How is this story a response to other tales about time travel, either through homage or subversion?
Well, no, this story sort of happened and was not planned at all. I’ve always thought that remembering is not a one-way phenomenon. In essence, what if, while being remembered, you could actually feel the future you were remembering? This is the kind of reasoning this short story is based on. I’m not that literate on time travelling besides the usual Back to the Future and H. G. Wells stuff, maybe the occasional Bradbury-esque take on the topic. Let’s say I was not interested in the technological aspect of it, but about its intimate aspect, the way subjectivity perceives time as a whole.
Back in college I came across an idea—can’t recall the origin—that God experiences all time simultaneously, rather than in the linear form that humans do. The counter-argument is that God exists outside of time entirely because God is unchanging. Which idea more closely aligns with Leaping in this story? Or is it something different entirely?
Let me digress a bit to answer this one. When I was a kid, I remember thinking there was no way for me to know if the world existed billions of years before me, or if it came into being the day I was born, and all the rest was just a very old scenography, with all the people coming along with it, complete with fake memories. That was my first taste of solipsism, and a part of me still thinks I was not far off. As a matter of fact . . . what is the difference between the two? From my point of view, the world’s past exists only if I exist. So, in a way, it didn’t exist before I was born.
Of course, this is the way a child thinks, or the childish part of an adult, when all is centered about oneself. Now, let’s talk about God. What is God? To me—an agnostic, by the way—God is the otherness that exists outside and inside of ourselves. Why am I saying this? I guess it’s because the idea of time travelling exposes us to what is unchanging and what is fixed, in us and outside of us. Ugo is an intimate, subjective take on an objective theme, as it questions what stays and what doesn’t, not in the universe, but in our lives. So, back to God . . . if a part of God is in us, is that part the one that flows, or the one that is unchanging? And what about the part that is not God? Is the part of us that is most “us” the stable one or the in-flux one? No answers of course, just questions.
How closely did this story match what you had originally envisioned? Are there elements you think you’ll refine or return to in future stories?
As I said, this story just sort of happened. Usually I plan my stories very accurately, especially the ones I write in English. With this one, I just had this ludicrous idea of the “time-jumps,” which were supposed to be like time-sneezes. So what I had in mind was something quite light and funny. And yet when I began . . . I usually don’t talk about the mystique of writing, but this time I did really go into a sort of trance.
I guess what happened is that I’ve been thinking about this topic for such a long while, since I was a kid, so the different pieces kind of came together almost effortlessly. I’m talking about the first draft, of course; to get the right tone (and the language) took me a lot more. For this I want to thank Anne Woodall, who translated some of my stuff and helps me with the language, and all my Clarion friends, who were of immense support. I have to thank them and our workshop leader, Ted Chiang, if I worked on this story some more and didn’t throw it to the dogs, as I was about to.
Elements I’d return to? Probably memory and regret. We human beings are the only animals in the universe that can suffer out of impossibilities, that is, possibilities that never came into being. That is the price we pay for having imagination, to feel nostalgia for what it never will be. There is a painful beauty in there, terrible in real life, but bittersweet to taste in fiction.
Tell me about your mask collection. How did it begin? Do you have a favorite one?
Oh well, I’ve been a Commedia dell’arte fan almost as long I can remember! I saw Strehler’s Harlequin Servants of Two Masters when I was twelve and that sense of wonder never completely wore off. I mean, people who are masks, how cool is that? Also, you have to imagine that in the traditional Italian carnival, kids put on the Commedia masks. When I was a child we dressed up as Harlequin, The Magnifico, Mr. Punch, et cetera. Then in college, I got my history of theatre minor and I started collecting masks. Some are in leather, some in cardboard, some in feathers.
They are all amazing, but probably the first one, which an artisan did especially for me, is my favourite, as it is a blend of Il Capitano and of the Magnifico. Since we are at it, I have a Commedia family saga in my mind I am beginning to tackle, after years of deep rumination, so the masks are also there to remind me of my life-long project and all its characters . . .
What can we look forward to next from you?
In late July, I will publish my first novella for children in Embers: a Journal of Luminous Things. It is called “The Girl Who Waited for The Fish Storm” and will be illustrated by the wonderfully talented Casey Robin.
I am also in the last stages of finalising a novel called The Secret Marked of the Dead. The story is about an eighteenth-century Italian girl who wants nothing more than to become a blacksmith, a fate that is reserved for her twin brother. Until she turns to the Nocturnals, inhabitants of the Second Night, a realm of living dreams and unquiet dead . . . The novel stems from my interests in southern Italy’s history, local folklore (the same that forms much of Basile’s The Tale of Tales), and the contrast between Romanticism and Enlightenment, covering similar grounds as Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, hopefully in a unique, surreal, Italian way.
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