Andy Duncan’s “Wakulla Springs” is Magical

Recently, FSU’s very own Andy Duncan, associate professor of English, won his third World Fantasy award, which, for those of you unfamiliar with the genre, is quite prestigious. He and co-author Ellen Klages picked it up at the World Fantasy Convention early in November for “Wakulla Springs,” a novella about four generations of an African American family and their ties to the beautiful and mysterious Wakulla Springs, the deepest submerged freshwater cave system in the world.

Fantasy fans may read this novella and wonder when the witchcraft will come into play, but the fantastic thing about this story is that that never happens. “The monster never comes out of the woods,” says Duncan, and in fact, there is no monster but the ones the characters think they see or hear. Instead, the reader is left to wonder if they did, indeed, witness something strange. Mayola, Levi and Isbel, the protagonists of the first three sections, certainly think they did.

Because there was no outright fantasy in the novella, Duncan says the audience was split: “They either hated it or loved it.” Patrick Nielsen Hayden, the editor of Tor.com who purchased “Wakulla Springs,” must have forseen that response, because after he bought it, he tweeted about it, calling it “American Magic Realism” as a sort of warning to the fantasy and science fiction fanbase of Tor.com that it would be different.

Still, some complained. Commenter Danny Sichel wrote, “Oh, it’s well written, excellent craft, all that… but it’s not SF, it’s not fantasy, it’s not magic realism, it’s not even alt-hist. I like it, but it’s not what I come to tor.com for, and it’s not what I vote for in the Hugos.” But many others raved: “…it was stunningly well-written. Just because it’s literary doesn’t mean it’s not for genre fans. This story is going on my Hugo ballot for sure,” said John K. Williams. Gabriel Silva de Anda wrote, “Thank you for this story. The world is so fast and furious that it is easy to miss such things.”

Duncan and Klages, who are long-time friends and fans of each other’s work, talked about writing this story for years, occasionally asking each other if they had made any progress on it. They came up with the idea while visiting Wakulla Springs, now a state park, years ago. Research for the story was fun; Duncan says they swam in the springs and trekked through the forest, imagining what creatures may lurk below them in the water or above them in the trees. They also went on a boat tour, and the tour guide’s speech was so perfect they ended up using it verbatim. Then, finally, they wrote it. “I tend to sit on story ideas for years then write them suddenly, in a great spurt,” says Duncan.

Duncan’s fans are probably wondering what’s next. And some may wonder when he’s going to write a novel. But Duncan says he’s always been a fan of short fiction, and writing it has worked out well for him so far. “It’s funny,” he says. “People often ask short fiction writers why they don’t write novels, but they don’t often ask novelists why they don’t write short fiction.” Fair enough. Short fiction used to be the norm because the major magazines published it, after all. Perhaps it will make a comeback.

So, what is next for Andy Duncan? He’s on sabbatical during the Spring 2015 semester. When asked if he’ll come out with anything new during that time, he shrugged and said, “we’ll see.” We needn’t remind him that he’s on a winning spree – he also recently won a Nebula and has been on all the major sci-fi and fantasy award ballots for the last few years – because the awards are in his office, teetering on the dusty top of a file cabinet next to his office door, where his students can see them and, he hopes, be inspired to pursue their own successes.

Click here to read “Wakulla Springs.”

Featured image is from Tor.com.

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