Unexpected Questions with Nancy Springer

Starting way back in 1948, she grew up in what had to be the last rural area ever in Livingston, New Jersey. But her real hometown is Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where she went to high school and college and once, in a chance encounter, played violin for Ike and Mamie Eisenhower. She married while still in college, started writing novels shortly after graduation, and simply kept on. She did not stop for the next half-century and/or sixty books. First mythic fantasy, then magical realism, then (upon acquisition of a horse) children’s literature, and then contemporary women’s and a few psychological thrillers, and she was just getting started. She has collected starred reviews and other honors until it is no use mentioning them anymore. Her most recent sf novel is Grandghost, women’s fiction with a paranormal twist.

 

If you could have any fictional pet as a companion, what would it be and why?

If I could have a fictional pet as a companion, it would be Black Beauty, because he is a horse, of course, and I am crazy about horses.  Also, he is reputed to be gorgeous and amiable almost beyond belief, indeed a superhero horse, and he speaks English quite well, and forget riding what with my arthritis and everything, but we could talk. I want to know what it’s like to have eyes on the sides of your head, and whether eating grass gives you gas, and in general I would love to hear about equine experiences not mentioned in the book, assuming Black Beauty would talk freely to me, as most poor souls I encounter seem to do. I am sure it would do him good to vent about the trial and trauma of being gelded, the procedure itself and its aftermath. In that same vein, I would love to hear more about his frustrated relationship with Ginger, who seems to have been the kind of mare who would have made a good Suffragist, and what sort of frustration he endured when she came in season  — although, luckily, her oestrus cycle was likely active only during the summer months, which didn’t amount to much in England – but, anyhow, I would love to know the whole, hitherto hidden story behind the Black Beauty story. And for the matter of that, what a resoundingly popular story that little old book is! I would ask Black Beauty, as one author to another, how he dealt with his huge literary success, with having created a classic autobiographical novel that changed the world. Also, I would ask him how he managed to type with his hooves. But primarily I would want to know how he dealt with the editing process. I sometimes want to kick, but I am sure he would advise me how best to take the bit in my mouth.

 

If aliens were to visit Earth, what do you think their first impression of humans would be?

If aliens were to visit my neighborhood  — and I wish they would; I’d like to meet them!  — but alas, I am sure they would overlook me entirely, perceiving cars and trucks as the primary denizens. They would see sedans and SUVs as creatures, perhaps predatory, certainly impressive with guttural voices and glaring, glowing eyes. They would perceive humans, pathetic by contrast, as a mere parasite that crawled in and out of the zoomy things. Indeed, I expect that, to alien observers, the alpha lifeform would appear to be trucks, the fat-assed jacked-up dually pickup trucks with large tires and loud roars  — or, no, perhaps the even more dominant trucks, the semis, the tractor trailers, the Mack trucks!

Imagine extraterrestrial intelligence looking down from flying saucers  — or flying butter dishes, or flying gravy boats, whatever  — the first and most impressive signs of life the aliens would see on my part of the planet would be crammed highways streaming with vehicles that exhibited the most bizarre mating rituals involving flashing light displays and screeching kisses culminating in the fiery coitus of crashing together, sometimes in promiscuous numbers. Then, contrast this flamboyant behavior with the daily and far quieter mass assemblies of motor vehicles in parking lots! Might these orderly gatherings be construed as some sort of worship, with the human parasites being sent forth as sacrifice? Okay, in my impressionable youth I was impressed by Motel of the Mysteries, a tongue-in-cheek book by David Macaulay, and why should aliens be any wiser than archaeologists? Just saying.

 

Name the strangest/weirdest place you’ve ever written.  What made it so odd?

The strangest, weirdest place I’ve ever written about is singles dance land, no contest. Not that I’ve written a whole lot of fiction set in the nether world of singles dances  — a little bit in my contemporary fantasy novel Fair Peril, and then a few short stories  — but really and truly, no contest, the shadowy world of the singles dance is the freakiest realm I’ve ever known. The scariest people I ever met or imagined are to be found at singles dances, and I am afraid that, due to my being female, they are all male. One hundred percent psycho stalkers are to be found at singles dances. “My heart medicine don’t let me get an erection, but I fucking adore oral sex” confided by a fat, balding partner during the first dance, that’s nothing special during a singles dance, and not nearly as predatory as most encounters. I quickly learned that men who want your phone number but won’t give you theirs are married, not single, but they are to be found at singles dances nevertheless. Gomer Pyle look-alikes who stare and stare and stare attend singles dances in regiments. Voraciousness is palpably just beneath the surface of the music at singles dances. In one of my short stories inspired by the singles dance scene, a woman meets a guy who turns out to be a chupacabra. This is not too terribly much of an exaggeration.

What else would go into the world-building of a singles dance? Guys who want to take you to a karaoke bar and woo you via song. Mendacious name tags. The Macarena. The Electric Slide. Line dancing. A disco ball spinning from the ceiling. The god-awful Paul Jones ritual. A Greek Cypriot fish sticks salesman. An earnest Catholic who doesn’t kiss but does phone at three in the morning. A skinny little guy who collects old postcards and gets aroused during slow dances. And the women? Underwired bras, too much sparkly eyeshadow, and a deplorable loss of dignity. Yes, I include myself in this characterization. The kingdom of singles dance spares no one.

 

If you were to write a story featuring yourself as the main character, what kind of adventure would you embark on?

If I were to write a story featuring myself as the main character, the first thing I’d have to do is get rid of my arthritis completely, which amounts to the same thing as making myself younger, which takes the tale straight into the fantasy genre, so what the heck, I’m going to imagine myself about forty years old, quite healthy and unencumbered by any sort of family, and newly and fabulously rich. My quest, of course, is to save the world, so I would use my lucky wealth to purchase thousands of acres of land in central Florida to keep it from being developed, especially wetlands full of snakes and alligators, and I would establish a home in an Edenic swamp and take on the role of guardian. I would build a little shack where I could watch the hawks and herons, and where I could fish off the porch. I would catch all the feral cats in humane traps and get them neutered and tame some of them to live in the shanty with me. I would get myself a john boat and patrol the waterways and warn trespassers away and learn everything I could about gallinules, ospreys, foxes, possums, otters, kingfishers, cottonmouths, bullfrogs, turtles, wildlife everlasting.  And maybe, just maybe I would see an ivory-billed woodpecker or a Florida panther or I would hear the red wolves howling. This is shaping up into more of a wish fulfillment fantasy than a good and proper fiction story. Of course I could throw in a nasty poacher and some other baddies, but I really don’t see character arc happening here. Instead, I see a pet snake. Go figure.

 

If you could have dinner with any fictional character from any sci-fi book or movie, who would it be, what would you talk about, and where what restaurant would you choose.

If I could have dinner with some sf fictional character, okay, I happen to be interested in Tarzan right now because of the whole living-in-the-jungle thing, so why not, let’s go with him  — Tarzan of the first Edgar Rice Burroughs book, not the movie or TV Tarzan  — and I would ask him what was his opinion of Mowgli. I mean, they had a lot in common, both of them eating raw meat and spending a lot of time in trees and calling jungle animals important names. No, I don’t suppose they ever met, because Mowgli came from India and Tarzan from Africa, and I don’t think Mowgli ever got civilized or spoke French or went to Paris and all the rest of it, but I feel sure Tarzan must have heard of him, although most likely Mowgli never heard of Tarzan. I would have invited Mowgli for dinner, too, only I couldn’t locate him at any current address. Besides, Tarzan is reputed to be gloriously handsome, like a Greek god, whereas Mowgli isn’t described that way at all, and okay, question my values, but who wouldn’t rather date a looker? So yeah, Tarzan.

I would probably take him to a steakhouse where he could have a whole lot of meat almost as raw as he liked, and I imagine he and I would talk about Histah, the snake. (As opposed to Tantor, the elephant, or Horta, the boar, etcetera.) I’m a little bit worried that maybe I wouldn’t like Tarzan, because he had quite a chest-pounding, ape-screeching sort of ego, but I would try to keep an open mind. It wasn’t his fault he was published in 1914, which gave him old-fashioned ideas of women, and I am not confrontational by nature; I generally take a sympathetic view of peculiar people.  I could ask Tarzan whether he liked sushi (another sort of raw meat) and maybe we could talk about fishing and swimming, both of which I enjoy. If Tarzan turned out to be as blunt and unsophisticated as I imagine him, I am sure we could get along, as I like people who don’t have pretensions. But no matter what, it would be an interesting dinner.

 

If you could alter any one single natural law, what would it be and how would you change it?

If I were to alter a natural law, I wouldn’t want to mess up the universe, so I would do it just for me, you see, with only minor effect on anyone else, and I would tinker with time. I’m not talking about time travel; rather, I would turn back time to my childhood and make some changes in my life. I would relish the joys of being young, and I would not be such a good girl. I would hold my breath until my parents got me a pony, I would kick bullies where it hurt, I would go to the high school prom wearing a nightgown if I had to, and I would take my dog to college. (Her name was Betsy. She was an oversized blue merle goofball of a Sheltie. When I went to college, my parents gave her away without telling me, her new owner tethered her to a picnic table, and Betsy jumped up on it, then down the other side, and she hanged herself.) Betsy and I would get a cheap room off campus, and I would support myself by working in the library, and no, I would not marry, and yes, I would write. And I would go fishing a lot, and eat what I caught. Once I got published, I would go to an sf convention just about every weekend I wasn’t busy with my horse. Make that horses, plural. And a lot of the time I’d be busy with travel. I would trail ride in the Rocky Mountains and I would ride Paso Finos in the rain forest of Puerto Rico, and eventually, yeah, I would want to settle down and have kids. That part is hazy. The time travel changes are mostly about my youth. Once I got to middle age, there’s not much I would change. I’d like to end up just about the way I am, only with better memories.

I have a confession to make: while writing sf fiction is my first love, my most successful work has not been sf at all. It has been a mystery series about my brainchild Enola Holmes, who is the kid sister of Sherlock Holmes. She humbles him and Mycroft! She has become fabulously popular and has been made into a movie that was supposed to be a feature film but ended up on Netflix due to theatre closings during the Covid epidemic. The movie is called Enola Holmes, and the latest book, as of September 2023, is Enola Holmes and the Mark of the Mongoose. But to start at the beginning read The Case of the Missing Marquess.

It has been a pleasure answering these goofy questions.

You can find Nancy’s books at https://www.amazon.com/stores/Nancy-Springer/author/B001IQXJVW

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