“The Albatwitch Chorus” [on sale now] is Stephanie Feldman’s second witch-related story published in a September/October issue of our magazine, and we would gladly make this a regular tradition. She tells us in this interview, however, that she’s done with witches—at least for a while. Luckily, she’s got plenty more story ideas to play with.
Asimov’s Editors: How did “The Albatwitch Chorus” germinate?
Stephanie Feldman: This idea, like most of my ideas, came both quickly and slowly. When I learned about the albatwitch, a kind of mini-Sasquatch from Pennsylvania folklore, I knew I wanted to write about it. I like cryptids and have a weirdly specific phobia of uncanny, humanoid tricksters.
The albatwitch hung out in the back of my mind while I worked on other projects, and when I sat down to write, the story blossomed into something I hadn’t expected: the tale of a witch going through a midlife crisis.
Sonia’s small witchery business is thriving and she’s purchased her own cottage at the edge of her hometown; she has the life she always wanted. But then she hires Gina, her ex-husband’s teenage daughter, as an intern, and an albatwitch appears in her backyard—the first living albatwitch anyone has seen in decades. Sonia’s perfect life begins to unravel.
AE: Do you relate to any of the characters in this story?
SF: Sonia shares my conflicted feelings about the creature. She knows they can be dangerous—they live in large social groups that have attacked humans in the past—but she’s also drawn to them, their secrets, their singing, the ornaments and offerings they leave in her yard.
Sonia feels a similar ambivalence about Gina, who she views as a typical 16-year-old—sullen and entitled, someone who wants to be treated as an adult even though she acts like a child. But Gina has something that Sonia has lost, something primal that attracts the albatwitches. And Sonia is jealous.
Sonia realizes that in establishing a certain lifestyle she’s also established a way of thinking—reasonable and practical, disconnected from nature and mystery—and she begins to doubt her choices. Maybe I relate to that the most: the fear that in winning one kind of life you’ve lost the chance for another.
AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?
SF: Asimov’s published my story “The Witch of Osborne Park” in the Sept/Oct 2017 issue. I love that this story will appear in that same fall issue for 2019. I feel at home in Halloween-land, though I may be done with witches for a while.
AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
SF: They affect me quite a bit. On a surface level, it’s hard to focus in the midst of turmoil. The ongoing crisis also makes me question my work. Art matters; that belief has never wavered. But does my art matter, even in a small way?
That question moved me to work with Nathaniel Popkin on the anthology Who Will Speak for America?, which came out last year. It collects poems, stories, essays, and visual art from over 40 contributors, all exploring American identity. We included a number of speculative pieces; science fiction authors can tell us so much about who we are and who we might become.
When it comes to my own fiction, I don’t sit down with the intention of addressing current events, but I do quickly find those issues pushing to the surface.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing?
SF: One such issue that’s taken over my writing is climate anxiety. I’ve been writing a lot about nature—mysterious nature, dangerous nature, evolving and resilient nature. It’s an odd mix of optimism and apocalyptic fear.
I have also always been interested in hierarchy and power. In A Chorus of Albatwitches, there’s albatwitch society, which humans have been too afraid to investigate, preferring to pretend it doesn’t exist at all.
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
SF: I don’t get writers’ block—I have too many unwritten ideas and have developed tricks for attacking particular story knots. However, I do have lots of bad writing days. I’m tired and distracted and anxious that I’m doing a bad job.
I’m familiar with all of these feelings and how they get in the way, so they often slow me down, but they don’t stop me. I just keep going and try not to be too hard on myself. A bad writing day is a million times better than a no-writing day.
AE: What are you reading right now?
SF: I just came off of a really good reading month! I read Sarah Rose Etter’s first novel, The Book of X, about a woman whose body is shaped like a knot and whose family works in a meat mine; Han Kang’s Human Acts, about the aftermath of the 1980 massacre of South Korean protestors; and Michel Faber’s Under the Skin¸ which was so bizarre and absorbing and devastating—I don’t even want to sum it up because discovering the secrets of the protagonist’s nature and mission is part of the book’s power.
I recommend all three books, but don’t be like me and read them in a row. It was emotionally exhausting.
I’m currently reading a collection of Daphne du Maurier’s stories, which are frightening and a lot of fun. It’s interesting to read these older stories, which are longer and more patient than most short fiction today, and more suspenseful for it.
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
SF: Be a good literary citizen—keep up with what’s being published, attend readings and conferences, support other writers. (Of course, read a lot, write a lot, submit a lot . . .)
When I first started publishing, I was very attuned to the industry and promotional strategies. The longer I do this, though, the more I try to stay focused on the work itself. I worry less about what other people will think and more about my own vision. It’s the one thing that’s truly in my control and the reason why I write in the first place.