Interview: Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s fiction and poetry has appeared in over 50 publications such as Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, Lightspeed, and LeVar Burton Reads, as well as in six languages. She has been a finalist for the Nebula Award and won the Grand Prize in the SyFy Channel’s Battle the Beast contest; SyFy made and released an animated short of her short story “Party Tricks,” set in the world of The Magicians. She lives in Texas with three cats: Gamora, Don Quixote, and Gimli.“Where You Linger” is Stufflebeam’s second appearance in Uncanny—a beautifully structured story that explores memory, relationships, and personal growth.

 

Uncanny Magazine: I loved the structure of this story, with a series of events described two different ways (first as notes, then as memories). How did you decide which details to put in the crumpled notes vs. the re-lived memories?

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: I wanted the details in the beginning to be short and sweet and tinged with the nostalgia of imperfect memories. I was inspired by Michelle Boisseau’s poem “Counting” which begins, “after a while, remembering the men you loved / is like counting stars. / from the arbitrary constellations / you pick out those the brightest. then the others, / dimmer and dimmer, till you can’t tell / if they’re real or only reflections / from your eyes watering with the strain.”

I wanted to write the fragments through watery-eyed memory, where each fragment is a miniature story that the mind writes after the fact, whereas the re-lived memories are less compact and complete.

Uncanny Magazine: What was your favorite part of writing this story?

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: I love stories where a younger self or a different self interacts with the present self; those mirror meetings are such a joy to play with. I also loved the pseudo-science of the memory visitations. I love writing ridiculous concepts but playing them straight. I laughed for a long time about the fact that penetration is what allows the memory to be re-visited.

Uncanny Magazine: This is a story with a large cast of characters—did you find it challenging to introduce so many characters in a relatively short space and make them distinct from one another? Do you have a favorite minor character from the story?

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: Not at all! I’ve met so many unique people, and as most writers do, I’ve collected quirks and habits and manners of speaking. It was important for the main character to have slept with a higher than average number of people. I’ve seen so many works of media where women fret over their sexual numbers, which when revealed are quite low.

I read a New Yorker article about Anna Ferris in 2011 when she was making the rom-com What’s Your Number? And studio executives were worried about having a protagonist who had slept with 20 people. There was a lot of hemming-and-hawing about trimming the number because they worried she wouldn’t appear like “a sweetheart.” It stuck with me. So that large cast of characters was essential.

Actually, several of these minor characters show up in other stories of mine. Anne, for example, is a common character who has her own rich history in my other stories. Cathryn makes a couple of appearances. Grayson meets a terrible end in “Where You Came From,” which came out in Three-Lobed Burning Eye. So those three are probably my favorites.

Uncanny Magazine: The story does a beautiful job showing how people change over time—the experience of Ms. Moore’s memories when she returns to them is shaded by all the things she’s lived through in the intervening years, and there is a nice contrast between the older and younger versions of Ms. Moore. Was personal growth or change over time something that you deliberately included from the start, or did it emerge organically as you were writing?

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: It was absolutely deliberate. I wanted to explore someone who had matured emotionally going back to visit their more naïve self, and I also wanted to explore how that person might learn about their own shortcomings from revisiting a more idealistic younger version of themselves.

Uncanny Magazine: If this type of memory-immersion technology existed, would you want to use it? Why or why not?

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: I might. It would be interesting to go back and see what parts of my memories were false and how my emotional response to situations would change with more worldly knowledge. I often think back on who I used to be and feel so lucky to have moved past that. If I used the technology, I imagine I would come away with an even greater idea of how far I’ve come over the years.

Uncanny Magazine: What are you working on next?

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: Several things! I have a story coming out in an anthology of future crime. I’m also writing two longer works right now, both about relationships in some way: one is horror, and the other is science fiction.

Uncanny Magazine: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

Caroline M. Yoachim

Caroline M. Yoachim is the author of the 2017 Hugo and Nebula finalist short story “Carnival Nine.” Her fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, and Asimov’s, among other places. Her debut short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories, came out with Fairwood Press in 2016. For more about Caroline, check out her website at carolineyoachim.com.

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