Tuesday 20 February 2024

Micro-interview with Susan Taitel

Welcome, Susan Taitel, author of “The Rose Sisterhood” in The Future Fire #68, to join the micro-interviews season!


Art © 2024 Fluffgar
TFF: What does “The Rose Sisterhood” mean to you?

Susan Taitel: “The Rose Sisterhood” has the strongest ending of any story I’d written to that point. If I were not the author, I would think that the seed of the story was the ending and the rest had been written to bring the reader to that final moment and final line. In truth I started writing with only with the premise of the Beast’s invisible servants being ghosts of girls who had previously failed to break his curse.

TFF: If you were a mermaid, would you try to save shipwrecked sailors or to drag them down to your coraly kingdom?

ST: I strive to be helpful but I’m not a strong swimmer so I’d probably try to save the sailors but drag them down unintentionally.

TFF: What is your favourite example of hopeful, cosy or low-stakes SFF or horror?

ST: “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer is a great one. An AI that becomes self aware and able to break its programming but instead of going the Terminator route it uses its ability to hack websites to nudge people into making better choices for themselves. And all it wants in return is more cat pictures, very relatable.


Extract:

My Sisters and I await the next girl. She will be beautiful. We always are. We hope she’ll be the one to break the curse, that she will have the wherewithal to see our master as he truly is. To succeed where we all failed.

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at http://press.futurefire.net/2024/01/new-issue-202468.html.

Thursday 15 February 2024

Micro-interview with Laura Blackwell

We invited Laura Blackwell, author of “A Witch, a Wakening” in The Future Fire #68, to join our micro-interview series.


Art © 2024 Sarah Salcedo

TFF: What does “A Witch, a Wakening” mean to you?

Laura Blackwell: I wanted to play with the idea that we can learn from our dreams even if we don't know what they are. I feel that the protagonist is very brave and hopeful to want to keep on being her best self even when that isn't welcomed.

TFF: Have you ever used your own dreams as inspiration for your writing or art?

LB: Dreams do sometimes give me ideas, usually just images or notions that get me thinking. I'm honestly not sure if "A Witch, a Wakening" is one of them or not.

TFF: What are you working on next?

LB: I'm usually working on something short (right now, a retelling of Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter"), something long (right now, a suburban fantasy novel), and some querying (right now, an exoplanetary Gothic novel).


Extract:

“I cannot read it,” says the boy in a regretful tone. “It is not in my language.”

“It’s not in mine, either,” I say, and because this is a dream, it does not seem strange that I add, “but I can read it. It says ‘Witch’s House.’”


Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at http://press.futurefire.net/2024/01/new-issue-202468.html.

Monday 15 January 2024

New Issue 2024.68

“I have always loved playing around with words. I didn’t know it was called poetry. I was just an innocent kid messing around with words.”

—Benjamin Zephaniah, 1958–2023

Issue 2024.68

[ Issue 2024.68; Cover art © 2024 Cécile Matthey ] Short stories

Novelettes

Poetry

Download e-book version: PDF | EPUB

Sunday 14 January 2024

Interview with Sarah Day

We are delighted to host on our blog a conversation with Sarah Day, author of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and many other flavors of speculative fiction. Her work is heavily influenced by festival culture, body modification, non-traditional relationships, and scary ghosts. Sarah has been published in PseudoPod, Underland Arcana, The Future Fire (see “The Heart of the Party”), and many other fine places. She lives in the SF Bay Area with her cat. Connect with her at sarahday.org. Her novella, Greyhowler, is released today by Underland Press.


Rhia is a Courier, a transient messenger who freely travels the land without calling any town or port home.

The job suits her, for in a land ruled by the Temple, it is difficult to find your own way, especially when you have a Talent. Rhia's is water, and when she arrives in distant Cerretour to deliver a message, she finds a village wracked with suffering.

The well is dry. It hasn't rained. The only person who can save these villagers is missing. At night, a strange creature prowls the prairie. The villagers have a name for it: greyhowler.


The Future Fire: Greyhowler is both a story about freedom (from being tied to a place, from oppression) and being trapped (by secrets, by the past); can you tell us a bit more about how the story navigates these two seemingly contradictory states? Do you find a happy medium?

Sarah Day: I think a big topic in Greyhowler is illusion, or self-deception. Some of the major characters are trapped by the lies they tell themselves. Being trapped by their secrets, or their circumstances, is a side effect of self-delusion. I think this is how a lot of people are, honestly—we make choices that we believe are only from a sense of agency or self-determination, but we’re often reacting to influences and experiences in our history that we can’t escape, and maybe aren’t even aware of. 

Connecting our present-day actions to the experiences buried in our past can be a rich vein for personal development–and, in fiction, for plot and character work. For example, Rhia would love to only be a Courier and not have to address her upbringing in the Temple at all… but she can’t help the people in Cerretour without the skills she learned in her past. That’s where her inner conflict comes from, and it’s really fun to write. Some of my favorite parts of Greyhowler are where the characters lean hard one way, either rejecting their self-delusions or embracing them.

TFF: Do you already know what is going to happen in the next book in the series?

SD: I’ve written a couple of other books in this universe already; one about Rhia and her past, and one about two characters who don’t feature in Greyhowler at all. This universe is a land I visit when I want to write fantasy. I hope more of these books get to see daylight with an ISBN attached to them someday, but even if they don’t, I love the characters and have learned a lot from the experience.

TFF: Do you think that writing (and reading) speculative fiction—in particular fantasy that has sometimes been seen as pure escapism—can actually be an act of resistance?

SD: Absolutely! I think reading for “escapism” gets a bad rap, and that when we say we’re reading for escapism, we’re actually recharging our emotional batteries in a way that can contribute to our resilience. Charging the batteries is important for long-term fights.

I spent a lot of 2022 taking care of someone close to me who was going through cancer treatment. For a couple of months during chemo, all he wanted to do was watch YouTube videos of old boxing matches. Neither of us have ever been boxers or done any kind of martial art, so it’s not like we were watching for our education… but he found it galvanizing and encouraging. There was strong symbolic resonance for him to watch smaller guys take on larger guys and win—it was a clear metaphor for his fight against cancer. Was that pure escapism? I don’t think so.

TFF: Your short story “The Heart of the Party” both celebrates the anarchic joy of the free use of transformative technologies, and warns of its potential to aid in our repression by those in power. How do you see this tension?


SD: Speculative fiction uses imagined technology or magic to explore different manifestations of power. Exploring or subverting hierarchical power structures is something I write about a lot. Systems of power constantly seek to shore themselves up, to reinforce themselves. The Temple in Greyhowler and the state police apparatus in “The Heart of the Party” both require compliance and punish deviation with disproportionate severity, because the ability to punish with impunity is part of how they reinforce their legitimacy.

You might notice that the protagonists in both works are people who have a lot of privilege assigned to them by the dominant power structures and are trying to divest from those structures, with varying degrees of success. The theme of privileged people wrestling with the things they have but have done nothing to deserve, or trying to reconcile their privilege with others’ circumstances, shows up a lot in my writing.

TFF: Have you ever killed a character that you loved?

SD: Would I be a terrible person if I said I loved all my characters, even the bad guys? Every time one dies, I’ve killed someone I love. I don’t think I can write a believable character unless I can find them relatable somehow. I have to be a chameleon this way; each character I write has to have the strength of their own convictions. They might make terrible decisions, or do things I personally find morally indefensible, but have relatable motivations. Everyone’s morality is internally consistent. We’re each the hero of our own story.

At the end of Greyhowler, two characters discuss a third who has done terrible things, and whether actions like that can ever be understood or forgiven… I guess I think everything can be understood, even if it can’t be forgiven. To write a character well, I have to understand them, and by understanding them, I come to love them.

TFF: Thank you for being our guest, Sarah, we look forward to falling in love with the characters of the Greyhowler! Best of luck, and happy writing.


Greyhowler is out today, and can be bought here.

Thursday 11 January 2024

Micro-interview with Cécile Matthey

We’re joined again by TFF team member and old friend Cécile Matthey, artist of “Microseasons of the Dead” in The Future Fire #67.

Art © 2024 Cécile Matthey

TFF: How did you go about illustrating “Microseasons of the Dead”?

Cécile Matthey: I’ve been wishing to combine illustration and collage for a long time, and this is my first attempt! The concept of micro-seasons comes from Japan, so naturally I explored Japanese art for inspiration. I came across a beautiful19th-century drawing, showing a large wave. I decomposed it and used it as a frame around the hands full of stones, to evoke the river of the dead but also the cycle they have to go through, again and again.

TFF: Where is the place, physical or metaphorical, where you feel “at home”?

CM: I've always felt at home in libraries. I grew up surrounded by books, and I’ve always loved reading. What's more, they’re places where there's peace and quiet, which helps recharge my batteries. At school, going to the library was also a refuge. It was the only place where the other kids would leave me alone!

TFF: What is your favourite example of hopeful or fun speculative fiction (in any medium)?

CM: Terry Pratchett's Discworld and James Gurney's illustrations are my favourites. Otherwise, I've just started reading Toshikazu Kawaguchi's book Before the Coffee Gets Cold. It features a very special café, where customers can travel back in time, enjoying a cup of coffee. But there are rules to this journey: it won't change the present, and it lasts as long as the coffee is still hot. It sounds interesting! ;-)

TFF: Tell us about an artist whose work you're particularly enjoying at the moment?

CM: Visiting Neuchâtel's Museum of Natural History recently, I discovered the works by Philip Maire, a local artist who paints prehistoric animals on canvases he has collected at flea markets. It’s clever and fun.  Example below (my photo), and see more of his work at: https://ajour.ch/fr/story/303538/quand-des-vaches-et-des-dinosaures-paissent-dans-une-prairie-de-larc-jurassien.

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at http://press.futurefire.net/2023/10/new-issue-202367.html.

Tuesday 2 January 2024

Worlds; and writing; and worlds without writing

Guest post by Juliet Kemp

For me, at least in English, ‘language’ and ‘written language’ are very nearly the same thing—when I think of words I see them written down (perhaps partly due to the fact that I read absurdly young). But even among literate people that experience is far from universal; and even in our highly literacy-dependent culture not everyone is literate; and then there are plenty of cultures (past and present) whose traditions are primarily or entirely oral, with the written word an afterthought or non-existent.

None of which I was thinking about when I first began to write my novella Song, Stone, Scale, Bone. I started off with a mental image of a knight guiding a noble through a catacomb, in search of a magic bone… and then I thought: why? Not why they were going there (that was the magic bone, although admittedly at that point I wasn’t quite sure what that was for either), but why was Sir Cade a guide as well as a guard, and why was she using a song to orient herself?

Perhaps, I thought, there’s no map. Perhaps, even, there can’t be a map. Perhaps directions, in this world, are kept in purely oral form, as songs and rhymes, and Cade’s order of knights holds the responsibility of keeping those directions.

Perhaps, I thought, they don’t have writing at all.

It’s harder than you might think—as someone from a very literacy-heavy culture—to remember all the things that aren’t there if you don’t have writing. Signposts, for example. What about coins? Drawings but no words? Numbers? Ideograms don’t quite count as writing, so coins could have something on those lines. (I fudged this slightly by not describing the money Cade uses.)

Given Cade’s job, I spent a while thinking about maps—which are basically drawings—but the use and accuracy of maps even in Western culture has varied substantially over the centuries. You’d struggle to use the Imago Mundi (below) to travel by, for example; although the Tabula Peutingeriana did a decent job of being a stylised route map (less good once you’re off-road).

Some questions which didn’t come up in the story but which I’ve thought about since: the first known uses of writing were bureaucratic (recording agricultural products and contracts); with other functions of government like taxation swiftly following. Cade’s nearby city houses an Emperor; how is the Empire managed without writing? Do tally-sticks count as writing? As above, what about ideograms, or mnemonics, which aren’t quite writing (but might develop into writing in the future)? Perhaps the Empire employs rememberers to keep track of these bureaucratic issues and what people owe, just as Lady Arel has to recite the treaty she is trying to use to prevent war. Presumably storytellers are important in this culture, just as they were in (for example) Ancient Greece and in pre-10th centure Britain (the Iliad and Odyssey, and Beowulf, are all thought to have been later writings-down of stories told as part of an oral tradition).

The final thing that occupied me for a while when I was writing was that there’s no way, in a book with a close-third-person POV, of saying that this is a part of the worldbuilding. Because, obviously, my narrator, Sir Cade, doesn’t know that she doesn’t have the concept of the written word, because, well, she doesn’t have the concept of the written word. So here I am, telling people about it outside the book; but if you read it, I’m interested to hear about how it came across to you. (And I hope you enjoy the story!)


Song, Stone, Scale, Bone

Sir Cade expected an easy afternoon’s guiding job. She didn’t expect it to end up sneaking her client over a border to avert a war, whilst being trailed by a bored dragon. And becoming haunted by the ghost of her best friend and sword-brother, that was definitely a surprise.

But if it’s all her responsibility, well, that means it’s all down to her to fix it. Whatever the cost.
Right?

Song, Stone, Scale, Bone is a deceptively rich and fulfilling work that blends together explorations of grief, friendship, obligation, and mutual support. With its combination of classic fantasy motifs, some lightly crafted magic, and a nuanced sense of where the personal and familial can meet the machinations of leadership and politics, I found Song an intriguing, well-constructed, and satisfying read.”—Andi C. Buchanan, author of Sanctuary

Buy links: Amazon UK (ebook/print), Amazon US (ebook/print), or order from your local bookshop.


Juliet Kemp (they/them) is a queer, non-binary, writer. They live in London by the river, with their partners, kid, and dog. The first book of their fantasy series, The Deep And Shining Dark was on the Locus 2018 Recommended Reads list; the fourth and final book, The City Revealed came out in 2023. Their short fiction has appeared in venues including Uncanny, Analog, Cast of Wonders, as well of course as the three stories (“I Thought of You”, “Dragon Years”, “Just as You Are”) here in The Future Fire, and they were short-listed for the WSFA Small Press Award 2020. When not writing or child-wrangling, Juliet knits, indulges their fountain pen habit, and tries to fit an ever-increasing number of plants into a microscopic back garden. They can be found at julietkemp.com, @julietk.bsky.social and @juliet@zirk.us.

Tuesday 26 December 2023

Micro-interview with L.E. Badillo

Welcome, L.E. Badillo, artist of “Crumb Cutie Exodus” in The Future Fire #67, for one of the last micro-interviews of 2023!

Art © 2023, L.E. Badillo

TFF: How did you go about illustrating “Crumb Cutie Exodus”?

L.E. Badillo: “Crumb Cutie Exodus” was a lot of fun to work with. Bernie Jean Schiebeling provided some really great visuals for this. There were a few ideas I didn't have enough time to explore but went with the ones I felt strongest about. Trying to capture the moment when the ’Cuties escaped from the ship was key as well as the feeling of dread with the bonfire before the realization that they were in fact alive.    
TFF: What is the most terrifying thing about the sea?

LEB: There is so much about the sea that is awesome and terrifying. It's one thing to swim in a pool and another to find yourself unable to touch ground or see below you. With the discoveries of long thought extinct sea creatures happening with some regularity, it's not hard to let your imagination get the better of you. I prefer showers to baths thank you very much.

TFF: What else are you working on now?

LEB: I'm currently pouring my energies into working as a storyboard artist. This is a really fun field to work in and not far from illustrating for stories since you work from scripts. You can see my latest work at https://www.elbad.net/boards.html.


Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at http://press.futurefire.net/2023/10/new-issue-202367.html.

Thursday 21 December 2023

Micro-interview with Elena S. Kotsile

We invited Elena S. Kotsile, author of “How to plant an olive tree on the Moon when all is lost” in The Future Fire #67, over for a brief chat about trees, planets and poetry.


Art © 2023 Fluffgar

TFF: What does “How to plant an olive tree on the Moon when all is lost” mean to you?

Elena S. Kotsile: “How to plant an olive tree on the Moon when all is lost” is a poem that first came to me as an image. Olive tree, Olea europaea, is my favorite tree species and always somehow finds its way into my writing. I love how the silver-green leaves shine under the Mediterranean sun, reflecting the summer light like sardines on a sea’s surface. It breaks my heart to think about the decline of olive trees due to climate change.

TFF: If you could create a new planet, what would it look like?

ESK: Earth is perfect exactly because it emerged from organized chaos and randomness. If I could create a new planet, it would be the same blue planet as Earth, with islands instead of continents and several moons that would be bigger and closer to Earth than our moon. Imagine lying on a beach, the cold ocean cooling your feet, and a cloudless sky with two or three colorful moons hanging above your head.

TFF: What are you working on next?

ESK: I’m currently querying for my first speculative novel (dark urban fantasy) and working on a second novel and some short stories. Whatever I do, though, I always keep going with my poetry, either SFF or autobiographical.


Extract:

Bring soil from Earth, regardless how spoiled—
Lunar soil might not be polluted,
but it is full of silicon.
Do not use fertilizer.

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at http://press.futurefire.net/2023/10/new-issue-202367.html.

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Micro-interview with Juliet Kemp

Very pleased to invite Juliet Kemp, author of “Just as You Are” in The Future Fire #67, over for a wee chat.


TFF: What does “Just as You Are” mean to you?

Juliet Kemp: I was thinking about parenting and acceptance when I wrote it. Beyond that I'm not sure I can say it better than I said it in the story…    

TFF: Given what we know about the failings of even the most advanced AI today, how long do you think it will be before we create anything that could be considered alive?

JK: I think this depends on how we define ‘alive’ which is of course hugely complex. Our current definitions revolve around a form of organic bodily life which doesn't necessarily carry over to other potential forms of life. I think something mechanical that can perform appropriate functions to grow, maintain, and reproduce itself, and respond to external stimuli, might not be that far off. Something that's ‘conscious’ or ‘intelligent’ or similar is a more complicated question—and far harder to judge, especially given the human tendency to try to define humans as ‘special’ and therefore exclude other beings (such as ones we already share the planet with) from intelligence or consciousness.

TFF: What is your favourite example of hopeful or fun speculative fiction (in any medium)?

JK: I really enjoyed Ruthanna Emrys’s A Half-Built Garden—I found it complicated but hopeful and fascinating. (I have many other favourites too!)


Extract:

Jin’s wearing the expression which means they’re desperate to look at my code fork, though it’s probably not conscious. Jin’s lab is the preeminent AI research lab; all those half-dozen person-level AIs are in some way based on the code that we developed here. After the court case that gave the first, Aisha, human rights, we open-sourced the main code branch, figuring it was the only ethical decision. Aisha took control of her own code fork, and the cluster she runs on.

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at http://press.futurefire.net/2023/10/new-issue-202367.html.

Thursday 14 December 2023

Micro-interview with Beth Cato

We welcome Beth Cato, author of the poem “How magic will help you take the bastards down” in The Future Fire #67 for a short conversation.


Art © 2023 Melkorka
TFF: What does “How magic will help you take the bastards down” mean to you?

Beth Cato: For me, it's a poem about anger and wit. Even if magic were to exist, its use is not an end-all. There will still be injustice. You fight back however you can.

TFF: What is your favourite example of hopeful or fun speculative fiction (in any medium)?

BC: I love Becky Chambers' works, both her Wayfarers series and her Monk and Robot books. They are not for everyone, as they are not big on action or plot, but she has a graceful way of depicting humanity even in beings that are not human.

TFF: What are you working on next?

BC: I'm gearing up for the January release of my next book, A Feast for Starving Stone. It finishes up my duology that began with A Thousand Recipes for Revenge. These books are packed with magical food and swashbuckling action. I don't recommend that people read them while they are hungry.


Extract:
start the hot water kettle
with a glare fueled
by the infuriating recollection
of how your boss said
‘oh don’t worry, we’ll investigate’

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at http://press.futurefire.net/2023/10/new-issue-202367.html.

Tuesday 12 December 2023

Micro-interview with Katharine A. Viola

Katharine A. Viola, artist of “Woman, Soldier, Girl” in The Future Fire #67, joins us for a quick chat about illustrating, family history and dreams.

Art © 2023, Katharine A. Viola

TFF: How did you go about illustrating “Woman, Soldier, Girl”?

Katharine A. Viola: I loved the machine aspect of this story.  The author painted such a vivid portrayal, not only in describing what the machines looked like, but the importance of these machines to the character(s) in the story.  I felt it necessary to create these visuals to enhance the cultural aspects of the tale.

TFF: Is there one of your ancestors that you would particularly like to meet? What would you ask them?

KV: As it happens to be, I am a descendant of John Hart, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. I would have a million questions to ask, but mostly would pick his brain about the time period and the importance of fighting for what you believe in.

TFF: Have you ever tried to paint or write one of your own dreams?

KV: Yes! Yet it is so hard to capture the images as they are often fleeting. Dreams can tell us so much, and sometimes the visuals can be extremely inspiring.


Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at http://press.futurefire.net/2023/10/new-issue-202367.html.

Thursday 7 December 2023

Micro-interview with Vanessa Fogg

Welcome, Vanessa Fogg, author of “Microseasons of the Dead” in The Future Fire #67 (and many previous stories), to the micro-interview series, where today we focus a lot on seasons…


Art © 2023, Cécile Matthey

TFF: What does “Microseasons of the Dead” mean to you?

Vanessa Fogg: For me, “Microseasons of the Dead” is about using a calendar year format to work out some existential thoughts on life and death. It was inspired by the microseasons of the traditional Japanese calendar, which consist of 72 “microseasons” with beautiful names such as “East Melts the Ice” and “Evening Cicadas Sing” (translations taken from this article).

 

TFF: What is your favorite day or season of the year?

VF: Autumn, hands down. As Keats put it, Oh “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”! I love everything about fall: the mists, the rain, the brilliant colors, the clear light of fall. Cozy sweaters, fuzzy pajamas, soups and stews, everything pumpkin spice. If I could live in just one season, it would be fall.


Extract:

Crack and splinter of heavy ice. Cold sunk deep in your bones. (How is it that you can still feel your bones?) A mountain of snow. White sky.


Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at http://press.futurefire.net/2023/10/new-issue-202367.html.