John Kessel referred to your story featured in this month’s issue, “You Have Never Been Here,” as the “quintessential slipstream” story. I know it’s a slippery definition, but how would you define “slipstream” as a genre? Do you feel this is a fair assessment of your story? Did you set out to write a slipstream piece?
I did set out to write a slipstream piece when I wrote this, so I am very comfortable with that assessment. How to define the genre, however, is not so easy. In general terms, I think of slipstream as fiction that doesn’t fit neatly into category. But you know, none of these categories are real, they don’t actually exist, and they dissolve under close scrutiny. In some ways slipstream plays with that dissolution.
I’m going to do something a little different and let you interview yourself now. In an interview in Strange Horizons, you noted several questions in relation to this story: “This awakened an old question of mine; can someone who has lived a horrible life and done horrible things have a moment of spiritual realization? Can an intense exploration of hell deliver heaven? What would this small moment feel like, would it feel small, or would it feel boundless, beyond borders of space and time, beyond the borders of body and mind? What would it be like to become, even for just a few moments, a completely different person than the one you’ve always been? What if you really came to understand reality in an entirely different way than the way you had been previously understood it? Is the worst prison of all the body?”
Lots of questions. Answers? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.
Why did you decide to use a second-person narration for this story?
The way I work, I basically just start writing and see what comes out. So there was no decision, on a conscious level. Once I finish a draft, and have some understanding of what I’m working with, I’ll ask myself if there is good reason for the things I’ve done. On that level, I felt like second-person was perfect for a slipstream story, as it is the voice of dissolution.
In many of your stories I have read, a somewhat unreliable narrator seems to be dealing with some form of terminal illness. “The Deer Woman” comes immediately to mind as a good example. Why do you think this theme occurs frequently in your writing? Why use terminal illness, a very serious topic, as a jumping-off point for a fantasy story?
Hmmm, first off I don’t think there is any topic too serious for fantasy. The type of fantasy that I most enjoy is a fantasy of revelation, a lifting of the veil, much more than a literature of escape. I think we are all living a big dream called reality, and I think fantasy is an opportunity to explore that. As to why I write about terminal illness, well at my age (I’m fifty-one-years-old), I’ve known people who have had to deal with terminal illness, and it is a very compelling state.
In many ways, “You Have Never Been Here” reads as an unconventional love story. Love is a central theme. The doctors tell their patients to love but then go on to ask “What is love?” Why ask others to love if they do not know what it is? What, exactly, does it mean to love within the context of this story?
Well, within the context of this story, as well as, to some extent, in life, love is the emotion of dissolution.
So, what’s next for M. Rickert? When we last talked, you noted your most recent short fiction collection, Holiday, had been released and that you were working on a novel. How is the novel coming along?
Thanks for asking about the novel. I am really pleased with it, actually. I have been trying to write novels for twenty-five years. I had actually given up on novel writing (and it was a relief to do so) when I sat down and started working on this … thing, which I realized might be a novel. I’m so glad I gave myself one more chance. I’m still working on it, but I think I’m at the finishing stages now. It turns out that it’s been really difficult for me to judge how long each draft takes, but I think I should be finished in the next few months. Not sure what will happen after that, but I have loved working with the form and the characters.
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