I like how the meaning of the title is inverted in the story. “Crocodile Tears” typically means insincere sympathy, but in this story the crocodile is the truly sympathetic one. Did you know this was the title you were going to use at the start? How did it occur to you?
I am generally inspired by the questions suggested by certain phrases. If a crocodile cannot shed sincere tears, then how does a crocodile mourn?
There are two stories in this one: Si Tenggang is a story about a prodigal son who returns home after a long time with a great fortune, only to deny his mother. She curses him and his ship to turn to stone. Then there is a story about an old woman who, like the mother in this story, loses a grandchild to crocodiles, and the head crocodile asks her to help his grandchild. In exchange, she asks the crocodiles to leave the river.
I thought to myself, where was the grandchild’s father? Also, Si Tenggang’s punishment seems a bit pat. I’m also very interested in recuperating the crocodile as a monster. The crocodile is a monster to us as humans because we are so easily killed by one, but in its element, its character simply fits its nature. I also wanted to explore the narrative of the forgiving crone alongside the penitent adopted child versus the cruel child.
I know you’re a Clarion student this year. What was your writing process for “Crocodile Tears” like, and how has Clarion changed how you write?
Generally my writing process is simple: I stew on an idea for a long time, trying to figure the ins and outs of the story, and then throw it on the page to see what sticks. I usually come up with workable first drafts that just need tweaking here and there. I’ll let it sit for a couple of weeks or months, then return to it with fresh eyes. I’ll find inconsistencies, more questions wherein I decide whether or not to answer them, fix up grammar and spelling, and maybe other stylistic things.
Clarion has changed this process little, except I’ve churned out story drafts at an extraordinarily fast rate. Fortunately I went in with story ideas that I’ve been fiddling around for a long time. The thing about Clarion is that it’s also confirmed for me that I do a lot better with people around me and also that I am not an ogre.
It’s also been good to get some solid instruction on how to streamline stories—specifically genre stories. I did a creative writing minor in undergrad; I was not a good note-taker, and also the expectations were more literary when I was clearly a genre nerd. Clarion being specifically genre has been helpful in giving me questions I need to ask with regards to themes and structure.
Any new projects that you want to share?
I am writing a dissertation on whiteness in steampunk! That has generally been my schtick for the last three years. I’m also editor of The WisCon Chronicles 11, among other ambitious things like more stories. I will be in Hidden Youth: Speculative Stories of Marginalized Children from Crossed Genres.
Spread the word!