What a neat story this is! Can you tell me the inspirations behind “Charlotte Incorporated”?
The original impetus for “Charlotte Incorporated” is a bit silly, considering the story that resulted! A couple years ago, my husband gave me a brain plushie for Christmas. At the time, I was taking an anatomy course, a topic I was immediately smitten with. I enjoyed learning about the body’s systems, how they’re independent in some ways, and interdependent in others. For example, your heart cells generate their own electrical impulses so they can go on beating without any input from the brain. And your bones are actually alive, constantly building and rebuilding and dismantling themselves to regulate your body’s calcium supply.
And anatomical variation! That’s a topic I could read about forever. Did you know that many people lack the palmaris longus muscle in one or both wrists? It’s vestigial, and doesn’t serve a functional purpose, so if you’re missing it, you’d never know. Here’s how you can check: touch the pinkie and thumb of the same hand together and squeeze them tight. If you’ve got the muscle, you’ll see a big tendon pop out in the dead center of your wrist. Make sure you check your right and left hands because sometimes it’s only present on one side.
So naturally, while studying anatomy, I’d stare at my brain plushie and wonder what hid behind its quirky little smile. Perhaps it dreamed of someday having a body of its very own. If you were only your brain, what about having a body would you look forward to the most? What if your hypothetical body was modular, and you could pick the exact variations you wanted? What if you had to buy everything separately? Would you bother with duplicate kidneys if one would do? What if you could only afford eyes or ears, but not both? What would beauty mean to you under such circumstances?
Running parallel to those ideas, I wanted to explore themes of personhood within a capitalist system that presents itself as a meritocracy. Charlotte lives in a system that promises her everything she longs for as long as she follows the rules and works hard. At the same time, that system denies her any means of holding it accountable for its inherent unfairness. Because of the circumstances of her birth, she lacks even a legal right to her own name and gender. Meanwhile, the incorporated with the most success under this system can afford to incorporate their children from birth. How should an ethical person behave under such circumstances? Do you follow the rules and hope for the best? Do you forge your own way around the law? Or do you dial down your very dreams, delete your body parts, and live in a jar?
How long did it take for you to get this story into its final form? Were there many drafts?
I typically write and revise stories on a six-week cycle. Two weeks to draft a new story, two weeks to send out for critiques, another two weeks to think through those critiques and do my final revision. Then I usually let the story rest, fine-polishing the sentences and putting on that last layer of gloss before I call it done and ready to venture out into the world.
“Charlotte Incorporated” was different in that I drafted the first half very quickly, but it took me quite a while to find the proper ending. It spent several months in a file I keep for stories that are done, but don’t feel “finished” enough to send out just yet. Stories can stay there a long time. Then one day, I pulled out the half-finished draft and realized what was missing, and completely restructured the whole thing, resulting in the final version.
How has becoming an editor at PodCastle affected your writing?
It certainly hasn’t done me any favors timewise! As it turns out, editing is an endless cycle of reading and email—mostly email! But it’s hard to get too upset about that when I’m devoting that time to a podcast I’ve loved and followed for years. Working with my co-editor Graeme Dunlop has been an especially wonderful experience, and I love getting to work with authors and narrators so directly.
As for my own writing, in my experience, all the extra reading I do as part of my editing work helps me keep the bar high when I sit down and put on my writer hat. Way back when I first started writing, I remember having grand intentions of systematically reading and analyzing all the pro zines so I could have an idea of the contemporary SFF short fiction scene. That . . . didn’t really happen (let’s face it: probably because of one of the Elder Scrolls games). Which is a shame, because it probably would’ve helped me early on, and I missed getting to enjoy a lot of great stories when they first debuted. But editing is great, because I’m more engaged with the short fiction world than ever before.
What are you working on lately?
I chronically suffer from “too many projects, not enough time!” Currently I’ve got around ten works in progress spanning all speculative genres, in various states of completeness. I’m particularly excited about a couple collaborations I’m working on with a friend of mine—a nautical adventure novelette in a second-world fantasy setting, and a futuristic sci-horror piece featuring cyborg sauropods operated by alien invaders.
At the time I’m writing this, I’ve also got stories forthcoming at Shimmer, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, the Clockwork Phoenix 5 anthology, and Fireside Magazine, so be on the lookout for those!
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