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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Cecil Castellucci on After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia

Cecil Castellucci is the author of books and graphic novels for young adults including Boy Proof, The Plain Janes, First Day on Earth and The Year of the Beasts. Her picture book, Grandma’s Gloves, won the California Book Award Gold Medal. Her short stories have been published in Strange Horizons, YARN,, and various anthologies including, Teeth, After and Interfictions 2. She is the YA editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books, Children’s Correspondence Coordinator for The Rumpus and a two time Macdowell Fellow. She lives in Los Angeles.

SF Signal had the opportunity to talk with several authors involved in the new anthology, After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, and featuring stories asking: If the melt-down, flood, plague, the third World War, new Ice Age, Rapture, alien invasion, clamp-down, meteor, or something else entirely hit today, what would tomorrow look like? Some of the biggest names in YA and adult literature answer that very question in this short story anthology, each story exploring the lives of teen protagonists raised in catastrophe’s wake—whether set in the days after the change, or decades far in the future.

CHARLES TAN: Hi Cecil! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. For you, how would you define Dyslit or what are its essential characteristics?

CECIL CASTELLUCCI: Hello, Charles!  Well, I would say that the essential characteristics of Dyslit would be a catastrophe, an apocalypse, or a definite sense of a before and an after.  Another thing that I find is that often there is a small tribe of people.  You know, like a reduction in population.  Or a sense of unlike people being thrown together.  A ragged rabble group.  Obviously this depends on the story and where / how far the surviving civilization is after the incident.

CT: What’s the appeal of Dyslit for you? Why is it important, especially for YA readers?

CC: I suppose that as a child of the 80s and the cold war, I always was afraid of suddenly having to survive the end of the world.  I really read a lot of Post Apocalyptic fiction when I was a teenager. I loved Malevil, Z for Zachariah, A Canticle for Lebowitz.  The Tripod Trilogy.  These stories kind of blew my mind.  I think that Teenagers are in a situation like High School where it is regulated and people who don’t always know what’s what are in charge.  That can often feel super dystopian.  So I think that reading about instigating change in a rigid and wrong society or raging against the machine or status quo is super powerful to Teens.  Also, I think that often these stories harken the beginning of teens opening their minds up to the larger world and seeing that things are not always great.  In all societies, even the best ones, there is always room for change.

CT: In “The Marker”, what made you decide to write the story from the perspective of the Paters?

CC: In my particular world, something has happened, a genetic apocalypse, but not what you think.  Because of that, there has been a kind of bottleneck situation and population is low.  In that kind of situation, men would be more needed to go around helping with genetic diversity.  So it was obvious to me to have it be from a young Paters – or Father.  That was what came naturally.  I’m very used to writing mostly from a girls perspective, so whenever a male voice comes to me I get very excited.

CT: What were the challenges in writing “The Marker”?

CC: I’m very interested in getting my science right in my science fiction.  Ellen and Terry had asked us all to pick our apocalypse.  I chose genetic apocalypse because my mom is a genetic engineer.  Actually, my whole family is made up of scientists.  So I had my mom and my brother vet the science and help me come up with the proper genetic explanation.  It actually could happen, what I write about.  That’s the freaky thing.  The other challenge was trying to build the whole world and have it be recognizable but also far enough away from what we know.  I think that is a key element of Dyslit.  It’s a fractured familiar.


Charles Tan is the editor of Lauriat: A Filipino-Chinese Speculative Fiction Anthology, the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler, and Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009. His fiction has appeared in publications such as The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, Philippine Speculative Fiction and the anthology The Dragon and the Stars (ed. by Derwin Mak and Eric Choi).

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