Apex Magazine Author Interview: Rachel Swirsky

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35777-coverAuthor Rachel Swirsky, whose story “Abomination Rises on Filthy Wings” can be found in Apex Magazine Issue 50, answers a few questions for Weightless Books.

Q: What does it feel like to win a Nebula Award?

Swirsky: A blushy, fluttery glow.

I remember a previous winner telling me, “When you get up there, you forget everything; you forget how to say your name.” And I thought, “Oh, that’s just stage fright. I’m used to public speaking.” But then it happens and…you forget how to say your name.

It was particularly special to me because the man who first published my work – John Scalzi, better known when wearing his writing hat – had told me that he’d be there when I won my first Nebula. And he was. He presented the award.

Q: What was the hardest part about writing “Abomination Rises on Filthy Wings”?

Swirsky: Several horror editors had confided in me that they receive a genre of submissions they call “kill the bitch” stories. There are a few defining traits, but two of them are: it must be misogynist, and it must be written as if it’s an autobiographical fantasy of killing one’s wife or ex.

I don’t have a wife or an ex-wife. And as it happens, I rather like my husband.

I could find the character’s voice and his anger and his imagery, but it was challenging to find a way to create the illusion it was also personal.

Q: How did you first know speculative fiction and fantasy were for you?

Swirsky: According to my mother, she fell in love with my dad when she heard him singing his sons to sleep (he was divorced but had primary custody). Afterward, they’d lie together in bed, and read to each other. Science fiction and fantasy, of course.

They had (and have) a huge bookshelf that leans against their bedroom door filled with paperbacks from Adams to Zelazny. From the top shelf to the ceiling is stacks and stacks of old Asimov’s magazines. When I wanted something to read, I’d grab Octavia Butler or Anne McCaffrey or Joan Vinge.

Q: What lessons from the 2005 Clarion West Writer’s Workshop still resonate with you?

Swirsky: I follow these to greater or lesser extents, but they’ve stayed with me.

Octavia Butler said, “The more personal your story, the more likely it will find a wide readership.”

Andy Duncan said, “Why have you made me read this horrible, horrible thing? And that, too, is a worthy goal of fiction.”

L. Timmel Duchamp said, “Character is voice.”

Connie Willis said, “All plots can be comic or tragic. It’s how you write them that makes the difference.”

Gordon Van Gelder said, “Evoke three senses in every paragraph of description.”

Michael Swanwick said, “All fiction is a balance between dinosaurs and sodomy.”

Q: What do you like most about being Vice-President of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America?

Swirsky: Ha! No one ever asks what’s fun!

I really like building things. Unfortunately, we don’t always get to. We get waylaid by rain or native wildlife stealing our bricks or people who just want to pout and stomp angrily in the mud. But we *do* build things.

A couple months ago, I was able to hear a problem from a writer one night, and have it solved for them the next day. It was the most amazing feeling.

I get to meet people I wouldn’t otherwise and share in their energy as we work toward mutual goals. For me, that’s fun.

Q: What are you working on now?

Swirsky: As I am the most distractable person ever, I’m always working on about 80 things at once. A couple previews:

Swift, Grey, Wild – My in-process young adult novel about werewolves and race relations in Oakland. I have a draft finished, but the devil’s in the rewrite.

“The Great Leap” – A novella about Judaism, ballet, and mortality. I started it when I was living in Iowa, during deep winter, when everything is frozen and beautiful and lifeless.

“Wounded, Dancing” – A retelling of the moment when there was hope at Wounded Knee.

Rachel Swirsky at World Fantasy 2011 by Folly BlaineRachel Swirsky got her MFA at the Iowa Writers Workshop where she learned about terrifying things like symbolism and snow. She writes short fiction on those days when she can’t come up with any more excuses to avoid it. Her short fiction has appeared in a number of venues, including Tor.com, The New Haven Review, and Clarkesworld Magazine. She’s been nominated for the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award, among others, and in 2010, she won the Nebula Award for her novella “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window.” Her new short story collection, How the World Became Quiet: Myths of the Past, Present, and Future, is forthcoming from Subterranean Press in September 2013. Swirsky’s story “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” will launch Apex Magazine’s upcoming podcast. Nominated in 2012 and 2013 for Hugo Awards for Best Semiprozine, Apex Magazine is available for DRM-free purchase from Weightless Books.  

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