What ideas or sources of inspiration went into this story?
When my grandmother passed away in 2016, I had to go through her belongings and choose which items to take away with me. It’s very strange looking through someone’s things without their permission like that, especially if it’s someone you think you know very well. There were items I came across—family oddments and photographs—that made me wish I’d known her a little better as a person, or asked more questions when I had the chance. That feeling of having to piece together someone you love after the fact, when they’re no longer around to provide context, was a major inspiration.
I love how many layers this story has to it: responsibility, discovery, community, being outcast. If you had to pinpoint the message at the core of the story, or the one you’d most want a reader to take away, what would it be?
Thank you! I suppose the main thread is that we all have something unique and valuable to offer the world. From the beginning, Gwinaelle isn’t sure what she can contribute to her community—what her book should be about—and it’s the same for any creative person trying to art nowadays. “What have I got to say? How is it different from what anyone else is saying?” Gwinaelle finds a purpose in being the bridge between the old world and the new, which is something only she can offer at that time.
I’d love it if a reader could take that sense of hope and purpose with them, and remember it on days when the news cycle grinds them down.
The descriptions of harvesting are so delightfully gruesome and visceral. I imagine there must have been some fascinating research involved in the process. Anything particularly interesting you’d like to share with us?
For the different uses of body parts, I turned to my writing group for help and they came up with some fantastic stuff. Using brains for tanning was a favourite, as was creating soap from fat and lye. Most of the time, it was an exercise in how gross I could make my descriptions!
But it made sense to me that these post-apocalyptic people would recycle anything they could. It’s the exact opposite of our throw-away culture, our single-use plastic. We must completely change our ways if we want to protect our planet. We have to crank our “make-do-and-mend” dial up to eleven. Hopefully we’ll never go so far as eating each other, but it was fun to think about our bodies in practical terms, as a sustainable resource.
What was the hardest part of this story to write—or, conversely, the part that brought you the most joy?
The easiest and most fun part was all the gore. Everything else—the structure, the emotional connections, the mystery of the ghosts—all of that was really hard. Some quite drastic changes happened in those areas over multiple drafts, thanks to a small army of crit partners.
The yucky stuff, though—that stayed.
What’s next for you? Any cool projects in the works?
I have a Gothic novelette called “Strange Uncertain Light” forthcoming in the July/August 2019 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction! I’m really proud of it and I hope people will check that out. Right now, I’m working on a novel.
Spread the word!