Something I look forward to when reading your fiction is how you always find new ways to play with form, and with the form of narration in particular. You’ve written in the second person, you’ve tackled interactive fiction, you’ve started stories at the end and come around to the beginning, you’ve written in multi-sourced internet epistolary, and every time these choices are an important part of the total impact of the story. In “With Teeth Unmake the Sun,” I feel like I’m reading an epic poem. Can you talk about how you came to find the voice and form of this story in particular?
Oh gosh, thank you! I’m so glad the feel of the story worked like that—because it was definitely a mood and voice/style I was aiming for!
I’m a very visual writer: I like to picture stories unfolding as cinema or animation. (I was a film major in college!) A lot of the imagery in this story, like the wolf shadows expanding everywhere, were the foundation to the emotional core (the relationships between First Wolf and Jarith and The Thousand-Star-Eyed Wolf). Cinematic voice—in how a movie is designed, shot, edited, the mise en scene, color palettes, etc.—is fascinating to me, and I’m not sure I can adequately explain how that translates into my writing. I envision a thing, and then work on finding the right words that evokes the mood and visuals I want to present. Voice stems a lot from a mix of style and character, for me. First Wolf being this wild, primal, immortal being, their voice needed to reflect that, and the space opera style calls for evocative, sweeping settings and visuals, which is what I tried to capture in words.
The character of First Wolf recalls Fenrir, the mighty wolf of legend whose children swallow the sun and the moon. That said, you’ve also got a lot more going on there. (The shadow-wolves were very Machineries of Empire to me.) What led you to center the character of the mythic wolf, and are there other wolves and wolf-stories that you took inspiration from?
So, it will come as no surprise that beginning as a child, I loved wolves. I had a couple of picture books about wolves and I also got Very Upset when they were cast as the bad guys in so many things. Some early influential reads were The Changeling Prince by Vivian Vande Velde; Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George; I read White Fang at way too young an age; I went through the Universal Monsters phase and definitely latched onto The Wolf Man as a kid; there is Silverbolt (an eagle-wolf hybrid) in Beast Wars: Transformers whom I love; I got very happily attached to any and all wolves and wargs in LoTR; I also got extremely upset, as a smol!Merc, when I first read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and Maugrim (I had a copy that named him Fenris Ulf) showed up but then died by the end. I WILL NEVER FORGIVE PETER. NEVER. The 1979 animated movie just cemented my frustrations that wolves kept getting maligned by the media. Oh, and I’m still mad at Disney for making the wolves bad in Beauty and the Beast. STOP STEREOTYPING MY TOOTHY BOIS.
Anyway, I have a lot of feels about wolves in fiction! So early on, I dabbled with adding wolves and wolf-like characters to my stories, but I always had this gnawing fear about making them protagonists. There’s something to be said for consuming media that has ingrained images of who the monsters are. I kept pushing back at it, bit by bit.
I began adding all the good doggos and wolves to my fiction. Each time I did, I grew bolder. A protagonist named Wolf? Yes. Wolves as gods? Yes. Mythical immortal genderqueer wolf protagonist? HELL YES. Each time I added a good wolf to my fiction, I would think to myself, Take THAT, Disney.
First Wolf, The Thousand-Star-Eyed Wolf, and Jarith are all painfully isolated characters who have dealt with their isolation in such different ways. What do you think it is that keeps them all so separate in their aloneness?
Fear is a component. Although I doubt any of them will admit it. They’ve all been entrenched in their own paths for so long, it becomes a strange sort of comfort in its familiarity.
First Wolf asks again and again whether people are made of lies, which is a morality that I love to see, especially in a story where physical form is mutable—emphasizing that your physical form can be whatever it will be from moment to moment, but the substance of your character is what’s worthy of scrutiny. What does First Wolf think is the best thing to be made of? And you?
They want internal consistency, a truth of the soul, in a way.
On a personal level, I have a very hard time discerning when people are lying or joking. (I’m also fairly literal in a lot of social situations, especially around people I do not know well.) So let’s just say I ended up being hurt by manipulative people quite a lot. And it’s super frustrating when someone starts “joking” with me about a serious topic and I start to have an intense emotional reaction to it, but then they are all, “Haha not really.”
I’ve never been certain how to handle or react to this kind of social dialogue. It makes navigating everything even harder. So I ended up thinking a lot about how internal consistency and cuing truth in one’s actions and words is a reflection of who someone is.
First Wolf takes it to their own level: wanting truth and consistency in the people they are attached to.
What can we look forward to from you in the future? Any, say, giant red killer death sheep on the horizon? All other updates welcome as well, of course
Well, after asking on Twitter about how people name storyverses, I did figure out where Fluff the demon ram fits in, so I do hope to finish his story soon.
I have stories forthcoming in several anthologies, such as Unlocking The Magic (ed. Vivian Caethe) and A People’s Future of the United States (eds. Victor LaValle & John Joseph Adams), and hopefully a couple other things I can announce when the new year dawns.
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