fantasy and science-fiction, I have been reading everything I can get my hands on ever since I was in fifth grade and my cousin Bobby told me he had something for me. He pointed up to the attic and when I went there I found the floor covered with hundreds and hundreds of those little 10, 15 and 25 cent scifi paperbacks that used to be published. It took me weeks to bring them all home in the basket of my bicycle. I still have some of them in my own attic. My first introduction to people such as Asimov, Bradbury, Van Vogt, Vance and a host of others. 

    I should also add that a huge influence in terms of short story writing was one of my teachers at Syracuse University- the wonderful Grace Paley. 

    And the idea of telling our own American Indian stories from a perspective that includes the incorporation of traditional stories and language? I have to give credit there to another one of my friends and teachers, who was actually on my PhD committee, the ground-breaking Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe whose THINGS FALL APART is one of the classics of world literature. 

    What are you working on now?

    I always have at least three or four different writing projects underway at any given time. One is a novel in verse for middle grade readers that takes place on one of our New England reservations during the current coronavirus pandemic. Another is a biography of the famous Seneca orator Red Jacket. And yet another story about Arlin and Billy is in the planning stage.

    Thinking of the current situation – – and who knows how far downstream this current is going to sweep us—one thing I am doing these days, along with my two sons James and Jesse,  are daily life streams at 1 PM Eastern standard time on our Ndakinna Education Center Facebook page. 

    Normally, at this time of year, we’d be storytelling, performing, teaching the Abenaki language, having school field trips, teaching classes in outdoor education and doing martial arts instruction (all 3 of us are black belts in Brazilian jujitsu and a few other martial arts disciplines) at our Ndakinna center which is located on an 80 acre nature preserve in the Adirondack foothillls.  But now? Fuggidabowdit! 

    Anyhow, every Monday and Wednesday at 1 pm you can see me doing storytelling, music, and maybe reading something from one of my books at our Ndakinna Education Center Facebook page. Check it out. 

    “An Indian Love Call” appears in the May/June 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/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-may-june-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:

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    Amazon US (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

    Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

    Clicking on Mr. Bruchac’s picture (photo credit Eric Jenks) will take you to his website: http://josephbruchac.com/

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    Interview: Ray Nayler on “Eyes of the Forest”

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    Tell us a bit about “Eyes of the Forest.”

    “Eyes of the Forest” is a story about human explorers trying to survive in the deadly, primeval forest of alien planet. One injured explorer is racing against time to save the life of another.

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

    I set myself a challenge when writing “Eyes of the Forest.” I wanted to do a few things that were difficult to do in the same story:

    First: I wanted to write a hard science fiction piece that has the pace and drive of the early planetary exploration adventure stories: one that starts in media res with a “ticking clock” plot – a race against death.

    Second: I wanted to create a world with a completely alien but completely believable ecosystem.

    Third (and maybe the hardest): I wanted to use the story to explore, and introduce to readers, a field of science I have been fascinated with and reading deeply in for years: biosemiotics. In short (and here’s I’m paraphrasing Soren Brier, the author of the book Cybersemiotics), biosemiotics seeks to understand how animals use specific types of signals and signs for survival as well as how human sign-use (semiosis) is both linked to and different from that of animals. The objective is to find the commonalities in sign-use across species, and in fact even down to cellular levels of exchange, to understand the phenomenon of communication in its totality.

    “Eyes of the Forest” is an adventure story about communication and meaning. It is a story about how what matters is not the anthropocentric view. What matters is not what humans think, but rather what the eyes of the forest see. If the humans on this alien planet are going to survive, they need to get out of their own heads and see as the forest sees. And this forest – as is clear when you read the story – and I am trying hard to avoid any spoilers here – sees the world in a way that is completely different from ours.

    The humans on the planet need to break out of their own way of seeing and see differently. The story is very much inspired by the book How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human by Eduardo Kohn, who explores this concept of perception deeply, and I am indebted to his book for the theoretical underpinnings of the story.

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

    To create the ecosystem, I refreshed a lot of my knowledge of marine biology. The inhabitants of the forest are modeled, for the most part, on marine organisms. The marine world on Earth is the most fantastically alien environment imaginable: when I was serving in Vietnam as the Environment, Science, Technology, and Health Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, I did a good amount of scuba diving. I initiated a “Save the Dugong” campaign to raise awareness of the importance of marine environment preservation, and was involved with a biodiversity conservation program on the Con Dao Archipelago there in association with a great organization called Biodiversity PEEK (Photography Educating and Empowering Kids.) We did a night dive along some reefs there that I will always remember as one of the most intensely alien experiences of my life. You don’t have to go far to find a world beyond human comprehension.

    The biosemiotics underpinning of the story largely come from, as I mentioned above, How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human by Eduardo Kohn. Another book which has been an enormous influence on me is Biosemiotics: An Examination into the Signs of Life and the Life of Signs, by Jesper Hoffmeyer. There are dozens of other books too, but I don’t want to turn this into a bibliography. Let’s just say I take research seriously. For me, research is a joy: it’s an excuse to really dig into a topic and explore it. It takes a lot of research to be able to communicate an idea clearly, but I love doing it. I’ve always loved it: even as a kid, I lived in the library stacks when I wasn’t out sailing my little boat around our local lake or riding my skateboard or snowboard.

    What was the most difficult aspect of writing this story, and what was the most fun?

    I think the most difficult part of the story really was the most fun: balancing my three goals and trying to create a story that respected all of them – the speed and fun of the story, the technical detail of the story’s invented ecosystem, and the story’s biosemiotics underpinnings. Of course worldbuilding is always really fun: I had a really good time coming up with all the strange creatures living in this ecosystem’s niches, and the ways they interact with one another and the human explorers. And the Given Names: it was fun to play with those. Again, no spoilers, though.

    Who do you consider to be your influences?

    In fiction and writing in general: Patricia Highsmith, Fritz Leiber, Ursula K. Le Guin, Dorothy B. Hughes, Theodore Sturgeon, W.G. Sebald, Eric Ambler. These really shift over time: those are who come to mind right now.

    In science and philosophy: Kaja Silverman, Mary Wollstonecraft, Joseph Hoffmeyer, Donna Haraway, Gregory Bateson, Wendy Wheeler, Charles Sanders Peirce, Thomas Nagel, and Julia Kristeva immediately come to mind.

    Kaja Silverman’s The Subject of Semiotics tore my mind apart and fundamentally changed my life. My professor at UCSC, Earl Jackson, Jr. is the person to whom I am most intellectually indebted, and I would not be writing science fiction without him. That’s a fact.

    What are you working on now?

    I have a daughter, Lydia, who just turned 1. I’m up at 5 in the morning to write every day so I can get the time in before she wakes up at 6 and we start our day together. I’m working on being the best dad to her I can be, and the best husband I can be, while maintaining something of my own identity and creativity. I think that’s plenty!

    “Eyes of the Forest” appears in the May/June 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/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-may-june-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

    Ray Nayler’s website: https://www.raynayler.net/

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    Interview: Tom Cool and Bruce Sterling on “Hornet and Butterfly”

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    Tell us a bit about “Hornet and Butterfly.”

    BS: It’s a futuristic warning about a Chinese catastrophe, which we wrote just before the latest Chinese catastrophe.
    TC:  It’s a traditional hypersexual love story about assassins who identify as insects.

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

    TC: Bruce and I have been friends since the late 90s, when we both lived in Austin. After publishing a few SF novels back then, I concentrated on my computer science career, but I’m in the mood to get back in the game.
    BS:  I was quite the fan of Tom’s highly unusual military SF, and I always wanted to write something like that, and now I have.

    Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “Hornet and Butterfly?”

    BS: We used a “mood board,” which is a technique used by designers.  We collected and pinned-up graphics for world-building imagery, such as AI, security surveillance, Xinjiang re-education centers, refugee camps, militarized islands.
    TC: Face recognition, neural experimentation with monkeys.  Ocean-borne cities and post-disaster hardware. I’ve seen hundred-thousand-ton aircraft carriers take grey water right over the bow, so that’s how the Raft inverted.

    Can you tell us anything about the writing process for this story?

    BS. The images on the mood board coalesced into scenes and settings. We volleyed a few plot outlines back and forth, inventing characters. Then Tom wrote a first draft and we just had at it tooth and claw.
    TC: I’ve collaborated before, but this was like swimming with the great whites. Bruce weighed in so heavily that every draft felt like a transmutation.
    BS: It was interesting to see more and more unearthly material arise, stuff that neither he nor I could ever write alone.

    Why do you write?

    BS:  I write a lot of material that publishers never see.  Prose helps me assemble ideas that would otherwise just be me silently staring out the window.  I’m a writer beset with ideas.  I have thousands.
    TC: When I was a boy, I thought novelists were cooler than astronauts. In these times, I thank God I have my craft to focus on and to maintain headway. It’s a hard thing for a cyberpunk to survive into the future of his imagination. My first novel was INFECTRESS, so help me.

    Who do you consider to be your influences?
    BS: Well, I read all the standard cool guys you would expect a cyberpunk to read, Ballard, Burroughs, Pynchon, Bester, Delany. I used to hang out at the thrones of Harlan Ellison and Brian Aldiss.
    TC: Heinlein. Wells. Orwell. “Doc” Smith. Herbert. Ellison. Farmer. Vonnegut. Sterling. Gibson. Stephenson. Ex-genera, Patrick O’Brien and Cormac McCarthy. Two great examples of transcendence of genre.

    What are you working on now?

    BS: These days, I like writing Italian-influenzed “fantascienza,” meaning science fiction that I would write if I was Italian.  I’m not Italian, but that’s why it interests me — it’s like I’m collaborating with an entire European peninsula.
    TC: This morning, I submitted to DIA for security review a final draft of TESTIMONY, a book of essays on the nature of time, an occult God, who killed JFK, sex as data, and 66 other things. TRANSGENIC, a satire involving dynamically transhuman MDs, is on the market. I’m about to start on Sun Queen, the third STAR ENVOYS novel written on spec, where our heroes are invoked inside a billion-year-old Dyson sphere, and ROBOT LAW, a noir thriller set post-Singularity.

    “Hornet and Butterfly” appears in the May/June 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/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-may-june-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:

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    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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    Interview: Leah Cypess on “Stepsister”

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    Leah CypessTell us a bit about “Stepsister.”

    Stepsister is a retelling of Cinderella, told in the form of a sequel to the story that happens about five years later. The main character is a close friend of the prince Cinderella met at the ball.

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

    I’ve always loved fairy tale retellings — when I discovered my first book of “twisted fairy tales” as a teen, I thought it was the best idea ever and devoured that genre for a while. Ideas for fairy tale retellings come to me on a frequent basis. The original idea for this story was that it would be about a hard-bitten investigator looking into the events that led to Cinderella’s stepsister’s death. As you can see, the story ended up evolving a lot from that original idea…

    What was the most difficult aspect of writing this story, and what was the most fun?

    The most difficult aspect of it was figuring out what kind of story it was going to be. I was trying to think of ideas for middle grade retellings, and this clearly wasn’t going to work for that. Then I thought it might work as a YA book. Then I was talking to my friend Diana Peterfreund about it, and she said, “It sounds like a novella.” I immediately realized that she was right, and after that, writing the story was pretty easy! (It ended up being a novelette. Close enough.)

    What are you working on now?

    Believe it or not, I’m currently working on a middle grade retelling of the Cinderella story, told from the point of view of a stepsister! It’s a very different story from this one, although I’m discovering that they have some themes in common. I’m hoping it will be the second book in my series of middle grade fantasy retellings that I’m writing for Delacorte/Random House (kind of a dream contract for me). The first in the series, Thornwood, which is told from the point of view of Sleeping Beauty’s little sister, is scheduled to be published in Spring 2021.

    “Stepsister” appears in the May/June 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/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-may-june-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 the author’s photo to visit her website.

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    Interview: Amanda Hollander on “A Feast of Butterflies”

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    Tell us a bit about “A Feast of Butterflies.”

    A constable assigned to a corrupt and backwater county learns he must solve the disappearance of five young men whose powerful families believe has something to do with a mountain girl who eats butterflies.

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

    My friend and I were traveling in Bogotá together when we stopped in front of mural that depicted a young woman eating a butterfly. After staring for a few moments, I told my friend that I was going to write a story about it. The next day, my friend’s husband called from Minnesota to say that their house had burned down. We changed our plans, returning immediately to the States. A month later, after I went back to look at my photos from our very short trip and again saw the butterfly-eating woman.

    What was she hiding? Who looks at a butterfly and decides to devour it? Then as the answers started coming, I realized I was seeing her from outside, so the next question was who was watching her. The answer became a bit complicated because everyone in her community watched her.

    Communities are often incredibly cruel to anyone who refuses to bury the wrongs done to them. Again and again, communities punish victims of crimes, rather than the perpetrators. What do you do when the people who should lift you up decide to ostracize you? To throw you to the wolves for their own convenience of memory? Who is the one person who is willing to look a little more closely, with less bias at the person pushed to the fringes? Answering that led me to the constable. Beyond that pain comes a wonderful possibility: what happens when one person decides to subvert a corrupt system?

    Was “A Feast of Butterflies” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

    Profoundly. My friends and I have had many conversations about trauma and justice over the years. What happens when you repeatedly see power so grossly abused in a way that can feel impossible to confront? When two alleged sexual predators hold lifetime spots in the highest court in the nation and another occupies the position of greatest political power? Political abuse and political corruption are old stories. Biblically old. We love fiction about justice, but in reality? To pursue justice as a society means to be willing to accept uncomfortable truths. Without that, we fail. And injustice? (I mean real injustice, not an angry fool who feels things are unfair when they must adhere to a social contract that respects individual autonomy and equity.) Injustice warps you. It seeps into your nightmares. It strangles you in your sleep and when you wake up, you realize with dawning horror that you did not dream. It physically changes you. How do you show that?

    In a happier respect, the story also has a landscape influenced by spending time in the Shenandoah Mountains as a child. I grew up in a family of hikers. Summer weekends often involved traipsing on mountain paths. I vividly can picture the swallowtail butterflies there, and the river. I once nearly tread on a copperhead snake that was sunning itself on a rock. I remember other hikers yelling and jumping back, but I thought how amazing it was that the snake ignored me. It just wanted to warm itself. I especially remember the humidity, the way the air settled in my lungs.

    Can you tell us anything about your writing process for this story?

    I knew that I wanted to explore techniques from fabulist storytelling and fairy tales. They allow psychological distance but can enhance emotional intimacy because there are blanks you can fill in. They allow as much room for questions as answers. Also, the naming has such interesting possibilities. What happens when a character is known through their role in a community rather than by a personal name? Cinderella/Ashchenputtel is the ash girl or cinder girl because she is most defined by others for being filthy, which is a result of mistreatment. Snow White has pale skin, often seen a characteristic of those royal or aristocratic who do not labor outdoors but also operates as a mark of frailty and possibly impermanence. Little Red Riding Hood or Little Red Cap achieved renown through her outfit of a remarkable color (for any adherents of Darwinism there’s probably something very interesting to be observed about the color standing out perhaps too starkly in a dark wood). Or you have other characters defined by their professions: the Baker, the Prince, the Woodcutter, the Huntsman, or even more distant, the profession of their husband: the Baker’s Wife, the Fisherman’s Wife. The choice to avoid names and use titles that reflected how these characters are viewed by those around them rather than how they wish to be known. Which is what makes their secret lives so much more delightful. Like all of us, they are more than what the world sees.

    Who do you consider to be your influences?

    Elizabeth Peters, whose quote “Laughter is one of the two things that make life worthwhile” has been a guiding principle for both my life and my writing, even though that may not be obvious in this particular story.

    Octavia Butler. My dog-eared, eighth grade copy of Kindred has moved into every home I’ve ever had.

    Connie Willis, but especially To Say Nothing of the Dog, Uncharted Territory, and Bellwether, all of which I have re-read in a manner one might describe as obsessive.

    Howard Ashman, whose work inspired me to start writing my own lyrics (and built my confidence in learning new vocabulary as, incidentally, he was the reason I became more comfortable with a dictionary thanks to his use of words like “expectorate” and “blather”)

    And, in no order whatsoever: Dorothy Dunnett, Dorothy Sayers, Dorothy Parker (all the Dorothys!), Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Bizet, Howard Ashman, Mildred D. Taylor, Evelyn Sharp, Mark Campbell, Shel Silverstein (I maintain that “They’ve Put a Brassiere on the Camel” is one of the great classics of American poetry), Mel Brooks, Jean Webster, Gary Larson, Anna Julia Cooper (criminally under-read American intellectual; A Voice from the South should be mandatory reading), Stephen Schwartz, Mary Astell (A Serious Proposal to the Ladies has some of the sharpest satiric lines I’ve ever read), Langston Hughes, Howard Ashman, Isabel Allende, Jonathan Swift, Pablo Neruda, Stephen Sondheim, Oscar Hammerstein, Rosario Ferré, Irving Berlin, George & Ira Gershwin, Eva Ibbotson, Marc Chagall, Gwendolyn Brooks, Verdi, Gary Geld, Cole Porter, Arthur Sullivan, Charles Dickens, Samuel Richardson, John Donne, and last but never ever least, Dolly Parton.

    Oh, and Howard Ashman.

    Anything else you’d like to add?

    Thank you to anyone who gave their time to read this story. It’s very near and dear to me.

    “A Feast of Butterflies” 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:

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    Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

    Mural by @veraprimavera

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    Interview: SL Huang on “The Million-Mile Sniper”

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    Tell us a bit about “The Million-Mile Sniper.”

    What would assassinations look like if they took place over planetary distances?

    “The Million-Mile Sniper” asks that question, but with a twist. I played with my background, which is working professionally in movies and television, to warp that narrative through storytelling and conspiracy and romanticism . . . all far, far in the future.

    S L HuangWhat was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

    I’m a weapons expert and former firearms professional, and now I’m a science fiction author. Naturally, it kept circling around in my head to wonder about how I could adapt riflery over planetary distances.

    I had the title before anything else. “The Million-Mile Sniper” is such a great title—I had to write something to fit it!

    Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “The Million-Mile Sniper?”

    Less research, more math. Which was fine with me, as I do a lot of math for my books in the Cas Russell series, which are about a superpowered math mercenary. For “The Million-Mile Sniper,” I wanted to make sure to do enough of the calculations to make sure I was in the ballpark for realism on the sniper shot.

    But I did also do a fair bit of digging into rail guns and reviewed my knowledge of astrodynamic rendezvous from college, when I wrote a paper on it!

    Can you tell us anything about your writing process for this story, or more generally?

    I write short stories very fast—all in one chunk. Of course, that’s only after I have an idea, and I’d been knocking this one around in my head for a while. Then I wrote the story all at once one evening. I checked the math and science afterward and filled in some details, but the story was essentially written in one gulp.

    That’s very typical of how I write shorts! Novels, sadly, are a much more cumbersome process for me. I wish I could write those all at once, too.

    Why do you write?

    A question I’ve navel-gazed about a lot recently.

    I think the answer I’m coming to is that I write to explore, and to create a thing I’m proud of.

    Which doesn’t bode very well for my career, honestly! I like poking at new things, and my sense of reward is from the completion of the piece, not the paycheck… especially when I feel like I’ve achieved a piece of writing that was previously outside my comfort zone. Which means I have a lot of trouble writing toward marketability or personal branding, no matter how hard I try.

    I kind of wish I could say I wrote for the money. That’s certainly a consideration—I’m a full-time writer, so it’s my income, and what people will pay me for does impact what I work on. But I feel like I tend to make non-optimal career decisions in favor of chasing something shiny.

    If I could convince myself only to worry about the money, I could probably brand myself a lot better. On the other hand, right now my brand seems to be math, swords, and women and queer people who shoot at things, which I feel pretty good about.

    Who do you consider to be your influences?

    Ooo, this question is always so hard for me to answer, because the people I’ve read who have influenced my writing . . . well, there’s an endless number of them, to be honest.

    So I think I’m going to try to answer this question a little differently—I want to talk about the people I’ve met who’ve really influenced the kind of writer I want to be, in the sense of how helpful and giving they are, and how as they achieve success they reach back and boost others. The Big Name Authors I want to emulate, if I can, as I start to build more success. Ken Liu is such a model of this I feel—I can’t count the number of people I know, including me, whom he’s helped out in some way, even with his incredibly busy schedule. He’s one of the kindest and most generous authors I know (and his writing, of course, is incredible! Read Ken!). Seth Dickinson is another one—just such an excellent human. When I was brand new I had a signing with Seth and of course his line was out the door and I, being new, had almost nobody, and literally every person who came up to him, Seth said to them, “And you should check out Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang!” and also directed them to me. I’ve never forgotten that. I tucked it away as something I hope to be able to do for someone else someday. And so many other people—Charlie Jane Anders, Kate Elliott, Jim Hines, Chuck Wendig—oh wow I could really go on and on here, too; SFF is full of such wonderful human beings. There are just so many good folks who I consistently see helping newer authors, boosting people, blurbing tons of debuts, running events, speaking up for folks with less of a platform, and so many other heartwarming things.

    They’re the type of authors I want to try to model myself after as I move forward in my own career.

    What are you working on now?

    I have a book coming out at the end of April—CRITICAL POINT, the third book in my scifi thriller series about an antiheroine whose superpower is being able to do math really, really fast. She uses it to kill a few too many people!

    I’m super excited about CRITICAL POINT, as we get a lot of character development for my miscreant cast . . . and also a lot of explosions. Many, many explosions. My editor and I work hard to try to make the books stand alone, but for readers who want to start at the beginning, ZERO SUM GAME is the first book in that series.

    Next, I have a fairy tale retelling coming out this fall. BURNING ROSES is a remix of Chinese and Western folklore, in which Hou Yi the Archer from Chinese mythology teams up with Red Riding Hood. In my version they’re both middle-aged queer women, and to match Hou Yi’s bow and arrow skills, Red Riding Hood is an expert with a rifle. The two of them team up and go on adventures while angsting about their families.

    Also featured: Goldilocks as an abusive con artist, Beauty from Beauty and the Beast as an escaped human trafficking victim, and birds made out of fire.

    Of course, those books are done! I would tell you what I’m on sub with right now, but I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about it yet. I do feel I can give away that the new work contains some number of the following elements: swords, queer women, people at shooting at things, or queer women wielding swords and shooting at things. Or all of the above!

    Yeah, maybe I have a brand after all.

    “The Million-Mile Sniper” 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

    You can find SL Huang’s website by clicking on her photo.  On Twitter: @sl_huang

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    Interview: William Ledbetter on “Hungry is the Earth”

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    “Hungry is the Earth” is about a young woman trying to keep herself and her little brother alive after a very successful alien invasion. It’s personal and small in scale, as most of my stories are, yet addresses some large and interesting issues. I’ve always enjoyed alien invasion stories, but so many of them are focused on humanity finding the alien invaders’ weakness and using it to win in the end. I’ve long wondered if that would be truly possible. I think that once we do encounter an alien intelligence they could be so strange we might not even recognize them as sentient, let alone be able to defeat them in a toe to tentacle fight.

    This story was inspired by a sculpture by the local artist Stacy Tompkins. It was given as a prompt for the Art & Words show that is run by fellow F&SF writer Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam. When I saw the stalk covered with big red berries, growing out what looked like a hat, I immediately thought of some alien invasive species of plant and my imagination took off.

    The story I was supposed to write for Art & Words had a word limit of 800 words, but as I started writing, this story kept growing larger and larger. The finished product is what you see in the pages of F&SF and about 2,200 words, but I had to also create a much trimmed down version for the art show. The 800 word unpublished story that eventually accompanied the artwork in the show was quite different. I  primarily left out much of the information about the invaders, which was a shame, yet the story still worked. So I hope you’ll all excuse me if I roll my eyes when a writer says there is absolutely no way they can cut another 30 words from their 12,030 masterpiece to accommodate something as arbitrary as a publisher’s required word count.

    I’m currently working on the sequel to my novel “Level Five” and it’s almost finished. It has the working title of “Level Six” and will hopefully be out later this year, at first only in audio format through Audible Originals. Then, I should have some time to write more short fiction!

    I also wanted to mention that I helped run a writing contest last year for the Dream Foundry (found at Dreamfoundry.org) which is a wonderful organization formed for, and dedicated to, helping beginning speculative fiction writers and artists. It was an amazing experience and we received a lot of great stories and artwork, so we are planning to have a contest again this year. If you’re a beginning writer or artist, keep your eye on the above mentioned website.

    “Hungry is the Earth” 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

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    Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

    The image above is the story prompt that inspired Mr. Ledbetter’s story.  It is a sculpture by artist Stacy Tompkins; photo credit by Stacy Tompkins.

    Interview: Jim Kelly on “The Man I Love”

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    Tell us a bit about “The Man I Love.”

    “The Man I Love” is a big-hearted ghost story in conversation with Jean-Paul Sartre’s gloomy existentialist play No Exit, which it seeks to refute.  It takes place in a mysterious bar that opens “only on Mondays, fifty-two times a year.” It’s about longing and loyalty. Also it’s short – just a bit longer than flash fiction.

    James Patrick KellyWhat was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

    Years ago I helped start a statewide flash fiction competition here in NH.  At a “Three Minute Fiction Slam” ten contestants read a three minute story in front of a panel of judges, who give instant feedback about what they’ve just heard.  After all have read, the judges declare a winner.  The Slam competition runs from January to March and has been going on for a decade.  I judge some of the regional Slams scattered around our little state.  Then comes the finals where the regional winners compete for a cash prize.  Typically 80-90 writers compete and hundreds of audience members cheer them on!

    Last year I started teaching a free two night workshop on the art and craft of writing and presenting a three minute story.  My goal was to help writers prepare for competition.  On the first night we talked about how to write for a Slam and on the second the workshoppers read their stories and I gave them the kind of feedback I’d give at an actual Slam.  I wrote a draft of “The Man I Love” to demonstrate to the workshop what a three minute story might look like.  The only problem was that my draft was about a thousand words long and a three minute story can’t be much more than six hundred.  No problem! I gave the workshoppers the thousand word draft and told them to hack four hundred words out of it.  I was not surprised that what remained was pretty pathetic, which is to say that “The Man I Love” failed as a three minute story.  But I knew that I’d captured a moment of true feeling and I realized that my narrator needed more to do. So I filled in obvious omissions and when I was done, I had this sweet short story of nineteen hundred words. And as soon as I finished it, I knew I was sending it to F&SF, which is the magazine which launched my career many, many (but don’t ask) decades ago! Alas, for career purposes, I’ve found it necessary to spread my stories around, but I always return to F&SF.  In fact, I’ve been fortunate to sell to every editor since Ed Ferman.  So I’ve got serious history with this magazine and I’m proud to be back!

    Was “The Man I Love” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

    I think the most personal part of this story for me is how much the song, “The Man I Love,” means to me.  I admit that I get emotional pretty much every time I hear this classic torch song.  As mentioned in the story, there have been many, many versions and the hardest part of the writing of the story was to find a way to quote as much of the achingly sad lyrics as possible without getting F&SF in copyright trouble.  But the story captures some of what I feel when I listen to this song, especially in its last lines. When I read it for the first time at a convention, I’m not ashamed to say that I was choked up at the end.

    Why do you write?

    What a question!  I guess I write mostly to explore what I think about this complex world and all the great and awful people in it.  But I am also always thinking of readers, although not necessarily specific ones. So I might write a story especially for readers who – say — don’t believe that a woman can be a starship captain. Or that AI can achieve personhood.  Or, in this case, that ghosts might ponder their existential dilemma.

    Who do you consider to be your influences?

    I have been very much influenced by the cohort of writers who started publishing about when I did: Connie Willis, John Kessel, Lucius Shepard, Karen Joy Fowler, Bruce Sterling and Nancy Kress.  That’s just six; I could name six more without breaking a sweat!  We grew up in this genre reading and critiquing and, yes, learning from each other. Of the sf writers who came before me, I always cite Damon Knight, Ursula LeGuin, Robert Silverberg and Robert Heinlein.  But recently I’ve been rereading the great Cordwainer Smith, a master short story writer who I first encountered as tween, and I realize he has been whispering to me for my entire career.

    What are you working on now?

    Just now I am briefly between projects and have been throwing myself into promoting King of the Dogs, Queen of the Cats, my short novel that was published by Subterranean Press in February.  Maybe you think this isn’t writing, but while I am convinced that we are living in a new Golden Age of Short Fiction, it is also the case that there are more great stories being published than anyone has time to read!  To be a writer today, you must not only write well but also help readers find your best work.  To that end, I’ve been giving the audiobook version of my novella away for free. It’s narrated by my Grammy-and-Audie-award-winning friend, Stefan Rudnicki.  If you’d like a listen, here’s the link:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/cdgq95qzahuwsc3/King%20of%20the%20Dogs%20download.mp3?dl=0

    Like I said, it’s totally free but if you wanted to give something back, why not stop by my website and telling me what you thought?  For that matter, I’d love to hear your reactions to “The Man I Love.” I promise to write back!

    “The Man I Love” 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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    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: 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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    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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