July 14th, 2014

dragonfly

An Unlikely Interview with Rhonda Eikamp

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.