Robert Freeman Wexler: The Mount is more explicitly science fiction than much of your work. It’s an alien invasion story, though you deal more with relationships than battles. Not at all like the way Hollywood portrays anything with aliens. I’m wondering how the novel took shape. For example, did you have the idea of these aliens using people as horses, and work out some of the historical details later, such as how the situation started, how the aliens got there, etc.?
Carol Emshwiller: I had just taken a class in the psychology of prey animals vs. predators.
It was supposed to be about the psychology of horses, but it contrasted all prey with all kinds of predators—about how we are predators riding a prey. I think the first thing I wanted to do with The Mount was to reverse that—to put a prey animal riding a predator. And I thought how interesting it would be if the prey animal had all the acute senses that we don’t have. Then I started, right in the middle, with the first chapter which is in the point of view of one of the hoots. In the beginning I thought it was a short story, but I got so interested (in chapter 2) in Charley’s desire to be a good slave that it just went on. I fell in love with Little Master as much as I fell in love with Charley.
I actually wanted the reader to feel torn about what was best, being looked after or having the hardships of being “free.” I thought, just because I like camping out and hardships and getting along with less, doesn’t mean that everybody would like it or is suited to that life. I still don’t know for sure what I think about that. It’s such a cliché to say and so easy to say, “Of course freedom is best.” Maybe eating regularly and staying warm is just as good.