The cosmetic procedure in this piece is such an interesting idea. What inspired it, where did it come from, and how did it develop into a story?
Refractin, the cosmetic procedure, was born of a few of my obsessions pooling together—modern art, Vantablack, body modification, and the act of reading people’s nonverbal communication. Oh, and the one illustration of the Terrible Trivium from The Phantom Tollbooth, which scared me so much as a kid I had to skip that chapter. Anyway, the idea of a living mask is something that has obviously appeared in a lot of speculative fiction, but I liked the idea of framing it as a cosmetic procedure that’s already become somewhat normalized in the near future.
For me, the heart of this story is really about how we crave validation, and the complex ways we go about seeking it, even when we think we are casting aside the need or avoiding it. The journey here feels so real, which makes the ending land so damn hard. In terms of technique or process, how do you go about making a story feel true?
Thank you! I guess for me, relationships are always at the heart of what I write, no matter what the speculative framework might be. That way, the core is always something relatable—like, I think odds are most people have been through an annoying breakup or gotten a body modification for questionable reasons . . . or is intimately familiar with someone who’s done either of those things.
There’s this conversation going on here about how people often go to extremes to satisfy their partner(s) or to feel more attractive to their target audience. Do you feel like this is still just as big an issue as it was in the days when breast augmentation was popular?
I think it’s great that we’ve had a cultural conversation about the reasons people get cosmetic surgeries as a form of body modification. Breast augmentation in particular was given a bad rap for a long time as being a way women might satisfy the demands of the patriarchy, but now it’s more and more obvious that there are many reasons people get it done—just like tattoos.
There’s also this startling—but true, I think—discussion going on about sexuality. And I think what makes it interesting is the different facets explored in the narrative, as well as the frankness of the exploration. What are the challenges of getting these ideas across, and how do you navigate them?
I always write frankly about sexuality if I’m writing about it at all. The challenge is, I think, to walk the line between frank and crass. With this protagonist, I wanted it to be very direct, given that I imagined her talking to a therapist, so no need to dissemble. Plus, she’s in that fragile and vulnerable place post-breakup realization that they are never ever getting back together, so the veil is being drawn back and she’s being a bit more honest than she might be under normal circumstances.
Is there anything else you want readers to know about this piece? What stands out about it for you?
They really do grow Vantablack. Isn’t that so weird? I learned that when I was writing it, and I just can’t get over it.
You have a lot of work out. Are you one of those writers who is as comfortable in shorter formats as novels? Does your style or approach change depending on what the project is?
That’s funny—I feel like I don’t put out much at all! When I look at my peers who have been publishing for a commensurate amount of time, I always feel like I lag behind. It’s not a race or a competition, it’s just interesting to me to note. I’m a slower writer, and that’s okay!
I do take a different approach with longer and shorter fiction. My short fiction recently has been more modern, more single-emotion driven, whereas my longer-form stuff is more research-intensive and tends to showcase a more diverse range of sensations. At least, I think so . . .?
Creatures of Want and Ruin is out soon, scheduled for November 2018! What are you working on now that fans can look forward to? And for those who just learned about you with this story, what should they read next to get to know you and your writing?
Yep, November 13th, it’s available for pre-order! I’m excited that the early readers have liked it—it’s set in 1927 and it’s got Great Gatsby-style parties on Long Island, demons, and bootlegging. Currently I’m working on the third in the series, Creatures of Charm and Hunger, which is set in Cumbria at the end of WWII and definitely has a plot that can be summed up as “Jewish teen witch murders Nazis via astral projection,” so there it is. And I’m tapping on a short story when I have the time!
If people liked this story, I’d definitely say to check out my other one at Lightspeed, “Nine-Tenths of the Law,” which is also near-future SF about sad people being mean to one another for understandable but bad reasons.
Spread the word!