Continuing our Author Spotlight series (this month we are featuring contributors to Cycatrix Press’s upcoming anthology, A Darke Phantastique) we take a look at Nathaniel Lee.
His story, “The Wisest Stone in the Zoo”, is an wonderful fantastic piece:
“In one of the Times between the other Times, the iron bars came back to the land. Mitzi discovered them, or at least stumbled up on them, while munching a handful of tender shoots and thinking of nothing much, as chimpanzees are wont to do, particularly while eating. The iron bars rattled out of the ground like fast-growing trees, meeting overhead with a series of terrible clangs. Mitzi fled, shrieking, as the bars slammed shut behind her. There was a pause and a sense of intense inspection, and the bars retreated back into the ground with a disappointed whisper.”
Lee says about the origin of the tale:
“Way back in 2008, I wrote a weird little drabble (a 100-word story; for a while there I was doing them every day; now it’s more like six to ten times per month) in which all the rocks in the world suddenly started flying, and it ended with a character named Taku asking a being called “The Wisest Stone” why this was happening. The Wisest Stone responded, “We grew tired of staying still.” Okay, technically it’s an answer, but
it’s also surpassingly useless as information. My initial thought was that, yes, he’s the wisest of all stones, but that’s not really a very high bar, is it? I was amused by the idea of The Wisest Stone as a sort of mythical figure, emitting Zen-like koans that were massively unhelpful, so much so that I ended up revisiting Taku and his mentor regularly in my 100-word tales. As they evolved a bit, it became clear that Taku was the real brains of the operation; he always managed to glean some sort of utility or insight from The Wisest Stone, despite the Stone’s best efforts.
This story, then, is what happened when I tried to give them more than 100 words at a time to live in. However, because I didn’t want to be one of Those Authors, the ones with the obvious pet characters wherein the whole point of the story is to explain to the reader in detail how awesome they are, I had to wait until I had a situation in mind that could make a story in itself. Eventually I had the idea of the unquiet zoo. Well, I had the idea of a ghost, not of a person, not even of a specific place, but of an idea. Ghosts are unquiet spirits, usually troubled, so we needed a troubled place to generate a ghost. A prison would be a little too bog-standard horror movie (the only worse option would have been a mental asylum), so I tweaked it a little bit to a zoo and started to get the sense of the cast of hapless animals in this post-human world. Then I figured they’d need to go to someone for help, and hey, wasn’t I looking for a story idea where The Wisest Stone could fit well? Mystic ancient wisdom ahoy! Except, of course, that The Wisest Stone is what he is. He means well, anyway.
And that’s it. A light and silly explanation for a light and silly story. I hope you smiled at least a little while you read it.”
Nathaniel Lee lives (unwillingly) in North Carolina with his wife, son, and obligatory cat. He has been publishing short fiction for several years now, and his writing appears in a variety of venues online and off. He also serves as the assistant editor for both Escape Pod and the Drabblecast. A full bibliography and his semi-regular writing blog can be found at www.Mirrorshards.org.
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