Issue 032 author interview: E.K. Wagner and “Running Straight”

We’re still in love with Luna Station Quarterly’s Issue 032, which came out December 1. It’s available both digitally and in print, so do check it out when you get a chance. In the meantime, we had the pleasure of talking with E.K. Wagner, author of the sci-fi short story “Running Straight” that appears in this issue. Here’s what she had to say about her story, the “itchin men”, and her writing.

LSQ: Where did the idea for this story come from? Did it start as one idea or a gathering of thoughts in pieces, since there are multiple concepts that are dealt with throughout the story (dreams and their meanings; the mother/daughter bond; male/female relationships to name a few). 

E.K.: I wrote this story about two years ago, so I don’t remember the exact inspiration–but I do know that I was traveling for the holidays and staying with family. Perhaps this helped to inspire this text with its narrative of story-telling and community across generations of women? It seemed important to me to talk about community-specific forms of communication–ties that bind and exclude.
LSQ: Given the open ending, is it your intent to leave the reader feeling hopeful for Cinti’s future? In your mind, what happens to her? Or do you prefer it left unsaid and full of possibility? 

E.K.: I would like to think that Cinti makes it to the sea and escapes to a better life, urged on by the advice her mother had embedded in years of stories. That said, the details of her escape and new life are open to the imagination. What is the wider world like? It must be filled with more like the itchin men–but hopefully also filled with wise women and new companions.

LSQ: The itchin men and the collars… oh those collars. Was it always this way on this planet? What are the men afraid of?

E.K.: I think the collars and the itchin men are the gradual results of a society too-obsessed with a strict, gender-driven hierarchy. It hasn’t always been like this. But the dreams of these women have creative power (sometimes the metaphor seems oh-so-thin) and they are a threat to those in charge. The collars are meant to control and limit the dreams–to limit their generative power.

LSQ: What was the most challenging part of writing this story?

E.K.: I think the most challenging part of the story was staying in the voice and mind of Cinti–especially between writing sessions. Consequently, I wrote the draft of this story very quickly over a day or two. I was afraid to lose the voice–naive, stubborn, brave, and inspired by my Appalachian roots.

LSQ: What are you reading currently? Does what you read influence whatever you are writing at the time? Who are some authors that inspire you?

E.K.: I try to read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, including many new novels, so that I’m aware of the genres’ moods, so to speak. This definitely informs my own fiction. I’ve recently read books 1 and 2 of N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy, and I loved it. Hoping to read the third soon! Great, strong narrative voice there–as well as an important engagement with our own current political realities. Right now, I’m reading Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. Fascinating interplay of technology and ideology.

LSQ: Speaking to the writing process in general, can you tell us what your greatest strength and greatest weakness are as a writer? 

E.K.: Hm. It feels a bit awkward to speak of my strengths, but I do think I have an ability to capture voice and dialogue that feels real (if I’m writing well!). I have a tendency–and I’m trying to move beyond this–to overwhelm that dialogue with narration, though. I get caught up in my characters’ thoughts sometimes and forget to move on with their lives.

LSQ: Do you have any other projects you’re working on at the moment and can you tell us a bit about them?

E.K.: Always working on something! I’m in the process of expanding a short story into a novel called Ye Are the Children of Prophets. The novel narrates a not-too-distant dystopia, struggling with the rise of child militias in the U.S. and the implementation of AI soldiers. Light, cheery stuff. I almost always have a short story on the back burner as well–whether it be about golems in ancient Jerusalem or big-rig drivers facing a nuclear winter.