What was the genesis for “From the Root?”
This is a long answer, because it taps into a current obsession of mine and I am incapable of reining myself in, but I promise my other answers will be short to compensate. So, last year I read and became infatuated with The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of Modern Surgery, an excellent biography by Wendy Moore about the physician John Hunter. Hunter was a medical revolutionary during perhaps the most wretchedly disgusting period in all of Western medical history: England in the 1700-1800s. At a time when most physicians treated the symptoms of a disease without trying to comprehend the cause, Hunter was a dogged experimentalist who was absolutely intent on understanding the inner workings of the human body.
And in order to study the human body, Hunter needed—human bodies. He acquired these bodies mostly through illegal means, such as employing grave robbers to steal the corpses of the recently-dead, but he would also on occasion attempt to reserve someone’s body before they’d even died, as in the case of Charles Byrne, a traveling “freak” who suffered from gigantism. Byrne tried every means possible to evade Hunter’s dissection knife, even ensuring that after death his friends weighted his coffin with lead and sank him to the bottom of the English channel; but through a combination of bribery and pure deviousness, Hunter managed to secretly steal his body anyway, and Byrne’s skeleton is still on display in the Hunterian Museum. Which is super fucked up! And got me thinking about the monstrosities and atrocities behind medical and technological advancements, and thinking also about how badly I wanted to re-tell that story from a different perspective. Voilà?
What was it about the time and setting that felt right for this story?
It was inspired by real historical events, so I kept the setting and time period the same. Georgian London was also right around the time when male doctors began trying in earnest to cash in on the business of midwifery, which had previously been one of the only medical fields available to women (besides, like, hedge-witchery), so that’s a historical backdrop, too.
Does the story title have a double meaning?
In a sense, I guess. I was thinking of tooth roots, and finding the “root cause” of something, and also thinking of the umbilical cord as a kind of weird human-root through which we receive nutrients from the earth of our mother’s flesh, ew.
Your “Kvell” section on your website points to some wonderful stories, thank you! Did you only just start it or do you only keep posted the entries for a given calendar year? If the latter, I must plead for a peek at the archive from previous years.
I only just started it! I don’t really have any social media, so I had nowhere to publicly brag about my brilliant friends—now I do.
Any projects or news you want to tell us about?
I’m new to writing science fiction/fantasy, and as a grown-up writer I’d never written what you’d call a speculative story until this past summer, when I attended Clarion West. So I’m very excited right now about speculatizing pretty much everything. I’m like the John Stewart character in that movie Half Baked, but instead of, “Have you ever seen the back of a twenty-dollar bill . . . on weed?” it’s like, “Have you ever seen the back of a twenty-dollar bill . . . in space?!” Other than that, I’m working on a lit-fic novel.
Spread the word!