“The Memory of a Memory Is a Spirit” opens with lush imagery of the island’s life. Did you draw your visual inspiration from any particular island or islands?
The original inspiration for the island came from a Smithsonian Magazine article about North Brother Island, which is located between Manhattan and the Bronx. It was once the location of Riverside Hospital, designed to contain smallpox and other infectious diseases in the late nineteenth century. The island got repurposed a few times over the years, becoming housing for war veterans and later a rehab center for heroin addicts. Then, it was abandoned in 1963 and has since become a place reclaimed by nature. It’s an honest and beautifully haunted picture of what happens to a well-maintained place when all the humans leave.
The earlier drafts of this story took this inspiration of North Brother Island very literally, and consequently, the story was kind of boring. Then I asked myself, “How can I make this setting weirder?” which, in my experience, is always a good question to ask of any work in progress.
This story spends a lot of time building homes and destroying homes. Do you think Sumé’s magic really benefits her on a personal level? Would she think differently about some of her homes if she had to work harder to create them?
Sumé’s magic is a tool, and though it looks like she’s just using it to take care of the island and build/destroy homes, what she’s really using it for is to discover what she wants. She thinks she wants a perfect home, but what she’s really searching for is a place to belong. She probably wouldn’t have built and rebuilt her homes so flippantly without magic, but instead would have rearranged the furniture or repainted or dug up the garden just as frequently.
It’s comforting to imagine a place like Sumé’s island, a refuge for customs and practices that would otherwise have vanished from the world. Is there something specific out there in history that you wish could be found in a refuge like this—some piece of culture lost to history that you’ve always wanted to understand?
There’s so many different cultures, places, and times I’m curious about that have been lost or forgotten or smothered by colonialism. I love visiting ruins, but they always hint at what’s been lost, like Petra in Jordan. Or the knot writing of the Incas. I occasionally come across articles about dying practices or arts, like one about one of the last women who knows how to make byssus (bbc.in/2JBwMZ7). Which is both fascinating and rather sad, that art like this is almost gone.
Sumé, in the end, gets a chance to create a refuge of her own, for things not yet entirely lost. How about yourself? Are there any practices you work hard to keep alive in your own life?
As of writing this, we’re currently nine months into the pandemic and I’m trying to stay in contact with my friends and to keep being part of the speculative fiction community. I’m fighting not to slide back into my hermit tendencies, which is ironic, as I’m also simultaneously turning my home into more of a refuge because I think I will be spending a lot of time in it over the coming months.
You’ve had a lot of wonderful stories published in the last few years. Do you have a teaser for something of yours we can expect to read in the near future?
Thank you! I have two stories coming out in the future. One is my first horror sale to Nightmare Magazine. The other story will be in the March/April 2021 issue of Asimov’s. It’s about two friends writing emails to each other from two very different pocket universes. Then, things go sideways.
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