Author of: “The Fish-Wife’s Tale”
Current Geographic Location: Cleveland, Ohio
Recent publications: In 2013, I’ve had stories published by Asimov’s Science Fiction, Lightspeed, and Shimmer. It’s been an exciting couple of months, but it’s not over yet! Later this year, in July, Grand Central Publishing will put out an anthology I helped edit called This Is How You Die, the sequel to 2010′s Machine of Death anthology.
Which zodiac sign where you born under? Taurus. Send gifts and well wishes in mid-May.
If a magic fish granted you one wish, what would it be? The ability to read, speak and understand any language, whether current or defunct. I’m mostly looking for human languages, but animal languages would be considered a welcome bonus unless — in true ironic wish fulfillment fashion — this involved hideous and painful deforming of my face and body to make possible the noises and signs that ducks, whales, elephants, and ants use to talk to each other.
What inspired your story? Given the subject of the anthology, I thought it would be fun to write a story that purported to be excerpts from a nature guide to fish and marine life. So naturally I turned to my own bookshelf of guides for inspiration and guidance.
In particular, I looked to older nature guides, which were often written by amateur naturalists. Because of that, you’re likely to find lyrical digressions and folkloric tidbits alongside sober scientific facts. Neltje Blanchan’s Wildflowers Worth Knowing (1917) and Harriet Louise Keeler’s Our Native Trees and How to Identify Them (1900) are two great examples that I had in mind while writing. But the book I turned to most was Nicholas Culpeper’s exhaustive (and somewhat insane) classic guide to the plants of England and their astrologically derived medicinal uses, The Compleat Herbal (1653).
Did you listen to music while writing it? I don’t often listen to music when I write since I usually end up too engrossed to hear it anyway.
How many rewrites did you do before submitting? Because I wanted the excerpts from the fictional nature guide both to paint a picture of a society that relies on the sea for all aspects of its livelihood and culture, and to tell a simple story about some of the people who live in that society, I fiddled extensively with this story in the outline stage. By the time I started writing, I knew exactly what I wanted to cover, but even so I had to shift and trim many of the details once they were on the page to get the pacing right.
While revising, I focused on making sure that the unusual structure of the story didn’t overwhelm the points of interest. Each excerpt needed to follow a particular format, but I also needed to make sure that descriptions of fish and their habits didn’t bog the story down. This took at least two careful revisions, and a lot of unnecessary bits were snipped out.
What is your favorite bit?
“This belief leads to small conspiracies in which the superstitious will endeavor trick each other into ‘catching’ an Eyeless Fish. If any islander should suspect his neighbor of having done him a wrong, he may hand his neighbor a small container–a wallet, a shoe, a bucket, even a plucked chicken–in which he has secreted an Eyeless Fish. For the purposes of superstition, picking up or even accepting one of these containers is considered sufficiently like ‘catching’ that the divination is believed to be effective. Even today, it is safe to say that the Eyeless Fish has unknowingly indicted many a person of crimes that he may never have committed…”
Photo courtesy of K. Sekelsky