Who’s In The House?

Georgina Bruce is in the house, that’s who!

Something a little different here. An author interview. And what an author!

I first “met” George on the Online Writers Workshop more than a few years ago, where it very quickly became clear her writing was beyond standard critique. Since then I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to read some of her work before it got published and won awards, and it’s a very great pleasure to get a chance to interview her here about her new short story collection, “This House Of Wounds”.

“This House Of Wounds”, cover art by Catrin Welz-Stein and design by Vince Haig

This House of Wounds has been generally available in print for a few of weeks now. How does it feel like to have your first collection out there in the world? 

Terrible! I mean, brilliant! I mean, I don’t know really. It’s been unofficially out for a while now so I mainly just think everyone is sick to death of hearing my endless pleas to buy it.

How did you decide which stories to include and what order they should appear? Did you outsource curation entirely to Undertow or did you have a particular vision of your own?

I sent them a selection of stories, and from that Mike [Kelly] and Carolyn [Macdonell-Kelly] picked out what they wanted for the book. I withdrew one story at a late stage because I decided it just wasn’t good enough. When it came to the order of stories, I totally abdicated all responsibility for that to Mike and Carolyn. I didn’t feel I had enough distance or perspective to see how it would come out. Mike had a kind of vision of the overall book that I just didn’t. I trusted him to create a coherent collection, and he did – in some ways I think it has become more than the sum of its parts.

On re-reading the stories in House of Wounds did you find yourself struck by any recurring images or themes in your stories that you hadn’t noticed before?

There is a lot in my stories that is about abuse and trauma, and processing that abuse and trauma. I don’t think I realised quite how much that was a concern until I saw the stories put together. There’s also a lot more violence than I would have laid claim to! The weirdest thing is when reviewers pick up on themes and imagery that I never even noticed. Obviously readers bring a lot to a book, but still. It’s almost like I am a whole different person than I thought.

Do you have a particular favourite story or one you particularly wish to highlight? What is it that makes it your favourite?

I really, really love Kuebiko, and I’m proud of it. It’s kind of a puzzle (I like puzzles) but all the answers are there, it can be pieced together. I don’t know if readers will come up with the same answers I had in mind, but the blanks are there to be filled in. It’s a kind of a game about a story, or a story about a game, or both, and I love how it sort of folds in on itself. I’m really fond of stories where the structure is part of the telling. They are super hard to write but that’s part of the fun. It’s the one story I really want people to enjoy – although quite a few readers skim over it, probably wondering what the hell I’m going on about.

What is your favourite short story by another author, and why? (Okay, that’s unfair. There can be more than just one!)

For the past few years, I’ve taught ‘Darling’, a very short story by Padrika Tarrant, to my students and I think it’s a really wonderful story. It’s so shocking. She drags you into the perspective of a very marginalised individual and it’s powerful. My students are always quite polarised in their responses: they either love it or hate it, but they all find it very disturbing. All I hear for weeks is, “Oh my god, Georgina, what is wrong with you?” 🙂 I also teach Priya Sharma’s ‘Egg’ which is wonderful for getting students to emotionally connect with a piece of literature. I usually give that to my nursing students and they are thrilled by the medical references, too! ‘The Heat Death of the Universe’ by Pamela Zoline is one of the great pioneering feminist short stories that made science fiction a better genre for everyone. It’s weird and experimental, a bit of a puzzle, a bit wobbly in terms of genre; the world of the story is a sort of product of the internal state of the character, a woman who is falling apart. It’s exactly the kind of thing I love! Another story I think about a lot is ‘Ad Astra’ by Carole Johnson. It’s just a whole world unto itself, and it’s very strange and sorrowful, and everything that science fiction should be. 

Many reviewers have commented on your unique “voice”. Is this something you work on, the effort hidden like swan’s swimming legs, or is it simply emergent from who you are and how you write?

This is difficult to answer because I don’t think I really know what ‘voice’ means, or what people mean when they talk about it with regard to my writing. What I do when I write is try to be very open and connected to myself and to the voices of the characters, and I don’t try to control what’s happening until I’ve got most of a draft. I just let the story go wherever it wants, often just following the imagery until I find the story underneath it all. My characters tend to hide stories, they are ashamed or in denial, so you have to trick the story out of them. I usually spend a lot of time rewriting and editing before I’m happy with a story, but I try not to overwrite and kill the initial spark. Sometimes that means leaving in something clumsy or raw. You have to have confidence to do that – when I was first writing, I wanted it all to be perfect and that would kill the emotion.

What responsibility, if any, do you think writers (should) have?

What responsibility do any of us have towards one another? We have to try to be honest, and we have to serve something other than ourselves. Beyond that, I think writers have a responsibility to defend freedom of speech. A key indicator of fascism is when academics and writers are stopped from speaking or publishing. This is happening more and more and I sometimes see writers celebrating that and think, what’s wrong with you? Read a bloody history book.

This House Of Wounds is dedicated to “the lost, and the lonely” — do you have a particular reader or audience in mind when writing, or do you write solely to satisfy your own muse?

I never really have anyone particular in mind, but since the collection was published I realised that 17-year-old-me would be my ideal reader. I think This House of Wounds is entirely perfect for super-angry, disenfranchised, alienated and passionate teenage girls.

What other material can your fans expect from you in the next few months and years? What grand ambitions do you harbour?

I’m working on a novel and also a memoir, though at some point one of these is going to take over the other. Neither of them are anywhere near publication. In terms of ambition, I’d love to have more readers! And I’d love to have more time to work on different kinds of writing. I started out in screenwriting and I’d like to get back to it at some point. I don’t know – when I was younger I had ambitions to win awards and be remembered as one of the world’s greatest writers, etc. Now I’ll just be happy if I don’t end up eaten by cats. I don’t have a cat so hopefully I’m safe on that score.

[Note: Georgina’s story “White Rabbit“, included in this collection, has won the British Fantasy Society award for best short story.]

“This House Of Wounds” is available directly from Undertow and also from all standard online book purchasing venues. If you’re a super-angry, disenfranchised, alienated and passionate teenage girl — or even if you’re not! — you should rush out and buy this brilliant collection now.

The Motherman Is Coming…

…in December 2019. Probably.

[Edited to add: looks like this will now actually be sometime in 2020.]

DreamForge Magazine has accepted my story “Climbing the Motherman” and it’s currently slated to appear in issue #4. Really pleased by the news, as this is one of my favourite stories. (I say that every time, am I right? But this time I really really mean it!)

The original inspiration was “The Willow Man” sculpture created by Serena de la Hey, which we pass quite regularly on our way to/from our summer holidays in the West Country. One night I dreamt it was infested by tribes of feral humans… as you do.

Anyway, glad to see this story found a good home. More about it later in the year.

“The Willow Man”, photo taken and processed by yours truly.

On The Origin of Giants

My story “On Ohab’s Land” is out in the Spring 2019 edition of Kaleidotrope. No it’s nothing to do with whales. Here’s a taster:

Grass stubble crunches beneath Ohab’s feet as he approaches the giant. The long, dry summer has baked the hayfield a deep golden brown, and late-blooming poppies sprout from between the ridges of cracked mud, nodding like amiable premonitions of blood as Ohab passes by. The last wisps of early morning mist have burned away, and crows, unfazed by the giant’s presence, flap lazily between the barrel-trunked oaks that dot the field’s perimeter.

Don’t ask me how many attempts it took to get that first paragraph just so. Many. Many attempts. No really. If you have a figure in mind for the number of revisions then I’m pretty sure it’s too low. Yes. Even that figure. Waaaaaay too low. And I’m still not sure about the extra comma or the two instances of “Ohab”. Yes, these are things that give me sleepless nights.

The story’s first-pass name was “The Origin of Giants”, a rather grandiose title from under which it could never really escape. Although “Land” deals more or less with the physical origin of giants (in this story world), it nowhere near adequately approaches the origin of true giants, those not of merely physical stature… for that you’d be better off reading something like Jose Pablo Iriarte’s The Curse of Giants. So the title had to change, and the story had to find a new heart… which I think it does, at the end. Probably it’s too optimistic of me to consider Ohab a suitable case for redemption, but in order to be a writer you really do have to put aside the pessimism now and again. Do I believe that change for the better — for people and the world — is possible? Sometimes. Yes, I really do.

“Giant” by Saryth Chareonpanichkul

Repeated Sins

The anthology Sins and Other Worlds, edited by Eric S. Fomley, is now out in e-book and print format, available from the retail arm of the world’s most popular cloud computing platform provider. It contains a reprint of my dark little flash story In the Maze of His Infinities, first published by Perihelion SF.

Table of Contents

  • The Plague – Ken Liu
  • The Far Side of the Wilderness – Alex Shvartsman
  • The Last Racist – Laird Long
  • Floating in My Tin Can – Gerri Leen
  • Tough Crowd – Holly Schofield
  • Nothing – Douglas Smith
  • The Memory Ward – Wendy Nikel
  • About Time – Mike Murphy
  • God State – Michelle Ann King
  • Tugship – Russell Hemmell
  • When There’s Only Dust Left – Jeremy Szal
  • Angels Behaving Badly – Rhonda Eikamp
  • The Dust Bathynaut – Dennis Monbauer
  • A Fully Chameleonic Foil – Christi Nogle
  • The Service Call – Ed Ahern
  • The Sin of Envy – George Nikolopoulos
  • Flies – Robert Silverberg
  • Between Two Distant Shores There Lies Space for an Ocean of Troubles – Jez Patterson
  • Death, Where is thy Sting? – John H. Dromey
  • Last Long Night – Lina Rather
  • Apocalypse Beta Test Survey – Gregg Chamberlain
  • In the Maze of His Infinities – Henry Szabranski
  • Most Valuable Player – Eric Choi
  • Benchwarmer – Mike Resnick & Lezli Robyn
  • The Cyclops – James Dorr
  • Remembrance Day – Liam Hogan
  • The Eye Patch Protocol – Vaughan Stanger
  • Once Was Lost – Alan Baxter
  • The Assassin Program – Christina Sng
  • The Plan – Mike Murphy
  • Stewardship – Holly Schofield
  • Walls of Nigeria – Jeremy Szal
  • Whom He May Devour – Alex Shvartsman
  • Event Cloak – Ken Liu
  • Job Qualifications – Kevin J. Anderson

Kill Cast

Mark Linsenmayer’s podcast of “Kill Switch” is now up at Constellary Tales, along with an interview with me about the story. Brian Hirt and Ken Gerber have somehow edited my voice to sound much posher and more articulate than it actually is, and boy I do not sound anywhere near as nervous as I actually was during the recording. But judge for yourselves.

Also, a great excuse to post up another great Juno image. 

Of Techno-Oligarchs and their Gas Giant Mining Operations…

Image of Jupiter’s swirling cloudscape captured by NASA’s Juno probe.

…is a great name for a 70’s prog-rock concept album, but is also partially the subject matter of — as promised last month — a second story that (only very briefly) mentions the Discontinuity featured in “The Veilonaut’s Dream“. My story “Kill Switch” has been accepted for publication by new SF magazine “Constellary Tales” and will be podcast hopefully later this autumn. Yay for podcasts! — they always seem to make my stories sound great. Can’t wait to listen to it.

Also a great opportunity to showcase as the blog image the swirling clouds of Jupiter as captured by NASA’s Juno probe, currently still swooping around old Jove. Despite the imminent collapse of Western civilisation it’s great to be living in a time when we can receive such amazing photos from the outer reaches of the solar system.

A Final Update from the Observatory

“The Veilonaut’s Dream” is, I think, the most widely reviewed story of mine so far, and for the most part these seem to be broadly positive. Please indulge me as I list a few below… it’s not often I get the chance.

“A beautiful story that weaves through the distant mysteries of space, contemplating the impossible depths of the universe and the existence of life beyond our tiny stake in the ground. It’s part space exploration, part terror, leaving you a bit dizzy as your imagination tries to keep up with the originality of so many space landscapes.”

Jacob Olsen, Reviews & Robots

“In this literary, mesmerizing, multi-layered story”…. “Szabranski is a master at building tension.”

Jeffrey Steven Adams, Tangent Online

“The piece is tense and centers memory and distance. Not just the distance the Discontinuity stretches, though, but also the distance people keep from it, trying to avoid the dangers it represents but also, maybe, missing out on what’s really there—what’s really possible. It’s a story about being lost and, maybe, depending on how you look at it, being found.” … “To me, an argument for faith where science fails—not religious faith, exactly, but rather a leap of faith in humanity, that maybe we can find out way even in the vastness of space. A great read!”

Charles Payseur, Quick Sip Reviews

“A very eerie story with haunting imagery that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Definitely recommend this to anyone who likes darker sci-fi with a slight mystical feel.”

Stephanie, Goodreads

“How did Szabranski keep me reading? This is certain death.”

“Uncle Josh”, Better Writing Through Reading

“It’s a classic science fiction story told with heart.” … “There is particularly effective use of altogether different science-fictional imagery as the titular ‘dream’ is revealed near the story’s conclusion, linking the narrator’s personal drama of the explorers with a the grander story playing out. The whole comes together to tell a great space exploration story.” … “Highly Recommended.”

Eclipse Review of Science Fiction

“…a story that’s an entrant in that evergreen subgenre: “unfathomable alien technology.” … I liked the relationships between Mads and the younger veilonauts as well as the synchronicity between her relationship with her partner and with the Discontinuity.”

Karen Burnham, Locus

Now… is this truly the final update from the Observatory, out there beyond the orbit of Pluto? Perhaps not. The Others and their Discontinuity feature in a few of my stories (not an intentional series, more like a handy future history backdrop I can dip into), of which “The Veilonaut’s Dream” was the third written. I’ll post news about the fate of another one of those stories next month…


On Persistence (Part 2)

I’ve written about persistence before, but it’s a subject I want to return to. See, I’ve been sending stories to Clarkesworld for years now. Because of its fast turnaround time (typically a rejection only takes a couple of days, sometimes even less) it’s one of the first places I and many other writers send a new story. It’s high paying, prestigious, publishes great stories by some of the best writers in the field, has great art direction and production values — why not see if your brand-spanking new story is one Neil Clarke might be interested in before sending it anywhere else? So that’s what I’ve done. Many times. Over the years. 15 times, to be exact. Each time rejected.

Until my sixteenth submission, a few days ago.

Yes, this is a sly way to announce my story “The Veilonaut’s Dream” has been accepted by Clarkesworld. I still can’t quite believe it.

So you — yes you, with your seemingly endlessly growing pile of rejection e-mails — there is hope. If not this story, maybe the next. Keep trying. Keep improving. Stay professional. Read the guidelines. Push on through that dark night of the soul — we all get them, all of us. Try new styles, new subjects, new ideas, new characters. Keep getting feedback, keep an open mind, keep the faith. Because one day… you never know.

(PS. Just make sure it’s not a zombie story.)

“The Long Route to Acceptance”