Exclusive Interview: “Opulent Syntax” Co-Editors Don Duncan & dave ring


Often, when a short story anthology is based around geography as opposed to time or “the best” of something, it’s a celebration of the location and the artistry of the people there. But in the following email interview with co-editors Don Duncan and dave ring about their anthology Opulent Syntax: Irish Speculative Fiction (paperback, ebook), they admit to taking a more aggressive stance.

Don Duncan dave ring Opulent Syntax Irish Speculative Fiction

Don Duncan, dave ring (Photo Credit: Farrah Skeiky)


To start, what is Opulent Syntax: Irish Speculative Fiction, what kind of stories are in it?

Don: For me, Opulent Syntax is a fuck you to the kinds of determinisms that harass us on the daily. It happens to be a fuck you that has a general concern with Ireland, a place that I’m from and currently call home, which knows a thing or two about heavy-handed determinism: religious, biological, linguistic, colonial, historic…so Opulent Syntax queers all that up a bit — a very necessary queering, in my view — and refigures the syntax of what was is and will be.

dave: Here, here. I came into contact with that determinism differently than Don — I am merely a onetime wayward resident of Ireland, my lineage a few generations removed — but resonate with that nonetheless. The stories in Opulent Syntax have a way of playing with the binaries of myth and expectation in a way that feels very Irish; I’m hopeful that they’ll connect with readers both bone-familiar and ignorant of those myths and those expectations.

Who came up with the idea for this anthology?

Don: It was dave’s idea and I was really happy he came and asked me to get on board.

So dave, why did you decide you wanted to co-edit it with Don as opposed to doing it on your own?

dave: Well, there were two considerations. One was that I had the misinformed idea that co-editing would make a thing easier, when in fact it necessitated more moments of calibration, rather than simply forging ahead with whatever idea might be in front of mind (a practice I’ll admit to employing on perhaps too many occasions).

But more than that, it felt important to have a co-editor who understood Irishness in a way that I didn’t.

Well, that and the third consideration was simply that I adore Don and wanted the opportunity to collaborate with him.

Now, in terms of who you have contributing to Opulent Syntax, did the writers have to be people who were born, raised, and still live in Ireland, or did they just have to be born there or of Irish descent?

Don: We didn’t want to be too restrictive, and wanted to have a scope that, yes, would be relevant to Ireland, but with the possibilities of varying levels of remove. In this spirit, we landed on the following criteria: contributors had to be either from anywhere but living in Ireland or from Ireland but living anywhere.

And then, when it came to the stories themselves, what parameters did they have to fit? Like was there a minimum or maximum word count, did they have to be written for this book, what?

dave: I think I used my typical wordcount guidelines for Neon Hemlock, which is usually 0-6000 words. Above that tends to get towards novelette territory, and we knew this would end up being a fairly slim anthology.

Genre-wise there were no limitations, and we even explored some speculative nonfiction with a wonderful writer, although in the end we couldn’t quite agree on where the story would go, so it isn’t in the book.

Don: We were also largely keen that the material would be original and not previously published, though the Anna Loughran poem, “Experience: Cave Hill,” that opens the book was previously published by Poetry Jukebox here in Ireland. Otherwise they are all originals.

Now, dave, Opulent Syntax is being published by Neon Hemlock, where you’re both the publisher and managing editor. Are you thinking that if Opulent Syntax does well you’ll do other geographically-located anthologies of speculative fiction?

dave: I’m certainly open. And for a little while, that was my intent, though the editor who had pitched me a book of Palestinian speculative work got snapped up by another press before I could get my act together. I’d love to publish more Palestinian work in the future. Neon Hemlock is still largely a one-person operation at the administrative / financial level, so I have a few more things to figure out before I have full-scale books being published with the press when I’m not on the editorial team.

Hollywood loves turning short stories into movies. Are there any stories in Opulent Syntax that you each think would work well as a movie?

dave: I’m personally obsessed by the idea of an Opulent Syntax anthology show where they all were adapted in some way. Anna Loughran’s poem “Experience: Cave Hill” would be worked into the opening credits, while most of the others would each have a standalone Black Mirror-esque episode. “Bleed Through” by Rien Gray, “Don’t Mention The Rhino” by Fergal Mc Nally, and “Francis Furlong Disappears” by Eoghan Smith might be the animated offerings.

Don: I got clear images and flashes of filmic scenes from all the work here, including the poems. I could see the rewilded Burren replete with de-extinct species in Yves Donlon’s “Artemis”; the ultimate sacrifices and maritime waiting games of Elaine McIonyn’s “Making Way”; and the moody, lonely world of Scott Sarafian’s “Craig McCarthy” all making really arresting films.

Don, as a filmmaker yourself, would you want to work on the movies based on those stories you just mentioned, or do you feel the three short films you’ve made — Together, Message And A Bottle, and Un Signe, Un Geste — don’t qualify you to make those movies for some reason?

Don: While I’d love to see some of these stories in film, my storytelling impulse has shifted in recent years into non-image formats: written word stories and sound-rich audio storytelling…perhaps I could make the sound-rich, character-focused podcast spin-off to Opulent Syntax.

dave: Oh, that’d be cool as hell. Don’t tempt me.

So, is there anything else you each think people should know about Opulent Syntax?

dave: I think of this book as maybe the beginning or middle of a conversation, not the end. As a publisher and an editor, I’m keen on hearing from more Irish voices, particularly those who expand our ideas of what Irishness can mean.

Don: I guess some backstory could be fun. dave and I were drinking buddies and flatmates while at college in Dublin some twenty years ago. I was studying “the canon” as part of a degree in English Literature, and all the way through dave was a source in my life of books and tales from the freaky margins, publications that would have made my professors’ eyebrows raise and possibly give them nosebleeds. Conversations about story, character, narrative which started between us in dive bars and at aleatory queer nights around town back then, continued and circulated during our work together on Opulent Syntax all these years later, and I’m very grateful for that.

dave: I’m grateful for that, too.

Don Duncan dave ring Opulent Syntax Irish Speculative Fiction

Finally, if someone enjoys Opulent Syntax, what anthology of speculative fiction that’s organized by geography or some other parameter other than the year or them being “the best” would you recommend they read next?

dave: So many to recommend. Some recent favs include New Suns edited by Nisi Shawl, Slay edited by Nicole Givens Kurtz, and Speculative Fiction For Dreamers edited by Alex Hernandez, Matthew David Goodwin, and Sarah Rafael García. Plus I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend the stories in my last anthology, Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales Of Insatiable Darkness [which you can read more about in this earlier interview with dave].



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