The prose for “Probably Still the Chosen One” is very sparse, yet embraces the character of Corrina and brings her to life. Can you tell us a little about what inspired this story?
I started writing this story after a conversation with my sixteen-year-old about the many, many, many fantasy novels she read in her early years as a voracious bookworm, in which an eleven-year-old discovers that he or she is the “chosen one” of some magical kingdom and goes off to have adventures . . . and then comes back. To do what, exactly? My daughter said, “I used to always wish that I’d find a magical portal or whatever, but then I started wondering what happened after. How do you have a normal life after you cut off a monster’s head and become Empress? It would make it very hard to do your social studies homework, I think. And also, since when is being eleven any indication of leadership qualities? That just seems like a bad policy.” Her brother is, after all, eleven. And I don’t think she has full confidence in his ability to be King. And, of course, that got me thinking. And then I started wondering why a group of cynical and perhaps power-hungry high priests would select an eleven-year-old to be their figurehead in a pointless war. And then I started wondering even further if they misjudged the time, and got not an eleven-year-old, but a single mother who did not have time for any sort of duplicity. And the thing snowballed from there.
I ached for Corrina’s confusion and dedication, her surprise at Cairn’s explanation of the High Priests’ motivation, her determination that eventually settles to resignation and then something else entirely. What would you say was the hardest part of writing this story?
I think, for me, the hardest part was thinking about the internal lives of adolescents—how the life and Self that their parents think they know is not the life or Self that they actually possess. That with each passing day, they become more separate, more away from us, and burdened with the lonely singularity of young adulthood. Corrina holds this secret from her parents, and that secret directs the trajectory of her life. That notion made me achingly sad—particularly because I have two adolescents in my home. So of course I made them cookies, showered them with kisses.
The trope of childhood as a magical time is found in many fantasy stories, yet we are only now beginning to explore the possibility of a grown woman, a mother, as a capable hero. Here both magic and reality interrupt Corrina’s childhood in ways she hadn’t expected. I really appreciated the transition of Corrina the child to Corrina the mother, the caregiver and instructor. How do you address tropes in your writing? Do you explore their depths, or do you tackle the challenge of turning a trope on its ear?
I think tropes exist to be challenged. The edges of Story are rubbery, and if we are not pushing on the edges as hard as we can, we are not doing our job as writers.
Tell us about your writing process. Do you have a set schedule or do you prefer to write in the moment, stealing away time when you can?
I am pretty ordered in my work time. I get my kids out of the house by eight, walk the dog until nine, and then write until three—taking breaks as needed to clean the house or go for a run or do a thousand and one errands. Part of being the parent who works at home is that I have to be used to interruptions—doctor visits or repair people or helping out other relatives or volunteering at the school or whatever. I try to write every day; sometimes I do.
What writers stir your imagination? Who tickles your fancy when you want to get your fantasy on?
Well, obviously Diana Wynne Jones. I think she and Ursula K. Le Guin are the fairy godmothers of most of our deepest selves. Kelly Link is one of my go-to writers for inspiration and imaginative gymnastics, and lately Sofia Samatar as well. Also, Genevieve Valentine, Laura Ruby, Nnedi Okorafor, and Helen Oyeyemi. And, of course, fairy tales. I was a fairy tale reader as a child, and a fairy tale reader as a teen, and a fairy tale reader as an adult. They are, for me, the ground of my making as a writer—as close to me as my own breath.
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