Who came to you first, the prince or the cook? How did this all start?
First came, as it does to all, the experience of cruelty from those with power. Then the mapping of that landscape: its thorns, mossy valleys, cities of often indifferent bystanders. I wrote the story in 2017, as a way of thinking about the particular dynamics of women who use their power against other women, as well as women who uplift and protect each other. All of which are ways of being human.
The rhythm and style of the prose was so gorgeous—like a fable but more. Did you borrow from any particular traditions? If so, what drew you to them?
I read the Shahnameh and a fair number of Persian-language fairy tales in the years prior to writing this story, as well as some Hafiz and Rumi, mostly in translation, for the novel I have been working on. This story seems to be yet another unexpected offshoot.
As a non-binary person, I was fascinated by the way you played with gender through the lens of aristocracy and succession. What was the thought process behind these decisions and turns of phrase?
Now that you ask, I can remember reading, at age eleven or so, Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing With Dragons, in which Kazul informs Cimorene: “Queen of the Dragons is a totally different job from King, and it’s not one I’m particularly interested in. Most people aren’t.” And that made a great deal of sense to my eleven-year-old self. Growing up on Tamora Pierce and Mercedes Lackey, I was more interested in swords, bows, and hawks than whatever princesses were said to do before they were married off in horse-trading deals. It seemed unjust that anyone should be condemned to a lifetime of uninteresting activities from birth. That is, however, the very definition of royalty, so I’ve only changed the rules in part. One needs rules in order to break them.
What have you read lately that you adored, or made you think “I want to try that?”
A member of my church recently loaned me The Art of Freshwater Fishing, and it is delightful. I’ve learned that one of the lures in my box is for medium-speed trolling, and that the largest cutthroat trout ever caught, from Pyramid Lake, Nevada, in 1925, was forty-one pounds. Can you imagine?
In terms of fiction, in the past month I’ve very much enjoyed N.K. Jemisin’s “Give Me Cornbread, or Give Me Death.”
What can we look forward to next from you?
Including this one, I’ve had six short stories published in 2019, in Asimov’s, Slate, Tor.com, and the anthologies New Suns and If This Goes On. I’ll have a story out in John Joseph Adam’s Lost Worlds anthology in 2020. I also have a novel on submission. Wish me luck.
Spread the word!