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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Susan Pfeffer on After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia

Susan Beth Pfeffer is the author of over 70 books for children and young adults. Her “moon” series has been published in many countries. The first in the series, Life As We Knew It, was a New York Times best selling novel, and has won awards in the United States and Germany.

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 Susan! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. For you, how would you define Dyslit or what are its essential characteristics?

SUSAN PFEFFER: I couldn’t begin to define Dyslit and I have no idea what its essential characteristics are. I admit to being functionally illiterate when it comes to such things.

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

SP: Well, since I don’t read it, I don’t know that it has much appeal for me. I’m not opposed to it, mind you. It’s just my reading is pretty much confined to non-fiction and old mysteries. I’m talking seriously old- I just read one that was published in the 1920s.

My guess is for YA readers it’s always a pleasure to read about teenagers who have it worse than they do. But, of course, that’s a guess on my part.

CT: In “Reunion”, the characters put a lot of emphasis on their biological ties. What is it about this facet of relationships that interests you?

SP: I have a great fondness for long lost relatives stories. Missing sons and daughters, fathers back from the dead, that kind of thing. Sadly, because of DNA, it’s a lot harder to create a convincing long lost relative story nowadays. I mean, you either are or you aren’t; the maybes are gone forever.I think I’m intrigued by biological ties because I look like my mother and think like my father. Also I grew up with a lot of aunts and uncles and cousins, so I have a strong sense of those sorts of ties.

CT: What were the challenges in writing “Reunion”?

SP: I was invited to write a story and submit it for possible publication in After. I’ve spent the past few years killing off all humanity in my “moon” books- Life As We Knew It, The Dead And The Gone, and This World We Live In. Even my one recent stand alone novel, Blood Wounds, has a fair number of dead bodies (and is very much about biological ties). So I thought, I’ll write a happy story, a story about a family brought together after bad times. I did. I really did think that. Only once I started writing, the story got darker and darker and nastier and nastier.

Naturally, I enjoyed myself no end.

After Reunion was accepted for After, I sent it to two of my best friends, women I’ve known since freshman year in college. They were appalled that I could write something so dark.

So I guess the biggest challenge is convincing my friends that I really am the sweetie pie they’ve known all these years!

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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