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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories Interviews

Alison McBain

Alison McBain is Bewildering Stories Associate Editor.
We’re very glad to be able to add her interview to our distinguished list of interviews.

I. Personal Questions

Alison McBain photo

Where do you live, if you don’t mind saying? — Suburbia, Connecticut.

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

I’ve read a gazillion books, but I’ve never gotten over one from my childhood: Narnia. There is something so magical about the idea of a secret world through a wardrobe. Not sure I’d want to live there forever, but I’d love to visit.

What is your occupation? What do you do in real life? — I’m a stay-at-home mom. Doesn’t get any realer than that.

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

Being a mom is tough. I’d definitely advise waiting until you’re not a “young person” anymore. If you have a choice, it helps to have a bit of real life experience and know-how under your belt before bringing a baby into the world. It might not help with parenting at all, but at least you will know how to pull out your hair in a mature and experienced way.

Has your occupation influenced your writing?

Definitely. It’s hard to describe to non-parents how much of a life-changer it is without pulling out a pocket full of clichés or sounding holier-than-thou. I love being a parent. And, sometimes, to be honest, I hate being a parent. But it is the most intense roller-coaster there is. Hopefully, I’ve been able to infuse a little bit of that contradiction into my own writing.

How did you come in contact with Bewildering Stories?

I found Bewildering Stories through my writing guru, coordinating editor Edward Ahern. I met him through a local authors’ salon, and he encouraged me to join the Fairfield Scribes, a writing critique group he belonged to. He talked about the work he did at Bewildering Stories, and that they were always looking for new contributors. I submitted and had my poem accepted on the first try! After that, the rest was history.

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?

Ahem, those book reviews are awesome... But, joking aside, I really enjoy the variety of contributors and reading selections in Bewildering Stories. There really is something for every reader.

I think one thing I’d like to see is art incorporated with the fiction. I think it would be fantastic to have artists work with the authors to create scenes from selected pieces in each issue. As far as I know, there isn’t an arts editor, and it would be great to have someone stumping for more visual works in each issue.

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

When not corralling my kids, I like to do creative and constructive things, such as ink drawings, painting, origami, handcrafts, and general home and garden DIY projects.

II. About Reading

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

I have a big don’t. Don’t stop writing! You guys are awesome, and the magazine wouldn’t exist without you.

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

I don’t think I have any least favorite parts, at least, not yet. Perhaps in a couple years, I’ll have a gripe or two. Right now, I just think it’s awesome to be a part of such a long-running magazine, and to be able to contribute in any way that is helpful.

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

It’d be hard to pick a favorite book - that would be like saying pick your favorite grain of sand when what you really love is the beach. I just can’t do it. The last book I read and enjoyed was... How to choose?

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

I love several masters at their craft, and the list includes: Tanith Lee, Elizabeth Moon, Guy Gavriel Kay, Terry Pratchett, Ray Bradbury, Robin McKinley, Kristen Higgans and many others.

While these are a diverse group of writers, there is one thing that unifies them, and that is their attention to detail. I feel that what distinguishes the great author from the merely good is being able to capture that exact feeling that every other person experiences in a situation simply by a few strokes of the pen. To go right to the heart of a feeling by picking out the important details and discarding the unimportant.

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

Haha, I definitely wouldn’t want to be one of my own characters; they often come to bad ends. A lot of my favorite characters in books also have pretty shitty lives. Perhaps I’d like to be one of the characters from a Kristan Higgan’s book. They might be a little silly and have a bit of heartbreak, but they always have a happy ending.

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

Not to harp too much upon it, but I enjoy reading Edward Ahern’s work. He might be an editor, but he’s a writer first and foremost, and quite talented. He writes everything from poetry to prose, literary to genre.

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

I could go all serious and literary, but I think I’d have to go with Tanith Lee. She inspired me to become a writer when I was young, and continued to impress me with her work when I became an adult. I wish I could have met her and asked her all the fannish questions that writers hate, such as, “Where do you get your ideas? What were your inspirations for such-and-such a book?” Or just to gush. I’d be fine with gushing, too.

III. About Writing

How long have you been writing?

All my life. As soon as I knew how to string together letters to make a word and words to create a sentence, I’ve been writing down stories. I don’t know why I wanted to write, it was just as much a part of me as breathing. I have stories playing in my head all the time. When I read a newspaper article, when I watch TV, when I play with my kids, everything is inspiration.

What made you want to start writing?

Since I’ve always been writing, I’ll interpret this question to mean why did I want to write for publication. Aside from the obvious of wanting to make a million dollars with the next American novel, I think I want to inspire someone else, just as I was inspired by my favorite authors.

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

Oh, the ego! Haha. Let me say this: I have several absolute favorite stories that I’ve written. Few of them have been published yet. Hopefully, you’ll be able to read them soon. And as to my BwS titles, it’s hard to choose, since one is poetry, one fiction. But I’d have to recommend my fiction title, “Supply and Demand,” since I’m at heart a prose writer first and a poet second.

Do you have a favorite character in your own stories? In some other writer’s?

It’s hard to have favorite characters in short stories, I feel, which is all I’ve had published so far. I think one of my favorite characters in someone else’s writing would have to be Om, the tortoise, brought to the world courtesy of Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods. I couldn’t stop laughing at this angry, once-omnipotent being reduced to the level of tortoise.

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

Ah, the dreaded question of where the ideas come from! Is it cheating to say everywhere? Everything inspires me: dreams, news, other writers’ stories, art... everything has the potential to become a story. Don’t hate me for it, but I find it hard NOT to have stories continuously running through my head. The problem isn’t the inspiration or the writing, it’s definitely the editing. My least favorite part of the whole process.

In composing a story, which do you think of first: the plot or the characters?

Neither, actually. Often, my stories start with an image. Sometimes I have to wait for a while for the image to coalesce into something solid, but I’ll write it on my list of ideas and come back to it when I’m looking for a story idea for a particular prompt. After that, I work out the plot of the story. The characters often come through only when I’m writing.

What do you consider the strangest thing you’ve ever written?

A lot of my writing might be considered strange, so it’s hard to pick, haha. I guess most people would say my experimental stories. I have two pieces published in the magazine Flapperhouse which are very different from a traditional narrative.

What do you consider the most revealing thing you’ve ever written?

Although I love writing genre, I think the most painful and truthful pieces I write are literary stories. They embody my fears; a lot of times, they are about being a parent, and all the things that can go wrong. I write those fears down so that I don’t have to worry about them.

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?

I write for me. I have no audience in mind. These are the stories that I tell myself for entertainment, and I’m always surprised — and gratified — to learn that other people want to read them, too.

What would you like readers to learn or gain from what you write?

I don’t want to force my opinion on others. I tell stories primarily for several reasons: to exorcise my fears and to entertain. Sometimes both at the same time. So if readers can see themselves and their fears in the stories - or be entertained by them, then that’s fantastic.

Where do you write?

I write at home, sitting at my desktop computer in our family room, oftentimes surrounded by my kids’ toys and mess. I’m pretty good at shutting out any distractions.

When do you write: at set times or as the mood moves you?

I have very limited time and press myself pretty hard to have a certain output, so I don’t write only when the mood moves me. If I did, I might never have anything written.

Because I’m my own boss, I need to set my own deadlines to motivate myself. So I have a calendar of magazine deadlines. This usually means I’m writing frantically at the end of the month, because magazine deadlines tend to be either at the end or beginning of each month. At other times, I keep myself occupied with reading, editing and book reviews.

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

Although I don’t set a quota — and there can be days, even weeks, when I don’t write — when I do have a good pace going, I can do about 50,000 words in a couple of weeks.

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

I’ve never had writer’s block in the truest sense. Sometimes I’ll be struggling with a story or part of a manuscript that isn’t working, but that’s usually due to my having a bad setup and needing to fix the plot to make it work.

Also, sometimes I have to set a story aside. I’ll come back to it, but I need a little distance in order to make things work. Then I go work on something else — or several something elses — until I feel ready to go back and tackle the problems. I feel my problem is the opposite of writer’s block. I have a lot of story ideas and very limited time.

But I don’t think I was always like this. I remember doing a lot of writer’s exercises when I was young. I think the exercise I enjoyed the most was the stream-of-consciousness writing. That’s where you’d go to a public location, such as a coffee shop, and just write about what you see and hear. It doesn’t have to be coherent or create something cohesive, but it gives you an outlet, a way of breaking into that daunting blank page.

Do you use the Internet or the library to check facts? — Yes, both.

Does anyone else proofread or critique your work?

Several someones. I belong to the online writer’s group, Scribophile. I also attend a weekly in-person writer’s group. In addition to that, I have my husband, who’s often my first reader on most of my work, and my family: parents, in-laws and siblings. So, yes, I have a whole team of readers, who I really, really appreciate.

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?

Both. One of my most vivid memories was sitting in math class in fifth grade. I’d completed my math work and was merely sitting and waiting for class to continue when I got a brilliant story idea. On the edges of my notebook, I began to write. And write. And write. Until... I heard my name called. I had been caught red-handed not paying attention. My story was discovered, read in class, and I felt humiliated. And my parents weren’t too happy with me.

So that was one way I had to sneak around. No more writing in class! But, other than that, my parents were pretty supportive of me sitting and scribbling away.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Yes. Although I’m a sports nil, I’m contractually obliged to add from my husband, “Go, Yankees!” Sorry to all the Red Sox fans out there (I probably just made about a million enemies, haha). That is all.

Copyright © 2016 by Alison McBain

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