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Author Spotlight: Megan Arkenberg

“The Huntsman” includes a quote from Tam Lin. How did that tale affect your writing? Did any other fairytales influence the story? Where else did you find inspiration?

The Tam Lin epigraph was actually a late addition to the story! I reread the ballad after finishing the final draft, and those particular lines leapt out at me.

As the title suggests, “The Huntsman” began as a retelling of Snow White; I was playing with the idea that the huntsman had a more permanent role in the Queen’s life than the original tale suggests. I kept returning to the image that now forms the opening of the story, the huntsman tracking a woman in a rather gritty, unromanticized urban setting. What was this man’s job—and why was he so good at it?

At one point, I described this story as “Snow White meets Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”—a reference of course, to the beheading game (de-hearting game?) that the faery woman proposes to the huntsman. Then came the idea of the tithe, which is lifted from Tam Lin. For me, one of the most fascinating features of that ballad is the hierarchy of supernatural powers that Janet must confront; behind the powerful and awful fairy queen is the even more fearsome power of Hell. My version of the tithe is a more ambiguous, shadowy power, but I tried to maintain a sense of the multiplicity of forces that keep the huntsman—this story’s Tam Lin—from returning home.

The faery woman mixes tomatoes and peppers in the story, and chrysanthemums also make repeated appearances. Can you tell us about the significance of those three elements?

When it comes to retellings of Snow White, I, personally, am so over poisoned apples. Twilight’s iconic cover was the final straw. The faery woman’s pico de gallo is my more contemporary and domestic riff on the red fruit theme.

Inside the story, the chrysanthemum represents the huntsman’s faery nature, the enchanted, spontaneously magical part of him that did not quite get left behind when he was taken from Faery. Chrysanthemums are also associated with death and autumn, making them an appropriate counterpart to the faery woman’s train of autumn leaves.

“The Huntsman” takes place in a world that seems to be a mix of the magical and the modern. Why did you choose this setting?

This is one of the exceedingly rare cases where I’d argue that the setting choose me. The tithe-projects were part of the mental image that jump-started this story. I decided that I wanted to write an urban fairy tale that addressed the less glamorous aspects of its setting—the low-income housing, shady hotel rooms, and public transportation, rather than the nightclubs and museums and high-class apartments that seem more prevalent in the genre. Hawthorne Street is based on a specific neighborhood that I used to drive through on my way to work. It was a run-down but strangely enchanting place; I particularly remember one apartment complex that had a massive, antique dollhouse sitting on the doorstep.

The huntsman knows that “his have never been just dreams.” Can you tell us more about the reality behind those dreams?

Faery in this story is not only a location, but also a subconscious space that Faery’s denizens can access in shared dreams. Being sent out with the tithe means being cut off from these dreams. However, the huntsman’s willingness to sacrifice himself for Queenie—who uses the blood and hearts of other faeries to maintain her connection to the dreams—has in fact allowed him to maintain his own connection to Faery. Thus, the dreams both teach the huntsman how to return to Faery and confirm that in some essential way, he had never been banished to begin with.

How did this story come into being? Was anything about writing “The Huntsman” different from your other stories?

Like many of my recent stories, this one suffered a number of false starts—different combinations of premises and characters, though the setting remained consistent. Part of what made this story so challenging was my attempt to juggle so many folkloric references at once; I think I became overly concerned with incorporating fairytale narratives intact. Once I recognized the value in taking only what I needed, the story became much easier to write.

What makes “The Huntsman” so unique is that, despite these false starts, I was actually able to complete it! Indecisiveness tends to be the kiss of death for my short fiction. Sometimes I think that the likelihood of a story ever being completed is inversely proportional to the amount of time I spend thinking about it!

Amber Barkley

Amber BarkleyAmber Barkley is a recent graduate of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She was born in Idaho and grew up in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Her favorite animals are cats and horses, and she considers it a great injustice that she is allergic to both—though that doesn’t stop her from being around them whenever she has the chance. Amber writes high fantasy with a dark twist, and is currently working on her first novel.

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