Science Fiction & Fantasy




Author Spotlight: Sophia McDougall

There are no apples in the story, yet it’s titled “Golden Apple.” Why did you choose that title?

It seemed a beautiful image of sunlight made solid, of the fact that food is sunlight. At the beginning of the story, Alan reflects that the light of the sun is still present, even in the darkness, in the energy that’s fuelling his and Jan’s bodies as they break into the lab. In a way, he’s already made of light.

There are a lot of golden apples in mythology and fairy tales. And I think I had a few silver apples and crystal apples in the back of my mind as well. The golden apples of the Hesperides, for example, the golden apple that led to the Trojan War. Golden apples keep the Norse gods immortal. There are Yeats’ “Golden Apples of the Sun”—I know I should reference Ray Bradbury here, but the fact is I didn’t know about his collection, or if I did, I had forgotten it. In fairy stories, it’s a common motif that someone is sick and their relatives must go in search of something to cure them; that something is often a golden apple. C. S. Lewis uses that idea in The Magician’s Nephew, with a silver apple that could heal Digory’s dying motherbut which he has to resist stealing, and of course Eve’s apple is somewhere in the background of that. And there’s a Russian story about a girl who asks her father for a transparent apple, which isn’t edible, but in it you can see the world.

So, “Golden Apple” because golden apples are often objects of quests and thefts; they can cure illness or even make you something beyond human, but they also cause a lot of conflict trouble.

In the beginning of the story, Jan and Alan break into a research lab and steal solid sunlight to heal their daughter. What do you think of the moral dilemma this presents?

I’m afraid I have to refuse to answer this—there certainly is a moral dilemma, but I don’t want to steer the reader to a particular view of it.

Where did the inspiration for solid sunlight come from? What does that light mean to you, particularly as the family turns to light?

It’s rare that I can answer this question with such ease: It came to me in a dream. When Jared Shurin approached me to be part of the anthology and explained that each author would take inspiration from a different body of the solar system, I naturally thought I would annex the sun before anyone else did. Surely, I thought, any author with any self-respect can do something with the sun. Then I found myself close to the deadline with no decent ideas at all—I was thinking of Pharaohs, sun cults, Antarctic explorers, all good things that I couldn’t find anything to do with.

Then I went to sleep, and I dreamed that I was still anxiously looking for ideas, and that I was reading a short story by George R. R. Martin. In this story, sunlight had been made into a solid substance. People were doing various things with it, including eating it. “This is good,” I thought, “surely I can riff off this somehow. It’s just a shame the central idea is George R. R. Martin’s, and not mine.” And then I woke up and found that it was my idea after all.

It could be just a rather nice way to die, it could be something else, it could be a nice way to die AND something else.

Why did you choose to give Daisy coeliac disease, rather than some other illness?

It’s important to the story that she be starving; I wanted the mechanism by which the parents hope the light will heal her to feel very simple—the girl needs energy to live; sunlight is the source of virtually all energy on earth. At first I thought of the illness being the last stages of anorexia. But I’ve written about mental illness before and decided in the end I didn’t want to this time. While anorexia is a very complex disorder and insofar as there is choice involved, it’s not a free, unconstrained choice, still any desire on her part not to recover would disguise the change in her after eating the light. Post-light Daisy is happy with what she’s becoming, even though it isn’t very human—that could have been a manifestation of her anorexia, if I’d gone that way, rather than an effect of the light itself. The ambiguity could probably be done interestingly at greater length, but I get a little sick of “is it mental illness, is it real” dilemmas in SFF, and I think it would have cut out other forms of complexity: How do you respond to someone’s desires and decisions, if they’re made after you altered them without their consent? And what if that decision, in turn, wasn’t wholly free either?

So, if it is was a physical illness, it had to be something that made it impossible for her to absorb sustenance from food, which led towards imagining a very extreme form of coeliac, or at least, a condition that has something in common with celiac. (What Daisy has, as Alan mentions, is not normal celiac; the closest thing to it is called “refractory sprue” and you don’t get it at Daisy’s age.)

Why is Daisy’s favorite color Majorelle blue? What is the significance of color in the story?

I wanted to give a sense of her having been a very specific person, though at the beginning of the story that person is no longer really around. (Partly in order to comment on the strange and gendered tropes that crop up in the way we talk about dead or dying young women). Her having a very specific favourite colour seemed a good key to that. It’s a very intense blue from Morocco, it would remain vivid even in very bright sunlight. Beyond that, the significance of colour is another thing I’ll have to leave to the reader.

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Amber Barkley

Amber BarkleyAmber Barkley is a recent graduate of Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She was born in Idaho and grew up in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Her favorite animals are cats and horses, and she considers it a great injustice that she is allergic to both—though that doesn’t stop her from being around them whenever she has the chance. Amber writes high fantasy with a dark twist, and is currently working on her first novel.