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Interview: Haralambi Markov

Haralambi Markov is a Bulgarian fiction writer, reviewer, & editor with a background in content creation, who currently works as a freelance writer. He was the first ever Bulgarian to be accepted to attend the Clarion Writers’ Workshop in 2014. His work has appeared in Tor.com, Evil in Technicolor, Weird Fiction Review, Stories for Chip, Eurasian Monsters, and Lackington’s. He was part of the team of BonFIYAH 2021. “Bones Are Stones for Building” is his second appearance in Uncanny—a powerful exploration of relationships, set in an eerie post-human world.

 

Uncanny Magazine: There’s a lovely weirdness and futuristic feel to the worldbuilding in this story, and beautiful descriptions that immerse the reader in the world you’ve created. What is your process for worldbuilding? Did you have a good sense of the world before you started writing the story, or did it emerge as you went along?

Haralambi Markov: “Bones Are Stones for Building” is based on a famous Bulgarian folk song about how in order to erect a building one of the builders has to bury his young bride into the foundations alive. He’d leave only one breast exposed so that she could nurse their child. That’s the whole conceit of the story—where does this practice lead over time by cannibalizing on a single family line.

This led me to a weird, post-human, post-planet place that I crafted as I went. My whole process had to do with the divorce from the land and the physical, and the grotesque of the technological in some way.

I would say worldbuilding in general boils down to two things: a mood, and a single central image, which weaves everything else together. I’m highly visual so it’s always a distinct image that comes to mind.

Uncanny Magazine: What was the easiest or most fun part of writing the story? What was the most challenging thing?

Haralambi Markov: Nothing about this story has been easy!

I’ve been working on a variation of “Bones Are Stones for Building” since 2015, which is ridiculous. It started off as a folk tale that ended in futuristic sci-fi, but it didn’t work, so I tried different ways to reverse engineer it so at the core always stood the concept of entombing living people into the foundation.

Uncanny Magazine: One focus of “Bones Are Stones for Building” is relationships—the story explores a parent-child relationship, a family lineage, and a marriage. Are relationships a theme that you often return to in your work? What other themes do you find yourself drawn to?

Haralambi Markov: Families are somewhat central in my work. You are chained to the rhythm of life through blood. Whether you embrace it or seek to destroy your belonging to your kin, it’s still there. There’s some really heady horror there as you don’t choose your family as a child. Your family is something done to you for better or worse.

But above all else—death and bodies are central themes in my work. The finality, the gentleness, or the denial of death through transgressive body horror. I’m fascinated by the idea of your body not belonging to yourself. Not truly.

Uncanny Magazine: If you could visit one spot in the world you created for this story, where would you go and why?

Haralambi Markov: I want to walk the viewing platforms tethered to the moon and hang out there. It’s only mentioned in passing, but I tend to yearn for the places I’ve yet to explore.

Though I am tempted to trek downwards through the layers of time in the abandoned surface of the Earth. If only I was not afraid of the dark.

Uncanny Magazine: Who are some of your literary influences? What is something you read recently and loved?

Haralambi Markov: As a whole, I take my inspiration from short story writers—Kaaron Warren, Angela Slatter, Lisa L. Hannett, Karen Tidbeck, A.C. Wise. These writers make up my immediate canon. I’m also quite in awe of the works of Jeff VanderMeer and David Mitchell.

The last book I quite enjoyed is a short story collection by Olga Tokarczuk, Opowiadania bizarne roughly translated as Bizarre Stories, but that collection has not been translated into English yet. I read it in Bulgarian.

Short stories I think about often are “What Floats in a Flotsam River” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu and “tragedy of the sugarcane ghost” by Desirée Winns.

Uncanny Magazine: What are you working on next?

Haralambi Markov: Currently, I’m juggling several projects. Right now the priority is to revise my Bulgarian cosmic horror short story “Root of the Womb,” which is a sequel to an earlier story I published “When Raspberries Bloom in August” back in 2015. I’m fascinated about weirding my homeland in ways that I’ve seen done in the West. Together they make up the frame of a horror cycle I hope to get rolling soon.

I’m also in the midst of drafting a script for an otome mobile game. It’s a dating simulator game where the player immerses themselves into the inner workings of a bookstore. It’s gay. It’s light. A complete 180 from the usual nightmares I write about, but it’s a fun side project I’m doing with a friend of mine who handles the art.

In between, I’m polishing up a collection manuscript, which I hope I can place in a loving home.

Uncanny Magazine: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

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Caroline M. Yoachim

Caroline M. Yoachim is a two-time Hugo and five-time Nebula Award finalist. Her short stories have been translated into several languages and reprinted in multiple best-of anthologies, including three times in Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. Yoachim’s short story collection Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories and the print chapbook of her novelette The Archronology of Love are available from Fairwood Press. For more, check out her website at carolineyoachim.com.

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