Science Fiction & Fantasy




Author Spotlight: Rachel Swirsky

What was the genesis for “Detours On The Way To Nothing”?

I usually start writing stories with an idea, instead of an image, but for this one, it just started with an image. I was sitting at my grandmother’s table at about one a.m. at night, listening to meditation music with my earphones in, and trying to write something pretty and short.

I didn’t have any idea where I was going. There was just something about a girl with feathers for hair. I kept writing about her as “the girl with feathered hair” until I realized what that actually meant. (It looks like I kept the phrasing in once anyway.)

I often default to writing in first person talking to “you” if I’m not thinking about it too carefully. It comes very naturally to me. Then the question becomes trying to figure out who “I” is, who “you” is, and why “I” needs to address “you.” Usually, as I write, I figure that out, and then I know what the story is about and how it can proceed and end. That was definitely the case with this one.

Why Brooklyn as the setting for “Detours”?

I realize this isn’t the most inspiring answer, but I set it there because I had just been there. I wrote the story as an unfolding series of images, and those were the ones ready to tap.

A friend of mine lived in a neighborhood similar to the one I was describing, and I’d spent several nights walking around it, in his company, and staying overnight in his single room, on his couch. He loved his neighborhood so much, and it was impossible not to fall in love with it a bit, too.

It was very different from the places I had lived all my life, not only the suburbia in which I was born and raised, but also different from the more rundown places as well. In San Jose, poor areas don’t look like decaying skyscrapers. It has a very different appearance, smell, and texture.

How does the subplot of Christina and The Man She Should Have Loved Less underpin the main arc of “Detours”?

I feel like the gist of this interview is, “It turns out I really didn’t know what I was doing!” It’s funny because most of my stories are very planned and meticulous, and this one just wasn’t written the same way.

Also, it’s been a few years now, so I’ve got to go back and look and then try to reconstruct my thought process from the time.

I stole the story of the man throwing bottles at the window, looking for a girl who didn’t live there anymore, from that same friend I mentioned earlier. I still feel a little guilty about that. (Sorry, friend.)

I think, for me, those two people were actually in love, and thus very much the opposite of what is going on between “I” and “you.” They’re grounded in themselves, their senses, and their senses of self are vital to that. They aren’t two ciphers, trying to get an archetypal thing from each other (a fantasy, a means to an end). They’re concrete people, who loved each other’s specifics and imperfections.

That’s what the girl with feathered hair is giving up at the end of the story. By the time the story begins, she’s already stopped looking for someone to love her as a person; that’s part of her desire to lose her sense of self. But it’s these events that allow her to realize what that really means, as she makes love distantly to this man who becomes obsessed with her sheerly because of a role she’s playing for him, which has nothing to do with what she actually is, in contrast to these other two, real people who had real, specific love.

But their love is gone, too. Because everything goes. Even Christina acknowledges that she should have loved this man less. And something about seeing that allows the girl with feathers for hair to let her vestigial desire go, too.

The protagonist’s goal is to lose the trappings of self and s/he pursues this through the embodiment of the desires of others. What is the detour in this story?

Well, I think from her perspective, any experience she has is a detour. Any time she dwells in a moment, feels her own sense of self inside it, that’s a moment when she isn’t becoming nothing.

Any news or projects you want to tell us about?

My second short story collection, How the World Became Quiet: Myths from the Past, Present and Future, came out a couple of months ago from Subterranean Press. It’s my first full-length collection, and it has a gorgeous illustration from Shaun Tan. It’s got a lot of my best work in it.

Also, I’m honored to be editing reprints for Lightspeed’s upcoming issue, Women Destroy Science Fiction. I can’t wait to put out some great fiction, and I hope the readers will enjoy it as much as I will.

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Jude Griffin

Jude Griffin

Jude Griffin is an envirogeek, writer, and photographer. She trained llamas at the Bronx Zoo; was a volunteer EMT, firefighter, and HAZMAT responder; worked as a guide and translator for journalists covering combat in Central America; lived in a haunted village in Thailand; ran an international frog monitoring network; and loves happy endings. Bonus points for frolicking dogs and kisses backlit by a shimmering full moon.