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Premee Mohamed Interview


No One Will Come Back For Us brings together tales of cosmic horror and dark fantasy in Premee Mohamed’s debut short story collection. Silvia Moreno-Garcia, author of Mexican Gothic, calls Premee “a top-notch fantasist with a dark streak of unease bubbling through her fiction" and Open House on Haunted Hill’s John Wiswell describes the stories in this collection as “achingly human." All elements we absolutely love here at Frightful!


Read the full interview below.


No One Will Come Back for Us brings readers the scientific and the speculative. How does being a real-life scientist inform your writing?


In several different ways, I think! First is how I do research, which I think is not the same as I would do it if I didn’t have a science background. I use a lot of different primary sources, I go straight to the literature most of the time, I’m good at crunching down a lot of jargon and technical information into smaller packets I can use for fiction. Second, I think a science background is also useful to learn how to look at findings and see causation, correlation, confounding variables—no different than we’re all trying to do in fiction. And connections especially, where two unrelated pieces of information may not connect in the ‘real world’ but can do so easily in a story. I also really love using scientists as characters, because they think they can simply solve all their problems using the scientific method, but I don’t want them to; I want them to experience as much difficulty and confusion as I can. I want scientists to slowly realize that they’re not in a nonfiction book, but they’re in a fantasy, or a sci-fi, or a horror story, and that their usual ways of looking at the world are not going to be useful here. Science itself is a good reminder that we need to understand the world in order to be able to change it, which is what fiction characters often desire to do more than anything else.


Which did you develop an interest in first, science or storytelling? Or did it happen simultaneously?


Oh good question! I would say both simultaneously—I loved science books growing up, and one of the earliest books I remember reading over and over again was The Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif. Since this was at the same time I was just getting into sci-fi and fantasy, like Monica Hughes, Susan Cooper, Lloyd Alexander, and Diane Duane, I did like to put science into my early stories. I would read encyclopedias or those '1500 Fascinating Facts' books and write stories about various entries that struck me as interesting. What I wasn’t doing, though, was assuming that I would grow up to be an author. I figured if I was interested in both, I was going to be a scientist, and do the writing as a hobby, because I reasoned that you couldn’t do science as a hobby, so that was the more sensible way to do things.


How did you go about ordering the stories in No One Will Come Back For Us? Did it feel like there was a natural progression?


Actually I didn’t do the ordering! When my editor asked me to pick out some stories that were dark fantasy, horror, or sci-fi, I just sent them to him in the order they had been published, i.e. chronological order. I was perfectly OK with him coming up with the order; I just had a couple of requests (one was that "Quietus" ended the collection, and one was that "The Evaluator" came before "Us and Ours", as they share a character). I have no idea how I would have ordered it, but I really like what Michael did with the ordering. It feels logical to me and it feels like there’s a world being built as each story is added onto the previous one.


What would you say was the most challenging story in the collection to get just right?


I keep thinking about this one! In the end I think "The Redoubtables" took the highest number of false starts, and was the most frustrating to figure out how to draft. I had this very clear idea in my head of what I wanted the story to communicate, but not how I wanted it to look when it was done. It felt like rotating a puzzle piece endlessly in a mostly-completed puzzle and finding that even though I thought I had tried every possible configuration, and even though the gap looked like it should accept it, it still didn’t fit. When I finally hit on narrating it like a creative nonfiction piece, there was such a cautious sense of relief. I thought that one would fail too. But it ended up being one of my favourite pieces I’ve ever written, and it sold on its first trip out! I think what I was forgetting was that very often, horror works best when it’s horror of the unknown rather than the known—so the very obvious question that needs answering in that story is never answered, and that’s a real source of fear for the narrator. She also fears that she will never discover the answer, and she fears what that might mean for the world. But on the outside, it’s just a nice chat with an old man after an industrial accident; she doesn’t think there should be that much fear involved, but there is.


You are also Assistant Editor at the science fiction podcast EscapePod. Is there a story in No One Will Come Back For Us that you think would adapt particularly well for audio?


"Four Hours of a Revolution", "The Adventurer’s Wife", and "Willing" have been performed on podcasts, which is very gratifying! There’s something about hearing a story told in audio that’s slightly but detectably different than reading it in silence. I think "The General’s Turn" would be an interesting one in audio actually. It’s quite long but I think that just gives the listener more of a chance to get really immersed in the world and the theatricality. I hope it would give the sensation of being there in the dark theater, watching this horrible ceremony play out.


What’s it been like working with Undertow Publications on this project?


It’s been a great experience! Michael is very responsive, and encouraged me to do author notes because I wasn’t sure if I wanted them or not. I always felt like I was in good hands because of his extensive experience as an editor and knowledge of weird fiction. Undertow itself has a very clear editorial vision and voice, so when he approached us for this collection, I felt pretty confident that they would know how to package and market it appropriately, much more so than a bigger or more generalist press.


The cover has this mythic, haunting feel to it. Who did the artwork?


This is going to sound weird but I don’t know their real name—the artist is on social media as Slug Draws or Slugdraws and we’ve never met. And Vince Haig did the art direction. But I really love the illustration as well! My editor sent it to me without any text and kind of said, “Hey, it looks like we can buy this image and I think it’s perfect for the collection, what do you think?” I’ve never hit ‘reply’ on an email so fast. And like you point out, it’s not just a science fiction illustration—it’s not just an astronaut in space. It’s an astronaut in space (something we can explain) having a very unusual problem (which we cannot explain), and I hope that’s like a lot of my stories as well, this combination of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and surrealism. We worry about the person in the suit, but we are also curious to know how they got into this situation, and who owns the tentacle, and what will happen next. It’s really a cover that tells a story in its own right.


The cover really plays on cosmic and deep sea elements. Do you think there are a lot of parallels between space and sea narratives?


Oh definitely definitely definitely. This is something I joke about with some of my writer friends, the way I consider them both horror settings and I am probably not capable of writing a ‘nice’ space story or ocean story. They just seem so inherently hostile to our squishy, fragile human bodies in the same way! They’re both so full of unknowns and they’re both so hard to study that it seems that they’re deliberately keeping things unknown! There’s probably more horrible things with legs and eyeballs and tentacles and teeth than the human mind can deal with! I’m particularly struck by how fast something can go wrong in either environment, the way there’s simply no margin for failure, and what that must do to the human mind. No air, zero pressure or crushing pressure, the inability to quickly escape to a safe environment because you have to traverse a space of killer vacuum or water, a total reliance on fallible human technology to be out there in the first place. The absolute and total claustrophobia of not being able to go anywhere, not being able to escape. As far as I can tell (she said, typing from the landlocked prairies), they’re both nightmares.


Do you have any other work coming out this year you’d like to tell people about?


I have several short stories in anthologies coming out! There’s The Book of Witches, edited by Jonathan Strahan, as well as Life Beyond Us, edited by Julie Nováková, Lucas K. Law, and Susan Forrest; I also have one in What Draws Us Near, edited by Keith Cadieux and Adam Petrash, and The Other Side of Never, edited by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane. I’ll also be in Apex Magazine’s upcoming anthology Robotic Ambitions. Probably some others I’m forgetting about. I also have a Catalan translation of two of my novellas coming out from Editorial Chronos in June!


What’s your favorite recent read? Any genre or category. It doesn’t have to be horror.


I loved, loved, loved Hiron Ennes’ recent novel Leech. I fell into the world so hard I felt a little disoriented every time I stopped reading and had to come back to reality. I hope there are sequels! Many sequels!


Thank you so much for talking to Frightful!


No One Will Come Back For Us is available now.


Premee Mohamed is a Nebula, World Fantasy, and Aurora award-winning Indo-Caribbean scientist and speculative fiction author based in Edmonton, Alberta. She is an Assistant Editor at the short fiction audio venue Escape Pod and the author of the Beneath the Rising series of novels as well as several novellas. Her short fiction has appeared in many venues and she can be found on Twitter at @premeesaurus and on her website at www.premeemohamed.com.

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