Category Archives: Author Interviews

Shimmer #21: Erica Satifka

Tell us how “We Take the Long View” came to be.

Erica Satifka
Erica Satifka

I came up with the POV first and fit the story into it. I love playing with POV and story structure, and I’ve always wanted to write a story in first person plural. Of course, I had to come up with a good reason to write the story in first person plural, which led to the creation of the telepathic plants and the Community. This then developed into a story about resistance and the colonizer becoming the colonized. I think it came pretty far from an exercise in weird POV!

You’ve written more than one story that explores alien consciousness and alien perspectives. What draws you to explore these ideas?
For me, aliens are a way to explore the concept of a completely different kind of sentience. I love the idea of writing about beings whose mindset is so different from anything any human society has come up with, because it forces both the writer and the reader to re-examine what they mean by morality, by family, by aesthetics. I hate alien stories where they’re just humans in rubber masks (or worse, stand-ins for a real human culture). Aliens let me get my weird on in a major way, allowing for an outsider perspective on humanity.

You’ve lived in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Portland, moving most recently from the right-coast to the left. Have these places had an impact on your writing? How?
Pittsburgh was where I first started to write seriously, and Baltimore is where I started writing fiction again. In Baltimore I experienced quite a bit of cultural shock – you wouldn’t think it’s that different from the Rust Belt, but it really is, and a lot of the stories I started writing when I moved there came directly out of the feeling of being plunged into a place that I wasn’t prepared for. Although I was uncomfortable enough in Baltimore to move 2700 miles away from it, Baltimore has one of the best, most supportive speculative fiction writing communities in the country and they really helped me get over the things that were keeping me from writing fiction. I’m not quite sure yet how Portland will affect my writing, except that I know my next novel will be set here.

The 24 Hour Zine Challenge in Portland! What is it about the ‘zine scene in Portland, and how were you involved in the Challenge?
I’ve been involved with zines since 2000, and have always admired the Portland zine community from afar. People here are very much into DIY, and there’s no place that exemplifies that quite like the Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC), where two dozen Portland zinesters met to work on their zines in the comfort of a slightly stuffy former warehouse in SE. My 24 hour zine this year (issue #6 of my Breakfast at Twilight series, and hell yes that is a Philip K. Dick shoutout) was a short one about my first three months in Portland. Unfortunately my computer broke while I was making it, so it wasn’t quite a 24 hour zine. I’m less involved with zines now that I’ve started writing fiction again, but I still like to keep up with it. Someday I’d like to publish a zine of my science fiction and somehow bring together these two very different types of writing I’m drawn to. Zines came out of science fiction, after all!

What’s in your CD player / iTunes / Spotify / 8-Track?
I am the worst with music. I still listen mostly to the same stuff I did a decade ago: Flaming Lips, the Mountain Goats, Elliott Smith, Daniel Johnston. There’s this new(ish) band Sleigh Bells that I think is really rad. Basically, I either like sad songs by amazing lyricists or upbeat dance songs with lots of keyboards in them. Nothing in between.

 

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Shimmer #22: Carlie St. George

Carlie St. George
Carlie St. George
Tell us how “Caretaker” came to be.

I had the first few lines rattling around my head for a while. Science teaches us that many of the stars we see are already dead, and Mufasa teaches us that stars are the ghosts of deceased kings who watch over us. What I took from these two lessons is this: the dead come out at night to watch you while you sleep. Which I decided was pretty damn creepy.

I wrote “Caretaker” when I was desperate to finish something, anything. I was having some trouble sleeping at the time (not because of the dead, probably), and my focus was taking a serious hit as a result. I wasn’t even seriously considering trying to sell this story — or else I probably wouldn’t have written it in the second person — I just needed to finish SOMETHING to prove that I could. Let me tell you: nobody has ever celebrated as hard as I did for managing to write a mere 800 words. Lots of backslapping and happy dancing occurred that day.

Melancholy girls, powerful girls — we see these girls in many of your stories. Please tell us more about them.

I debated about concealing this, but that felt uncomfortably like lying, so. Truth is, in my head, the narrator of this story is male, always was. When I gave “Caretaker” to a few people to read, I was initially surprised when someone referred to the protagonist as “she.” (Two other readers referred to the protagonist as “he,” although I can’t remember now if the gender of the reader matched the gender they read into the character. I smell opportunities for statistics here.) I really shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was, and I had to think, “Right, I never actually specify gender in this story. Is that gonna be a thing? Is that something I need to fix?” But . . . it just didn’t seem important for this particular piece. Writing well-rounded, interesting female characters IS important to me and pretty much always has been, but for me, this story has always been about the legacy parents leave to their children (intentionally or accidentally), and I realized it just didn’t bother me if people read this narrator as a daughter or a son.

That all being said, melancholic and powerful girls DO pop up a lot in my writing. There are probably multiple reasons that depression has become something of a theme in my work, but one of them, I think, has something to do with my interest in writing about women who don’t yet fully recognize or understand their own power. Sometimes, I feel like people try to separate the “strong women” in their positions of power from the “weak women” who have been victimized by others. The truth, though, is that even strong, capable, amazing women are sometimes caught in terrible situations where they feel helpless to change their own circumstances. I find myself writing about girls who are trying to find their own power, to break free of these circumstances. They don’t always succeed. But it’s a journey I’m continually interested in.

 Tell us about My Geek Blasphemy! How does your work on the blog have an impact on your fiction writing?

I love movies. I love serious movies, I love funny movies, and I especially love movies that are funny because they failed so badly at being serious. I never had much luck selling movie reviews, partially because I didn’t have any professional experience to put on a resume and partially because I’m the kind of person who picks watching The Crow 4: Wicked Prayer over Frozen. So about four years ago, I decided to just create my own blog. I write about other stuff now, too, but it started primarily with a desire to write too many snarky and profane words about silly action movies and bad horror flicks.

Honestly, I’m not sure how my work on the blog impacts my fiction writing. It takes TIME from my fiction writing, that’s certainly true. (I love writing my reviews, but they do tend to be ridiculously long. A lot of my writing is, even, apparently, my responses to interview questions.) I do spend a lot of time writing about tropes, analyzing what works for me and what doesn’t, and that does come into play in my own fiction. For example, I was praising the parent-kid relationships in Teen Wolf, and thinking to myself, “Wow, your parents often kind of suck in your stories. You should work on that.” And lo and behold, I had a healthy parent-kid relationship in my next (currently unpublished) story.

We too love amusing millinery, but WHAT IS IT about silly hats? Describe to us your very favorite silly hat. Out in Pop Culture Land, who do you think makes/wears the very best silly hats?

If I may borrow the words of Catherynne M. Valente: “Hats have power. Hats can change you into someone else.” Silly hats are the best hats, I think, because they arm you with the power of the ridiculous. A bit of absurdity is good for the soul, and who can laugh at you if you’re already laughing at yourself?

My favorite silly hat in my own collection is probably my giant yellow Loki hat I bought on Etsy, although I am fond of my aviator cap that I own for no practical reason at all. As far as Pop Culture Land goes . . . man. I don’t think I can pick. Link’s got a pretty sweet hat. Magneto’s helmet (if we’re counting helmets) is damn silly. I don’t see how you can possibly take anyone who’s wearing that thing seriously. But no, you know what? There’s this movie called Plunkett & Macleane that my friend Cory turned me onto, and Alan Cumming is wearing THE MOST AMAZING silly purple hat that I’ve ever seen. It’s just so vibrant. If that hat doesn’t win top prize, it’s certainly making it on the podium.

Wow, you’ve written a lot of movie reviews! What, in your opinion, is the single most outrageous/hyperbolic film you’ve ever reviewed, and why should we watch it?

Oh God, what a question. That’s so impossibly mean. I don’t even . . . okay. Okay, while I refuse to try to pick the One Outrageous Film to Rule Them All — I just, I can’t — I’ll give an example of one that I watched this year: Death Race 2000. It’s definitely making it on a top ten list of Most Insane Films Ever.

I should warn you all: your enjoyment of this movie will be highly dependent upon both your love of the ridiculous and your ability to mock the rampant 70’s sexism throughout the film instead of feeling enraged and/or defeated by it. Understandably, not everyone is willing or able to do that. But I have to say, I laughed pretty much the whole way through this movie. If you’re interested, here are a few of the the more WTF things you will encounter (kind of spoiler-y, sorry):

  • Sylvester Stallone as one of the least intimidating cinematic villains ever
  • A quite literal hand grenade
  • Stage fighting of a quality you have not seen since TOS: Kirk vs Gorn
  • Mr. President Frankenstein
  • Nazis who drive race cars
  • Racing gear that can only be described as Superhero Scuba Diver Chic
  • The deadly insult: baked potato

It’s really quite something special. I’m not sure who WOULDN’T want to watch it, honestly.

 

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Shimmer #21: A.C. Wise

Tell us how “Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” came to be.acwise
As many of my stories do, this one came from a snippet of overheard conversation. I have no idea what the context was, but two people were talking about Hokusai’s famous (or infamous) woodcut, The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife. One of them said something to the effect of, “I hope the fisherman doesn’t catch them, heh heh heh,” and I immediately thought, “wait, would that be a bad thing?” What if the fisherman was an equal partner in the relationship? Thus the tale of a balanced and loving triad between a fisherman, his wife, and an octopus of variable size was born.

This is your third! short story in Shimmer, and in each one, the sea factors into the story somehow. What is it about the sea?
Actually, it’s my fourth – Trashman, Tasting of the Sea, How Bunny Came to Be, and this one. But now that you mention it, Trashman did have a river. Oceans, shores, rivers, creeks, lakes, pools, and other bodies of water do tend to be a recurring theme in my work. My obsession with seas and oceans probably traces back to summer visits to Cape Cod as a kid. When I think of the ocean, it’s almost always a New England-y ocean. It’s a perfect setting for the kind of fiction I like to write – a little bit cold, a little bit brooding. The air tastes like salt and the wind tangles your hair and there’s a very real possibility of something dark and terrible and wonderful hiding under those shifting grey-green waves. It’s not like a tropical beach with clear, aqua water and white sand, easily tamed by a postcard. My New England beaches are wild and moody, and that mood is frequently cranky and/or surly. Plus tropical beaches contain way too much sunshine.

Your story from Issue 17, “How Bunny Came to Be,” is a prequel to “Doctor Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron.” Do you plan to write any other stories about the Glitter Squadron?
Funny you should ask! I just finished putting together a collection of Glitter Squadron stories, and I have turned it over to a beta reader for critique. I have no idea whether anything will come of it, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

You’ve been writing regular “Women to Read” guest posts for SF Signal. Has this has had an impact on your fiction writing?
I don’t know that it’s had an impact on my writing, but it’s certainly made me more conscious of my reading habits. I started actively keeping a log of the novels and anthologies I read each year in 2012. Last year, I made a conscious effort to track the non-anthology short fiction that most impressed me as well. I have no problem finding short fiction by women to recommend in my posts, but I did realize I was falling down on reading novels by women. It’s not that I wasn’t reading them at all, but they were closer to a third of my overall reading, rather than half or more, which is where I am so far this year. I’ve also discovered a lot of wonderful new-to-me authors in writing the guest post series, and I’m delighted to be able to share their work with other readers.

In previous interviews, we’ve asked you about Lovecraft, Bradbury, music, and dinosaurs. So, tell us; what it is about poutine that makes it Montreal’s dish?
Well, on a basic level, no one outside the province of Quebec makes poutine quite right. I’ve seen some valiant efforts, and sampled some delicious variations, but they’re not really poutine as far as I’m concerned. The best poutine comes from faintly dingy looking places where the fry oil probably hasn’t been changed in about a billion years. On a metaphorical level, I suppose you could say that much like Montreal, poutine takes seemingly disparate things that sound to any sane person like they shouldn’t work together and turns them into a wonderful and harmonious whole – a golden, crispy-yet-soggy, gravy-drenched, melty, gooey whole. Wait… What was I talking about? Damn it, now I want poutine!

 

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Shimmer #21: Vajra Chandrasekera

Tell us how “Dharmas” came to be.

Vajra Chandrasekera
Vajra Chandrasekera

No tuktuk drivers were harmed in the making of this short story, though I did steal fragments of many conversations. “Dharmas” is about containment failure on the surrealities discovered in those fragments. See, my theory of conversation is that it’s a technology for navigating parallel universes; ontological disagreements are just as significant as the jonbar hinge in your traditional widescreen alternate history. Conversation –especially those very peculiar conversations in which you question everything you thought you know about the world– is proof that the fabric of reality is not machine-washable. It will tear, if you’re not careful. So I wrote “Dharmas” as a warning. Loose lips sink universes!

In “Dharmas,” there’s a lively debate on how many hells there are. So for those of us who don’t know, how many hells are there? Is there a chance one hell might be easier on us than the others?
There are actually thirty-seven*, but I had to drop a few in production for budgetary reasons.

As the antecedents of pulp horror, hells are fascinatingly dismal and I’m not sure it’s possible to pick a preferable one (there’s one that always stuck with me because it has my name in it, Vajrakantakasalmali, which is a tree with unbreakable thorns. Go on, guess what happens there!) unless we go with the Belinda Carlisle model suggested in the story.

* Also not true. I think the number is formally imprecise because the idea is that there are far more than have ever been named or described. The intention, clearly, was to leave room for innovation in sin. These days we’d call that future-proofing.

Your story “The Brack,” was recommended by Locus, and “Pockets Full of Stones” received an honorable mention in the Year’s Best Science Fiction 2013. Wow! How has it been for you to see your stories so well received?
I’m very happy! “Pockets Full of Stones” was my first published story, so that’s particularly nice.

Looking at the progress of your bibliography, it’s clear that you’ve been writing and/or submitting a lot of stories lately. What’s inspiring you?
I spent far too long just having vague intentions of writing at some point. When I finally started (in mid-2012, about a quarter-century having elapsed from the first awakenings of intention to actually writing stories and sending them out to magazines), it felt like I’d waited long enough.

So you might say I’m making up for lost time. But it’s also just that writing is fun!

What is it about Sri Lanka that captures the imagination?
Nothing different from everywhere else, I imagine. Which is to say everything, if you’re looking at it (and being that I live here, I’m always looking at it). Your personal unreal estate is inevitably bounded by the negative space of your historical context. But what that actually means is too big to explore without higher technologies of prose, i.e., fiction. So it’s a good thing that writing is fun! Otherwise I’d hardly know what to say about anything.

 

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Shimmer #21: Seth Dickinson

Tell us how “Anna Saves Them All” came to be.
This is a really hard question to answer, because the answer is so embarrassing. The story comes from two places, and if you want to know about the dignified place that makes me look like a credible writer, please just – just show me mercy and skip ahead to question two.

This is the other place. I was young and I really, really adored Legos. Lego made these action figures, so of course I adored them too, adored them enough that I thought it would be a good idea to write an epic fanfiction in which their world was invaded by hegemonistic aliens. Ssrin was a character in that story, and she outlived it – she and a little bit of the premise. What if our love of dualistic good-and-evil stories was rooted in a cosmological truth? What if an alien civilization decided to reprogram that truth? And what if one of them decided she was on the wrong side? Maybe I should have outgrown the story, but, well, here I am.

A few years ago I tried to redraft Ssrin’s story as a thriller set in Iraqi Kurdistan. That was where Anna came from. I wasn’t satisfied with the manuscript, but I couldn’t get the two of them, or their peculiar tortured friendship, out of my head. If you look at this story carefully, you can probably still see hints of the broader scope of a novel.

In “Kumara,” and “Anna Saves Them All,” the protagonist must make a choice about who lives and who dies. Several other stories are populated by hunters and killers. What draws you to write about people in these situations?
This is a particularly tricky question to answer with dignity, coming off that last one!

I’m fascinated by the clash between utilitarian tactics – this is what we need to do to win – and the deontological imperative – this is what’s right, and damn the circumstances. I feel like it drives so many problems in the real world. You can do the right thing, and lose. Or you can do the wrong thing, and win, and maybe accomplish greater good further down the line, using the power you earned. But at what price?

I’m drawn to this archetype: the character who is gifted with and cursed by the ability to make hard choices. But I don’t think it’s an ability people should admire uncritically. In Kumara someone tries to cheat the choice, driven by love, but her cheat is arguably more monstrous than the problem itself. In this story Anna plays the choice straight, twice, but…I’d be curious how many people think she made the right decision. She accepted a monster’s rules – maybe the real hard choice is to reject the atrocity at any cost.

Constructing Sophie’s Choice scenarios in fiction is very tricky. If the choice is contrived, I think the author risks coming off as a bit of a sadist. I come back to these scenarios because I think they hurt characters in fascinating ways, but I do worry that I’m glorifying them too much, especially when they involve real people and real tragedies. I obsessed over research on Al-Anfal, and even still, I’m prepared to be called out on my handling of it.

This all sounds very thinky! I care about the pain and strength people show in impossible situations. And I’m queasily fascinated by the idea that certain kinds of agonizing, terrible problems could become strengths under extreme conditions.

You’ve said of your studies, “Cognitive science has unearthed a constellation of enigmas…” How has the study of cognitive science affected your writing?
Sometimes it’s very obvious – like the role of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in “A Tank Only Fears Four Things.” A lot of the time it’s subtle. I think the most important thing I learned was this: people believe a lot of things they don’t know they believe, beliefs we can detect in the lab through subtle behavioral and neurological techniques.

That’s important because – if someone comes to me and says ‘you know, this thing you wrote was kind of racist’, or ‘I feel like you are making casual use of a terrible problem that really hurt a lot of people, and that’s not very respectful’, I can’t say ‘oh, but I meant well!’ Good intentions aren’t a shield. Everybody means well, but that doesn’t prevent them from doing (or writing) intermittently awful things. We all carry baggage – invisible programming we pick up from our environments.

I ran simulations of racial bias in police shootings for many years. Everyone who walked into that lab genuinely wanted to be a good, egalitarian human being. But that didn’t stop them from making very, very bad decisions with a gun in their hand. Our brains are vast and complex, and we can’t consciously access a lot of what’s happening in there, especially when we’re angry or stressed or afraid or just not thinking. We need to set aside shame and recognize that doing questionable things doesn’t make us fundamentally bad people – as long as we work to correct the harm.

Cognitive science taught me that I need to be open to the possibility that people who call me on a bad decision might understand what I’m doing better than I do. The human mind is crammed with self-serving heuristics.

I really encourage everyone to read up on the findings of social and cognitive psychology. While all social science should be treated with healthy skepticism until it’s been thoroughly replicated, I think there’s a lot there worth knowing.

You’re an instructor at the Alpha Workshop for Young Writers! How cool is that?

It’s very cool! I attended the workshop as a seventeen-year-old student in ’06. It changed my life. I met a lady – whose wonderful fiction you can read in a recent issue of Apex, look for “Insurrection in Silk” – and I learned how to write and submit short fiction. The Alpha alumni community has been a wonderful source of critiques and camaraderie.

We get by on donations and grants, and we’re all-volunteer, so if you want to pitch in, your money will help a young student meet tuition.

Congratulations on your 3­ book contract with Tor! Wow! Can you give us a sneak peek, or are we out of luck until The Traitor Baru Cormorant comes out in fall 2015?
Thank you! I’m excited and humbled, and I hope I don’t make a mess of it. You could always read “The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Her Field-General, and Their Wounds,” the short story in Beneath Ceaseless Skies which inspired the novel…but for better or worse, I must warn you that the short story spoils the first novel’s ending. You might consider that a mercy.

My agent pitched The Traitor Baru Cormorant as “Game of Thrones meets Guns, Germs, and Steel.” It’s the story of a young woman who decides the only way to save her home from a colonizing power is to become shadow ruler of the known world.

 

Shimmer #20 Interview: Laura Pearlman

Laura Pearlman
Laura Pearlman

Tell us a little about how “Why I Hate Zombie Unicorns” came to be.
I wish I could take credit for inventing the concept of a zombie unicorn, but I actually encountered it in a blog post lamenting the fact that there were no zombie unicorn stories. The story’s ending came to me almost immediately (although it took me some time to figure out that it should be the end, not the beginning) and the rest flowed from there.

Zombie unicorns don’t actually seem that bad (at least, to me). What about the following undead mythological beasts? Feel free to rank them from least to most terrible, and talk a little about why: zombie manticore, zombie dragon, zombie tooth fairy.
Zombie dragons would just be pathetic. They wouldn’t be able to fly, breathe fire, or do magic. Most would probably wind up trapped in their own lairs. Any that did manage to shamble down from their mountains into civilization would be easy to avoid — the larger ones wouldn’t be able to fit through doors, and none of them would be able to climb stairs. They’d still pose some risks: they’d be traffic hazards, for one thing, and of course there’s always that one idiot who has to climb up the zombie dragon’s back and take a selfie. So zombie dragons wouldn’t be allowed to roam free; local Animal Control departments would round them up.

After a while, you’d start seeing TV commercials featuring black-and-white photographs of these once-majestic creatures languishing in captivity while Sarah McLachlan sings mournfully off-screen. Then the debates would start. What’s an appropriate habitat for a zombie dragon?  What — and how much — should you feed a creature with an insatiable appetite for living flesh? Should they be euthanized? People would write long hyperbolic rants, call each other nasty names, and defriend and unfollow each other on all the social media platforms. Eventually, the dialogue would degenerate even further into a seemingly endless stream of horrible puns about dragon flame wars.

Zombie manticores would be less controversial but more problematic. They’d move more slowly than standard manticores, and their venom-shooting range would be reduced, but the venom they shot would be zombie venom. They’d create human zombies, and those would be the real threat.

A zombie Tooth Fairy would be the most devastating, and the creepiest. Actually, the Tooth Fairy is pretty creepy even without being a zombie. She buys children’s body parts! And parents facilitate these transactions. They tell their kids it’s perfectly fine for a total stranger to creep into their rooms at night and rummage around their beds while they sleep, as long as she leaves some money under the pillow afterwards. Everyone knows about this, and no one thinks there’s anything wrong with it. It’s practically a Shirley Jackson story already.

The Zombie Tooth Fairy would appear in the bedroom of a child who’d lost a tooth, just like the regular Tooth Fairy. But instead of gliding silently to the child’s bed and reaching ever-so-delicately under the pillow, she’d lurch towards the bed moaning “TEEEEETH, TEEEEETH”. Most of the time, she’d receive a tooth (handed to her by a parent waiting for her in the child’s room, hurled at her by a frightened child, or found under a pillow) and leave without incident. If no detached tooth was available, she’d stick around long enough to sense the teeth inside the child’s head and — well, I’ll spare you the details, but she’d acquire them. All of them.

Imagine you’re a parent. Monday night, your child is fine. Tuesday morning, he’s a zombie. Tuesday afternoon, he’s been kicked out of school for violating some ridiculous zero-tolerance no-biting policy you’ve never even heard of.  You try to reason with the principal. Sure, you say, your son has recently developed the somewhat annoying habit of clamping his mouth onto people’s arms or legs and making chewing motions, but he’s not actually biting. He can’t bite because he has no teeth. The principal is unconvinced. Eventually, you decide to quit your job and home-school. Your friends begin to avoid you. You plunge into poverty, loneliness, and despair.

Do you have any favorite comedians?
I think Tig Notaro is hilarious. And I like just about everyone connected in any way to the Daily Show, and Mike Birbiglia. Other things that make me laugh on a semi-regular basis are Portlandia and web comics, especially xkcd, Basic Instructions, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, and Hyperbole and a Half.

I find funny people fascinating because I’m not that funny. Are there characteristics that you admire in others that you lack yourself? If you could borrow them for a day, what would you do?
I’ve seen a few videos of people parahawking — parasailing with birds of prey flying along. It looks amazing. I’d love to try it, but there’s just one problem: I’m a total coward when it comes to any kind of physical danger. I’d be too terrified to even consider doing something like that. So if I could borrow a characteristic for a day, I’d book a parahawking trip and borrow fearlessness. I’d also appreciate it if you could throw in an extremely high tolerance for pain, just in case.

If you could be in a book club with a historical or futural person, who would it be and what would you read?
Douglas Adams. Because who wouldn’t want to hang out with Douglas Adams? We’d read SFF and mysteries and nature books.

end_of_story

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Shimmer #20 Interview: Sam J. Miller

Sam J. Miller
Sam J. Miller, with Wood

Tell us a little about how “Allosaurus Burgers” came to be.
I wanted to write a story about the moment where a child realizes their parent is human, and fallible. It’s such a heartbreaking and universal step, when you stop believing that your parents can answer every question and always keep you safe.

Also, I love dinosaurs. A lot. And dinosaurs make every dramatic fact about the human condition more dramatic.

Your family ran a butchershop for a while. Do you have any interesting stories from growing up in that environment?
Well, the town butcher knows ALL the gossip, and cutting meat alongside my father was where I first learned that everyone has a fascinating story to tell. Which happens to be one of the most important rules of writing fiction. The man who lived in the swamp and only ever bought hot sauce, which he put on the worms that were his main food. The dowager movie star hiding from the world. The immigrant couple who made their living picking up bottles and cans. The butch dyke who worked for my dad and taught me how to sell food stamps when I was twelve years old. My dad treated them all with the same respect, AND he told me all the juicy gossip. I mean, back story.

My good friend Tim Fite also worked as a butcher when he was a teenager, and he said something that really rang true for me – there’s something very important about masculinity that a young man can learn by being covered in blood all day every day. There’s something very primal and horrific about working with meat. We’re all made out of it, after all. Like me, he became a vegetarian shortly after, and like me he still is.

How did you first get involved with social justice and resources for the homeless?

I was a teenaged communist, and coming of age as a gay man made me pretty attuned to the horrors of patriarchy. I’ve always been an activist or at least a shit-talker about issues like war, corporate power, workers’ rights, animal liberation. But it’s funny – I was never particularly drawn to housing as an issue. And then I was working as a community organizer around immigrant rights work, and I kept hearing great stuff about this organization Picture the Homeless. And I was lucky enough to take a night course in community organizing with folks from the organization, and learned more on my cigarette breaks talking with PTH members than I did in the class itself. So when they were hiring, I jumped at the chance.

You work at an organization that was started by two homeless men. Can you talk about your work there, and maybe where you’d like to see yourself making the most impact?

My work at Picture the Homeless focuses on bringing people without homes together to fight back against the problems that impact them. We don’t think homeless people need advocates – they’re the experts on homelessness, and they have the anger to fight back and win. We provide the space and resources and support to create change around the many bad policies they have to deal with. A big part of our work focuses on challenging stereotypes and misconceptions about homelessness. People want to frame the issue as one of substance abuse and mental illness, but plenty of wealthy people have substance abuse and mental illness issues! Homelessness is about poverty, and gender, and the lack of decent-paying jobs, and institutional racism, and a whole host of other systemic issues. Homeless people are already living in a dystopia. It’s like the William Gibson quote about the future already being here, but not evenly distributed. I’m very fortunate to have this perspective of working so close to the issue for so long. It can be really emotionally draining at times, as is true of any situation where you’re exposed to massive, cruel, wanton, unnecessary injustice, but we have also won a lot of really huge concrete victories that are helping to turn the tide.

Do you have a favorite interview question? Have you ever been asked it? How would you answer it?
OOOOOOoooooooooooooooooooooh OK I’m not saying that I used to fantasize about being interviewed by Rolling Stone when I was a teenager ALL THE TIME. But I totally did. And one of the questions I wanted to be asked was what fictional character I would most want to be. So go ahead. Ask me that question.

What fictional character would you most want to be?  
All the villains. Lady Macbeth. Maleficent. Neuromancer. Mrs. Coulter, from His Dark Materials. Grendel. Prince Zuko, from Avatar: the Last Airbender. President Laura Roslin and Mrs. Dalloway. They’re not villains, but that’s okay. Some of my best friends are not villains.

How does it feel to win a motherfucking Shirley Jackson Award?

Pretty fricking awesome. And not just because Shirley Jackson is pretty fricking awesome. And not just because so many of my hero(in)es have won it – Karen Joy Fowler, Jeffrey Ford, Kelly Link, Peter Watts, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Lucius Shepard, Laird Barron, Ellen Datlow…

It’s also awesome because my story “57 Reasons for the Slate Quarry Suicides” (Nightmare Magazine, December 2013) was super gay, and I know I’m not the only queer writer who sometimes feels nervous about writing shit that’s super gay, because what if straight people don’t connect with it emotionally because of the gayness? (homophobes aside; I’m not worried about what they think, they can suck a rock for all I care). So to do something that engages queerness so directly, in a way that felt kinda scary for me when it was finished and on the page, and have it get such a positive response from so many people, and then win a motherfucking Shirley Jackson Award, made me feel really good about my ability to find an audience for the particular fascinations and fucked-up places I want to explore in my fiction. ALSO I GOT A ROCK! All the nominees got a little rock that says “Shirley Jackson Awards 2013,” suitable for stoning someone.

ALSO – BECAUSE I AM AN ASSHOLE BROTHER – I FORGOT TO THANK MY LITTLE SISTER SARAH WHEN I ACCEPTED MY AWARD. Sarah, I love you a billion, and your love for me and my work has made a huge difference at a bunch of crucial moments when I was feeling pretty bad about things. SO THANK YOU!

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Shimmer #20 Interview: Eden Robins

Tell us a little about how “Ellie and Jim vs. Tony the Nose” came to be.

Eden Robins
Eden Robins

I have it on good authority that the afterlife is, indeed, an automat. From there, it was just research research research. Non-fiction is easy.

Your website is full of delectable-looking recipes. Care to share one with us? (Offal recipes are encouraged.)
Well, I’m allergic to almost everything delicious, and at first I adopted the philosophy of “complaining all the time.” Then I tried “optimism,” which I usually try to avoid, but in this case, it led me to all kinds of creative foods. Oh and scotch. I never would have become a scotch drinker if it wasn’t for my gluten problem.

You’re probably referring to my recipe for chicken hearts (which is oddly popular in google searches), but I’m not totally satisfied with that one (Rubbery, blech). I’m gonna go with my gluten-and-dairy-and-egg-free bourbon apple pie with bacon lattice. Here’s a linky-loo: http://www.monkeythumbs.com/2013/04/pie/

How did you get started/discover the world of Tuesday Funk…
My dear friend Bill Shunn brought me into the fold of Tuesday Funk as a reader. My first reading was during the Great Blizzard of ’11 to a packed crowd of three people. Then, when Bill abandoned Chicago like the cruel, heartless fiend that he is, I applied to take over his co-hosting duties. Live lit shows can be pretty dull, so we like to keep things short and lively and liberally lubricated with booze.

…and how can we make our Tuesdays funkier?
Have you tried booze?

Once upon a time you edited Brain Harvest (RIP). Did being an editor change how you think about your writing, or fiction in general?
Being an editor of Brain Harvest was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my writing… uh… “career.” We never had any idea what we were doing. It was a lesson in diving into something new without fretting too much ahead of time.  Bonus: it gave me a patina of coolness that I absolutely did not deserve. I have a lot of respect for magazines that can stay solvent… my parents kept asking me when the money was going to start rolling in. Sadly, the money only ever rolled out. Nevertheless, I hope one day to resurrect BH and do something new and cool with it.

Much in the same way that everyone should work in the food industry at least once, every writer should read slush. It is grueling and enlightening and it gives you perspective… something that writers are generally lacking.

Do you have a favorite interview question? Let’s pretend you can pose it to someone – who would you ask and why?
I like when authors talk honestly about their biggest failures and regrets. Not like in a job interview, where they ask for your biggest flaw and you act sheepish but say something like “I’m too… honest.” (Guilty!) I’m talking REAL failures. We don’t talk about failure enough, and plus… other people’s failures make me feel better about myself.

 

Shimmer #20 Interview: Jenn Grunigen

Author Jenn Grunigen
Author Jenn Grunigen

Tell us a little about how “The Seaweed and the Wormhole” came to be.
Sometimes, I find story origins difficult to pinpoint, because they’re often a convergence of too many ideas (or emotional spurs) to reliably recall in whole (it’s also possible that my memory likes to play and seek/I’m forgetful).   But when I think of “The Seaweed and the Wormhole” I think of two things: progressive metal, and consumption.

Consumption, because I worry about losing myself.  Relinquishing myself to other people.  It’s the paranoid fear of someone who’s inexorably, obsessively herself, yet sometimes also someone who breaks and drifts.  I am very much me, but those obsessive tendencies that make up my me-concentrate, my undiluted self, occasionally turn outward — and in turn, stretch me with their inverted gravity.  Their dark energy.

In other words, “The Seaweed and the Wormhole” is me.  And it is not.

I think of progressive metal, because I listened to Opeth’s album “Ghost Reveries” nonstop while writing the story.   “Ghost Reveries” draws up a  grim, yet elegant, yet tragic and feral, world from its marshy heart—all things that tend to shove me into a state of furious quilldriving, so I think “Ghost Reveries” inherently contained my own personal story-bones.   If I could call upon a single musical catalyst for  “The Seaweed and the Wormhole,” I might mention the song “Beneath the Mire.”  But in the end, it’s only a piece of the spine.

You write poetry as well, and “The Seaweed and the Wormhole” has a lyrical, almost epic quality. Do you think writing poetry has affected how you write fiction?
Yes.  Yes, a million times.  When I write, no matter what I’m writing,  the rhythm has to feel right in my gut.  The words have to be right definitively, and intuitively.  Words should slosh around the reader’s throat, functioning as surface-level scum, bright and compelling as duck weed, but deep enough that the reader can plunge their head under and get more from the story.  This is often how it is in poetry, each word carrying a thousand times more weight than the simple poundage of its letters.   Obviously, my stories have more room to breathe, but I try to shape them with a similar poetic density.

However,  the choices I make are because I’m a drummer as much as because I’m a poet.   My poetself, my drumself, my storyself—all these parts of me are too tangled to pull apart .  Obviously, I’m to blame for this.  But you could also point a finger at my education, though that would ultimately still be dumping the blame on me (which I’m totally fine with), because I (with the help of a number of wise professors) designed my own degree: Percussive Wordcraft and Narrative Drumming, which was basically an interdisciplinary study of words and rhythm, and their power over storytelling.

Have you ever been to a swamp? If not, and you could go to one, which swamp would you visit?
I have, though none quite like the one in “The Seaweed and the Wormhole,”  which is a swamp of the North American south — which is exactly the kind I would visit, if given the chance.

Why drums?
I suppose my answer to that question turns on the context of the question.  My current self would say I find them more evocative, more wild and cut-loose, than any other instrument.   They just feel right.  The percussive cosmos contains infinite pieces and endless exploration,  because just about anything can become a drum.  I also find that drumming appeals to both my primal core self, and my single-minded, obsessive and frighteningly driven and organizational side. I like to drum with chaos, and a fuckton of thunder, but I also find a lot of pleasure in repetition, hemiolas, odd time signatures, polyrhythms,  and metronomic practice (aka, pleasurable torture).

But if the question was directed to my nine-ish year-old self?  No idea.   Possibly all the reasons I already mentioned drove me to percussion instinctively.  But maybe I just wanted to terrorize my parents (and at first, they were a little terrified of the, uh, noise; with time, however — and much patience on their part — I think I’ve, hopefully, shown them the finer subtleties of hitting things, even (especially!) as a metal drummer).

Can you explain a little about the kind of music you play – its inspiration and sound?
I play in a number of bands/projects, but the main one is Moss of Moonlight.  We call ourselves neofolk metal, a sound that attempts to evoke the earth both viscerally and narratively (especially our bioregional home of Cascadia). There’s a lot of shadow and unshaped force to be heard, which I suppose is to be expected of a band that also has one foot dug firmly into the muck of black metal (its new earth-based evolution, and never it’s always outdated face of bigotry, hatred, racism, etc).  But it’s not all growls, blastbeats and speedpicking; our music contains just as much subtly, quiet tension, peace, and — believe it or not — raw joy.  Sometimes (oftentimes, actually), we even forsake the growls for singing.

Have you ever played any other instruments? If you could, which would you most like to learn to play?
I play a lot of percussive instruments besides the drum set (though not always well), but outside that giant sphere, no, not really.  I can pretend to play piano—horribly.  I also pretend at singing, with slightly better results.

But if I were to choose another instrument to play, however….hm.  I’d like to say I’d pick an instrument less recognized, a little off the beaten path — like a  bone flute, or a prillar horn — but I already know I’d go with the bass.  A good bass player can jerk my emotional heartstrings occasionally even better than a good drummer (good drummers sometimes just make me jealous, ha!).  I like feeling music in my gut — the bass is pretty damn good at achieving that, and I’d like to take that power into my own hands.  Next up after the bass would probably be the hammered dulcimer.

 

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Author Interview: Jeff VanderMeer

Tell us how “Fragments from the Notes of a Dead Mycologist” came about.
I was at San Luis park, took photos of lots of fungi then started to build a story around them. There are a couple of elements that echo little bits of ANNIHILATION although the stories are not connected.

Wonderbook recently published; tell us how this amazing book came to be.
THE STEAMPUNK BIBLE for Abrams Image was very successful. They had wanted to do a creative writing book for a while. When I pitched the project based on the Shared Worlds teen  writing camp, they asked if I would consider doing a general writing book instead. I jumped at the opportunity because I knew it would be full color coffe table book. And they were willing to give me complete creative control over text , images and layout. The ability to realize the vision fully meant it could be a very layered book that you can dip into or read straight through. I am very happy with the reception of it.

What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
THE BOOK OF MIRACLES from Taschen books.

What’s in your iTunes/Spotify/8-track lately?
We Are Wolves. The latest Arcade Fire. I have also done a lot of listening to Three Mile Pilot and Lloyd Coles last two albums.

What’s your favorite Ray Bradbury book/story?
As a kid I remember SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. Can’t really think of a single story that stands it as there are so many good ones.