It’s wonderful to see another Tales of the Great Sweet Sea story. Is this one where you remember its origins? I’m particularly curious about what influences you drew upon.
I had been thinking about mermaid stories for a while, because mermaids are having a real cultural moment right now and I wanted to write something about them. I hit on the idea of doing a “reverse selkie” story: about a human woman who removes her skin to become a fish. But I didn’t have a plot for it. Then I had a dream about salmon, and when I woke up I realized that, for a salmon, a human marriage would be a magical fairy story.
From there a lot of bits fell together. “The Selkie Girl” and “The Fisherman and His Wife” are the core stories (I love “The Fisherman And His Wife” and had been working on a different version of it at the time), but there’s also a fair amount of “Cinderella” and a little bit of “Bluebeard” (which is thematically a related story to “The Selkie Girl,” from a different perspective.) The three daughters of decreasing beauty and eligibility is an old fairy tale trope, but I’m not 100% sure where it comes from. And the ending draws a little bit on the phenomenon of carcinization in crustacean biology.
Ironically I had just said to a friend: “I’m never going to redo “Cinderella,” because it’s already perfect.” To my mind, no story does a better job of showing an abusive childhood without containing anything that might anger an abusive parent. One of the nice things about working in fairy tales, though, is you can just steal the parts you like.
The included poem-spells were lovely. How did you come to get Rachel Swirsky’s help on those?
When I started writing this story and it was based on “The Fisherman and His Wife” I knew that I needed to have the rhyme work, because the rhyme is such an important part of the original. Since I’m absolutely terrible at writing rhymed poetry, and Rachel was in the room with me at the time, I asked “Rachel, would you please write some rhymed poems for this story? They’re short.” She said yes.
On rereading, I feel like there are probably some subtle connections and references I’m missing. Are there any details you want to make sure readers caught?
Although they are set in completely different times and come from somewhat removed cultures, thematically, this story is a mirror of “Frost’s Boy.” “Frost’s Boy” is about how traditional family structures can (sometimes, maybe) save you from your evil husband. “The Ash Girl and the Salmon Prince” is about how a good marriage can (sometimes, maybe) save you from your evil family.
I have always wanted to do a fairy tale where there’s a secret room that the protagonist isn’t allowed to enter, and she doesn’t, because she respects boundaries. While I was writing, I wasn’t sure whether she was going to do it or not (and she almost does, right at the end). I’m glad it worked out.
What is your favorite part of the story?
My favorite part is when she pools her tears into a brine and summons her husband. Specifically, when the poem shifts from “Oh man of the sea” to “my man of the sea.” I tear up.
What are you working on lately? Where else should readers look for your work?
I’ve been working on a novel which I can’t talk about. I also have a number of short stories forthcoming as well, including another in the Great Sweet Sea series (“The Honest Fox, or, A Truth Shared is Not a Truth Lost”, in Lightspeed of course), my first publication in one of the “Big 3” print magazines (“An Ill-Fated Girl Meets an Ill-Fated Man,” in F&SF), and my first story in an anthology (“This Story is Called ‘The Transformation of Things’” in Xenocultivars.) I was also just a guest on the Wizards vs. Lesbians podcast, discussing Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman books, which are very good and you should read them.
If you want a complete list of stories I’ve published and links, I now have an author site: p-h-lee.com. Exciting!
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