I hope that other readers were as delighted as I was to realize that you’ve worked two different nursery rhymes together—“Solomon Grundy,” of course, but also “Monday’s Child.” Your narrator, Wednesday, is certainly “full of woe!” Can you tell us a little about your relationship to the nursery rhyme form, and how it inspired “Wednesday’s Story”?
I’m pleased that you brought up the references to “Monday’s Child”! I’ve certainly presented Wednesday as “full of woe!” Sunday as “wise and good in every way” and I’ve even written Solomon Grundy himself (who is born on a Monday) as “fair of face” by making him biracial, and so on. I was going to use Saturday as the main character for this story, but that rhyme (in part) made me switch to Wednesday.
So yes, I used “Solomon Grundy” to inform the plot and very loosely used “Monday’s Child” to inform some characterization, but to be entirely honest, the real inspiration for the story itself has little to do with nursery rhymes. The inspiration for the story is really other stories and other writers, which is why I suppose it’s ended up being a story about stories.
“Wednesday’s Story” is a sequel to another story I wrote two years ago, “Thursday,” published in The Kalahari Review, where the Days tell the first story I reference in this one as an inciting event, the story of the girl Emeh. That story itself was inspired by Neil Gaiman’s wonderful story “October in the Chair,” which he wrote for the legendary Ray Bradbury, and which I loved. (He says it also was a forerunner to his later novel The Graveyard Book). After I wrote “Thursday,” another writer, Kiah, who read it and liked it, sent me a message on Twitter with an idea: Use the characters of the Days from “Thursday” and the nursery rhyme story of “Solomon Grundy” to tell a new story. I thought it was a great idea, but I had no clue exactly what to do with it. Still, I was inspired, so I wrote the opening on the day she sent that message, but then I got stuck for months after that, wondering what kind of story I was going to tell. Then one afternoon, I thought about why I was writing this story: a sequel suggested by another writer to a story inspired by another story using a popular children’s rhyme. And then I decided I was going to make the story about stories and writers and readers and how they all affect each other. Inspired, I wrote about half the story before getting stuck again. That time I almost deleted the whole thing. Eventually, I sent the half story to a writer friend, Pemi, who told me she loved it and wanted to see how it would end. A few days later, while reading some old Yoruba folktales, the final inspiration for an ending came and I finally finished the story. So while the story’s inspirational relationship to the nursery rhyme form is limited, its relationship to other writers and other stories is very strong.
Do you often find inspiration in structured forms like the nursery rhyme? Are there any forms you particularly admire that you haven’t yet tried, but would like to?
Unfortunately, no, I don’t often find inspiration in structured forms, but I do like them a lot. I’m a huge fan of haikus, limericks, palindromes, and acrostics. I personally use alliteratives whenever I get the chance. I also try to take elements from other writing forms and formats and use them in stories. I really like it when an author uses a unique, constrained structure to build a good story, for example C.C. Finlay’s amazing “Time Bomb Time,” published here in Lightspeed, which is the same when read both forwards and in reverse (I’m not sure what that form is called [macro-palindrome?] but it’s excellent).
If there is any particular form I’d like to try myself, it is the call-and-response. I think call-and-response is a great part of African storytelling traditions and cultural interactions. Lesley Nneka Arimah did such a wonderful job of inserting call-and-response into a fantasy setting in her New Yorker story “Who Will Greet You at Home,” but I’d like to work it into a far-future science fiction story where it is a key part of the way people interact with technology. I just haven’t found the right story yet.
What was it about Solomon Grundy’s story in particular that interested Wednesday in his plight?
Suffering. It’s his suffering and just the suffering of people in general. I don’t think Wednesday was particularly drawn to Solomon; his story just happened to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for her. The Days spend all their existence chronicling the lives of mankind, and I imagine they must be absolutely weary of pain, of war, of death, of all the pointlessly painful things we do to one another, have done to one another in the past.
Thankfully, the world is becoming less cruel as time goes on, but sometimes when I read or hear about some of the terrible things some humans do to each other, it jars me. I wish I could end all the suffering in the world. I imagined that at least one of the Days would feel the same, and that played into the story.
As an author, you get to do what Wednesday could not: determine the outcome of your character’s stories, choosing from an enormous range of possibilities. What goes into that choice for you, of deciding how their story should end? Do you usually know the outcome when you first sit down to write?
In deciding how a story should end, the main things that I consider are what makes sense for the characters and the story, as well as how I want the reader to feel when the story ends. But usually I don’t know how a story will end when I start.
For me, stories are a bit like life: When you start, there are many possibilities, and as you go on, you make choices that narrow the possibilities until, inevitably, life ends. It’s similar with writing: As you write the scenes, you lock in actions and characters and relationships, and usually by the time you get to the end, there are only a few ways that your story can end that will make sense and be consistent with what you’ve written. Not everything you’ve written would have been planned and sometimes a scene you didn’t think much of or a sentence you didn’t care much for might suddenly mean you can’t end the story the way you wanted to unless you go back and change that part of the story. That’s the big difference; at least with stories, you can go back, you can change things to engineer the ending you want. But usually, I don’t. Not much anyway.
What’s next for you? Where can we look forward to seeing more of your work in the near future?
I have a new story called If They Can Learn in the Futuristica Volume 1 anthology from Metasagas Press which is available for preorder now. It’s about an investigation into the circumstances surrounding a secondhand cyborg police officer shooting an unarmed boy on the streets of Lagos. I also have a story called Necessary and Sufficient Conditions in the Imagine Africa 500 anthology which is a collection of stories set in Africa 500 years in the future and another story coming out in Space and Time magazine later in the year so there are those. I also have a bunch of new short stories and one novella I’m finalizing and trying to sell right now so maybe there will be more out there soon. At least one of them will probably end up in Omenana which is doing great work in publishing African speculative fiction. I’ll probably keep sending them stuff for as long as they are willing to put up with me.
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