Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Lisa Tuttle

From the beginning, “Replacements” touches on the nature of fear, doubt, and the unknown. What inspired you to write such a story?

It’s hard to remember exactly what inspired a story I wrote as long ago as September, 1991! I wrote it for Dennis Etchison’s MetaHorror, an anthology designed, as he explained in his introduction, to “break down fences,” and “to enrich and broaden a field that I hope will not exist indefinitely as a separate entity.” He was looking for stories that did not pander to genre expectations; stories that took risks and spoke of serious issues. So I was aiming high. Also, and importantly, I had become a mother earlier that year, and was still adjusting both emotionally and physically to the demands of a baby.

One of the strengths of the story is its firm anchor in the mundane world, whether at the office, in the simmering tensions brewing at home, or along the crowded streets. When writing, are you conscious of the cornerstones of the story, those places where the story intersects with reality, or do you let your creativity direct where and how the story will define itself?

This is a difficult one for me to answer, because I guess I don’t think of writing in those terms. Yes, there has to be a balance between inspiration and planning, and between authorial intent and happy accident — but how to break it down? My preference is to set my stories very much in the real world — so the fantasy element comes as an intrusion. It’s easier for me to visualize places I actually know, so I tend to set my stories in places I have been. When I wrote “Replacements” I had been living in rural Scotland for almost a year, but I chose to set my story in London, where I had lived for almost a decade before moving to Scotland — so it was quite easy to call on vivid memories of those city streets, and think of how seldom the hurrying pedestrians ever looked down at what might be under their feet.

In many ways, Stuart and Jenny’s relationship mirrors that of new parents dealing with the added stressors and lack of intimacy that can sometimes happen with the birth of a child. Even Stuart’s conflicted feelings about the creature — Do I love it? Kill it? Will it replace me in my wife’s heart? — speak to many a new father’s fears. What, if anything, of your real life went into writing this story?

As I said above — having a baby was undoubtedly a major factor behind this story! My default position when writing is the female point of view, so this is one of the relatively few stories I’ve written from the point of view of a (good, sensitive, caring,but baffled) male. No villains in this story, I think; my sympathies are with all three.

Good fiction hopes to shed a light on the fringes of human existence, posing questions others may not wish to consider. Of late, there has been a vocal outpouring of complaint against women and people of color who leave their mark on the writers’ world. As a writer, how do you feel your career has been impacted by these attitudes?

Oh, dear. “Of late” you say, but it was ever thus. I remember what it was like in the 1970s, when there were so many good new women writers entering the field — a lot of readers and editors were excited that so many of the most interesting new writers were female — and some of us were young enough to take it for granted! — yet at the same time, some of the “old guard” sneered and grumbled. I can remember unpleasant conversations at conventions and elsewhere, fans and established writers alike (all men, of course) opining that women were “ruining” their beloved field . . . arguing that women only wrote fantasy, not “real” SF (those were the days when fantasy was still a largely despised, minor offshoot of “the real thing” in the opinion of many), and so on and so forth.

I also remember anguished, brow-beating discussions over how we could attract more people of colour into the field — and the excitement around such brilliant (non-white) writers as Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Estelle Butler — but why weren’t there more? I never personally encountered racist rants against the few African-American writers who were around — unlike the casual misogyny, which was more socially acceptable — which is not to say it didn’t happen, just that I (a white woman, existing in my little bubble of privilege) did not hear much of it — anyway, not aimed at fellow writers or fans from ostensibly civilized people in polite society. But those were the days before the Internet! Now, as then, every idiot has an opinion — but the offensive ones were a little easier to avoid back then, when it was mostly a matter of not reading their fanzines (assuming they had sufficient energy, skill, and cash to publish one) and steering clear of them at social gatherings. These days, it’s not only so much easier to self-publish, but every idiot’s opinion can be blasted around the world in seconds and re-posted and re-tweeted, and when they stir up controversy (or even just annoyance at their stupidity), it is almost impossible not to stumble across them, if only in the context of other people’s responses.

Hmmm, I seem to have gone on at great length without actually answering your question as to how my career may have been impacted! When I was younger, I never felt my career was hampered at all by being a woman. If anything (I think now, looking back) it may have helped me a little, as I gained attention very early on by being what was still rather rare — a woman writer in a male-dominated genre. Young women tend to be of more interest to the media, anyway — it’s older women who are more likely to be ignored. I was photographed and interviewed for Seventeen magazine at the very start of my career — I’d had (I think) two short stories published at that point! I had been nominated for an award (which I did not win), but — I ask you, how did that make me interesting enough to interview? Well — because I was a nineteen-year-old girl, and this was a magazine aimed at teenaged girls.

Later, during the first great horror boom of the 1980s, I found that male horror fans were far less accepting of women writers than forward-thinking SF fans had been a decade earlier — they seemed convinced that women could not write “real” horror. It could be that the strength of the women’s movement in America in the 1970s led to a more virulent male backlash in the ’80s . . . or it may actually be a difference between male SF fans and male horror fans. My tipping point was reached with the anthology Prime Evil, edited by Douglas Winter in 1988. Not only was table of contents all male (he only invited contributions from “the masters” of modern horror), but in an otherwise intelligent introduction (arguing that horror is not genre-specific, but is to be found throughout literature), he managed to name only one female author — and out of all possibilities, it was best-seller V.C. Andrews, which made me wonder if he even knew that “V” stood for Virginia rather than, say, Victor.

But my anger at this attempt to erase women’s contributions to horror fiction inspired me to edit my own anthology — and fill it entirely with stories written by women (Skin of the Soul, 1990). So you see, those hateful, negative attitudes can lead to positive outcomes.

When you want to get your fear on, what authors send shivers up and down your spine?

How to choose? There are so many good writers working now — recent discoveries include Helen Marshall, Lynda Rucker, and Sara Gran, and Adam Nevill’s horror novels are some of the best and scariest I have read since . . . oh, Peter Straub or Thomas Tessier, to name but two. I always look out for new stories by Reggie Oliver and Robert Shearman. Sometimes I return to the writers who started me off on this whole weird fascination — M.R. James, Arthur Machen, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Edith Wharton — and their stories are as chilling and powerful as ever.

What’s next for Lisa Tuttle? What can eager readers look forward to in the coming months?

I’ve sold two new stories — one to Dark Discoveries Magazine, which should be appearing this summer. The story’s title is “2-Dava” (you’ll have to read the story to discover what it means!). Next year will see the publication of my new novel, The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief, from Jo Fletcher Books here in the U.K.

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Sandra Odell

Sandra Odell

Sandra Odell is a forty-seven-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.