This was such an interesting and sad premise. Can you explain how it came about?
It’s kind of funny, but this started as an idea for a half-sleeve tattoo (that I still intend to get some time!) of a girl with honeycomb growing over parts of her face. It didn’t take long for me to realize I wanted to use it as a story idea too, but I couldn’t figure out the wider world she belonged to.
Then I took part in a contest over on Codex Writers’ Group, where someone sent me a description of setting and I needed to write a story with at least one scene set there. The description included a hallway with doors covered by tapestries—which still features in the story today—and things clicked into place.
What part of writing this story did you find hardest? Did anything come easily?
I definitely struggled over whether I was making the right choices. This has a lot of dark themes, it doesn’t have a traditional western story structure, and it handles characters who have very little agency. Any one of those, handled badly, could’ve sunk the story. I just didn’t know if any of it was going to come together and actually work in the end.
The descriptions of the honeycomb came most easily. I really enjoy writing body horror, so it was nice to indulge in that. I was definitely the kid who used to pick at scabs and wanted to see people’s gnarly scrapes. Actually, I’m definitely still the adult who wants to peek beneath the bandage and who pokes and prods all her cuts and bruises with fascination.
There’s a whole range of different classes here. Obviously the girls and their bees, the mothers who both hide them and protect/abuse them, the men who pay for self-indulgence (with an occasional twinge of conscience), the religious organization that apparently legitimizes all this and takes the profit? And the ordinary folks, going about without much attention to the cruelty playing out in their midst. Where do you see yourself in this story? Sadly, I’m probably one of the oblivious ordinary folks for many such oppressions.
This is a difficult question! Is it too pat to say I can see myself in all those parts?
I can see myself in the girls themselves the clearest, though I have never felt anything close to the oppression they have. But losing agency of your body, being told it’s wrong and having it exploited is something most of us have felt in some way, no matter how small, at some point in our lives. I think that’s especially noticeable when in adolescence, as these girls are, your body changes and you suddenly and violently lose control of the way you are perceived.
What have you been working on lately? Where can readers look for more of your work?
I have a story out in Fantasy Magazine this month, called “A Softness of the Heart.” It’s very tonally different from this one, though—a cheerful queer ghost story! In the pipeline, my main project right now is a novella set in the same world as “Amber Dark & Sickly Sweet” that I’m really excited about. It explores the Farms in greater detail, and what happens to the girls sent there.
The two games I write, Industries of Titan and Phantom Brigade, are both in Early Access at the moment too. It’s been so fun to see what players think of the content and to be able to iterate on that.
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