This is a return to the world in your story “A Siege of Cranes.” What was it like going back to writing in that setting and with those characters?
“A Siege of Cranes” was written just after my daughter Aviva was born. I had a month of paternity leave, and I wrote it while she slept in a cradle beside my chair, or fussed in a Baby Björn on my chest. Sometimes I typed one-handed while balancing her in a colic hold on my left arm. She was a fussy baby, and after I wrote Marish’s lullaby for Asza, I sang it to her in endless rounds while walking circles around the living room in the middle of the night, trying to lull her to sleep.
Before having kids, I expected to love them. I did not expect that love to be so cataclysmic and terrible. I did not realize the universe would hand me a door to the meaning of life in the shape of a little person, or that invisible golden wires would extend from her every twitch and blink and pierce my skin and burrow into my core. Before I had Aviva, the worst the universe could do was kill me, and it was planning to get around to that eventually anyway, so what was there to be afraid of? After Aviva was born, the universe attained a terrible leverage over me. It could take her away.
So I wrote about that.
Now Aviva is nineteen. In a few weeks she’s heading off to college. We’re sitting together in the garden as I write this.
“Is it all right if I tell all of the world’s science fiction readers that you were a fussy baby?” I ask.
“I mean, it’s not like anyone’s surprised,” she says. “I’m a fussy adult.”
It’s a funny line, and there’s a truth to it, though she’s not actually fussy, not Felix Ungar fussy, not you-put-your-shoes-in-the-wrong-place fussy. But she is still the same person as that baby was, with all that fire and intensity and defiance. We are born into a broken world, and we can submit to it, adapt to it, convince ourselves it is the best of all possible worlds. Or we can demand justice; we can howl. Snuggled to my chest, walking circles in the living room, Aviva did not fuss. She howled.
We can adapt or stand in defiance, and of course, often we do both; we try our best to get along, to endure until we reach a breaking point. As Maghd does.
It was lovely to return to these characters. It was as if they were waiting for me.
What inspired this story?
“Siege” is told from Marish’s perspective. It’s his story. It comes out of my own fear of loss, my own anticipatory grief. It needed a villain, and so it got one.
That villain started out pretty flat and fairy-tale-esque, but in revisions (based in part on feedback from the story’s editor, the astute David Moles, and no doubt from others as well, probably including the anthology’s other editor, the marvelous Susan Groppi) the villain deepened, and hints of Marish’s own complicity were introduced.
Nonetheless, I always felt like the White Witch got short shrift. I wondered, for years, about her side of the story.
Maghd—or rather the White Witch—is a captivating narrator and an engaging, vengeful character. She’s the smarmy, sarcastic antagonist in what feels like a mythic tale. What is it about villains or villain-like characters that makes them so interesting to read and/or, one would imagine, fun to write?
I don’t think she’s smarmy! Snarky, to be sure, and dangerous, and potent. Not to be trifled with. Cause of much destruction, lots of blood on her hands. She’s the villain of “A Siege of Cranes,” yes, but my hope is that by the end of “All These Guardians” she has at least become an antihero (and Marish has been knocked off his pedestal). I want us rooting for Maghd.
This was an interesting challenge, because “A Siege of Cranes” had left things looking pretty unforgivable. I was dubious, at the beginning of writing this, whether redeeming her would be really possible. But I also had Maghd’s voice in my head, insistent, demanding the chance to tell it her way.
The dubious skepticism in my mind—very sure of itself, very quick to assess and pronounce, very committed to the known and established—that was the voice of patriarchy, the voice of the guardians of order and clarity. Maghd’s voice, opposing it, was the voice of fire and revolt.
What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects that you can talk about?
Thanks for asking!
My story “Bereft, I Come to a Nameless World,” featuring a very durable polymorph wanderer named Siob, is appearing in the July/August 2020 issue of Asimov’s. My first novel, The Unraveling, a far-future coming-of-age comedy of manners and social unrest, comes out from Erewhon Books in October. (There is a very tangential connection between “Bereft” and The Unraveling. Siob was the protagonist of another novel-to-be, which fell apart; out of its ruins came The Unraveling, and the two stories still intersect, though barely.) My sister Shoshana Rosenbaum, an indie filmmaker, has made a short film of my story “Night Waking,” which should be out this fall.
Mary Anne Mohanraj and I are doing a podcast called Mohanraj and Rosenbaum are Humans, about science fiction, communities, parenting, the politics of the everyday and of literature, and so on; it should be googleable soon.
I am working on a bunch of things: a few more Siob stories; an interactive fiction game called Spring in the Shtetl for Choice of Games, set in the same Jewish historical fantasy setting (nineteenth-century Russian Empire, matchmakers and midwives and pogroms, demons and golems and dybbuks and the evil eye . . .) as my tabletop roleplaying game Dream Apart (based on, and published with, Avery Alder’s Dream Askew, at Buried Without Ceremony); a story called “Time to Wake the Boys Up” about long-haul STL interplanetary voyages and boy bands; a bit of Le Guinian or Arnasonian anthropological fantasy called “Motherless Men”; an alternate evolutionary history story called “Birdsense”; a nanotech YA romp (originally drafted with Paul Melko) called “Sargasso” . . . and lots more; my hard drive is a labyrinth of possibilities.
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