What was the seed for this story?
The very first seeds of this story were planted a number of years ago in Iowa, where I attended a reading by the poet Marvin Bell. Bell read from what would become the book Ardor: The Book of the Dead Man, Vol. Two. A number of years later, I was given a challenge by my Clarion West classmate Jordan Ellinger: to swap genres with him for a story. I thought of Bell’s wry Dead Man and decided that I wanted one of my own in this story. I just decided to make him literal, and his decay almost a character of its own.
Maureen came partially out of the airless intensity of my own process, and partially out of some online discussions about sensory modes. I knew I wanted to write about someone whose primary sensory mode was touch, and Maureen and her sculptures grew out of that.
How is Maureen’s focus and intensity in her art like yours?
Fortunately for me, no one has ever offered to put me in a spaceship and send me off to write for aliens. Maureen’s focus does come from my own, though, especially at the time that I wrote the story. I’m the sort of person who can easily accidentally vanish into writing for weekends at a time, and never manage to see the sun.
I’d say the major difference between me and Maureen is that I really try to avoid falling into that mode unless I have a project to finish. For her, it’s her default mode and pretty much her entire mechanism for coping with the world. Luckily for me, I have a lot of wonderful friends who know when and how to drag me out of my own head (and occasionally out of the house).
Her goal to find aliens who appreciate her art fails because of a twist in relativity. At the end, is she apologizing for the mission itself, her decision at the start, or the death?
The short answer is yes. The long answer is that, with the realization of what exactly it is she’s done, she feels that she needs to apologize in the only language she truly has—the language of form.
Maureen’s actions stem out of a very human set of needs and desires—she is obsessed with being understood and successful in a world that doesn’t speak her language. She understands the full scope of what she’s done, at the end, and she’s apologizing for the whole series of events that lead to the decision she makes before the beginning of the story.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently in the middle of rewriting a novel that is tentatively titled The Phoenix Crown, which is an epic fantasy that involves intelligent hyenas, volcanic eruptions, and violent politics. I also have a few short stories in the works, and a few more coming out this year—one in Devilfish Review, and one in Apex that will be published closer to the end of 2014.
You are the new Communications Specialist for the writer’s workshop, Clarion West. What is your first goal in the new job?
I’m so glad you asked! Most of my work so far has been focused on our summer fundraiser, the Clarion West Write-a-thon. It’s my goal to make sure that we have a clear and unified voice for our communications and social media outreach for the fundraiser. The job involves a lot of cat-herding, which is pretty much my professional specialty, so I’m having a really good time with it so far.
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