Greg van Eekhout writes science fiction and fantasy for all ages. His novels for adults include Norse Code and California Bones. His novels for young readers include Voyage of the Dogs and the upcoming release, Cog. He’s a two-time Nebula Award finalist. “Big Box”—a darkly humorous look at discount-priced magic—is van Eekhout’s first appearance in Uncanny.
Uncanny Magazine: “Big Box” is an interesting examination of the price of magic combined with the experience of shopping at a big box store. What was your starting point or inspiration for the story?
van Eekhout: I’ve always liked the “Shop That Wasn’t There Yesterday” trope. And I like weird little shops in real life, too. I love the sense that you could turn a corner and come across something magical or at least weird. But when I lived in Phoenix, Arizona, I saw so much new development gobbling up the desert, and it was all chains and big box stores and none of it was charming. Edward Abbey called Phoenix the blob that ate Arizona, and I wondered what kind of magical shop could exist in that environment. It didn’t take much of an imaginative leap to come up with a big box store that wasn’t there yesterday.
Uncanny Magazine: The story begins with “I don’t know what I need, but I know I need a lot of it” and ends with “I need.” This structure—where the ending somewhat mirrors the beginning but also brings a deeper understanding—is particularly useful for flash fiction. Do you have other tips or tricks for people who want to write at this length?
van Eekhout: I like to think of flash as a good, catchy pop song. Open with a hook, get to the point, feel free to indulge in some flourishes equivalent to a guitar solo or have a turning point where things get a bit weird in the bridge section, and then maybe echo the hook or the chorus and get out.
Uncanny Magazine: I loved the brief mentions of the doll the narrator’s mother kept locked up in the basement. Cursed and creepy dolls show up frequently in horror stories and movies. Are you a fan of horror? Did you have any particular doll in mind as you were writing this story?
van Eekhout: I don’t read much horror these days, but Stephen King is part of my writer DNA, and when I first started writing I thought I’d be a splatterpunk. My adult stuff still has a bit of horror in it.
I didn’t have a specific creepy doll in mind for this story, because all dolls are creepy. Literally all of them. This is objective fact. All dolls are bad and should be incinerated. Tear down the doll factories and salt the earth. Dolls. Ugh.
Uncanny Magazine: You’ve written adult, YA, and middle grade novels, in addition to short fiction and the occasional comic. How hard do you find it to switch between different types of writing? Are you a multitasker working on several types of projects at once, or do you tend to focus on one thing at a time?
van Eekhout: I wish I were a multitasker so I could pay attention to both the adult and the middle grade sides of my career at the same time, but I tend to be mono-focused on a single project at a time. Switching back and forth between adult and middle grade isn’t too hard, but I remember starting one of my adult books, California Bones, after having written two middle grade novels, and the first draft of the first chapter was basically just pent-up F-bombs.
Uncanny Magazine: If you had to buy one magical item from this story, which one would it be and why?
van Eekhout: I’d take the chewing gum that prevents you from saying stupid things to people you know but forces you to say them to strangers. I’m the kind of person who goes home from a con and chews their intestines worrying about stupid things I might have said. At least with the gum I’d know I didn’t say them to anyone I’ll ever have to see again.
Uncanny Magazine: What’s next for you?
van Eekhout: I’ve got a new middle grade book, COG, coming from HarperCollins on October 1. It’s about robots on a road trip to rescue their creator from the corporation that owns them. The villain is toxic capitalism.
Uncanny Magazine: Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!
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