Interview: Mae Empson (IN SITU)

Name: Mae Empson

Age: 37

Author of: “Vessels of Clay, Flesh, and Stars”

Current Geographic Location: Seattle, Washington

Original Hometown: Frederick, MD. Other cities I’ve spent time include Chapel Hill, NC, and Bloomington, IN.

Twitter: @maeempson

Website: http://maeempson.wordpress.com

Publications: Recent publications include: “First, Kill a Bear,” in The Pedestal Magazine, April 2012; “The Tea-Serving Doll,” in Attic Toys from Evil Jester Press, March 2012; “The Salt of Aksum,” in Demeter’s Spicebox, February 2012; “A Welcome Sestina from Cruise Director Isabeau Molyneux,” in Future Lovecraft from Innsmouth Free Press, November 2011, to be reprinted by Prime Books, August 2012; “An Interrupted Sacrifice,” in Historical Lovecraft from Innsmouth Free Press, April 2011, and “Little Rattle Belly,” in Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale Magazine, March 2011.

Of note, the story in Historical Lovecraft is also set in Precolumbian Peru, but offers a very different explanation for many of the same facts about Moche culture.

Do you think alien life exists in the Universe? I think the universe is vast enough that it is reasonable to assume that there is life out there, but it may not be sentient enough or similar enough to us to resemble the sort of aliens encountered in speculative fiction. I wrote my story for In Situ in fall 2010, not long after the announcement of Gliese 581 g, a planet in the habitable zone of distance from its sun with the right temperature and atmosphere for liquid water. This is a hopeful and exciting time for the discovery of life of some kind, if not the sort of life that would make for plausible antagonists.

If you could travel off Earth, would you? What if it meant you could never come back? If I had the money to afford a single joyride, I’d spend it on something else, I think. But I might buy a ticket for my husband who I think would adore it. Or go with him! I don’t think I could leave my family and friends, if I couldn’t come back. My husband predicts that in our lifetime we will see the opportunity to send our ashes into space after we die, which might be the best and most likely moment for it.

What inspired your work? After selling my story to Cthulhurotica which was set in Ancient Greece, I was very interested in thinking about other historical cultures that could be used as settings for Lovecraftian fiction. I started researching obscure cultures with art that depicted tentacles. Once I found the Moche culture of Precolumbian Peru, I couldn’t read enough about them. Their rulers drank the blood of sacrificial victims. They had an Octopus god and a Spider god, and lots of tentacles in their paintings, clothing, and metalwork. Their rites and mythology are particularly fascinating. The premise for In Situ allowed me to set a story in the present day with the discovery of a Moche tomb. Writing about graduate students was an area where I could draw on my own life experiences. I studied English, but most of my roommates were in Latin American Studies. In terms of other inspirations, as an identical twin myself, I have a certain fascination with the biology of different kinds of twins which works its way into the story. So, the story blends historical fact and mythology, lived experience, and, of course, alien horror.

Since the story was written in 2010, I can confirm that it was not inspired by the recent movie Prometheus, though there are some similarities, such as a bizarre alien liquid stored in a high-tech canister within ancient-looking pottery which, when consumed, can cause a monstrous pregnancy…

What music or movies helped you to write this story? Professor Alvarez is something of a Latino Indiana Jones – the heart-throb professor who is also an archaeologist. Of course, he’s not nearly as noble or trustworthy.

How many rewrites did you do before submitting? Many. This story was particularly challenging to tell within the word count limit, so that required a lot of editing and deciding which pieces of the story in my head absolutely needed to be told on paper. I explored several endings before I found this one, which now feels to me like the only possible way for the story to end.

What is your favorite bit? My favorite part is the ending, but to post any of that here might introduce spoilers. Here’s a section from earlier in the story:

“I am experienced. With research. There is much about the Moche that we do not need to personally experience to study. No one in the field has actually drunk blood, or performed a human sacrifice. It doesn’t matter if I’m-” She stopped. He hadn’t actually asked her that, had he?

Buy IN SITU now!

EPUB for nook and other readers, $3.99: Click here to buy DRM FREE

MOBI for nook and other readers, $3.99: Click here to buy DRM FREE

Trade paperback, 5″x8″, 248 pages, via Amazon, $9.99: Click here to buy ISBN-10: 0983137323

KINDLE edition via Amazon, $3.99: Click here to buy ASIN: B008J4ZBLW

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