How did “Nobody Ever Goes Home to Zhenzhu” originate? What inspirations did you draw on?
I was mulling over the concept of “retcon” or “retroactive continuity” as it applies to fictional works: when a new piece of information provides a complete reinterpretation of past events, and what is considered “canon” undergoes a metamorphosis. This is not dissimilar to how our interpretations of history can be manipulated. Although we may believe we are neutral observers, we can be indoctrinated to see events from a deeply biased perspective. What sort of information is included or excluded from the “canon” of our historical stories?
In Orin and Calam’s world, the Common Records are a shared, widely-accepted accounting of history, accessed on-demand via neural enhancements. Of course, the Records are manipulated by the powerful to maintain their own standing and to conceal atrocities.
The working title for this story was “Retconning History,” which, needless to say, did not survive beyond the first draft!
Orin and Calam appeared in an earlier short story of mine, “The Dunes of Ranza,” in which Orin began to realise the impacts of terraforming on diasporan populations. Zhenzhu came to life because I wanted to explore Calam’s background. I have many more stories about the Beaconer and her mechanic brewing in my mind.
Did you get stuck at any point while writing this? How did you get past that?
Yes—more than usual with this story. Earlier drafts had Orin wandering around planet-side and poking into Calam’s childhood. I suppose it was part of that whole process of getting to know my characters. In the end, I shortened the initial scenes significantly, removing some sections and scattering smaller fragments throughout the story. It was a little painful, but I think I made the right choice. I wanted to keep the pace high and focus on the pivotal scenes. I’m excited to pick up on the seeds of background information in future stories about Orin and Calam.
I also struggled with the ending of “Zhenzhu.” I wanted to be cautious not to portray Orin as a saviour character. Agency, and the decision regarding what to do with the Scribe Implant, needed to rest with Calam.
Is there anything you want to make sure readers noticed?
Two things I enjoy playing with in my stories: perspective, and neural enhancement technology. Both appear in “Zhenzhu.”
I decided to write the story from Orin’s perspective because of her distinctive voice, the maintenance of suspense through distance, and the delight of sprinkling titbits of background information about both Orin and Calam throughout the narrative.
Most people in this world have accepted necessary modifications and enhancements to their biological bodies. Of course, this makes you trackable—everything has a serial number or a digital trace, right? In her role as a Beaconer, Orin often uses biodata to hunt down her targets.
When she’s following Calam, she lifts a memory trace from a roadside vendor. How deeply will such memory recordings be coloured by the individual’s own biases and interpretations? And when Orin views another person’s memory trace and encodes it into her own mind, she’s layering her own perspective on top of theirs. We’re always telling stories to ourselves and to the people around us.
What are you reading lately? What writers inspire you?
I’m currently rereading The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, a six-book fantasy series that left a strong impression on me when I first encountered it years ago. Turner is such a deft hand at using spare, elegant prose and different perspectives to keep the reader on their toes. Every word holds weight; every detail might be a clue. Threads of information are woven across from one book to another. There’s politics and warfare and an expanse of kingdoms, but the narrative is intimate and subtle, never bogged down in extraneous details.
I’ve also recently finished Ken Liu’s second short story collection, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories, and I’m hoping to soon start Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Unreal and the Real. Reading masters of short fiction always inspires me to write more short stories.
What are you working on lately? Where else can fans look for your work?
My debut novel, Every Version of You, is going to the printers this month, which is incredibly exciting. It will be published in September by Affirm Press.
I have short fiction out in a variety of venues. If you like the sound of a solarpunk tree transformation story with poignant feels, “As Though I Were a Little Sun” was just published in Fireside Magazine. If you want a story about a lonely K-pop idol in the 22nd century, deepfakes, and a sneaky escape, check out “He Leaps for the Stars, He Leaps for the Stars” in Clarkesworld’s July 2021 issue.
As always, I’m chipping away at more short stories. You can find a full list of my published and forthcoming work on my website, gracechanwrites.com.
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