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Jack Skillingstead: The ‘Alien Contact’ Interview

This month, SF Signal is featuring guest posts and interviews with the authors of Alien Contact edited by Marty Halpern. Today, we’re pleased to bring you an interview with contributing author Jack Skillingstead ! (Also, check out Jack’s Guest Post.)

SF SIGNAL: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. What’s the appeal of alien contact stories for you?

Jack Skillingstead: The most interesting aspect of alien contact, for me, is how the humans behave in relation to the event. A change in perspective is bound to occur.

SFS: What was the first “alien contact” story you read that made a lasting impression?

JS: “Puppet Show,” by Frederick Brown. This short story first appeared in Playboy magazine in 1962 and has been reprinted many times since. I first encountered it in an anthology when I was a teenager. The first sentence is: “Horror came to Cherrybell at a little after noon on a blistering hot day in August.” An old prospector walks out of the desert leading a burro with a hellish-looking alien astride its back. It almost sounds like the setup for a joke. The story consists of this trio’s encounter with the military bureaucracy in change. The gimmick, which I won’t give away, is probably what initially planted it firmly in my memory. But there is much more to the story.

SFS: What part of this story came to you first: situation, character, setting, concept?

JS: Concept, I guess. Though I’m tempted to say: None of the above. The first solid thing I had was a sharply detailed image of a Seven-Eleven store standing by itself in a remote Arizona landscape. No power lines, no parking lot, no connection to anything whatsoever — like some kind of mirage. From there I worked backwards to find out what it meant.

SFS: What’s the most alien kind of creature you can imagine?

JS: In human terms: the sociopath incapable of human empathy. If we ever do encounter real off-world aliens they might well be as severely divorced from our common humanity. We tend to project human qualities onto creatures which do not possess them. Will we do this with aliens?

SFS: What projects are you currently working on?

JS: In the two years since my first books appeared I’ve completed one novel, which is a book-length version of my short story “Life On The Preservation” and am working on the second draft of an urban fantasy set in Las Vegas. LOTP is currently seeking a publisher. When I finish the Vegas novel I plan to return to short story writing on a more aggressive basis. I’ve written a handful in the last year, and they are starting to trickle into print, but I want to do more.

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