While Jessica Reisman has been writing short stories for decades, she’s only now having them collected in a handy, take-home package, The Arcana Of Maps & Other Stories (paperback, Kindle). In the following email interview, Reisman talks about what inspired and influenced these stories, as well as how they relate to her novels.
For starters, how did you decide what stories to include in The Arcana Of Maps? Like is there a theme or some other commonality that ties them together?
A theme! That would have been a good idea. The only theme is these are stories I have written, they come from the garden and forests of my brain and from my heart — please adventure here in peace.
How about a framing device?
As there’s no theme beyond the thread of here are the stories of my heart, the only framing device would be that I picked the stories I felt resonated most strongly together to create a harmony. I’m not a fast writer and this collection represents stories published over many years.
What genre or genres do the stories in The Arcana Of Maps cover?
One of the earliest published stories, for which the collection is named, was actually written when I was in the Michener Fellowship program back in grad school; the faculty was — as often seems to be the case — not friendly to what they thought science fiction and fantasy were, so I wrote stories then that I called magic realism…though that’s problematic, since I’m not South American or a part of the culture from which Magic Realism arose. So call the title story literary fantasy, perhaps. From there, the stories cover ground from what’s more traditionally thought of as fantasy to science fiction that’s various distances of far future, both on Earth and in far flung space, to fabulism.
With the exception of “Before The Rain,” all of the stories in The Arcana Of Maps were previously published in various journals and online. Are the versions in The Arcana Of Maps the same as the previously published ones — save, of course, for typos — and if so, is that because you think, as some writers do, that stories shouldn’t be changed once they’ve been published?
Hmmm; I never really thought about it, but I guess I do feel like the stories, as published, should retain their published personas. I’m not categorically against revising something after it’s been published — there’s all kinds of reasons I can see for doing that. I’m reading a novel right now, Marta Randall’s Mapping Winter, that was originally published in 1983 and was a favorite, but was recently reissued much revised. But, yes, these versions are the same as their previously published incarnations, save, as you say, for typos.
Yes, there are connections. Both of my published novels are science fiction, and though they don’t have characters in common, they do partake of the same wider science fictional universe, at different times and places in that universe. “An Irdish Tale” is an origin story for the Fuizi, an assassin dog that figures importantly in The Z Radiant. “Boy Twelve” references some of the same background planets and cultures and histories as the novels, and I think the space station on which it’s set, Samjadsit Station, is mentioned in at least one of the novels. “Bourbon, Sugar, Grace” is at a much earlier point in the same universe, while “Threads,” “The Chambered Eye,” and “The Vostrasovitch Clockwork Animal And Traveling Forest Show At The End Of The World” are all set on Earth in futures pretty removed from our present, some more than others. These stories partake of some of the same SF terminology I coined early on for myself, like “semiperm” and “kive,” so in that way, they’re also part of the same SF universe.
So are there any writers who were a big influence on one or more of the stories in The Arcana Of Maps but not on either of your novels?
A couple of my major influences, Tanith Lee and Patricia McKillip, can definitely be heard in my fantasy more than my science fiction (where I’d say Samuel Delaney, Ursula LeGuin, and C.J. Cherryh were more prevalent) and as I currently don’t have any fantasy novels out, yes, for sure. I think you can see both Lee’s and McKillip’s influence in my fantasy stories.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have a big influence on any of the stories in The Arcana Of Maps?
Well, definitely on “Nights At The Crimea.” I was (and am) a big fan of Hong Kong fantasy adventure movies, which plumb Chinese myth and folklore for inspiration (I was also an art house projectionist, and showed a lot of them), and wondered what a similar cult film culture using Jewish folklore might look like.
I think my science fiction must carry some DNA from Star Trek, since we watched it when it first came on as a family and I was super young, but super engaged (I still remember how entirely I believed that tribbles must be real, and was desperate for my sister to give me the ear muffs she made think were a tribble). I’ve always loved science fiction film and television. Alien was the first horror movie I saw in a theater, because it was set in space, on a space ship. I’d be curious to hear what other influences readers pick out, because I’m sure they’re there.
Now, along with the stories, The Arcana Of Maps also has some short notes about them. Why did you decide to include them, and why did you decide to present them all together at the end of the book, as opposed to before or after their respective stories?
Well, Patrick [Swenson, Fairwood Press’ publisher] suggested notes and it seemed like a good way to give readers a little extra content.
As for before respective stories or all together at the end, I tend to want a story to stand on its own as an experience. Then, if the reader is curious, they can check the notes out after.
In my experience, short stories are a great way to get to know a writer. Do you think this is true of The Arcana Of Maps, that these stories are a good representation of your style as a writer?
For sure. This is work from over the last several decades of my writing life and a pretty good representation of my style(s) and where I go as a writer.
Finally, if someone enjoys the stories in The Arcana Of Maps, which of your novels would you suggest they read and why that one and not the other one?
I’d probably say Substrate Phantoms, as it’s the more recent and reflects the work of a more mature writer. I’m still proud of The Z Radiant, too, though. I’d really like to direct readers to the novel my agent currently has out on submission, which is alternate Earth fantasy set in a cognate 1600s on the South China Seas area. Hopefully someday soon.