How did “An Address to the Newest Disciples of the Lost Words” originate? What inspirations did you draw on?
I’m fascinated by the process of translation from one language to another. I’m fascinated by how a foreign language might have the perfect word for something that has no single word in one’s native tongue (like the Japanese word “komorebi,” which means “sunlight filtering through the leaves of trees” or the German word “schadenfreude”—both words which have no single-word equivalents in English). I love the website The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, which features entirely made-up words for complex and/or very specific feelings and phenomena. I’m just fascinated by the concept of words in general, and I’m also obsessed by the inadequacy of words. Of how writers use words to try to say the unsayable—to invoke emotions and states that are beyond language. Of how ultimately futile this process is, and yet how we keep trying, and how sometimes we seem to get close to succeeding. And so from all these different thoughts the idea came to me: what if there were a magical language with Words that really could say exactly what it is we want to say? That could truly encapsulate a thought or concept or feeling? A language with a Word for everything?
What is your writing process like? Did this story fit the pattern?
I usually spend some time thinking, researching, and taking down notes before I write a story. I usually need to have the ending, and some major plot points, fixed in my head before writing. I think I spent a longer time than usual in that note-taking phase for “An Address to the Newest Disciples.” I read about the Rosetta Stone, the precise hand gestures in traditional Southeast Asian dances, and a bunch of worldbuilding/background stuff I’ve already forgotten. Unusually for me, the narrator’s own story—the bones of his plot—didn’t come until I actually started writing. I started off just planning a list-like story about imaginary words, and then the narrator’s personal story and journey started to come through.
Where are you in this story?
I am, unfortunately, the narrator at the point where he is struggling with words. But I just have to wait and hope that, as for him, the words will eventually flow again.
What are you reading lately? What writers inspire you?
Books I’ve read recently and loved: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan; Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge, translated by Jeremy Tiang; Tortured Willows: Bent, Bowed, Unbroken, an anthology of dark fantasy/horror poetry which is a thematic companion to the editors’ Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology of short stories, Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Books I’m reading this week: I’m revisiting Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link and dipping in and out of Paula Guran’s The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: Volume 2, which covers stories from 2020. Some books on my nightstand right now: collections from Maria Haskins (Six Dreams About the Train and Other Stories) and A.C. Wise (The Ghost Sequences). All the authors mentioned here are inspirations to me. Some more inspirations I want to mention: Sofia Samatar, Ken Liu, Alyssa Wong, Carmen Maria Machado, Lev Grossman. My god, if I could just write like Sofia Samatar.
What are you working on lately? Where else can fans look for your work?
I’m not writing much right now, but I should have at least one other story coming out in 2022. For a complete list of my published work, readers can visit my website vanessafogg.com.
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