I was so happy to read a story that deftly and compassionately works through the gender and sexual dynamics of, as the kids call it, monsterfucking. Historically (as you demonstrate) and up until today, the genre niche or trope of a human/monster romance usually centers on the heterosexual pairing of a male monster and a human woman. Can you talk a bit about what drew you to work within and around this particular tradition?
I’d always wanted to write a Red Riding Hood story. I read “The Company of Wolves” in high school and immediately asked for The Bloody Chamber as a pasalubong (souvenir) from a relative who was visiting the US at the time, since it wasn’t in any of our bookstores in Manila. Around that same time I was obsessively reading the webcomic No Rest for the Wicked, which is a fairy tale mash-up which includes Red as a central character, except she’s a badass with an axe and no social manners. I have a distinct memory of watching the movie version of The Company of Wolves during a sleepover with my best friend a few years later. We laughed at all the overt sexual imagery, but it was still lots of fun. Among fairy tale heroines, I have a soft spot for Gretel and Red—there’s something about a young girl getting lost in a forest that’s resonant for me (and, clearly, lots of people).
That said, I didn’t know what my Red story would be. So I let it simmer in my head for years and years. At first I wanted to just interrogate her relationship with the wolf. What if they end up together? Why would that happen? I think this idea came mostly from Angela Carter: falling in love with the beast. For a long time I thought I’d write a domestic fairy tale where Red and the Wolf live together, chopping wood and fishing, and she bakes him pies.
I remember the moment this idea came to me. I was walking my dog, listening to a podcast, and the author was talking about writing a Beauty and the Beast retelling. And my brain went “Oh, shit. Beauty meets Red and they fall in love.” Then I thought: “So what about the wolf?” And I realized I still wanted to tell the domestic fairy tale, but at the moment when it shatters. Red realizes this guy is a monster, he fucking ate my grandmother. It got pretty dark after that.
For a long time I was stumped about how Wolf, and the Beast, fit into the story. I wanted to show that they were also kind. That Red and Beauty had been justified in their choices, that they hadn’t been weak to stay. But also that there was something to understanding themselves better, and realizing there are other ways to love.
Also, I love fairy tales and retellings of all kinds. Some of this might be my fanfic background, but even within fandom I always loved great fairy tale retellings, like fresne’s Queer as the Fork when the Knife ran away with the Spoon, or northlight’s seeing your world from the outside. I think when I first started writing original fiction I was a little hesitant to remix fairy tales, especially Euro-centric ones, without making them explicitly of-my-culture (for example, a Filipino retelling of the Little Mermaid, which I did do). Maybe that was messed up. It was some instinct I had. I’ve started to get over that in more recent years.
What I love about the ending of “Windrose in Scarlet” is how it plays on the fact that the very monstrousness that supposedly afflicts or twists the male characters in fairy tales also allows them to transgress societal norms in a way that is inaccessible to the women in the tales. Their monstrousness marks them, but also empowers them. Do you see this ending, where Red and Beauty must be transformed in order to escape, as an optimistic and hopeful ending? Why was this ending in particular necessary to you?
I didn’t know how this story was going to end. As the Bad Husbands were approaching, I could feel my brain going “Oh god, how will they escape?!” I reached that part in the draft, panicked, and took a shower. And my brain just went, Duh, the fairy transforms them into animals. It was natural. I don’t even have a full explanation for it, which is slightly disappointing: It felt right, so I put it in, and it still feels right when I reread it.
If I was to retroactively suss out what my story-brain was doing, I think that transformation makes sense for two reasons. First, in transforming, Red and Beauty are able to access the same physical strength they ordinarily couldn’t have by virtue of being “human,” when pitted against literal monsters. Maybe some of this is my subconscious going, Fuck it, we deserve to be that strong. But sometimes, physically, you really just can’t compete. Like: I’m not tall, I’m not physically imposing; when people meet me, these attributes affect how they view me. I wanted to give these girls the opportunity to throw that out the window: to be that wild and intimidating. To be monstrous, in a way.
Second, it lets Red place a bet for her and Beauty. The bet is this: I believe I won’t lose who I am, even once I gain all this strength. Unlike the Wolf and Beast, they are able to hold onto the part of themselves that was tender and kind. I think some part of me inherently thinks that is possible, that what others find monstrous can actually be overcome, or isn’t that way at all. (I never intended for this story to be a blatant commentary on queer acceptance, but perhaps that’s part of what my subconscious wanted.) For this reason, I think the ending is optimistic.
Red and Beauty seem to see in one another things that they can’t see in themselves. Theirs is such a natural and romantic dynamic, and stands in contrast to the men they’ve been magically saddled with. When it comes to romantic love, what do you think is present or is missing in the classic fairy tale depictions?
Besides overtly queer narratives? Because it can always use more of those! (I’m looking at you, The Little Mermaid.)
I think I wanted to play with a couple of those missed depictions in this story. For example, the idea of fate. In most fairy tales, protagonists end up with The One because it fits the story: like they’re both royal, or because one has a heart of gold, or sometimes because of a fairy’s meddling. In a story where there’s one royal and one poor but kind-hearted person, of course they get together. This could also be the effect of growing up with Disney’s Golden Age. It’s sort of my same problem with shoujo manga: It’s never a mystery who will end up together, because it’s gonna be the two protagonists on the cover, obviously. So one thing I wanted to ask was: What about choosing who to love?
Beauty thinks Beast is her destiny. She thinks he is her “right outcome.” But she starts to fall in love with Red. So what now? Maybe in some ways this is also my message to couples. Not that romantic love is everything, nor should I really be giving anyone love advice, but . . . perhaps it’s worth it to not settle, if you’re gonna spend eternity with someone?
Another thing I wanted to play with is why they fall in love. Fairy tales have a lot of insta-love. I don’t like insta-love, I don’t buy it; but I do get that you might inexplicably have a crush on someone, just because you’re intrigued, or you like the way they look. In this story, they were attracted to each other immediately, which is not something I usually write. Following that, I wanted to justify how they get to a point where they’re willing to let this happen, as scary as it is. It ended up like a semi-slow burn. So, yes, they find each other hot. But they fall in love because they become mirrors for each other, and they make each other braver and better.
This is separate from romantic love, but I wanted to tackle this undercurrent of abuse towards female characters that fairy tales tend to have in common. I know they were written in a certain time, but I feel now that if I do a retelling, I at least need to poke that, or acknowledge it. In Disney’s version, and in the original, the Beast is really shitty to Beauty’s dad—and to her, at first. I get that he’s lonely, but isn’t that terrible? And even if he does turn kinder, will that monster in him ever completely subside? Then there are the versions of Red Riding Hood where she gets into bed with the wolf and he eats her, the end. There’s the Little Mermaid, the Little Match Girl. I kind of wanted to write a story where a female character’s self-sacrifice (or naivety) was not the happy ending. Bonus points if I get to make it shippy!
What is coming up next for you?
I’m working on two or three short pieces for a thing, which I won’t say more about so as not to jinx it. Otherwise I’ve been focusing on longer pieces: the sad healer living on a planet, avoiding the war; the boy and his snarky demon, solving a murder in a rainy seaside town; the Ibong Adarna retelling. I still can’t grok writing long, and as a grad student I’ve had very little time to write. But this past summer I’ve done much better at writing consistently, so I’m hoping to keep that up during the academic year.
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