by Stanley Schmidt
Mixipoxi was born while Joyce I and were moving from New York to North Carolina when I retired from editing Analog. We both like playing around with speculative ideas, some of which suggest stories, and we had a lot of time to amuse ourselves while driving a rented truck some 700 miles, with some of our most irreplaceable belongings in the back and Rafito, our pet snake, resting quietly in his cage on the floor between us. (He’s a good traveler: quiet, and never fusses about anything.)
Joyce came up with the basic idea of a trick-or-treater knocking on a door and being confronted by an alien inside. I thought it sounded like fun, and we kicked it around for a little while, watching it gradually turn into something vaguely like “Opportunity Knocks,” our first fictional collaboration. But I wasn’t yet satisfied; it didn’t have the feeling of depth and substance that I wanted along with the silliness. The problem, I came to realize, was that we had only a vague idea of who this alien was and what he was doing there.
Until Joyce came up with an idea that immediately struck me as downright brilliant: what if the adult taking the trick-or-treater on his or her rounds was Maybelle Terwilliger, the centenarian-plus entomologist from my novel Argonaut (Tor 2002, now available in print-on-demand and e-book formats from FoxAcre Press)? That immediately gave the story a big, rich backstory, and added depth, because while “Opportunity Knocks” was still going to be a light-hearted piece on one level, it was set against a very serious background.
Argonaut is about what Michael Flynn has called “the oddest alien invasion yet.” My brother Dennis has read several of my stories to the young children of some friends of his, but said he wouldn’t read Argonaut because it’s “too scary.” At its end Earth is in a period of uneasy peace after that invasion, but still has a huge Damoclean sword hanging over it. Mixipoxi, the trick-or-treater’s alien, is a spy from the invading civilization, with a key role in determining whether and when that sword will fall. It might seem an unlikely setting for a whimsical little Halloween story, but many of my favorite moments in literature and drama have resulted from just such juxtapositions of comedy and tragedy, and I liked the feel of this one.
Fleshing it out, working out the details, watching where it went and writing it down, helped us stay reasonably sane during the rigors of settling into our new home. (Guess what I had to do the day we named Mixipoxi!) Eventually it became concrete enough to submit, and after a little help from Trevor to make sure the essential parts of the backstory were clear enough and the nonessential parts removed, so the story could stand on its own, Mixipoxi entered the world in “Opportunity Knocks” (Analog, October 2014), with opening art by John Allemand that we loved. John picked exactly the right moment in the story to illustrate, and showed it from exactly the right viewpoint.
We were delighted that readers liked the story, and pretty soon Joyce did it again. As the first story’s title hints, Mixipoxi stayed on Earth with a new job, as a sort of double agent. “What if he has to learn to drive?” Joyce asked, and it didn’t take long to see why he might have to, and what kinds of situations that might lead to. [“Mixipoxi Learns to Drive” is on sale in the current Analog here.] Considering when it takes place, those situations had to include controversies over self-driving cars (which, coincidentally and without our knowledge, Alex Shvartsman and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro were considering from a different angle for another Analog story at about the same time).
We wrote it in much the same way as “Opportunity Knocks,” but without the truck and the snake. My hands were on the keyboard through much of the first draft, but that doesn’t mean I wrote it. By the time it got that far, we had pretty well talked out what was going to happen; and once we had a draft, we passed it back and forth, tweaking till we both thought it was ready to submit. It was a story neither of us would have written alone, and we can’t promise we won’t do it again.
And sometime, the aforementioned sword just may fall. . . .