Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Author Spotlight: Megan Arkenberg

“All in a Hot and Copper Sky” begins with a blend of sensory imagery and poetry and then drops into a gut-wrenching moment of memory and adoration mistaken for young love. To you, what components make up a good story?

I want three things out of a story, whether I’m writing it or reading it: an interesting character, an unusual situation, and a strong, distinctive voice. I’m tempted to add “atmosphere” to that list, although its a pretty nebulous concept. Basically, I want to either experience something I’ve never experienced before, or to look at a familiar experience in a new way. The best thing about speculative fiction is that it lets you do both at once.

The story unfolds with a gentle, almost rhythmic presence as much a product of the plot as it is the structure and presentation of the scenes. How did this story come together?

I worked at this story a little bit at a time, sometimes a couple sentences every few months, for about five years. I think it started with me wondering about the kind of woman who becomes the lover of a terrible person: a dictator, a murderer, a corporate slimeball, that kind of thing. I wasn’t necessarily interested in why she fell in love with someone awful, but how she might feel about it years later — assuming she survived them, of course, which isn’t always the case. So the draft just accumulated one layer at a time, all these “letters” from Delores to Socorro, thinking about memory and judgment and justification, until I finally laid it all out in one document and figured out where the narrative through-line fell.

Colonizing Mars has long been a dream for humanity. Ray Bradbury and Kim Stanley Robinson both wrote extensively about Mars, and in 2010 writer David Levine published The Mars Diaries, the story of how he fared during his two weeks at an experimental Mars simulation habitat in the Utah desert. If given the opportunity to serve on a colonization crew to Mars, what would you miss most about life on Earth?

This is easy: travel! I think I would get claustrophobic very quickly in an extraterrestrial colony. I’m the kind of person who needs to get out of my house for at least an hour or two every day, even if it’s just to take a walk to the nearest coffee shop. I can’t imagine having a limited space in which to move, and knowing with absolute certainty that I couldn’t go beyond that space. So until they terraform a good chunk of the planet, I think I’ll sit out any colonization projects!

The push for representation of women in the sciences continues to be an uphill battle, one that many feel is unnecessary and “intrusive.” If you could speak to new writers dipping their toes into the waters of genre fiction, what would you say to them about such representations and their impact on how women see themselves?

The first thing people need to realize is that women in the sciences is the reality; it’s not like depicting women in a laboratory is a radical stretch of the imagination. There are plenty of arenas of social justice in which we need to imagine first and hope that reality will follow, but this actually isn’t one of them. For me, the lack of female scientists in fiction or on film is a massive challenge to my suspension of disbelief. Of course, I still think programs designed to encourage young girls in STEM fields are excellent and necessary, and I think good representations of female scientists can definitely be part of that. But the thing I’ve taken away from conversations about “women in the sciences” has been that the people who don’t “believe” that women can practice science are the ones crafting unsustainable fantasies here.

How did you first become interested in genre fiction? Are there any authors who inspired your dreams?

I was obsessed with historical fiction from the time I first learned to read until sometime in junior high school, which is when I picked up Tolkein and Lovecraft. When I started writing, I decided to write speculative fiction for a pretty funny reason, actually: I was a lazy twelve-year-old who didn’t want to do any research, and I thought that secondary-world fantasy would let me draw on miscellaneous bits of my historical knowledge without too much concern for anachronism. Now I think I’m just drawn to the unusual. I’m happy to read fiction marketed as mainstream or “literary,” provided the central situation is sufficiently eerie and off-kilter: One of my favorite short stories, Cary Holladay’s “Merry-Go-Sorry,” is a mix of true crime and regional fiction, but the structure and meticulous attention to detail have informed more than one of my horror and science fiction stories.

Do you have any stories in the works, something we can look forward to in the latter half of 2015?

I haven’t been keeping up with publication dates too well, but I do know I have pieces forthcoming in Shimmer, The Dark, and the anthology Start a Revolution. I’m also the nonfiction editor for Nightmare Magazine’s Queers Destroy Horror! special issue, which will be out in November. And as always, I have a number of works-in-progress coming down the pipeline: a carnival story, a serial killer story, an interlocking series of fairy-tales, and something that looks a bit like an animal-bride story if you squint . . .

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Sandra Odell

Sandra Odell

Sandra Odell is a 47-year old, happily married mother of two, an avid reader, compulsive writer, and rabid chocoholic. Her work has appeared in such venues as Jim Baen’s UNIVERSE, Daily Science Fiction, Crosssed Genres, Pseudopod, and The Drabblecast. She is hard at work plotting her second novel or world domination. Whichever comes first.