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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories Interviews

Heather J. Frederick

Heather J. Frederick is a Bewildering Stories Associate Editor.
We’re very glad to be able to add her interview to our distinguished list of interviews.

I. Personal Questions

Where do you live, if you don’t mind saying? — Durham, North Carolina

Where do you think you might like to live either in reality or in your imagination?

Other than the commute, I think low-Earth orbit might be nice. I’ve heard the International Space Station has as much room as a six-bedroom house.

What is your occupation? What do you do in real life? — I’m an anesthesiologist by training. In real life, I raise my kids, write, and foster cats.

What advice would you give to a young person going into your line of work?

If you’re considering medicine, do your homework and know what you are getting into: the 40-hour work week does not exist in medicine. Physicians are increasingly being squeezed to increase productivity, decrease costs, and by the rise of mid-level providers. The rate of burnout is higher than ever. That’s not why I left, but I know of which I speak.

Has your occupation influenced your writing?

I’m still trying to write a good story that takes place in a hospital. So, yes, it keeps trying to come out. But it’s hard, because I like to write about aliens or cats. And I’m not a veterinarian!

How did you come in contact with Bewildering Stories? — BwS published my first short story!

Is there anything BwS does particularly well? Of course there’s always room for improvement: is there anything in particular you’d like to see added or changed?

BwS is a home for speculative fiction — period. Not just fantasy, not just sci-fi, but if the story pushes the boundaries of reality and bends your brain, it belongs at Bewildering Stories.

What do you do in your spare time (aside from reading BwS stories)?

I love to make things! A month ago I made a homemade spin art machine, which my kids have been going crazy with; and, this weekend, my family and I made a rat cage out of hardware cloth and pine. When I’m not making things, I’m trying to broker felines, because I foster cats. Want a cat? I’ve got a really cute one.

II. About Reading

Is there anything you’d like to tell BwS authors to do or not do?

Now that I’ve spent some time reading slush, this is probably what every editor says, but my best advice to authors is don’t send us your story until it is really done. I’ve read so many stories that are ALMOST THERE! A short story has to work on every level: good hook, good writing, good plot, good ending. But ultimately, what you’re trying to say is more important than how you say it.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of working as an Editor for Bewildering Stories?

My favorite part is that I get a steady stream of speculative fiction in my Inbox! I enjoy a surprising number of the stories that come through, even if they don’t ultimately end up published.

The hard part about reading slush is that it leaves me less time to read published spec fic for fun.

What’s your favorite book? What’s the last book that you read and really enjoyed?

I think if I had to pick ONE favorite book, my head would explode. The book that started it all, that first got me to open my eyes, was Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon.

The last book I read was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I rarely read books that come with Reader’s Guides, but my mother recommended it.

Who are your favorite authors, and what about their works appeals to you most?

Spider Robinson and Robert Heinlein were my first favorite authors, whom I discovered when I was a teenager. Theirs are the books that marked the beginning of my self-education.

If you could be any character (other than one of your own) from a book or movie, who would it be? Why?

I’ve never wanted to be any character in a book. Think about all the great powers that Harry Dresden has as a wizard, and then think about all the horrible things that Jim Butcher puts him through! No thanks. Book characters always lead overly dramatic lives. I’ll take boring any day.

Do you have any favorite authors at Bewildering Stories? Have you found there any works you’d recommend to a friend?

I have always enjoyed Charlie Cole’s short stories. Great wit!

If you could invite any other writer to dinner, whom would ask? Feel free to choose from any time or place.

Oh my goodness, would I have to cook? What if he or she was allergic to cats? And ever since the spin art machine, my dining room is in no shape for entertaining.

III. About Writing

How long have you been writing? — Short answer: all my life. Long answer: I didn’t get serious about it until four years ago.

What made you want to start writing? — Four years ago I lost my medical career due to chronic headaches. Had to do something, or go crazy.

Do you have a favorite among your works? Of your titles at BwS, which one would you recommend first to someone who hasn’t read you yet?

I am horrible at self-promotion. “The Talk” was my first published story. It was very well received.

Do you have a favorite character in your own stories? In some other writer’s? — My favorite characters appear in my novel Timber Howligan, Secret Agent Cat, and they are all cats.

Almost every writer is inspired by someone or something else. What inspirations have you found? Where do you get your ideas?

I have a lot of cats. They are all capable of very sneaky things. I totally think the CIA is aware and taking advantage of this.

In composing a story, which do you think of first: the plot or the characters? — I generally think of the first line and let it go from there.

What do you consider the strangest thing you’ve ever written? — Most of the things I’ve published at BwS.

What do you consider the most revealing thing you’ve ever written? — Welll... ”Mrs. Macy Jones” still makes me blush.

Most writers have a particular audience in mind, although it may change from one work to the next. Who are your audiences? For whom do you write?

Ironically, I write spec fic for adults, and fluffy spy kitty novels for kids. And never the twain shall meet. Hopefully.

What would you like readers to learn or gain from what you write? — The gift of any good writing is to be pulled into the story and out of yourself; that’s what I hope for any time I open a book.

Where do you write? — I am a creature of the digital age. I write at my desk, with my 24-inch screen plugged in behind my laptop. I could be portable, but why leave?

When do you write: at set times or as the mood moves you? — Mornings. If it doesn’t get done before noon, it doesn’t get done.

Some writers say they have to write a certain amount every day. Do you do set a quota?

I have a quote taped to my desk: “Discipline is more important than talent” (attributed to Jenny Downing). I try to write for at least an hour every day.

Do you ever have a problem with writer’s block? If so, can you offer other writers tips on how to deal with it?

During editing, I was getting stuck on my most recent novel. The solution was to delete the last half of the book and write it fresh. For me, writer’s block means I’m going in the wrong direction, and I need a hard reboot.

Do you use the Internet or the library to check facts?

I SHOULD use the library, because looking up “how to pick a lock” on the Internet can probably get you in trouble, but sometimes spy cats need to know these things.

Does anyone else proofread or critique your work? — The best thing I ever did was join a critique group! I love my writing group. It is hard to put your stuff out there for it to be torn apart, but it is worth it.

Some authors have said that their parents were supportive of their efforts when young, and some have said they had to sneak around and hide. What was the case with you?

My mother insisted “I always knew you were going to be a writer,” but that was a surprise to me, since I didn’t start until after I’d left medicine. If she’d told me, she could have saved me A LOT of work.

Some authors have started writing later in life. If that’s the case with you, what brought you to writing rather than to some other activity?

A fascination with words and a compulsion to tell a story is what brought me to writing. But it is circumstance, more than anything, that allows me to write. I am very fortunate, in that I have the time but I don’t have to be the one to support my family at the moment.

Copyright © 2016 by Heather J. Frederick

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