How did this story come about?
This story started with a voice. Almost literally—I was living in Iowa at the time, in this nice apartment with hardwood floors and lots of light, and at some point the opening sentence just came to mind: “I am ugliness in body and bone, breath and heartbeat.” The voice was very distinct, very compulsive, very easy to write because of how much drive it had. Looking at the piece a number of years after I wrote it, I think the parts where ugliness narrates her experience as ugliness were what came first: that first paragraph, and then the section on how she emerged into understanding herself as a loathed thing. When writing this character, I enjoyed the process of figuring out where she might be “physically” in any scene; it gave her a really strong way of seeing the world both literally and philosophically.
Why does the protagonist love the prince?
I hope her perspective on that is clear in the text—she grew up with him, and got to know him when he was part of her. From my reading her, I’d add that she is also obsessed with the idea of beauty, and what it forbids her from. As a formerly ugly prince, he’s someone she feels kinship with, and yet he also exemplifies the things she finds unattainable—beauty, respect, the love of a people. In the text, he’s mostly a cipher; she seems more attached to what he symbolizes than the man himself. She sees herself as at the bottom of the hierarchy. He’s at the top—and of course if she can get him to do what she wants, she’ll be at the top, too.
The twist—I did not see that coming. Was that always how you imagined the end would go?
Apparently not, since my husband says I spent a lot of time grumbling, “I don’t know what I want to do with this!” I don’t know what all the options I considered were, but from the way I’d built the characters and world, I knew I wanted to find a way to make the ending dark but not simplistic. I wanted a mood more like dread than pure horror or tragedy.
Whose faerie stories do you return to?
I talked a bit about retellings, and how much I love them and am obsessed with them, in my interview for Lightspeed about “Tea Time” (bit.ly/1TyfRzV). As a child, some of the people I went to for fairy tale retellings were Datlow and Windling, Tanith Lee, and Stephen Sondheim. I was also obsessed with a Showtime television series called Faerie Tale Theatre produced by Shelley Duvall.
There are a number of writers working with folkloric themes without doing retellings. Kelly Link and Kat Howard mine images from fairy tales and mythology to create these beautiful, surreal landscapes. Both Catherynne M. Valente and M. K. Hobson are creating modern fairy tales out of American geography and history. Of course, there are many, many others, too.
What else would you like readers to know about this story?
After thinking about this a moment, I guess I have this to say, especially for young readers: Ugliness and beauty aren’t opposites, and they aren’t objective. Nothing is only ugly; nothing is only beautiful.
You’ve been sharing links on Facebook every week to your work available free on the Web. How has that been going?
Lots of fun! I’ve lagged for about a month now, as I got distracted by life and haven’t queued up more pieces, but I’m looking forward to getting back to it. In particular, it’s been neat to have some of my family catch up on stories they haven’t read. They follow Facebook more often than places like Twitter, where I usually hang out.
How has your work evolved over the years and where do you see it going in the next few years?
When I started publishing in 2006, the bulk of my work was quite short. It tended to be either very jagged and political (“Defiled Imagination”— bit.ly/1kD3573) or bizarre and surreal (“How the World Became Quiet”—bit.ly/1OF2rUR). I was a lot more ambitious with formal experiments. These days, I’m spending more time on longer, slower pieces, and meticulous character work (“Grand Jeté”—bit.ly/1OF2vUp).
While I’d love to take up some more formally ambitious pieces again—and hopefully I will at some point!—right now, I’m focused on retellings. I have a retelling of Galatea coming up in Uncanny Magazine, and it’s very detailed language work, with some experimental structure. I have some ideas for other Greek myths in that vein. I also have several fairy tale retellings set in American historical contexts without overt magic, so it’s mimetic fiction with a subtextual bite.
Any news you want to share with us?
My retelling of Galatea, “Love Is Never Still,” is coming out from Uncanny Magazine in 2016.
And of course, if readers enjoyed this story, I hope they’ll consider checking out “Tea Time” from December’s Lightspeed (lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/tea-time).
Spread the word!