What was the spark for this story?
I’m usually the world’s least visual person, but this entire sequence of stories each has a spark in an image from a Miyazaki film. This one was the part of My Neighbor Totoro that’s looking out over the people working in the fields. Of course the story has nothing to do with the plot or characters of Totoro — it was just that image combined with the world I’d been playing with.
No matter what she learned in her time under the sea, Mishy remained an old soldier. At the end, she accepts who she is and transforms what she knows in order to stop the war. Had you planned that she would redeem herself that way or did the story evolve in a way that surprised you?
I write my stories out of sequence, so it’s rare that an ending will sneak up on me. This one was basically whole from the time I thought of it, all one piece.
The sea and her time there is tantalizing — the images and ideas are so unusual. Is the sea important to you in real life as well as in your stories?
Actually, no! I’m a freshwater person. Lake Superior is my idea of a wonderful body of water. But I was thinking of where people go to flee a bad political situation, or where they might go. Historically, that’s hills, forests, and the sea — stay tuned for more stories set in the hills and forests of this world.
Also, I like cephalopods. They’re neat. Any time there’s room for cephalopods, I say they hardly ever make a story worse.
What do you see in war that intrigues you?
This question amused me at first, because I think of myself as less war-focused than the average SFF writer. I was raised by wild Baby Boomers, with war protest songs for lullabies, and I write a lot about science and families and other things that are not war. But this sequence of stories really is engaging with war, and I do have to own that.
One of the books I read last year was Queen Victoria’s Little Wars. It talked about all the small but violent conflicts the British Empire was embroiled in worldwide, in the part of Victoria’s reign that the British people on average thought of as “at peace.” It looked very familiar to me. The American people are often not even aware of how many violent conflicts the US is involved in at any given time. It’s a normalization of perpetual warfare that’s alarming to me, particularly with the number of friends and family members I have who are past and current military.
One of my favorite singer-songwriters, Meg Hutchinson, has a line in an anti-war song about a (real-life) vet who came home from Iraq and killed himself, where she says, “No place for a good kid just trying to pay for school.” And this is true, but I think she missed a step there, where a lot of us miss a step. It’s also no place for a bloodthirsty bastard who just wants to kill a racially stereotyped Other. War isn’t hell only on the sensitive, and as citizens of modern democracies, we have to keep a close eye on what we are creating demand for in our policies — what negative traits we’re encouraging in some subset of our citizens. So while I write a lot of stories on a lot of themes, I do feel obliged to have war stories, stories of veterans, stories of civilians affected by war, in the mix.
The other thing about war stories is that war is great at shifting people’s motives so that what they say about what motivates them and what they’re actually doing are in conflict. There are a lot of other high-pressure situations that do that. But war definitely does it. I know a man who honestly and truly joined the US Army in order to help Iraqis democratize themselves . . . but by the time he’d finished his tour, the things that would come out of his mouth were completely opposed to that set of goals, despite his sincerity. War changes people, and not always in the easy and obvious directions.
Um. Looks like I have a lot to say about this, so I’d probably better stop there.
People have commented that they would enjoy more stories or even a novel written about these dreamers and tokened warriors. Are you planning to write more in this world or are you working on something else?
It’s funny, because if you’d asked me this question two weeks ago, I would have said that there are more short stories, but that they’re just going to be a series of short stories. But about a week and a half ago, the stuff I would need to do to write a novel with this material sort of fell on my head, so yeah, there’s definitely more there. (I’m also doing other stuff, though. I work on more than one project at a time, usually, so there’s room for me to chew things over and wander off in different directions.)
Spread the word!