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Author Spotlight: Mary Robinette Kowal

I noticed right away the specific cooking implements. How has your interest in cooking influenced your work?

Well . . . it might be possible that my tendency to window shop in cooking stores has led to me knowing about things like matte black knives. I have a bit of a fixation on proper knives when cooking, and will travel with my own set. I think when I’m giving a character the urge to cook that this is going to bleed over into their point of view. It is more natural to me than a character who doesn’t know how to cook.

Elise’s concussion symptoms were vivid and detailed, along with adding a nice touch of ambiguity. What kind of research did you do toward that?

Sadly, I have a number of friends who have had severe concussions. Watching their recovery process gave me some details. The rest came from reading medical journals and talking with a doctor who specialized in head injuries. I was particularly struck by the hallucinations that can sometimes accompany head injuries. While I haven’t had one myself, I did have mild hallucinations with the flu once and incorporated some of that into Elise’s experience. It’s very unsettling.

The ending, where Elise decides to run away with her husband’s clone, was perfect and also surprising. Did you have that result in mind when you started the story?

Oh . . . That’s interesting. I actually think that she doesn’t run away with him, but is going to clone herself so that the clone runs away. The thing is that Elise loves Myung and wouldn’t abandon the original, but his clone is also him. Did I plan this ending? Actually, no. In my very original idea, Elise was a clone and the ending was her discovery of that.

What was your process like? Did everything come together at once or did you take several drafts?

I tend to sketch my stories out in a rough paragraph form before I start to write. This is something I call a thumbnail sketch, from back in my art school days. The specifics, those I tend to discover as I am writing. This story is a little unusual because it started from a very vivid dream in which my husband had a clone that killed himself. It was unsettling and, being a writer, I started to wonder why a clone would do that.

Here’s my original sketch for “The Conciousness Problem”:

“Clone killed himself. In the process of helping understand why, she finds a coroner’s report for herself. She confronts Raj. She’d been in a car accident. They had an undamaged print of her body, so Raj scanned her mind into the new body. It didn’t quite take because of the amount of brain damage the original had. But she’s getting better. Honest.”

As I got into the story, I became more interested in the fact that a true clone would carry the emotional memories of the original. So he would miss his wife terribly and be in a situation where there was no recourse. That changed the course of the story considerably.

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Laurel Amberdine

Laurel Amberdine

Laurel Amberdine was raised by cats in the suburbs of Chicago. She’s good at naps, begging for food, and turning ordinary objects into toys. She currently lives in San Francisco where she works for Locus Magazine. Find her on Twitter at @amberdine.