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Author Spotlight: Catherynne M. Valente

Tristram’s preconceived notions about herself are heartbreaking. Can you tell us a little about how you came up with her character and the journey she goes on in your story “A Hole To China”?

It’s funny looking back on this story, which was probably my first real attempt at a children’s portal fantasy. I can see that a lot of Fairyland’s tone was in infant form in this piece. Tristram is very much me as a child—she even lives in the part of the country where I grew up. Childhood was a sad and difficult place for me, one in which I was always trying to come up with explanations of the world without asking grown ups questions which might lead to me being rejected in some fashion. I was quite neurotic, really. All of that goes into Tristram.

I loved the eclectic characters she meets: the crow-woman and her sister, the peacock historian, and the Ox of Sorrows and his penchant for woe. What kind of effect do you think Tristam’s encounters had on her by the end of the story?

I think she’s seen something of another world, things more spectacular and beautiful than she suspected, and that she feels at least a little special, for having gotten to glimpse them. She has a secret to keep, and that makes her feel powerful. I think she will have that to hold beside her troubles when she finds her way back home.

Your love for and history with folklore and fairy tales is apparent in much of your writing, and this story is no exception. Do you plan on working myth and magic into a story ahead of time, or does it find its way in on its own?

I can’t help it, folklore always wins out. It’s how my mind works, finding connections between myth and reality, between myth and myth, between fairy tales and real children. My original folklore lies alongside the aspects from real human mythologies, mirroring it and commenting on it. It is what draws me to fantasy as a genre, the ability to take apart folklore and put it back together again. That’s no different when writing for younger readers—in fact, it’s more intense, because you’re working at that primal fairy tale level, close to the bone, and a lot of times you’re bringing a kid certain aspects of folklore for the first time, coloring their future interactions with it.

This story was originally published in a crowdfunding experiment called the Omikuji Project, and then in the collection This is My Letter to the World. Will you tell us a little about that, and your activity with crowdfunding in general? How has it affected your writing and output?

I started the Omikuji Project in 2008 and it’s been a wonderful experience. I write a short story that is not published elsewhere without the permission of the community, (and thank you to them for allowing Lightspeed to reprint “A Hole to China”!) and we print it on archival paper, seal it with a wax seal, and send the stories to subscribers all over the world. We have members on every continent but Africa and Antarctica, and in 2010 I collected the first two years of stories into a collection. There have been member meetups all over the country and it’s been amazing to see the attachments formed both to the stories and between members.

It’s affected my writing in that I’m very good at the 2000 word story length now! And it’s certainly tough sometimes to produce a new short story every month in addition to all the other short fiction I do. But it’s been so rewarding. It’s worth the occasional brain-pain.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve just finished the sequel to Fairyland and am working on the third book, as well as a western novella and two new adult books.

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Erin Stocks

Erin Stocks Lightspeed Assistant Editor Erin Stocks’ fiction can be found in the Coeur de Lion anthology Anywhere but EarthFlash Fiction Online, the Hadley Rille anthology Destination: Future, The Colored Lens, and most recently in Polluto Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @ErinStocks or at www.erinstocks.com.