“The Taurids Branch” was a slow burn, one that promised to build on itself to a dark, fine point, and it did not disappoint. Tell us something of the inspiration behind the tale.
I was thinking a lot about motherhood and relationships. I’m turning twenty-eight soon, and I’ve never wanted children, but I’ve been interrogating that desire—is it trauma from caregivers that led me to that conclusion? The fear of losing my autonomy to a child? The mistrust of the nuclear family structure, which is still the prevailing narrative of what family “should” look like in the US? These are all questions that came out in the story.
I was also thinking about how women are taught very young that it is our duty to change ourselves for others. We are also taught that the crowning achievement of being alive is finding a monogamous spouse and having or adopting children with them. This is something many women I know think deeply and critically about—having a family—but most men I know do not. It’s a yes or no question for many of them, rarely more complicated than a matter of preference. When it comes to children, our society leaves women with the bill. We like to think we’ve become more egalitarian, but most women I grew up with still felt that heavy pressure. I think most cis men have no real expectations pushed upon them to form critical insight into what it takes to be a parent. It’s easier for them to opt out.
When readers think of horror, they often envision one type of horror for a given work, yet “The Taurids Branch” unapologetically dances with a number of different sorts: the fear of being alone; the end of the world; self-hate; suicide; violence against women; postpartum depression. I feel that this only strengthened the story, driving home a different sort of horror—that life and pain are more than we can ever hope to understand. What do you see as the true horror here?
The real horror for me was the idea of waking up one morning to hear that you only have so much time left, and realizing you are not who you want to be. Or worse, that you aren’t you because you’ve been playing a different version of yourself for someone else. Trauma has turned me into a bit of a people-pleaser, so I’ve always lived with that fear of getting trapped by other people’s expectations of me, or by my own fear of being alone. It’s an impulse I have to guard very closely against.
And then there’s the violence that marginalized people have to contend with every day, which I experience as a sort of background noise. Things I am always aware of, but are so suffused into my everyday experience that I rarely take notice until it comes into sharp focus—violence against women, mental illness exacerbated by systemic inequality, rising fascist violence all over the world, and climate change, which is looking more and more like it may be the period at the end of humanity’s sentence.
On the flip side, many of the horrors in the story have been called “women’s horror,” and are unknowable to men who don’t share the same biological or social issues. While I don’t personally agree with such views, some readers might consider them valid. What are your thoughts? Is horror so specifically gendered that a broader audience can’t identify with a given theme?
The short answer to that is that I don’t really care if someone is uninterested in this sort of work because they don’t think it applies to them. I don’t think about that at all when I am writing. The long answer, though, is that of course it applies to them—we are communal creatures. All of us are part of a community. My hope is that it may have the power to make someone stop and ask, “Have I done this? Can I change my behavior?” I do not believe there are good people and bad people, and it’s not my goal to make that delineation in my work, but I do hope my work can hold space for people, particularly men, to interrogate themselves.
You have participated in the Tin House Summer Writer Workshops and recently attended the Clarion Writer’s Workshop. What first sparked your interest in writing?
This story came out of week two of Clarion, and I don’t know if I could have produced it without being inside the Clarion pressure cooker—huge thanks to Holly Black for helping me realize what my point of telling was and Clarion ’18 for their generous feedback.
I started reading to survive. If books didn’t show me that other worlds and other ways of being were possible, I don’t know that I would have. And when I saw that, in fiction, authors gained the power to say whatever they wanted, be whoever they wanted, I started to think I could have that power too. Writing feels like a way of speaking my life into existence in a world that taught me my story and my body and my feelings taking up space is wrong.
What’s next for Alanna Faelan? What can eager readers look forward to in 2019?
I’m currently working on a piece about queer girls at summer camp, spooky trauma-ghosts, and some very scary goats, so hopefully that will be out in the world somewhere soon. I’m also working on a visual project, creating little illustrations to go along with short stories I love. I do freelance book cover and graphic design so if you’re in need of that, contact me at [email protected] or on twitter @AlannaFaelan.
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