Sara’s story “The Story in Which Dog Dies” can be found in The Clockwork Jungle Book (Issue #11). She’s previously appeared in Shimmer in Issue #10, with “Counting Down to the End of the Universe.” Her blog is at artemisin.blogspot.com.
How do you feel about being interviewed for Shimmer?
I distrust the concept of interviews. I believe most people already talk and think too much about themselves, so why egg them on? I have a strong streak of narcissism that I try not to encourage. Hardly anyone is interesting enough to merit an interview anyway. But hey, you’re the boss and I’m absolutely crazy about Shimmer, so I’ll do my best.
Do your characters talk to you? Do you see the stories as images?
No. My characters are unaware of my presence. They live in a world that is separate from ours, has its own gravity, its own particular tug, its own rules. I neither approve nor disapprove of their actions. Their morality and mine hardly touch, their choices are theirs alone and only they suffer the consequences.
As for seeing stories as images–sometimes. My stories start in weird ways. Sometimes I get a concept, but most often I get this feeling, a sense of a scene, a smell, the voice of a character… Setting seems to be an important part of my stories. “Slow Stampede” (Asimov’s, March 2009) emerged from the visual image of a man paddling through a swamp that goes down further than anyone can imagine. “Godtouched” (Strange Horizons, Jan 07) arose from the image of a naked, deranged child throwing chits of a remaindered currency up into the air in order to read fortunes. Other stories stem from “what ifs”. When I’m down on ideas I take a hint from Orson Scott Card who has been known to say that marrying two concepts can spawn the greatest ideas. It seems that you need two flat ideas to make a three dimensional world. “Counting Down to the End of Time” (in this issue of Shimmer) was a cross between a trigger chosen by Sean Markey (clockwork birds) and surreal ponderings on what immortality might actually look like. Everyone wants to live longer but most people don’t realize that when cells don’t die, they become cancerous, so in order to increase longevity one must strike a difficult balance…
Have you ever wished for a particular character — or idea — to walk into your story? Has that happened?
Naw, if I wanted something or someone there, I’d put it there. It’s my story after all.
Do you ever argue with characters you hadn’t planned?
No. I don’t plot beforehand, my stories arise from the things that the characters do and the world they live in. There’s no reason for me to force characters to comply. If any of my endings feels ungrounded it’s not because I forced stuff to happen but because I wasn’t good enough as a writer. I probably messed up the foreshadowing that would have made the ending necessary, conclusive and obvious on hindsight. And, of course, not everyone needs the same amount of information. What leaves some people mystified might feel satisfying to others. I hate heavy-handed explanations so I tend to keep them to the bare minimum and sometimes that is about ten miles too short for the most intuitive reader. I swear: it all makes sense inside my head.
Do you ever get to a certain point, reading a story, and feel the click! as you have got to the point of no return/can’t stop now? Does writing ever feel that way? If you had to liken writing to anything, what would it be?
Yes and yes. That’s the reason I hated getting into a book before exams. I’ve taken books to read during class when I was a student. Made me scattered brained, for some reason.
And yeah, it’s a blast when that happens with writing but you can hardly count on it. As they say, the muse has got to catch you applying the ass to the seat. And there’s no difference between the quality of the end product when you struggle over every word compared to when the muse hits. It seems to be more of a matter of subjective perception, at least for me: it’s a lot more fun writing with inspiration.
I’ve been in a situation where I had to stop after I was in gear like you describe and it just hurts, pulling yourself away from the keyboard.
But when it flows, it feels like dancing.
What piece of writerly advice do you wish someone had given you?
Have fun? Life is just too short not to.
Particular favorites for books, movies, series, comics, blogs, etc.?
I don’t read as much as I’d like and my tastes are pretty random. I just finished _The Testosterone Files_ by Max Wolf Valerio, a memoir by a female-to-male transsexual. Anyone who has read my stories knows I’m interested in gender, the intersection of biological and sociological aspects. I’m fascinated by the way that gender determines our actions and thoughts but I also suspect a lot of the gender differences are horseshit having more to do with social stereotypes. This books left me feeling there’s more to hormones than I initially thought.
I absolutely love _The Ant King and Other Stories_, a short story collection by Benjamin Rosenbaum. I’m trying to ration the stories so they’ll last. I met Ben at Villa Diodati 3, a get-together for European English-language Spec Fic writers. His fiction is whimsical, playful. He’s given me courage to break some rules.
One of my favorite short stories of all time is “Looking Through Lace” by Ruth Nestvold. It deals with gender and lace, which is oh, so cool in science fiction. All-time favorites of mine are “The Taste of Chicory at High Tide” by Lisa Mantchev, “The Desires of Houses” by Haddayr Copley-Woods, and “La Malcontenta”–a very special gender story by Liz Williams.
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