Can you tell us how “The Ocean that Fades into Sky” story came together? Did you run into any notable challenges?
This was written for a gorgeous illustration by Julie Dillon, but the sea turtles paired with the second moon took a while to work themselves out in my head, so it took a few months of worldbuilding to discover the story I wanted to write: One about a lesbian relationship wherein, during a separation, both partners wonder whether it might be better for the other if they weren’t dating.
As with so many ideas that become finished pieces, that initial idea got the writing started, but another aspect of the story eventually took center stage.
It took a while for me to find it though. I wanted everyone’s cards on the table, and wrote the first drafts in omniscient point of view—which I’d never attempted before, and don’t think I did terribly well—and the story delved into the thoughts and motivations of not just Coasts, but Obsequies, Dwellings, Cities, Land, and Deserts. Those sprawling drafts, and their excessive word counts, had friends telling me I was trying to cram a novel into a short story. It took critiques and a number of revisions to switch up the point of view and shift the focus entirely to Coasts. Although I think that was the right decision, it was difficult to accept that people wouldn’t necessarily see the humanizing aspects of those other characters, or see firsthand some of the events the story mentions or alludes to.
I know you attended Clarion a few years ago. How did what you learned there change your writing process?
Honestly, I think it made writing harder, more complicated—it showed me I still have so much to learn, forced me to examine tropes I liked and craft decisions I unconsciously made, introduced me to new forms and styles I could then choose whether to use in my work, and made me more aware of how badly writing can go if you do it lazily.
That’s good though. I’m more careful about what goes down on the page now because people challenged me on decisions I made, and because reading others’ work revealed I have strong feelings about certain themes and tropes, and about whose stories end happily and whose don’t, and about writers’ responsibilities when representing marginalized groups and including harmful tropes common to the dominant social narrative. There’s a reason Coasts gets a HFN (Happily For Now) ending instead of dying, and that Obsequies’s journey in the final draft is de-centered and drastically reduced from what was shown in the initial ones.
Clarion also made me much more cognizant of characters’ emotional journeys, which for me are often the heart of a story. That’s been extremely helpful during revisions.
(I hope this hasn’t discouraged anyone from applying to Clarion. It taught me so much, and was an amazing experience on so many levels! If you can go to Clarion, do.)
Is there anything you want to make sure people understand about “The Ocean that Fades into Sky”?
Uh . . . I guess that this is a short novelette, and the events herein are the tip of an iceberg? You’re seeing Obsequies at her worst during this story, no one in it is without redeeming qualities—and no one in it is excused by them, and the spirits of Uloh-la (and Ships) are a lot more genderfluid than their bodies and pronouns during summit would suggest.
. . . Oh God, I feel like J.K. Rowling telling people Dumbledore is gay. Author headcanons don’t count if it’s not in the text! Ergo if you disagree with any of what I’ve said above, you’re just as correct as I am.
What are you working on lately?
I’m working on a gay romance novel I’d like to finally finish. It’s contemporary and not overtly speculative, which was an adjustment, but that’s what you get when a character who’s not the narrator can see ghosts and the narrator doesn’t know that and assumes a bad trip is causing hallucinations.
There’s also a folder of things I’d like to revise and get out the door vying for attention.
Finally, there’s a bunch of unpublishable things I’ve been writing along the margins, purely for fun.
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