Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Charles Payseur

How did this story come about?

This story is basically my Wisconsin spring story. Spring normally hits here in May. For the last two years we’ve had snow well into May, and last year was the worst winter in a long time. We had something like a foot and a half of snow on the ground for three months. It was . . . not fun. So the moment it was warm enough to go outside my partner and I were biking on the trails around town. And the first thing you notice here in the spring is the deer corpses. They get shot or hit by cars and make it to the side of the road and then the snow drifts over them. Or plows just push snow over them. The spring reveals them. And so I liked the image, and was thinking about melting Antarctic snow, and wondered what might be revealed under the snow and ice there.

You twine together three storylines (two of them flashbacks) in one short story — can you talk about the challenges of this structure?

I hope the story manages to keep everything clear. I worry about that, because to me I wanted to draw the parallels between Adam and his father and then draw that out to include what’s happening with the polar melt and climate change. I think the trickiest part is balancing the sections, making sure that they each have weight and a purpose. Hopefully they build and reinforce each other. But it is a structure I like to use, because I like the way the images and ideas can echo across time. The readers will have to ultimately decide if I was successful at all or not.

Are any of the themes in “Spring Thaw” common to your other work?

Winter and cold are themes that I think I play with an awful lot. Probably because it’s one of the things I feel I’m legitimately experienced with. That sounds weird. But as a writer I’m terrified that people will read my work and find it inauthentic. So I do think I fall back on a few things that I know very well to insulate myself from that fear. Winter is one of them. Isolation and infatuation, too, because when you spend time in Northern Wisconsin and you’re shy you get to know those feelings very well. Surprisingly, this story doesn’t have really any cooking in it, which is another thing I tend to write a lot about.

Something about the quietness of the Antarctic storyline brought to mind Lovecraft’s horror story, “At the Mountains of Madness.” Was that in your mind at all when crafting “Spring Thaw”?

I don’t know if I was thinking specifically about that story when I was writing. I mean, I was here thinking of the body in Antarctica as a “Lovecraft alien or something.” So I was conscious of that and I’ve read “At the Mountains of Madness” a few times and I knew that I wanted to play with that trope of finding something in the ice. It’s a long tradition (who doesn’t love “Who Goes There?” and The Thing?), and I like the idea that the snow is hiding something. I mean, I’m not saying it’s aliens, but . . .

Is there anything you think gets overlooked by readers in “Spring Thaw”?

Up to now I’ve had a certain lack of readers for this. As a writer, I can say that it’s something I’m always afraid of, that somehow someone will “miss” something or that they’ll read something I didn’t intend or something like that. Writing, for me, always feels like baring some wound and asking people to poke around. I try to just keep right on writing. But I am terribly insecure. Somehow writers are supposed to be fearless, bulletproof. But here I am searching for reviews of what I do and Googling myself and you’re not supposed to do that but I am.

How many genres do you write in?

I don’t often think of genre when I write. I mean, vaguely, or if I want to write for a call I have to be more conscious of it. But I write spec pretty broadly. Fantasy was my first love but I write science fiction and horror and some weird as well. Though I hadn’t really thought of this story as horror when I wrote it. But here it is. So I can tell people I write horror now, too.

Who are you looking forward to reading this year?

I’m finally reading my first China Miéville this year, so that should be fun. And I’ve got a lot of poetry and prose by Linda Addison that looks amazing. I’ve already been blown away by the new books this year by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Signal to Noise) and Elizabeth Bear (Karen Memory), and I’m looking forward to reading the latest from N.K. Jemisin and Ken Liu. There’s always so much to read that I feel so far behind, but I guess I just have to keep going.

Any news or projects you want to share with us?

This year I’ve started a little blog, Quick Sip Reviews (quicksipreviews.blogspot.com) where I review short fiction. There is so much to read! It’s a great time to be a reader. I also contribute to the blog Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together (nerds-feather.com) as their short fiction specialist. Feels weird to have the title, because even with how much I read I feel I should be reading more. And I’ll be at WisCon this year. Just as a spectator, but I’ll be there. Otherwise, that’s about it. I hope you like the story!

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Jude Griffin

Jude Griffin

Jude Griffin is an envirogeek, writer, and photographer. She has trained llamas at the Bronx Zoo; was a volunteer EMT, firefighter, and HAZMAT responder; worked as a guide and translator for journalists covering combat in Central America; lived in a haunted village in Thailand; ran an international frog monitoring network; and loves happy endings. Bonus points for frolicking dogs and kisses backlit by a shimmering full moon.