At the risk of starting with a flame-related pun, given Candice’s condition, what was the spark of inspiration for your story? What was the first image or idea that drew you in, and how did it grow from there?
The first image I had was of a person being so inflamed by her uncontrollable emotions that she literally burns to death—but also comes back to life. The last part is important because it symbolizes the cyclical nature of life: some days are good, other days are bad; the tide goes out, but it always comes back in; a phoenix dies, but gets reborn. In the same way, it’s so easy to get lost in the heat of an intense emotion and think we’ll always feel this way. I wanted to emphasize, through Candice’s condition, that the darkness will pass as surely as it came.
This story places the unexplainable alongside the mundane present day, but the effect it works towards is fascinating. Rather than making the everyday seem painfully banal or making the magical supernaturally grand, in a way—almost like the mood-stabilizing Solven pills Candice takes—it flattens them both (at least for a while). How did you decide on this milieu, and what did it offer you that another one might not have?
Yeah, the mood of the story recreates Candice’s feelings of numbness after she takes Solven to stop her flames. While the pills allow her to stay alive, they also flatten out the joys and sorrows that make life interesting. By removing the contrast between the supernatural and everyday life, I wanted to show that Candice’s flare-ups and subsequent returns from the dead aren’t special occurrences, but something she must deal with on a daily basis. This condition bleeds into every corner of her life, and it’s so familiar to her that it’s almost mundane.
One element I appreciated was how Candice’s struggle to deal with her condition doesn’t fully resolve. Even as she works hard at developing a different treatment plan, her flames never go away, but neither does she ever fully stop taking the medicine. In the end, Candice isn’t “cured” or “normal” (for whatever those words mean), but she does learn to channel who she is and to live in a way that satisfies her. What do you see in her process?
A lot of things in life aren’t black and white, especially when it comes to matters of the mind and heart. In Candice’s case, the pressure to conform to societal and familial definitions of normalcy gave her a belief that there are infallible standards for good and bad—and she’s bad. It’s only when she lets go of that belief that she opens herself up to getting better, and to get better in her own way, not some ideal way prescribed to her by people who overlook her uniqueness as a human being.
I think self-knowledge is key here. It’s only after Candice rediscovers who she is, what she loves and what she’s capable of that she learns not only to manage her condition, but also to channel what was once destructive and terrifying into something productive and even beautiful.
For a while, when Candice seems to be looking for ways to distance herself from Fiona, she latches onto this idea that they’ll never truly connect because of their differences. This is crystallized at one point by Fiona’s misunderstanding of the difference between a fenghuang, which is a bird that never dies, and a phoenix, which dies but is reborn. What sort of difference do you see between the two, especially as they relate to Candice’s journey? At the end, is she more one than the other, or is she something else?
That’s a tough question! I’ll let the reader decide, though I will say that I don’t believe in a One True Myth. The scene you brought up highlights Fiona and Candice’s cultural differences as they interpret the same myth through the lens of their contrasting life experiences, and this nuance is something I want to see more of in fiction and beyond.
Finally, what’s coming up next on your horizon? In addition to any concrete plans, are there any new ideas you’re beginning to explore?
I’m working on a novel! And doodling more comics about cats and their long-suffering food bringers whenever my brain needs a rest.
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