This is such a beautiful tale of love and longing. What I find remarkable is the mother’s connection to the sea, and specifically the way she maintains that connection through her daughter. On the one hand, I’m curious about your relationship to the sea; but I am also curious about whether or not this relationship, between mother and daughter, and especially sharing a connection or connecting through someone, is modeled on personal experiences?
Thank you. I love the ocean. I’m never so happy as when I’m by a large body of salt water. I’ve snorkeled and scubaed and was part of a four-year marine chemistry program in high school. So oceans have always been a place of fascination and love for me. I really wish there were an ocean-oriented Launchpad-type program for SFF writers. So for me, part of this story was just choosing a setting that I loved, and trying to make that love clear on the page.
To answer the second part, while I do occasionally steal pieces from my own life and give them to my characters, not this time. I am lucky that I have a close relationship with my own mom, but the mother and daughter of this story have their own.
For me, the transitions really work. I like the way everything layers. I also enjoy the use of tense: moving from an almost fairy tale past tense to a present tense that is lush with sensory details. Some people hesitate to work with present-tense storytelling, while others use it almost exclusively. For you, what are the advantages and challenges of working in present tense? Stylistically do you have elements that are your “go-tos,” or comfort zones, or do you experiment a lot in your work?
Present tense isn’t usually a go-to for me, but for this instance, it seemed right—I wanted the reader in the experience with the character, as she was having that experience. And the present tense sections were actually the first ones I wrote. The first draft of this story had none of the past tense sections, and I realized that it didn’t work.
I do tend to gravitate toward writing in first person, but at the same time, I try to consider what’s best for the story, and to push myself into trying new things. I have my favorites, but I also don’t want to always write the same thing, or in the same way.
I feel like there’s a separation between the outside world and the inside of the house, almost as if what goes on outside is wild and unruly, thrilling, unpredictable (“perilous”); and inside is safe and controlled—human. There is also the sense of limitations inside and a sort of limitless world beyond. Is this deliberate and meaningful/metaphoric?
I’d love to seem like this very controlled, all-seeing sort of writer and say, “of course,” but that wouldn’t be the full truth of the answer. Did I set out to do this, in the sense that I sat down and thought about symbolism and weight and metaphor? No. But there is that general sense of separation between our own safe worlds, inside our houses, and the wild and perilous places outside, and I think that’s something that’s so often present in literature that the symbolism is easy to reach for. At the same time, I think there’s often the idea that at home is where you are your truest self, and that is certainly not true for either of the women in this story.
Stories—especially myth and fairy tale—play an important role throughout. Were these important to you when you were growing up?
Oh, absolutely. I remember going to the library, and checking out every myth and fairy tale collection I could find. And I remember reading them, and seeing the similarities and differences in the stories, whether those were retellings of fairy tales that focused on different elements, or the similarities in the Greek and Roman myths. (I liked the Greek pantheon better, because I though the gods and goddesses had better names.) But they gave me the idea that I could pick and choose—take a favorite piece from one version of a story and combine it with a favorite piece from another version, until I had my own favorite. I suppose I still do that.
At the end, I feel like this piece is as much about freedom/release. While the things that both characters felt throughout are never necessarily resolved or healed, there is an openness to the final expression, an unhindered catharsis (“the tide is pouring from my hair . . .”); simultaneously, the two of them actually remain tied to each other. Is it one of life’s truths (and ironies) that we find emotional freedom and release through our relationships?
I think we are interconnected people. So certainly sometimes we’re lucky enough to find relationships where we can find that freedom and release—the people we can be our true selves with. Finding that is a great joy. At the same time, I think that there are also relationships where we’re asked to limit or hide ourselves, where we feel like we have to be something that we’re not. I hope more people find the first, find that freedom, and that joy.
I think this story is filled with subtleties, and I think it’s the sort of story that people can potentially read a variety of ways.
Is there anything you want to tell readers about this piece that I haven’t touched on? Also—what are you working on now that we can look forward to?
I am definitely not the sort of writer who feels like she should interpret her own work for readers, so I am going to step back and let the readers find in it what they want to. In terms of what I’m working on now, my next novel, An Unkindness of Magicians, will be out in September 2017 from Saga press. Social-climbing magicians engaged in a ritual—and often fatal—competition for power in modern NYC. I’ll also have a short fiction collection out from Saga in early 2018—A Cathedral of Myth and Bone. It will have some previously published work, as well as new pieces, including a modern Arthurian novella called “Once, Future.”
Thanks so much for your time, Kat!
Spread the word!