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Author Spotlight: William Browning Spencer

What is the connection between the two realities we see in “The Foster Child”? How and why was Lena split between them?

I guess it is best to start with a disclaimer: I don’t really think writers should talk at length about what they have written. There is a temptation to explain away everything; we try to codify chaos, we lie and pretend we had a plan. And we get a little pompous. Maybe more than a little.

A great deal of what I like about this story is what isn’t there. It is meant to be mystical and elegiac, which is life, as I understand it. I don’t know how Lena lost her place in the strange world that begins this story, but I know that poetry sustains that world, and it will die if it doesn’t regain its Muse, its inspiration.

Where did the idea for Lena’s split consciousness first come from, and how did it develop? What inspired this story?

I think three of my favorite poets inspired this story: William Butler Yeats, John Keats, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. The title comes from “Ode to a Grecian Urn” by John Keats: “Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness! / Thou foster-child of silence and slow time.”

The references to Yeats and Gerard Manley Hopkins (both of whom embraced mystical, transcendent visions of the world) are there in the poetry that is recited. There are also a couple of lines from a Dylan Thomas poem.

Does it matter if people don’t catch all these allusions? I don’t think it does. I have tried to write a story that has some of the attributes of poetry, that is more interested in evoking an emotion than in explaining just precisely how these two worlds intersect. It is a story about the critical, life-sustaining importance of poetry, and maybe it is about the decline of the humanities in universities or the dumbing-down of language in smart-phone-social-networking America. But probably not.

The first scene in “The Foster Child” is a mix of ambiguity and vivid imagery. How did you go about crafting this world?

In a short story, you aren’t required to have the elaborate sort of worldbuilding you need in a novel. I wanted to create a place where a hero of myth and legend battled against a decadent technology. This warrior who calls himself Yeats seeks to rescue Lena before it is too late. I didn’t want to use alien words that required explaining further down the road—a common and somewhat irritating practice in SF and fantasy novels—so I used words that evoked a stranger world without being couched in another language. You can puzzle out what’s going on, I think.

Wilson begins to have bad dreams as he attempts to coax Lena fully into the reality he inhabits. What is the significance of these dreams? Is there a connection between them and losing Lena?

I believe Wilson senses that something dire is on the horizon. He can’t define it, but the urgency invoked by the other world has, as he’s grown closer to the child, impinged on his subconscious and created an unfocused anxiety, our modern world’s existential dread. (I warned about the opportunities for pomposity . . .) I think the ending is a happy one, although probably not all readers would agree.

Why does Lena only speak in poetry? How did you go about deciding which quotes to use? What significance does the Muse have in the story aside from Lena’s speech?

I think I’ve probably answered these questions in the above. In her own world, that other world, I expect Lena can converse normally. To speak in our blunted world, she has to fight against her lethargy, and poetry is the only communication succinct enough, powerful enough, to win through.

Okay, I just made that up, but it sounds right.

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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.