An Unlikely Interview with Polenth Blake
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Originally published at Unlikely Story. You can comment here or there.

On Shine Wings is lovely and poetic piece. For me [editor A.C. Wise] reading it was akin to viewing a series of snapshots from a dream. Could you talk a bit about where the imagery came from, or how the story originated and developed for you?

Culture plays a big part in colour language. Some colours are considered different in some languages, but the same in others. Some languages may focus more on whether a colour is light or dark, over whether it’s red or blue. It led me to think about how colour might be described for people who often see the world through the eyes of bees. For a bee, dark things are likely to be predators, such as bears stealing their honey. Bright things are flowers. That matters a whole lot more than whether those colours are shades of red.

From there, I considered if words might change depending on whether things had always been that colour. It matters if a flower is always a light colour, or if it only becomes light when it’s dying. This might matter less when describing something that can be painted, like a ship, over something alive, like a human.

So the story formed around the colours and the meaning behind them.

According to the author bio on your website, you have pet cockroaches, which makes you the first Unlikely Entomology author to openly admit to living with insects on purpose. Did the cockroaches influence the writing of On Shine Wings? Have they, or an interest in bugs in general, influenced your work in other ways, or is your professed love of invertebrates a stronger influence?

I’m afraid the cockroaches aren’t big on the idea of flying, and would likely find space rather horrible. They like warmth, apples and waking people up in the night by throwing their water bowls around.

My interest in invertebrates does find its way into a lot of stories. I’ve written about giant squid, scorpion aliens and sentient beetles. There isn’t an invertebrate I don’t like.

Authors are notorious for working strange jobs. Stephen King was a janitor and J.D. Salinger worked as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

I worked for a while as a conservation volunteer, which included some contract work for farms. One of the team’s jobs was putting up a fence for a small organic farm. They needed a fence to divide the cow field and the wood where the free-range chickens lived, because European Union rules stated there must be a fence.

To which we replied, “You know chickens can fly, right?”

This didn’t matter. The rules only stated there must be a fence of a certain height, not that it had to actually contain the chickens. So we put up the fence, and everyone was happy. The chickens got a new perching spot. The EU got its fence. As long as the politicians never meet a chicken, all will be well.

I’ve not yet written a story about chickens or fences.

We all have our favorite authors, some of whom everyone has heard of, and some of whom are relatively obscure. Who is one of the more obscure writers you love? What do you love about their work? Tell us which story or novel of theirs we should drop everything to read right now.

I like Emily Jiang’s work, and think she’ll be one to watch. Her short story “The Binding of Ming-tian” was the first I read, about footbinding. She also has a lot of poetry out.

We all start somewhere, and the learning curve from first publication is a steep one. What’s your first ever published work, and how do you feel about it now?

The first story someone paid to publish was “Carousel Princess”. I still like the piece, though it was an early lesson in how certain works are considered not-a-story, and get a harsh reaction based on that. I tend to hedge my bets now by listing such work under flash fiction/prose poetry, and letting the reader decide what they want to call it. People tend to judge it then by whether they like it, not whether it’s correctly labelled as a story or not.

What else are you working on have coming up you want people to know about?

I’ll have a story called “After the Rain” in Lackington’s next year. I’m also working on a cozy mystery novel with a fairy godmother sleuth, which will be out some time next year.


An Unlikely Interview with Will Kaufman
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Originally published at Unlikely Story. You can comment here or there.

Coping with Common Garden Pests uses the conceit of a home-grown gardening manual to tell a post-apocalyptic story, a rather unique twist on the genre. What came first, the format or the story idea? Did you always know the story needed to be told this way, or did you start with a more traditional narrative structure?

This story actually came from listening to the Nightvale podcast. I love the way Fink, Cranor, and their crew manage to tell grand stories through a single voice, and I was toying with some way of doing something similar. I came up with the idea of a sort of post-apocalyptic, NPR-affiliate, radio gardening show as a format that would allow a single voice to tell a larger story from a unique perspective. Of course, as soon as I sat down, I wrote a short story instead.

I adapted the format the way I did because I’ve been reading a lot of older SF/F/W stories, and I’m fascinated with the way those stories established authenticity by presenting the text as having been drawn from some sort of diary, letter, or other ‘found’ source. I wanted to work with the story-as-artifact trope, because I’m fascinated with the concept of authenticity. So, “Coping with Common Garden Pests.”

According to your blog, you made your first three professional sales (including Coping with Common Garden Pests) in rapid succession. Do you now believe in the axiom that good things come in threes, and has your worldview been fundamentally altered? With the high you must be on from this success, what plans (if you can tell us without having to kill us) do you have for immanent world domination?

If I say anything out loud about the rule of three or any arrangements I may or may not have made over salt and entrails, the whole deal’s off, and I think a bunch of migratory birds might die. I’m not entirely sure, I was too drunk on fermented goat’s blood to read the fine print.

As far as future plans…I’m just plugging away. I’m hoping I can finish a novel at some point, and I’m hoping I can write more stories, maybe publish a collection eventually. You know, just trying to be a writer.

Authors are notorious for working strange jobs. Stephen King was a janitor and J.D. Salinger worked as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

I’ve had a few odd jobs, but really the strangest was working as a QA tester for a major video-game console manufacturer. My job was to try and break the operating system – all the crap that made the console a “multimedia powerhouse” but didn’t have anything to do with playing games. The things I did weren’t strange in themselves…other than testing the efficacy of the porn filter on the web browser, which process has left me with certain mental scars.

The job was strange because it was my first introduction to being a very small part of a very large corporation. We were very far removed from the decision makers, both in terms of how many strata of management lay between us and them, and our physical and mental separation by an ocean and a language. That meant our group was this sort of self-contained little tumor festering away in the second-smallest toe of a larger body, and we had our own little ecosystem of weirdos.

What I took away from that job that’s been relevant to my writing was the first-hand experience of that immense internal separation. I think we often look at companies, campaigns, organizations, armies, conspiracies, or whatever else as being these centrally-controlled organisms that act with a single will. But what looks like organization from the outside is often actually a mass of barely connected, vestigial limb-things flailing around in some vague proximity to each other while some nodule up near the top takes credit or assigns blame for the results of that flailing. In practice, organization is often a retrospective act: the identification of particular motions of chaos that are then assigned a causality.

And that’s actually not a bad way of thinking about writing a story. So…yeah, I don’t know. I guess it helped.

Oh, also the weirdos. Meeting weirdos is good for your writing.

One of the perennial points of contention in the world revolves around education -- who should get educated (and to what degree), what should be taught, who should be excluded. Meanwhile, children in their classrooms ask, “Why do I need to know this?” Tell us one obscure thing you learned in school that you think is important, and why.

Oh, gods. I’m sure there’s a really poetic answer I could give. In the end, my teachers stuck with me more than the specifics of my lessons. They are part of the topography of the slope in my brain down which the marble of thought must roll. I can’t calculate a Lorentz contraction anymore, but that doesn’t make my high school physics teacher any less important to me.

What I learned in school were the things around the facts and figures. Maybe if I’d learned those instead, I’d have a paying job.

We all have our favorite authors, some of whom everyone has heard of, and some of whom are relatively obscure. Who is one of the more obscure writers you love? What do you love about their work? Tell us which story or novel of theirs we should drop everything to read right now.

This list could go on for a long while, but one author who immediately stands out is Patrik Ouredník, and his wonderful Europeana. Europeana is a history of Europe in the 20th century, but one that abandons completely all the rules and structures of normal historical texts in favor of a rhizomatic approach, where progression from one topic to the next occurs by free-association rather than causal or temporal order.

I love the tension of ambivalence, so for me one of Ouredník’s best tricks in this book is the way he elicits emotional response. Ouredník packs all the horror, triumph, absurdity, and transcendence of a hundred years of history into 120 pages, and it keeps you on your toes.

I’m honestly not sure if everyone should drop everything and read Europeana right now, but if anyone is interested in spending 120 pages with something strange and enlightening…

We all start somewhere, and the learning curve from first publication is a steep one. What’s your first ever published work, and how do you feel about it now?

My first ever published story was “Project,” which came out in Identity Theory in 2009. It feels like a lot longer than five years ago. I still like that story. It still feels personal, and when I read it I remember how good it felt to write it. I was in grad school, the first time, and literally just sat down and churned “Project” out in an afternoon. The published draft is almost identical to the first.

It’s formally not that different from what I do now, although there’s a chance I do it now with more intention, since I’ve read a whole lot more, and devoted a lot more time to thinking about writing.

I can definitely see where “Project” is clunky, where it falls short or doesn’t flow quite right. Where I could have emphasized or cut. But I don’t think I could tell you exactly how I’ve changed as a writer since then. Whatever ways I’ve improved, or whatever ways I’ve gotten worse, they’re all in the warp, not in the weaving.

The only real practical difference is this: Writing is so much harder for me now than it was then.

What else are you working on have coming up you want people to know about?

Well, I have a story coming out in Lightspeed at some point, which is a fun little yarn about the thing that lives in the wishing-well. I have no clue when that story will be out, but I keep a list of my publications at www.kaufmanwrites.com, and post updates about publishing and other things at willarium.wordpress.com. I’m also very annoying on Twitter, @specwill. If anyone’s interested in what’s coming, those are the best places to keep up.


Award Eligible Fiction 2014
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Originally published at Unlikely Story. You can comment here or there.

It’s that time of year again -- awards eligibility posts are going up all over the web, and folks in the speculative fiction community are pondering what to recommend and nominate this year. In the interest of providing an all-in-one handy resource, here’s what Unlikely Story has published in 2014.

Most of the stories we’ve published this year fall into the Short Fiction category for all the usual awards -- Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, Stoker, etc. Stories marked with a single asterisk (*) fall into the Novelette category according to Nebula Award rules. Stories marked with a double asterisk (**) are by Canadian authors, and also qualify for the Aurora Awards and the Sunburst Award, which is adding a short fiction category this year. If you happen to be one of our authors, and know of other country-specific (or otherwise-specific) awards you qualify for that you’d like us to mention, please drop us a line and let us know.

Unlikely Story #8: The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography -- February 2014

Something in Our Minds Will Always Stay by Barry King**
Ink by Mari Ness
Chilaquiles con Code by Mary Alexandra Agner
How My Best Friend Rania Crashed a Party and Saved the World by Ada Hoffmann**
Two Things About Thrand Zandy’s Technotheque by Gregory Norman Bossert

Unlikely Story #9: The Journal of Unlikely Cartography -- June 2014

How a Map Works by Sarah Pinsker
How to Recover a Relative Lost During Transmatter Shipping, In Five Easy Steps by Carrie Cuinn
The Occluded by Rhonda Eikamp
All of Our Past Places by Kat Howard
This Gray Rock, Standing Tall by James Van Pelt
The Cartographer’s Requiem by Shira Lipkin

Unlikely Story #10: The Journal of Unlikely Entomology -- November 2014

Coping With Common Garden Pests by Will Kaufman
On Shine Wings by Polenth Blake
Prism City Blues by Naim Kabir*
Meltdown in Freezer Three by Luna Lindsey
Miranda’s Wings by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Gemma Bugs Out by Victorya Chase
Bookends by Michael Wehunt


Announcing Unlikely Story #11: The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography
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Originally published at Unlikely Story. You can comment here or there.

We’re delighted to announce the Table of Contents for the upcoming Journal of Unlikely Cryptography, which you’ll be able to read right here on this very website in February 2015.

Jump Cut by Lauren C. Teffeau
Those Who Gave Their Island to Survive by Barry King
It’s Machine Code by Curtis C. Chen
The Confession of Whistling Dixie by Fiona Moore
The Joy of Sects by Joseph Tomaras
Dropped Stitches by Levi Sable

We can’t wait to share these stories with you. In the meantime, there’s plenty of fine fiction in our current issue, Unlikely Story #10: The Journal of Unlikely Entomology. Enjoy!


Journal of Unlikely Entomology Issue 10, November 2014
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Originally published at Unlikely Story. You can comment here or there.

Table of Contents

Coping With Common Garden Pests by Will Kaufmann
On Shine Wings by Polenth Blake
Prism City Blues by Naim Kabir
Meltdown in Freezer Three by Luna Lindsey
Miranda’s Wings by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Gemma Bugs Out by Victorya Chase
Bookends by Michael Wehunt
(Post)Script

Editors’ Note:

Thank you for joining us, dear readers. It is our pleasure to welcome you to the latest (and possibly last) issue of The Journal of Unlikely Entomology.

Our entomology issues have tended to appear in November, as of late. The dead month, the month of loss. This issue encapsulates the season, as all our stories happen to deal with loss in one form or another, particularly loss of family. Family is an expansive thing. For different people, it means different things — blood, marriage, choice. This issue of Unlikely Story explores all those permutations: the family you’re born into, the family you chose, and what it means to lose them.

In this issue you’ll find husbands coping with the loss of their wives, and a daughter coping with the loss of her mother. You’ll also find a woman learning to deal with a threat to her adopted alien family, and a son dealing with the alienating choices made by his mother. You’ll encounter a ship’s pilot, carrying on a family legacy, and a lonely man creating his own disturbing version of a family by imprisoning an innocent being.

At the heart of all these stories, you’ll find bugs. They are our staple, after all. Whether they creep or flutter, skitter, or crawl, they are close to our hearts. It’s not the number of legs or eyes that count when it comes to families, after all.

It’s who you miss when they’re gone.

Cover art by Andrew Ferneyhough

Temporarily Closed to Submissions
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Originally published at Unlikely Story. You can comment here or there.

Unlikely Story is currently closed to submissions. We’ll reopen in January for our Unlikely Academia Issue.

In the meantime, we’re catching up on submissions to the Unlikely Cryptography and Unlikely Coulrophobia Issues. We’ve now responded to all Cryptography subs, and we’re working our way through those we’re holding onto for a second look. We hope to make our final decisions and announce the table of contents soon. We’ve also started reading the Coulrophobia submissions, and we’ve responded to everything received on or before 10/4/2014.

Thank you to everyone who submitted work during these reading periods. Thank you as well for your patience as we respond. Both issues will be fabulous, we promise. Speaking of, our next Unlikely Entomology issue will be out later this month. We’re looking forward to sharing it with you.


Announcing Unlikely Story #10: The Journal of Unlikely Entomology
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Originally published at Unlikely Story. You can comment here or there.

We’re thrilled to announce the ToC for Unlikely Story #10: The Journal of Unlikely Entomology. In no particular order, the issue will feature…

Miranda’s Wings by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
Bookends by Michael Wehunt
Prism City Blues by Naim Kabir
Gemma Bugs Out by Victorya Chase
On Shine Wings by Polenth Blake
Coping With Common Garden Pests by Will Kaufman
Meltdown in Freezer Three by Luna Lindsey

Thank you again to everyone who submitted work for this issue. As so frequently happens, we had some tough choices to make here. Unlikely Story #10: The Journal of Unlikely Entomology will be out in November. We can’t wait to share these stories with you!

In the meantime, we continue to read submissions for Unlikely Story #11: The Journal of Unlikely Cryptography. The guidelines can be found here. We’ll be reading for our Unlikely Coulrophobia mini issue soon.


An Unlikely Interview with James Van Pelt
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Originally published at Unlikely Story. You can comment here or there.


In This Gray Rock, Standing Tall, a map literally and metaphorically leads your main character to a deeper connection with both his father and his son, and a new understanding of himself and his place in the world. Have you ever experienced a moment like that, where a physical object, or something someone left behind, completely changed your perception of that person, or yourself?

A lot of “This Gray Rock, Standing Tall” felt autobiographical. None of the events in the story are from memory, but a lot of the emotion of trying to connect with my father set the tone in the piece. He’s knee deep into Alzheimer’s, and I’ve spent a lot of time considering my relationship to him as he slips away. He’s in a care center right now, so the family has been going through the house we grew up in, preparing it for sale. My sisters found an old telescope of his, a giant brass and glass instrument that any self-respecting pirate would be glad to call his own. I’ve contemplated that telescope frequently since it turned up. Dad was an aeronautical engineer. He worked on many of the projects that were a part of the nation’s race to space. Holding that old telescope, thinking about how often he must have turned it to the stars before I was born, makes me see him as he must have been when he was young. I’m having a plaque made for it to hang on the wall below the telescope. It will read, “Jack Van Pelt, Watcher of the Skies.”

When you travel or visit a new area, are you the kind of person who likes to use a map (or GPS) to get to know the place, or do you prefer to explore and figure things out as you go along? Similarly, when it comes to fiction, do you outline, or do you start writing and find the story that way?

I have no sense of direction, so GPS is the science fictional future that I’m glad to be living in. But I’ve always loved maps. I particularly liked novels that had maps as the end pieces. The first fictional map I remember studying was the one in Ruth Gannet’s children’s book, MY FATHER’S DRAGON. I loved maps with unexplored areas, including the ones that read, “Here there be dragons.” Someone asked me about my writing process not long ago, and I told them that one part of the process I really enjoyed is when I start a new story. I type my name and address in the upper left, tab down to the middle of the page, think of a title (even if it will probably change later), and then pause before I plunge into the blank space below. That blank space is the map of unexplored territory. I have no idea what surprises await me there.

Authors are notorious for working strange jobs. Stephen King was a janitor and J.D. Salinger worked as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

I did temp work when I was in grad school. Most of the time is was secretarial, but I took a job for a week unloading a urea barge in the Port of Sacramento. The product came down the coast from Alaska in barges longer than a city block. At first, the urea, which are white, slightly sticky pellets, unloads by gravity onto conveyor belts. For a day, I manned a section of the belt with the urea pounding down from the containers above. The noise deafened and the dust blinded. Once the easy stuff was out, though, the rest had to moved with huge front-end loaders. They trained me on one, and for the next few days, I ran this giant machine inside the barge, grabbing bucket loads of the product and then dumping down to the conveyors. The wall of urea towered over the machine. The foreman told me to be careful not to undercut the wall, or the whole mess would come down, cover the front-end loader, and probably kill me. I spent my entire time on that job scared to death, and very, very sorry I’d taken it. It’s largest impact on my writing was to convince me I was better behind a desk or in a classroom than I was doing industrial labor.

One of the perennial points of contention in the world revolves around education — who should get educated (and to what degree), what should be taught, who should be excluded. Meanwhile, children in their classrooms ask, “Why do I need to know this?” Tell us one obscure thing you learned in school that you think is important, and why.

I teach high school and college English, so I think about education most of the time. In this era of standardized testing and common core standards, I keep coming back to what I thought were the two most important lessons I learned in high school. I don’t know if they are obscure — they feel obvious to me — but I don’t hear people talking about them. The first was that answers could be found. That lesson doesn’t have anything to do with math or science or grammar knowledge, but it’s what I got out of school. If I apply myself, and I continue looking, I can find answers. That one lesson has taken me a long way. The rest of my own education, I think, was about learning of different ways to think. I don’t remember much from my math classes, but I’m aware of mathematical thinking. I don’t remember much from science, but I know something about the scientific method. I can’t recall names and dates, but I see history as an interrelationship of forces. Those were my important lessons. High school, at least, seems to me to be the place where we learn there are answers to be found, and that there are different, logical ways to look at the world.

We all have our favorite authors, some of whom everyone has heard of, and some of whom are relatively obscure. Who is one of the more obscure writers you love? What do you love about their work? Tell us which story or novel of theirs we should drop everything to read right now.

Once again, not obscure, but I think under read, is Robert Holdstock, most specifically, his novel MYTHAGO WOOD. I’ve worn out a couple of copies, and I’ve given away several. Interestingly enough, MYTHAGO WOOD is also about a son trying to understand an absent father. “This Gray Rock, Standing Tall,” owes a lot to that book. I loved the narrative voice in it. I loved how I was half way through it before I realized that besides being a mystery, it was a dynamite romance, and I identified with its theme of mythic resonances. It’s a great book. Maybe the best epilogue ever.

We all start somewhere, and the learning curve from first publication is a steep one. What’s your first ever published work, and how do you feel about it now?.

My first story sale was a piece in a small magazine named ABERATIONS. It was called “No Small Change.” I still like the story. It was about sex, growing up, mythical superpowers and real-world powers. I think it was published in 1990, when I was thirty-six. I’d been teaching English, both writing and literature, for eight years, and I was into my first year of a two-year graduate program in creative writing. I wasn’t exactly a stranger to the written word by then. I’ve grown a lot since, but I think that story still stands up. I’m not embarrassed to call it my own. There’s a bunch of stories before that one, though, that I’m thoroughly happy have not seen the light of day.

What else are you working on have coming up you want people to know about?

I have a short story in the June Asimov’s. In the meantime, I’m working on a young adult science fiction/fantasy series. And, of course, I’m always writing more stories. I love the short form.

When James Van Pelt isn’t writing, he teaches high school and college English in Grand Junction, Colorado. His work has appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, Weird Tales and numerous other venues. His latest short story collection, Flying in the Heart of the Lafayette Escadrille, appeared in 2012. His wife and three sons think he tells a pretty good bedtime story.


An Unlikely Interview with Kat Howard
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Originally published at Unlikely Story. You can comment here or there.

Have you ever visited Station Island and the site known as St. Patrick’s Purgatory, which plays a central role in All of Our Past Places? If so, what was your experience going there? If not, do you plan to visit, and do you think your perception of the place will be colored by having written this story?

I’ve been to Ireland, but not to Station Island. I’d love to go — I’ve been fascinated by the place since I first learned about it, and I’m also very interested in pilgrimage sites and sacred places in general. I love the idea that there are places that connect us more closely to the numinous, where the act of going is in and of itself somehow special or sacred.

When you travel or visit a new area, are you the kind of person who likes to use a map (or GPS) to get to know the place, or do you prefer to explore and figure things out as you go along? Similarly, when it comes to fiction, do you outline, or do you start writing and find the story that way?

I am appallingly bad at navigation. I cannot read a map, and seem to have a particular talent for getting lost. So much so, that when I told people I was working on this story, there was this sort of shocked pause. Seriously, if we are ever going anywhere together, do not let me drive, even if we have a GPS.

Perhaps because I’m so bad at navigation, I also tend not to be an outliner. I write because I don’t know how the story ends, and I want to figure that out. Now, this is a technique that sometimes has its disadvantages -- I’ve had to do revisions where I started over from scratch, and for this story, I literally cut a draft apart and stapled it back together during a revision. I will also get to the end of a draft, especially of a longer project, and then reverse outline, to make sure that what I think happened in the story actually made it onto the page.

Authors are notorious for working strange jobs. Stephen King was a janitor and J.D. Salinger worked as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

This isn’t weird so much as unusual. I’m a former competitive fencer, and I filled in as an assistant coach while a friend was on vacation. Not bad in and of itself, but it was for a beginning youth class, so a room full of ten-year-olds with swords, which is an interesting set of people to be in charge of. And yes, I’ve put fencing in my writing, most directly in “The Calendar of Saints,” which was published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

One of the perennial points of contention in the world revolves around education — who should get educated (and to what degree), what should be taught, who should be excluded. Meanwhile, children in their classrooms ask, “Why do I need to know this?” Tell us one obscure thing you learned in school that you think is important, and why.

Well, I learned what and where St. Patrick’s Purgatory is.

It was sort of odd, all things considered, that I didn’t know before, (I’m Catholic, the bulk of my ancestry is Irish, and I’m a huge Shakespeare fangirl) but it was my first semester in grad school. I was TAing the Intro to Shakespeare course for the woman who eventually became my advisor, Rebecca Krug. She was lecturing on Hamlet, and explains the reason why Hamlet swears by Saint Patrick when talking to his father’s ghost — because of Saint Patrick’s Purgatory. I instantly became fascinated with the place — I wrote about it in grad school papers, read Seamus Heaney’s poems about it, Station Island, and once I started writing fiction, knew I wanted to set a story there. (I also love a good visit to the Underworld story.)

In terms of the world at large, is that important? No. But it reminds me that no matter how much you think you know about something, you can always learn something new. There are always things that we don’t see, so if you’re curious, ask questions, and keep on asking. And when you think about it like that, when you think about what parts of stories get told, and what parts of narratives get taught, and how those narratives are constructed, then it does become important.

We all start somewhere, and the learning curve from first publication is a steep one. What’s your first ever published work, and how do you feel about it now?

My first published work was the short story “A Life in Fictions,” in the anthology Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio. I am still proud of it, and it remains one of my favorite things that I’ve written.

What else are you working on have coming up you want people to know about?

I am very excited about the novella I have coming out in September. It’s called The End of the Sentence, and I cowrote it with Maria Dahvana Headley. It’s a haunted house story, full of mysterious letters from a prison inmate who may or may not be dead, or something worse. It has fairy tales, and mythologies, and writing it with Maria was the most fun I’ve had giving myself nightmares.

Kat Howard is the World Fantasy Award-nominated author of over twenty pieces of short fiction. Her work has been performed on NPR as part of Selected Shorts, and has appeared in Lightspeed, Subterranean, and Apex, among other venues. Her novella, The End of the Sentence, written with Maria Dahvana Headley, will be out in September from Subterranean Press. You can find her on twitter as @KatWithSword and she blogs at strangeink.blogspot.com.


An Unlikely Interview with Rhonda Eikamp
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Originally published at Unlikely Story. You can comment here or there.

The imagery of human hearts with maps in them is quite striking and lovely. Where did the idea for this central theme in The Occluded come from?

Though I hate to admit, it came from binge-watching House MD. I’d been thinking about Unlikely Story’s cartography theme for a while. I knew I wanted to use the idea of maps in a more metaphorical sense, in a modern setting. And then those wonderful CG effects came on the screen, dyes flowing through hearts, looking just like a river delta. I still had to discover what kind of “treasure” a heart map would show the way to, who would be looking for it and why.

When you travel or visit a new area, are you the kind of person who likes to use a map (or GPS) to get to know the place, or do you prefer to explore and figure things out as you go along? Similarly, when it comes to fiction, do you outline, or do you start writing and find the story that way?

I think there are two phases — a macro and a micro level — that would apply both to finding my way physically to a new location or when writing a story. I want to find my way there — and my way home — with a map (or that GPS, preferably with a nice male voice), so I need to know the beginning, middle and end. I work out a basic story outline. The end has to be there, it’s my way home, back out of the story, so I don’t get stuck inside it forever. But once I’m there, I want to be surprised. Details — the microstructure — come while I’m writing. Serendipity happens. While writing The Occluded I happened upon an article about the copyright traps used in maps up to the 60′s — it was by chance, I wasn’t researching the story at the time — and I knew I had to work it in somehow. And sometimes the details lead me off in new directions, so that by the time I hear “You have reached your destination” I’m somewhere I hadn’t planned to be, but that’s all right too.

Authors are notorious for working strange jobs. Stephen King was a janitor and J.D. Salinger worked as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

I spent a few months working in the natural history museum on my college campus back in the day. They somehow had the impression I was a biology major instead of languages. I just needed the money. I spent weeks typing up tags in Latin and threading them through the mouths of formaldehyde-soaked fish. I was about to have to start on the snakes when I quit. It did inspire a story recently though — a Cinderella pastiche, of all things.

One of the perennial points of contention in the world revolves around education — who should get educated (and to what degree), what should be taught, who should be excluded. Meanwhile, children in their classrooms ask, “Why do I need to know this?” Tell us one obscure thing you learned in school that you think is important, and why.

I’ve been an avid reader ever since slightly before I could read and so most of the things that interest me in life I’ve discovered and pursued on my own. Public libraries were the maps. I discovered a lifelong love of science fiction and fantasy by picking up books randomly in libraries. Two things from school that have influenced my life greatly and/or served me well respectively are languages and the ten-finger typing course I took in tenth grade. Not obscure, but not something I would have been exposed to by chance through a library.

Also, I don’t think we’ll ever see a school system where kids stay home and learn through the Internet, or at least I hope we don’t. One of the incidental effects of public education is socialization — not just kids being together, but kids learning together. It’s what we ought to be doing throughout our adult lives — learning more about life and the world together — and so I’m very opposed to home schooling.

We all have our favorite authors, some of whom everyone has heard of, and some of whom are relatively obscure. Who is one of the more obscure writers you love? What do you love about their work? Tell us which story or novel of theirs we should drop everything to read right now.

Probably not obscure since it’s been reissued, but underrated — I’d recommend The Watcher by Charles MacLean. The first few pages are not for the faint-hearted or dog-lovers, but it’s not what the rest of the book is about. Horror, paranormal or psychological thriller — I can’t even say what it is, but I couldn’t put it down.

We all start somewhere, and the learning curve from first publication is a steep one. What’s your first ever published work, and how do you feel about it now?

I have a two-humped curve — let me rephrase that. I started writing in the 90′s, published in some magazines that were the definition of obscure and some that were better-known, such as Space & Time, and then I quit for ten years. I don’t know if you would call this a writer’s block. It was a combination of getting a family going and seeing the rise of machine intelligence in the form of the Internet at around the same time. Magazines were ceasing print and going digital left and right and I felt very unmotivated by the idea that whatever I wrote would become ether. Does that make me a Luddite? Print is a beautiful, lasting thing — concrete and compact and there in your hand. If most households are like mine, where nothing’s ever thrown away, then I could always imagine someone in a hundred years finding a copy of that obscure small-press magazine in their great-aunt’s basement, reading a story of mine and being moved by it, which is the only real reason to write. I still feel funny about stories of mine that are published online. They’re children of a lesser god. But I’m working on it.

What else are you working on/have coming up you want people to know about?

By the time readers see this, I’ll have had a hand in the utter annihilation of science fiction, with a story called “The Case Of The Passionless Bees” in Lightspeed’s June issue Women Destroy Science Fiction. I also have fiction coming up in Phobos, The Golden Key, and the Fringeworks anthology Grimm and Grimmer: Black (that Cinderella pastiche). There’s a list of older stories available online at my blog. And I’ll always be watching Unlikely Story for their next quirky inspiring theme!

Rhonda Eikamp is originally from Texas and travelled a lot before settling in Germany, so her life often feels like an extended trip away from home, maps not included. When not writing fiction, she works as a translator for a German law firm, working her way through the labyrinthine maps of German legalese. Her stories can be found in Daily Science Fiction, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Lightspeed, with others available online through her blog at http://writinginthestrangeloop.wordpress.com.


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