Science Fiction & Fantasy

THE ROBOTS OF GOTHAM

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: E. Catherine Tobler

How did this story come about?

“A Box, a Pocket, a Spaceman” hit me out of the blue.

I was supposed to be working on something else, a story with a deadline, and wouldn’t you know, this completely different story started chatting me up. I had absolutely no idea where it was going, unusual for me these days, and wrote the first draft in a single sitting.

At the same time, my writing group was holding a flash fiction challenge and I wrote what I thought was a stand-alone piece, set in this story’s universe. And then I realized that both stories were part of the same thing, so I wove them together to arrive at the final draft.

What were the challenges/rewards in structuring the story as you did, with the sudden scene breaks, the unreliable narrator memory?

The way this story came, it’s hard to say the structure was a challenge, because it was just there. The unreliable narrator, for me, tied into the idea of being a teenager on summer break, and everyone always asking what you did during those weeks. Would anyone ever believe you if you had a fantastic adventure—would you believe you, or was it just something you made up to pass the time while you mourned your aunt in your endless summer backyard? I think the unreliability gives the story something different, something for readers to question and ponder.

Your short stories contain a variety of POVs: first, second, third, even one that feels first person plural-y (“(R + D) /I = M)”). Is this deliberate or do the stories arise for you with a strong POV already?

It hasn’t been deliberate, but I would say it’s certainly becoming more common in my work. Voice and POV tend to be joined at the hip for me, so when the initial voice/image of the story arrives (usually later than I like as I noodle about with plot concepts), I try to go with what presents itself first, even if it’s something unusual. I’ve had more success at this than I expected, but it’s all very much experimentation. Sometimes, a different POV doesn’t work; many editors cite second-person as problematic in their rejections, and I know many readers who don’t enjoy it. But, the more I write, the more I like to play with POV!

Whose short stories do you re-read and who is a recent discovery you want to see more from?

I return to K.M. Ferebee’s work a lot. She is someone I admire because her stories are always full of layers. You can read them more than once and discover all the things you missed the first time around. I consider myself lucky that I’ve gotten to explore her work as both a reader and an editor.

I read Molly Gloss for the first time in the June Clarkesworld. “Lambing Season” blew me away. This is the kind of science fiction I love, and so I’m eager to see what else she’s done.

Does working as an editor for Shimmer make it harder to disengage the editor brain when in early drafts?

I think this is why I often have such trouble starting new stories. I spend a lot of time looking for the right way in, and the unusual path to saying what I’d like to say. I often get seven pages in and realize the story doesn’t start until page five, so I cut everything that came before, start over and—it can be difficult to shut the editor up and allow myself to just write, which is one reason “A Box, a Pocket, a Spaceman” is unusual and dear to me. This voice was just there and I let it take me where it would. I’d like to do that more often! On the flip side, editing Shimmer is also never not inspiring; it reminds me of why I wanted to write. We see so many good stories and so many authors who never give up.

Any new projects you want to tell us about?

The trade paper edition of Rings of Anubis just came out from Masque/Prime Books, and I’ve got another book with them this fall, Watermark, which ventures into fairy lands!

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Jude Griffin

Jude Griffin

Jude Griffin is an envirogeek, writer, and photographer. She trained llamas at the Bronx Zoo; was a volunteer EMT, firefighter, and HAZMAT responder; worked as a guide and translator for journalists covering combat in Central America; lived in a haunted village in Thailand; ran an international frog monitoring network; and loves happy endings. Bonus points for frolicking dogs and kisses backlit by a shimmering full moon.