Update 2022: “Riddle,” my horror story in the 68th anniversary September-October 2017 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, received an Honorable Mention in the Year’s Best Horror anthology edited by Ellen Datlow

Here is my interview with The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction regarding the story, “Riddle,” that appears in the September-October 2017 68th Anniversary issue. You may also view this online on the F&SF blog at A couple of reviews follow.

Tell us a bit about "Riddle."
As a writer and a reader, I’m much more interested in inner space than outer space. In stories about people living on society’s fringe than in starship captains or kings. In tales exploring consciousness, gender, and identity than in tales of derring-do, fisticuffs, and gun battles. (Though there are some fisticuffs in “Riddle.”)
I prefer tight, bold prose and try to achieve that effect in “Riddle.”

What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?
I have no idea—for once. This is one of the darkest stories I’ve ever written. I will say I wanted to set a supernatural story in my fascinating old neighborhood of North Beach in San Francisco.
“Riddle” is what bubbled out of my subconscious mind.

Was "Riddle" personal to you in any way? If so, how?
Oh, yes! I lived for some years in North Beach with my husband, Tom Robinson. Tom has degrees from the San Francisco Art Institute, the Academy of Art University, and the Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts. He’s a working artist, jeweler, and sculptor and at the time, he’d gotten the lease on a dream art studio.
The place was an entire flat above a belly dancing club in a Stick-Eastlake Victorian building on Broadway between Montgomery Street and Columbus Avenue. Twenty-foot ceilings, an entire wall of exposed brick, another of floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves.
Half a block west on Broadway is Enrico’s with its broad patio where, at three in the morning, we would see U2, Diana Ross, and Bill Cosby (yes, he was a foul-mouthed jerk even then). Two blocks down to Columbus and half a block up to the intersection of Grant Avenue and Vallejo Street is the Caffé Trieste, a coffeehouse situated at that location since 1956. The Beat poets congregated there—Philip Lamantia, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bob Kaufman, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. Burroughs published science fiction in F&SF! Or at least his novel, Nova Express, was reviewed in F&SF in the 1960s.
I took Bruce Sterling to the Trieste when he was in town for the premier issue of Wired Magazine. Bruce was on the cover and a number of people were reading Wired when we walked in. Surreal!
[I neglected the add that Francis Ford Coppola wrote the screenplay for “The Godfather” on a portable typewriter at a back table. I myself never saw him there, so that may be an urban legend, but husband Tom swears it is true.]
Around the corner was the Roma Caffé. I took Robert Silverberg there for pizza and Ellen Datlow for omelets on the back patio.
When you head two blocks down on Columbus Avenue, you’ll find Vesuvio, another gathering place for nearly sixty years. My favorite spot is the John Wilkes Booth on the mezzanine.
So North Beach is a very cool neighborhood. Coolness isn’t enough to drive a story, though. I needed a high concept. A supernatural high concept. I found that in “Riddle.”

Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for this story?
Once I had my supernatural hook, I researched (plot spoiler alert!) sphinxes.
The classic legend tells of the sphinx in the desert who waylays travelers and poses a riddle. If a traveler can’t produce the answer, she kills and devours them.
Then Ulysses on his travels encountered the sphinx. She asked, “What walks on four legs at sunrise, two legs at noon, and three legs at sunset? When he correctly answered, “Man. As a baby he crawls on hands and knees. As an adult he walks on his own two legs. And as elderly, he walks with a cane.” Infuriated, the sphinx turned to stone and that’s what we see before the Great Pyramid in Egypt.
Greek and ancient Egyptian iconography portray the sphinx as a male animal—a man’s head and chest atop a lion’s body like the Great Sphinx at Giza. French sphinxes from the Louis the Fourteenth era, however, depict sphinxes as voluptuously female. (Leave it to the French!)
I knew I wanted my sphinx to be voluptuously, wickedly female.

What would you want a reader to take away from "Riddle?"
That love is complicated. Human consciousness is complicated. And life…you can’t be too sure about life. Fiction is meant to provide structure for our chaotic reality. I strove to make that point in “Anything For You,” published in the September-October 2016 F&SF. But sometimes fiction needs to point out the chaos.
I deliberately left an ambiguity at the story’s end, which I hope readers will ponder. If any reader wants to discuss this with me, I’ve got a Facebook Author Page and I’m on Goodreads. Come visit and we’ll talk!

What are you working on now?
I’ve just published a short novel, One Day in the Life of Alexa, with my independent publisher, Bast Books. The title is available as a brand-new beautiful trade paperback and as an ebook worldwide on Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Smashwords.

The first review, on Goodreads, says, “Incorporates lively prose, past/present time jumps, and the consequences of longevity technology…An absorbing read with an appealing narrator and subtly powerful emotional rhythms.”

Also, I’ve just re-released in print Summer of Love, a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist, and The Gilded Age (originally titled The Golden Nineties), a New York Times Notable Book. This is an Author’s Preferred Edition set, with Tom Robinson’s beautiful covers. Both are feminist historical novels as well as extrapolations into the far future when women’s issues—and humanity’s issues—have taken a different turn. Those two books are as timely as ever and I’m very glad to republish them in print and as ebooks worldwide on all the retailers.

My urban fantasy, The Garden of Abracadabra, has just been released in Print. That book is also an ebook on all the retailers worldwide. Strange Ladies: 7 Stories has been just released in Print, and also as an ebook on all the retailers.

More of my backlist books will be forthcoming in print in the next several months. Another dark modern fantasy, “Aurelia,” has been published in F&SF in the January-February 2018 issue and "The Bicycle Whisperer" is forthcoming after that!

Here are some reviews of “Riddle”:
“Lisa Mason’s ‘Riddle’ is a short fantasy story about a struggling San Francisco artist who is dumped by his ambitious lawyer girl-friend. He goes out, gets drunk, fails to score with the bar’s new waitress and staggers home, only to find a half-naked woman hiding behind the bins outside his apartment. He lives in a crummy end of town, so doesn’t want to leave her outside. However, he’s also suspicious of being robbed by a stranger. Common humanity eventually triumphs and he lets her in for the night, only to find out that she’s a lot stranger than he could possibly have imagined. This is a well-executed supernatural story which brings a fascinating mythical being into a contemporary context and has a lot of fun with what happens next. The main characters are convincingly portrayed and the plot plays out remorselessly to a dramatic conclusion.”
Lisa Mason’s “Riddle” is set in a city we both love, San Francisco. (If you have been paying attention, you’ll remember that her book Summer of Love has a special resonance for me, because I spent that particular Summer in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.) This story takes place in North Beach, where in the ‘60s, Carol Doda (a 44DD, thanks to implants!) danced topless at the Condor Club. (If you remember the movie Dirty Harry, North Beach is near where the church was.) Edwin Stone is an artist; his girlfriend Nikki has left him. She did so partly because of his lack of ambition, because he was content to just get by with his talent—but there are always multiple reasons for breakups—but Stone has decided his best friend is the boilermaker. (I had my first boilermakers in San Francisco, which residents call The City; never “Frisco.”) One night, completely drunk, Edwin rescues a vagrant sphinx. Part woman, part lion, all riddle. If you remember what happens to those who can’t answer The Riddle of the Sphinx, you might guess this story’s end. (Or not.) Nicely written!
In all honestly, most of these had intriguing concepts and all of them were very well-written, but there were only a few that I would actually say I enjoyed. Just because of my personal tastes. Those being Lisa Mason's "Riddle" and Michael Swanwick's "Starlight Express".
"Riddle" by Lisa Mason -+- Edwin Stone is a down-down-on-his-luck artist whose girlfriend has left him. Drunk, he takes home a very different woman, a sphinx, part cat, part woman. She asks him riddles, he answers, they have passionate sex. But she does something else, too. Unsettling little horror tale.
"Riddle" by Lisa Mason
Edwin is an artist who has broken up with a woman and is trying to hook up with a waitress but fails. Then he meets a strange something in the alley on his way home which turns out to be a sphinx. Lots of riddles and weird sex and horrific things follow.
Some may see this as a tale of one screwed-up clueless nutcase. Others may see it as a defense of women who want to "fix up" their projects of boyfriends. Some may see this as a really powerful embedding of ideas in imagination.  . . . [P]oints for a memorable sphinx and a vividly nightmarish quality.

There’s plenty more good stuff this issue. Lisa Mason’s ‘‘Riddle’’ is a slickly executed horror story about a declining painter whose girlfriend has left him, and who meets another woman – or is she a woman? The title hints at what she really is – and what she really does is pretty scary.—Rich Horton’s column, Locus Magazine

"Riddle" by Lisa Mason: a charged story about a down-and-out artist who meets an unusual female who speaks in riddles. Physical and emotional mayhem ensues.

"Riddle" appeared on the Honorable Mention list of Ellen Datlow's Year's Best Horror anthology.

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Lisa Mason, the Fantasy and Science Fiction Author

Home Author's Bio Books Stories


Books by Lisa Mason

ODDITIES: 22 Stories
Summer of Love The Gilded Age
The Garden of Abracadabra
One Day in the Life of Alexa
Arachne Cyberweb Spyder

Celestial Girl, A Lily Modjeska Mystery

Bast Collectible Books
Eon's Kiss (Book 1 of the Eon Trilogy) by Suzanna Moore

Stories, Novelettes, Screenplays by Lisa Mason

Shaken Tomorrow's Child Hummers The Sixty-third Anniversary of Hysteria
Every Mystery Unexplained Daughter of the Tao
Tesla, A Screenplay U F uh-O
My Charlotte: Patty's Story
"The Bicycle Whisperer" in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
"Taiga" in Not One of Us Digest and Interview about "Taiga"

Interviews, Reviews, Storybundles, Blogs, Next Thing

"Anything For You" Interview with The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
Interview for "Riddle" in the September-October 2017 Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
The Story Collection Storybundle
The Artificial Intelligence Storybundle
Time Travel Blogs with Laura Vosika 4 to 5
Chats About Writing with Ryan Schneider (1) Chats About Writing with Ryan Schneider (2)

Ryan Schneider Chats with Lisa Mason About The Garden of Abracadabra

Keep Fit, Keep Writing: A Roundtable with Kevin J. Anderson, Lisa Mason and Linda Nagata (Part 2: Chow Down!)
Festivale Interview
"Aurelia" Interview with F and SF Magazine "The Bicycle Whisperer" Interview with F and SF Magazine
The Next Thing Interview

Art, Jewelry, and Mobiles by Tom Robinson

Art by Tom Robinson
"Aether", The New Painting by Tom Robinson
Tom Robinson's Bio

Cats, Past and Present


All content copyright 2000-2022 by Lisa Mason. All artwork copyright 2000-2022 by Tom Robinson

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