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Issue Date: August 2005 Issue

Suburban Sci-Fi Mom

Christopher Johnston

In Maureen F. Mc-Hugh's science fiction, you're more likely to encounter an angst-ridden teen who believes he's a werewolf or an anxious mother who implants a tracking chip in her teenage daughter than warp-speed spaceships or human transporters. Last month, Small Beer Press published the exquisitely titled "Mothers and Other Monsters," the first collection of short stories by the award-winning Twinsburg novelist. McHugh, author of "China Mountain Zhang" and "Nekropolis," recently started writing again after five months of chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin's lymphoma.

CM: Why do you write science fiction?

MM: It allows you to introduce elements that work to exaggerate or highlight the issues that you are obsessed with. As I get older, my science fiction gets closer and closer to present day. For one of the stories, "Frankenstein's Daughter," a cloning story, the editor said, "Well, I have to publish this right away, because in five minutes it won't be science fiction." That story is probably as much about the unreal expectations we have for our children as it is about cloning. So I like how writing about technology or the future can make you see things in a new way.

CM: Why did you center the stories on mothers?

MM: There aren't a lot of stories about moms, because we have this sort of inflated, artificial sense of motherhood right now that a mom's whole life is for her children. I wanted to write stories about what it is really like to be a mom, whether perfect or not. So I had this theme that had been running through my fiction for about six or seven years, and then I thought of the title, and I had the collection.

CM: What is it about writing that engages you?

MM: There are moments where I'm writing where I don't know what time it is, and I don't care. If I get 20 minutes of this kind of bliss, I'm really happy. I live for the zone. I have a line in one of my novels where someone who is not precisely human observes that people are happiest when they are doing something. We really live for those moments, which are like sex, when the sublime moment completely encompasses you.

CM: Where are you in terms of your cancer treatments?

MM: All the tests are showing clear, so everything should be fine. It's an extremely curable Hodgkin's lymphoma. It's one of the two good cancers to get. You'll be pleased to know the other one is testicular.

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