Welcome back, Aliette! Can you tell us what inspired your lovely folkloric story “The Dragon’s Tears?”
I had a book of Chinese fairytales I read from cover to cover incessantly when I was a child (that and the Vietnamese fairy tales book were probably the most well-thumbed items in the house!). One of the stories in that book was about a dragon who gifted a poor family with a magic pearl (the pearl that nearly all dragons have under their chins) that caused their jar of rice to always be full. Eventually word got out, and a rich man tried to steal the pearl from them, and the son of the family swallowed it rather than give it up. He meant to spit it out later, but swallowing it caused him to transform into a dragon, and leave the world of men (and his aged mother) behind. It’s a pretty thing because taking care of your parents when they’re old is a cardinal Confucian value, so having to leave an aged and sick mother is particularly heart-wrenching on that level. This made a huge impression on me, and I wrote “The Dragon’s Tears” partly as a homage to it, and also partly as a collage of the other tales in those books.
I loved that the rider—who we later learn is Sorrow—lingers at Huan Ho’s door, but eventually moves on. Huan Ho had a charm against sorrow after all, in the form of hope. Is the theme of hope as a talisman against sorrow one that speaks to you personally, and have you explored it in your work before in different ways?
To me, hope isn’t so much a talisman against sorrow as its dual expression—it’s what gets us through sorrow, but also what sharpens it and makes it almost unbearable, very much a double-edged sword. The idea of opposite things giving meaning to each other is definitely something I try to explore in my work. My novel The House of Shattered Wings is about finding beauty and hope (but also sorrow) in the ruins of a Paris devastated by a magical war.
Your story also explores the idea of sacrifice, and its relationship with transformation—cause, effect, or both. It made me reflect on how when we experience a major change in who we are, we are then drawn to others more like our new selves—as Huan Ho is, when he leaves to join the other dragons. Have you experienced or observed that kind of sacrifice/transformation relationship in life, personally or professionally?
I think there’s always a balance to be struck between being with people like yourself, which is really comfortable and restful and can feel like coming home, and being with people who are not, because they can challenge you and open your mind to different possibilities lest you become complacent. After major changes, yeah, very often it happens that people don’t quite fit together the way they did, and sometimes that leads to relationships breaking off. But those that don’t break off—they end up very strong, in my experience.
I wondered, as Huan Ho did, whether there might be other riders apart from the three he ultimately names in the story: Greed, Power, and Sorrow. Who might the others be?
Ha, I think you could have a lot of them, but I didn’t really give it much thought. Lust, I think (in the sense of loving material things too much—there’s a Buddhist word for that but no proper translation I can think of that covers it. Attachment, maybe? but it doesn’t have that negative connotation in English. It’s a bit of a mix between Power and Vanity).
We’re excited about your new stand-alone novel, The House of Binding Thorns, due out in April of 2017 from Roc/Gollancz. Can you tell our readers a little about it, and what’s next for you?
The House of Binding Thorns is the standalone sequel to The House of Shattered Wings. It picks up a few months after the events of book one, which changed the balance of power in the devastated city of Paris, and follows characters from the first book (Madeleine and Philippe) as well as a bunch of new ones. It’s got a host of dragons in human forms, diplomatic intrigue, drug trafficking, kissing and stabbing (maybe not all in that order though!). And I think it’s a better book than the previous one, so if you liked that you should definitely try it (and if you didn’t like that it’s a bit of a different one as well, a more ensemble cast and a less claustrophobic setting, though it’s still full-on ruined Gothic Nineteenth Century!).
I’m writing short stories for the moment: I have a couple forthcoming in anthologies like The Starlit Wood and Legendry, and I’m in the beginning process of outlining a space opera based on a genderbent Count of Monte Cristo in a Vietnamese dynastic setting.
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