How did “The Queen of the Earless Seals of Lake Baikal” originate? What inspirations did you draw on?
I often draw from the Russian folklore I grew up hearing, and with this particular story wanted to try working with an invented myth rather than an established one. Lake Baikal is of course a real place, and one that’s special and fascinating to me, as I have family living in the nearby city of Irkutsk and visited occasionally as a child. The seals, or nerpa, endemic to the lake are real as well, and though some mystery surrounds them—like how they came to be there in the first place—the queen and her mythology aren’t part of that mystery (not in our world anyway). I was also inspired by the fairy tale hallmarks of structure and repetition, and by modern fairy tales—like Amal El-Mohtar’s gorgeous “Seasons of Glass and Iron”—in which the women save themselves.
What is your writing space like? What do you like to have around for optimal creativity?
Most days, my writing space looks like my kitchen table, because it’s in the part of the apartment that gets the most light. When I remember to, I pull up my only somewhat ergonomic desk chair and at the end of the day my back is happier for it. And when I don’t remember, it’s the much less ergonomic kitchen table chair and an angry back for me. The best way I’ve found to cultivate a space of creativity is to fill it with work by other creative people, so my walls and shelves are covered with art—prints, paintings, photos, sculptures, weavings—all beautiful or silly or both, made by friends and other artists I admire. That said, I try not to be too picky about writing spaces and to be okay writing just about anywhere (at airports, in waiting rooms) simply because, for me, doing so removes barriers to writing more consistently.
Where are you in this story?
I’m little Dia, who visits the shores of Lake Baikal for the first time and is mesmerized by the galumphing, sunbathing seals. I’m also older Dia who dreams of owning an inn someday. I briefly worked in hotels and still think a lot about what hospitality means in different parts of the world, what it means to provide someone you’ve never met with home, shelter, and comfort. Finally, I’m the person constantly navigating “story” and “fact,” and each one’s volatile, hard-to-pin-down relationship with “truth.”
Is there anything you want to make sure readers notice?
Petrushevskaya is a fictional town named for Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, a fierce and prolific Russian author I recommend everyone read immediately. There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby, a collection of so-called “scary fairy tales,” is a great English translation to start with. It’s as dark as it sounds, with a lot of surprises too.
What are you working on lately? Where else can fans look for your work?
I’m currently working on my second short story collection, which will also serve as my thesis project for the completion of my MFA next spring. My first novelette, “The Noon Witch Goes to Sound Planet,” will appear in Lightspeed soon, and another story—my most ambitious yet, I think—is forthcoming from a dream publisher I’ve long read and admired. I can’t share details quite yet, but Twitter (@kristina_ten) is the best place to find them when I finally, excitedly do. Over at kristinaten.com, you can find recent work, including my queer, Pushkin-tinged tale, “Beginnings” (bit.ly/3zCak9E) out from Fantasy Magazine earlier this year. Thank you for reading!
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