Friday, March 15, 2024

6 Books with John Wiswell

John Wiswell is a disabled writer who lives where New York keeps all its trees. He has won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story for "Open House on Haunted Hill," and the Locus Award for Best Novelette for "That Story Isn't The Story." His fiction has been translated into ten languages, and has appeared in venues such as Tordotcom, the LeVar Burton Reads podcast, and Uncanny Magazine. His debut novel, Someone You Can Build a Nest In, is forthcoming from DAW Books in the U.S. and Jo Fletcher Books in the U.K. on April 2nd. You can find more from him through his Linktree:

Today he tells us about his Six Books:

1. What book are you currently reading?

One of the books readers recommended to me most across 2023 was Hannah Kaner’s Godkiller. It starts out as basically The Witcher but for gods. Gods behave badly, so human hunters --the godkillers-- go around hunting them and liberating people from tyranny. Kissen lost her family to a fire god in her youth, so she’s a particularly angry godkiller. Now, Fantasy heroes fighting gods is nothing new, but what hooked me was her getting stuck on a buddy journey with Skedi, the God of White Lies. It seems mysterious assassins are after both Skedi and Kissen, so now the hunter is the hunted, and she’s got to rely on this weak god to survive. Don’t you love unexpected bonds? It’s bloody and fun, and just keeps getting more interesting as it goes.

2. What upcoming book are you really excited about?

I came up through writing short stories, and Kelly Link is one of the gold standards in the field for me. Few short story writers have ever wielded her power, and no one entwines the mundane and the unreal like her. How many collections of hers have I chewed through? Stuff like “The Monster” and “Magic For Beginners” are always close to my mind. After so long I thought she’d only ever write shorts. But here we have it: a Kelly Link novel! What story of such length finally captivated her enough to put it onto the page? What sustained her to make such a particularly long book, too? Here’s a confession: I don’t know what it’s about. I’m literally refusing to learn anything about The Book of Love until my copy is in my hands. I want it fresh in my wriggling mind.

3. Is there a book you’re currently itching to re-read?

Can I cheat and say The Iliad? Because I’ve read it several times. Each time I usually pick a new translator. Last year the great Emily Wilson released her translation, which I’m eager to gobble up. Wilson made waves with her gorgeous translation of The Odyssey, blending poetry and contemporary language, and gave the epic an identity it had never had before. She did for The Odyssey what Seamus Heaney did for Beowulf. In fact, just her Foreword on the minutia of her choices, and of the political history of other translators’ previous choices, was one of my favorite things I read in the last decade. That’s an energy I’ve got to see applied to The Iliad, which is basically The Infinity War of Greek heroes. It’s the biggest crossover, with the biggest brawls and moves and tragedies. The Iliad was one of those books that opened up literature to me as a kid. So this new translation is gnawing at me. I just need the time!

4. How about a book you’ve changed your mind about – either positively or negatively?

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a book where my feelings are the same and my thoughts are utterly different. As a young teen, I hated how the book treated Lennie. My instinct was to write what would today be called fix-it fic; to give Lennie and George a better world with lots of rabbits. But that’s what the book wants, too. It was only as I grew older and met more disabled people that I appreciated the novel criticizing how our world exploits and harms us. That the book was asking me to fight harder. It’s challenging to grow up and realize that you’re as angry at a book as that book is angry at the real world, and to realize that in your disagreement, the book was right. We all deserve better. To get it, we have to do that work together.

5. What’s one piece of fiction, which you read as a child or a young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

Ray Bradbury’s short story “Zero Hour” lived rent free in my head for years. It’s a great short to introduce kids to Science Fiction because it’s about kids secretly being right. It’s told from the POV of a mom while the neighborhood kids play increasingly disturbing games about extraterrestrials being about to invade. But the kids really are collaborating with our future overlords. So it validates children’s make-believe in a twisted way, but it also uses POV so well. Because the mom is wrong. Our whole lens of the story is unreliable, but it’s unreliable for relatable reasons: we, too, would dismiss kids saying UFOs will land at zero hour. So we’re almost complicit in the unreliability. Unreliable narrators often make us prickle or pushback; we question them and feel superior that we could access truth they couldn’t. “Zero Hour” does something else. It sympathizes with her and with us. That’s what makes it chilling and memorable. I think for the rest of my life I’ve been in love with fiction’s ability to give us relatable unreliable characters. People with sympathize with because we say, “Oh yes, I’d also be doomed.”

6. And speaking of that, what’s your latest book, and why is it awesome?

My debut novel is Someone You Can Build A Nest In. Do you like monsters with feelings? Lots of feelings? Because Shesheshen is a shapeshifting horror who lives in a lair, building her body out of whatever she can find, a bear trap for a mouth, and reusing the bones of hunters that have come after her. She just despises us humans. After some hunters manage to poison and nearly kill her, she’s rescued by Homily, a quirky, bookish lady who mistakes Shesheshen for a fellow human. Shesheshen is shocked when Homily nurses her back to health rather than killing her. And the more time they spend together, the closer they get. Could Shesheshen have actually found someone she can live with? Is this love? The emotions bubble up until Shesheshen absolutely has to confess that she’s not human. But right before she can confess, Homily tells her why she’s here: she’s hunting a shapeshifting horror. Has Shesheshen seen it anywhere?

Their story is for everyone who’s ever been made to feel like a monster.

Thank you, John!

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I'm just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.