Premee Mohamed appears in Analog for the first time with the exciting story “Shepherd Moon”—in our current issue on sale now! Get to know her, her writing, and her impressive scientific background in this our newest Q&A.
Analog Editors: What is the story behind this piece?
Premee Mohamed: I was reading a book (checking back, it may have been Strange New Worlds, by Ray Jayawardhana), and I came across the term “shepherd moon,” which I think I had not heard of before. It was such an interesting concept, the idea of this little helpful piece of space stuff that herds together all the disparate bits of something nearby: not on purpose, just by virtue of its size, position, and gravitational pull. And I thought: Well, I’ve got people like that in my life—people I almost physically have to hold together, because they’re always falling apart, and vice versa. We are all each other’s shepherd moons depending on our orbits. And Thea’s character kind of came to me all at once: she thinks she’s the one herding all these pieces of people’s lives, she can’t accept that it might be the other way around. Her job is so dangerous and she doesn’t see that as something that fractures pieces off her.
I find that even in stories that don’t need it or even have room for it, I helplessly describe plants, animals, crops, vermin, insects, ecosystems, imbalances. I got into science, and biology in particular, because I’m interested in other living things; I’m not surprised that it keeps sneaking into my fiction.
AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
PM: I’m not very good at titles, so my first impulse to name it “Shepherd Moon” ended up sticking. Interestingly though, I found out much later, maybe a year after I submitted the story, that Earth may have once been involved in a major collision between the proto-Earth and a very large mass, and may have temporarily had a shepherd moon . . . nicknamed Thea.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
PM: As pretentious as it sounds, I keep coming back to utilitarianism—of people in my stories who see life as strictly transactional, and who therefore are doomed to see their own value and worth as not intrinsic but as part of a trade. In this story, Thea thinks she has less value now because she was once considered a prodigy and is now ‘ordinary,’ and that’s why she hates Lucky, too, because he seems more valuable, he has more currency, in her belief system. It takes a near-disaster for her to realize that that’s both a terrible way to look at the world, and to assume that everyone else feels the same way. I think of Top Gun when I re-read this story—it’s a fun experience to watch someone who’s very, very good at something; there’s a joy in witnessing not just competence but skill. But, we should admit, it’s also fun to watch that person spectacularly and publicly fail. And hopefully learn something from it.
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
PM: Generally, I switch to another project! I usually have five or six things on the go. But if I want or need to finish one specific thing and I’m really stuck, I have a whole list of coping strategies, most of which involve bugging the characters. Forcing them to talk about what’s happening, having them discuss a map, making them sit in group therapy, write journal entries, get interviewed by in-story gossips . . . whatever I can do to definitively pretend that I’m not writing fiction, but recording what some people are doing.
AE: What are you reading right now?
PM: While I’m answering this questionnaire? Rabies, by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy; The Renaissance, by Will Durant; Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House; and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, for about the billionth time. (Yes, it’s a trilogy. I know there’s a fourth book; I like to pretend it doesn’t live in my house.)
AE: Many of our Analog authors are interested in science. Do you have any scientific background, and does it impact your fiction?
PM: Yes! My background is not in astronomy or physics though, but in genetics and environmental science, which is where I currently work. Not many of my stories have components that are directly from either of those fields (the contaminated mountainside and the mine in “The Evaluator,” the medical mystery in “No One Will Come Back For Us,” my ranch experience in “Willing”). It seems to manifest itself more consistently in a kind of general interest in the natural world. I find that even in stories that don’t need it or even have room for it, I helplessly describe plants, animals, crops, vermin, insects, ecosystems, imbalances. I got into science, and biology in particular, because I’m interested in other living things; I’m not surprised that it keeps sneaking into my fiction. One of my writing goals is actually to be more intentional about it, because there are so many interesting things in those two fields that lend themselves to science fiction and fantasy and horror.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
PM: I am on Twitter at @premeesaurus and my website is www.premeemohamed.com which I try to keep updated with available stories and other news! I also have some stories at my Curious Fictions Page, https://curiousfictions.com/authors/200-premee-mohamed that are only otherwise available in anthologies.
Premee Mohamed is an Indo-Caribbean scientist and spec fic writer based in Canada. Her work has been published by Automata Review, Mythic Delirium, Pseudopod, Nightmare Magazine, and others. She can be found on Twitter at @premeesaurus.