Issue 034 Author Interview: Sarah Pfleiderer and “Morph”

Buckle your seat belts, dear readers, as we head into another interview with an Issue 034 author. This time we had the privilege to chat with Sarah Pfleiderer about her short story “Morph.” You know how this works — go read her story now if you haven’t already and then feast your eyeballs on her thoughts below.

LSQ: It could be argued that Audra’s ambition to complete her studies jeopardized not only the Phytomorphs but also herself. What does this say about her character? Does this say something about the human race as a whole?
Sarah: I think curiosity is one of the most definable traits of the human race. We’ve gotten to where we are now because of the countless people pushing the realm of possibility and asking questions no one had ever thought to ask before. It’s fair to say Audra could represent that aspect of humanity; that ambitious drive for answers regardless of the possible consequences. As a person, Audra has allowed her work to consume her life, and the idea of having to give all that up because of a potential hiccup is inconceivable. But clearly her insistence to continue with the Phytomorphs brought about the end of her entire life’s work as well as the existence of the creatures she had grown to love.
LSQ: On the topic of Ziggy: do you have a clear idea of what the reader should conclude about him? If so, can you say, or do you prefer to leave it more ambiguous and let the reader decide for herself?
Sarah: I was originally inspired by Ray Bradbury’s “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed” where a settlement of humans slowly transforms into Martians. I wanted “Morph” to provide an inverse: aliens turning into humans and forgetting their original identity in the process. The human scientists unknowingly contaminate the Phytomorphs during their time together, and in the end, Ziggy became a human with no recollection of who he once was. I’ll let the reader decide what Audra ultimately chooses to do about Ziggy, whether she leaves him on the IGNSS or takes him back with her to Earth.
LSQ: Are you a fan of other first contact stories? With such a story line, there’s some trepidation that the aliens will not be benevolent. What made you design the Phytomorphs as they are?
Sarah: There’s a lot of space for creativity in first contact stories and I’m always curious to see how other writers explore that idea. I wanted the Phytomorphs to be more connected to each other and their planet than humans are to make their transformation more impactful. I wanted to play with the idea of “what if, before we were infected with this ‘human virus,’ we used to be more in tune with our home and each other? What if the reason we’re so obsessed with finding ‘the meaning of life’ is because we used to know, but became infected and forgot?” Depicting the Phytomorphs as a more peaceful species also brings attention to our own disconnect.
LSQ: What do you think our first contact will be like? Is what you think different than what you hope?
Sarah: It would be nice to believe that humans’ first contact with an intelligent alien life form would be peaceable. But considering the violence with which we treat members of our own species, I suspect that might not be the case.
LSQ: What was the most enjoyable part about writing this story?
Sarah: I had the most fun writing the reveal at the end. I always enjoy writing the more disturbing scenes; I like finding that sweet spot of horrifying detail without it becoming overpowering. My original concept hinged on the grisly scene of a once docile and interconnected species becoming self-centered and violent. So it was satisfying to finally have all the build-up pay off and get the reader to the place I felt most excited about.
LSQ: Do you have any new writing projects in the works? If so, can you tell us a bit about them?
Sarah: I’ve been working on polishing a magical realism piece about ancient spirits living in the Great Lakes. I like experimenting with tropes used in fantasy and faerie stories, particularly the idea of contracts with immortal beings and the trickery used to ensnare unsuspecting humans.