Lina, I was glad to see a story from you again. Thank you for this very short, lovely piece. You have a few flash pieces out, but you also have some longer stories published. How is your writing process different for shorter/flash-length fiction?
I see flash fiction as an opportunity to do a concentrated dose of a single emotion. With flash I usually begin with a particular atmosphere or feeling and try to go deep into it. With short stories it’s usually the opposite—I start with an image and build a broader world or arc. There’s a lot you can get away with in flash that isn’t sustainable in longer forms (at least for me)—weird cadences, unusual tense/POV combinations, or worldbuilding that is more about image than science.
There’s something immediately interesting about the setting and the opening. For me, it creates a feeling of isolation and discomfort. Why a lighthouse on the outermost edge of known space?
Lighthouses in general are really interesting to me. Historically, lighthouse keepers often lived very isolated lives. Some lived totally alone for weeks or months, guiding strangers from afar. I grew up in Michigan, where there are a lot of abandoned lighthouses, and I always found them really creepy. It seemed a natural setting for the story of someone looking for guidance.
I also just love science fiction stories about humans trying to impose meaning on alien structures.
I really like the way so many elements of setting mirror and expand upon the POV’s emotional state—the light and darkness, the food, the notes on animals, the experience of gravity, and more. Do you prefer working with the environment of a narrative, and moving characters through spaces? Or do you shift tactics depending on the story?
I actually find setting pretty difficult, even though it’s one of my favorite aspects of a story when done well. Usually I think of myself as a more character-oriented writer. But I love writing about physicality, especially the small details like how one character eats versus another, or the sensation of leaving gravity. In this piece, I was making a conscious effort to pay attention to specificity, because this character has very little past or future. She’s entirely invested in the present moment.
The POV in the story struggles with loss, to the point where she doesn’t want to live. She sells her house and undertakes a voyage in the hopes that the Seer will predict a catastrophe to come and end her pain. Are there aspects of this that are drawn from your own life experiences?
Some. There’ve definitely been points in my life where I’ve felt that all the doors have closed.
The last line of the story, for me, creates a note of hope, implying (perhaps) that her experience with the Seer has created the possibility of a shift, from living in unbearable pain to learning to get through it in some way—do you feel the same way about the ending?
I do! I think that sometimes just knowing that there is a path forward—even if you’re not sure what it is—gives you the courage to keep going.
The second person present really works for this story, as well as the sparseness of the POV’s details (no name, no description really, except for the word “Daughter.”) Can you talk a bit about these choices?
The narrator, and the other pilgrims she’s with, have traveled far enough that no one knows them. They’ve shed their history and their identity. The protagonist has left most of herself behind in preparation for this transformative experience, and I wanted the experience of reading the story to match that feeling of anonymity as closely as possible.
At the time I wrote this, I was reading a lot about the lives of women in the very early Catholic Church. A bit of the inspiration came from how many of these women—often older and widowed, with families and ties—would leave their names and their whole lives to become itinerant preachers. At a time when older women had little direct power, they sought to become someone else and dedicate themselves to a new purpose. The narrator isn’t going through a religious conversion, but she does feel like she’s come to the end of one life.
In our previous interview (for “Seven Permutations of My Daughter”), you mentioned that you were working on a novel-length project: “YA-ish epic fantasy about a young woman who enlists in her empire’s army out of a need to eat rather than any love for her country, and who falls in love with the crown prince’s fiancée.” Any updates on the book? Or are there other projects in the works that new fans should know about?
That project is still in the works. Learning how to write a novel has been a slow process, and over the past year I’ve really rethought what I want that story to be. Currently I’m going through some life changes (switching careers and making a big move to a new city) but I’m excited to get back to the novel when everything settles down again.
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