There’s a restrained, spare beauty to the prose in “My Children’s Home” that’s so distinctive, and also recalled for me the nearly-but-not-quite allegorical SF/F and horror of people like Carol Emshwiller and Shirley Jackson, the sort of story that captures the moment a soft beam of light illuminates an unsettling landscape. Can you tell us a bit about any influences that you had for this specific story and its particular style of prose?
I’ve always been drawn to writing with ethereal, yet defined settings. These two qualities may seem at odds with each other, but I find this paradox fascinating. One book in particularly that I think plays with this paradox extremely well is The Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo, where the atmosphere is built far more by what isn’t there than what is. Yujoo begins the piece by describing a dog swimming down a river; however, she never tells the reader how to view the dog, what is happening to the dog, or even why a dog is relevant whatsoever. There will always be a disconnect between the writer’s intention and the reader’s interpretation, but I think if, as a writer, I can be aware of that, then I can use that disconnect to my advantage.
The story paints a picture of a system of modern cradle-to-grave slavery, and something that stood out to me in this respect was the physical absence of the people of the Bureau from the lives of the home’s characters. Communications are monitored and censored, and the robotic orderlies patrol for signs of insubordination, keeping the oppressive human element of this system at a distance, only seen during inspections, and even then the same faces each time. Could you talk about the implications of this arrangement?
I think it’s difficult for any disenfranchised minority not to become obsessed with absence. I was adopted as a young child, so for me that absence is of my birth family, my birth mother in particular. But even if you consider minority groups that deal with income inequality or gender discrimination or police brutality, people are often defined far more by what they don’t have than the things they do. Which also might contribute to my fascination with the type of paradoxical prose I described above.
In this story, it never really occurred to me that the arrangement would be any different than how I wrote it. I wanted the reader to feel isolated and alone because that is how these characters feel. The most tragic possessions the characters are robbed of are their ability to relate to other humans and their ability to be understood by others. To me these are the most crucial aspects of one’s humanity.
Another absence that stands out in the characters’ lives is the total absence of women and girls. It feels an appropriate, and chilling, way for this world to function. What led you to focus on this house of young men and their male caretaker?
Adoption, in a strange way, is a kind of surrogate family-making. I am extremely fortunate to have two parents who love and support me, though this is a complex relationship and one that is far from the status quo. Especially now that I am approaching a societally accepted age for parenting, I am forced to reevaluate these complications with much more vigor than I did when I was younger. This story was an attempt to offer an alternative to an aspect of life I think a lot of people take for granted.
In addition to that, there are so many unhealthy stereotypes of fatherhood that men adhere to when having children simply because they have never been given an alternative viewpoint. These stereotypes are not most detrimental to men either. Women and children almost always are the ones who absorb the brunt of a man’s insecurities and that is utterly unacceptable. Men desperately need to reevaluate our expectations of our familial (and non-familial) roles, if not for ourselves, then for the sake of the people we love.
The story ends as the father and D-6 sit together, a question hanging between them. The father is sick at heart, but doesn’t tell D-6 that his hope is impossible. I read as much defiance in that silence as in the father’s letters to his old love. But then again, I’m an incorrigible optimist. Do you see a small defiance in that moment of emotional intimacy?
Absolutely. I think those small, often forgotten moments of defiance are the most powerful. As I said before, the most difficult oppression these characters face is their inability to relate to and be understood by others around them. The system is designed specifically to prevent intimacy so that the subjects will more easily comply. The ending is most certainly trying to display some measure of the only defiance that is available to these characters.
What can readers look forward to seeing from you next?
I have an essay on my adoption coming out in Apex and have a few more stories and poems coming through the works. However, my main project right now is an urban dark fantasy novel about a mother and daughter living in a homeless shelter in Queens, New York.
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