Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: Science fiction often makes some kind of commentary on the social state of the world. “Balance” seems to be a commentary on a number of things, such as overpopulation and the objectification of women. How do you approach developing such intense themes in a short story?

Miguel Eichelberger: The question I wanted to explore in this story was what happens when the wrong people hold power for too long. Luckily, both history and what we’ve learned about human behaviour came to the rescue. There are a predictable set of outcomes when a government like the one in the story comes to power; subjugation, scapegoating, misogyny, resource scarcity, consolidation of power to one very small minority, etc. All those difficult themes. The platform of science fiction lets us see how ordinary people live and act in extraordinary circumstances—under the extraordinary pressures of those themes. So it was just a matter of zooming in on two regular people having to jump through the frankly upsetting hoops a world like this sets up to keep the public divided; and hopefully those themes would become evident through their experience.

RR: This story reminded us a little of Ursula K Le Guin’s work, through its dystopian vision. Who would you say are your major influences, in sci-fi or otherwise?

ME: To remind anyone of Ursula K Le Guin’s work is a huge and difficult-to-accept compliment. She’s on the list of authors I admire for sure, Ray Bradbury and Frank Herbert are in the mix too on the science fiction side. Handmaid’s Tale definitely has a couple of fingerprints on this story. I’m recent to the world of Terry Pratchett, only having encountered his work two years ago, but damn, the man could write. Other big influences: Leonard Cohen, Aphra Behn, Bill Watterson, Oscar Wilde, David Mamet, and Pascal Mercer’s Night Train to Lisbon.

RR: Your level of descriptions of the human body are amazing. For example, your description of the judge created a kind of a visceral reaction for us that made us a bit  uncomfortable. How do you come up with images like this? What is the process for coming up with images like this?

ME: Many thanks! The truth is I don’t have any particular process for this. What I did have was a specific real-world model in mind, someone who does for me exactly that: gives me a viscerally negative reaction; a person with an outward appearance to match their inside. I focussed on very specific mannerisms and physical features that I’d witnessed, the ones that made me cringe. But I laid it on way too thick in previous drafts with the judge. My first readers (all far more experienced than I in fiction) gave me the valuable note to dial him back with the promise that he’d still disgust an audience. They were very right.

RR: We see that you write in several genres and styles–do you have a favorite? Do the different genres influence each other? For example, does writing poetry influence how you write your plays?

ME: Absolutely! Poetry was meant for stages. It’s the kind of language that kicks us out of our particular habits of understanding and consumption, the kind that makes us stop and take a longer look at those every-day moments we’ve become so accustomed to that we’ve forgotten their wonder. Put that on a stage! I’ve spent so much time in that space that I was genuinely afraid to tackle fiction, but I was quickly (and happily) surprised to learn that editing a short story was exactly the same process as editing a poem; you’re just trying to make something say what you want it to say. All styles and genres of expression feed each other. And it’s awesome.

RR: What are you currently working on? Any large projects on the horizon?

ME: A few things. I’ve got a novel in the works that is me trying to unpack and understand fanaticism; third draft of who knows how many. I co-wrote a screenplay, science fiction, that needs a few more iterations. I have my first proper collection of poetry surrounding the themes of loss and grief out in the world on submission. My far better half (also a writer) and I, along with our very young kids, are working on a series of children’s books. We’ll see where that goes.

Miguel Eichelberger’s work in Issue 9.1: