Let’s start a long time ago, in a galaxy far far . . . I mean, at the beginning. What can you tell us about the inspiration for “A Green Moon Problem”? While it takes place in a fascinating SF world and explores classic themes, I’m curious what the initial spark was that got this story going.
“A Green Moon Problem” is one of the few stories for which I can trace the genesis—yet, in the end, I’m as mystified as anyone as to where the story came from.
It started with Walter Jon Williams presenting me with a pale gold Chinese silk jacket that his wife, Kathy Hedges, had discovered when going through an elderly relative’s closets. The hem was frayed, but Kathy (knowing my fondness for Chinese-style clothing) hoped I could get the jacket mended and enjoy. I took it to a good tailor but, sadly, the fabric was perishing and the more we did, the more it frayed. But the jacket was still lovely and I couldn’t quite pitch it, so it hung in my closet.
Then Jim and my friends Rowan Derrick and Melissa Jackson invited us to a Halloween costume party, the theme of which was “Space Station.” I had been itching to design a full-face mask for a long while and here was my excuse to pull out the Sharpies and go for it. I’d use the Chinese jacket, a mask, and then . . .
The name Tatter D’MaLeon popped into my head, along with the phrase “Your problem is not my problem, unless you want me to make it so.” It wouldn’t go away. It thumped in my head as I designed the rest of the costume. A few weeks after the party, I wrote the story.
This is basically how my creative process goes. Even if I can trace influences, the story itself has a life of its own. In the end, I feel like a medium, trying to find the right words to channel a vision.
“A Green Moon Problem” has a delightful way of combining and remixing its influences. While the setting is classic SF—an extraplanetary station, extraterrestrial objects—the heart of it seems closer to a fairy tale as Tatter D’MaLeon appears like a faerie to grant wishes. Our protagonist Jurgen is likewise driven by the headstrong “passionate intensity” of a hero in a fable, but also employs his rational “engineer’s mind” in pursuing Rita (and Tatter). How did this mixture come about, and were there any reference points you drew from? Stylistically, the prose seems to veer more toward the rhythms and structures of fantastic fiction, so how did you decide on this tone?
I believe that the more science finds answers, the more there will be a craving for myth and magic. Why? Because myth and magic speak to that indefinable something in the human soul that needs to believe rules can be broken.
Tatter is definitely a trickster figure. That said, I think of her as on the benign side of the line. She’s more a Spider or Coyote than a Mephistopheles. She lacks the selfishness of Hare. Tatter wants to understand what it is to be human. By helping humans achieve their goals, she hopes to serve her own desires. She’s seeking fire, but it’s a different sort of fire.
Jurgen owes a little bit to Faust, the rational, intelligent fellow who love and desire makes irrational. Rita, however, is far from a passive love interest, which made her more interesting for me to write about.
I don’t sit down and say to myself “I’m going to write this in such and such tone.” The story itself dictates the tone. I listen, then choose my words to go with the story’s inherent music.
One of the joys of this story is the world you’ve created. In addition to the remixing of influences above, the physical world of the story is also one of combinations and reconfigurations. Not only do Jurgen and Rita embody this at the end, but it is present in Tatter D’MaLeon’s own tatterdemalion costume, the diverse group of supporting characters, and even Concatenation “Cat” Station itself, which is assembled from other vehicles, vessels, and equipment all pulled together into a patchwork home. Were there any specific influences that you drew from in conceiving of this patchwork world? How do you see the setting and these elements playing into the larger themes of the story?
No specific influences. That said, I’m very interested in anthropology. “Cat” Station grows the way “real life” communities grow. Even the planned towns of the American West (where I live) have their odd little alleys, their out-of-place buildings. Given that in outer space resources would be incredibly difficult and expensive to acquire, it made sense to me that a space station would eventually glom onto any useful resources—a hospital ship, a passenger liner (that might become a hotel), an ore processing ship (that might become a factory). It wouldn’t take long for not-immediately useful resources to also be accepted on the grounds that someone, someday will find a use for them.
Like most writers, I tend to write about what interests me. I’d rather visit “Cat” Station than most of the space habitats I’ve read about.
The story warns its readers that “[l]ove can make the most rational person irrational.” As illustration, we see Jurgen repeatedly try to approach his irrational desire in a rational way: He methodically researches Tatter D’MaLeon; when he and Tatter meet, Jurgen tries to carefully lay out his wish so as to avoid the ironic pitfalls that tend to accompany genies and monkeys’ paws; Jurgen even approaches the question of what it means to be human by looking to DNA and compiling quotes from philosophers. None of these, however, work out as planned—his research is useless; his wish to be with Rita forever is granted with a twist; he still has to pay Tatter in credits. What can we read into these events about the limits on what rationality can accomplish? Is it possible that Jurgen had the right approach but his implementation was flawed, or was relying too much on rationality in these matters of the heart and existence always going to doom him to failure?
Goodness . . . Is everything Jurgen does really that useless? I’m not sure I agree!
Although I lean toward the mystical side in my writing, in day-to-day life, I’m intensely practical. I don’t perceive the qualities as in opposition.
I’ve been knocked off my feet by love at first sight. But I also am very aware that the garden in which love will grow is as much tended by making sure the laundry is done and the bills paid on time as it is by poetry and chocolate.
In the end, Jurgen and Rita are together, perhaps forever, although they have been changed into something other than human. Tatter’s reference to Baucis and Philemon suggests they have become trees, or at least something very close, but in congratulating herself on this solution, Tatter feels that perhaps she is finally learning what it means to become human. For Tatter, what is that insight that she feels she has gained?
The myth of “Baucis and Philemon” has haunted me since I was very small. Although Ovid frames it in the Metamorphosis as a happy tale of virtue rewarded, to me it always seemed a “be careful what you wish for” sort of tale.
As for what Tatter learned . . . I think I’ll leave that to the reader. I have my suppositions, but sometimes the author is the last to know.
Finally, what’s coming up on your horizon? In addition to concrete projects and plans, are there any new and inchoate ideas that you’re starting to explore?
My most recent novel is Asphodel. It mingles fairy tales, myths, and a whole bunch of other things in the story of a woman who wakes in a tower of seven windows and maybe one door. Despite its seeming lack of structure, from the start I had a sense of where Asphodel was going, and I very much loved the journey.
My current concrete project is writing the first new Firekeeper novel in something like ten years. It’s called Wolf’s Search. Getting back in touch with that series—which consists of six long, complex novels—has been an interesting mental journey.
I’m one of those writers who writes the stories I’d like to read but couldn’t find anywhere else. Now, ten or more years later, I’m re-reading the Firekeeper novels without remembering all the minute writerly decisions I made along the way. At the same time, I’m writing a new novel in the same place, so very immersed in minutia. It’s a rather fascinating set of contrasts.
When I finish Wolf’s Search, I have a 150,000-word manuscript that I want to return to. I wrote it with most of my emphasis on getting to know the characters, then exploring the plot with them. Now it’s time to go back and fill in the world we discovered together. I suspect this will be more than one book when I’m done.
Between, I’d like to write more short fiction. There’s a piece by artist Elizabeth Leggett that has haunted me since I first saw it at Bubonicon. I asked her what the story was behind it, and was surprised that she didn’t know. If I can, I’d like to write a story to go with it. I suspect that, like with Tatter, the story will sneak up on me and I’ll need to put everything else to the side until I’ve written it, but, for now, it’s just a joyful mystery.
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