“Redcap” feels familiar and unsettling in all the best ways, like a half-remembered fairy tale from my childhood, or a lost story rediscovered . . . or perhaps a forgotten nightmare. And in fact, the titular redcap has appeared and been referenced in folklore and popular culture, though to me it felt like a fresh invention of your own! What inspired this terrifying tale, and what sources did you draw upon in developing it?
It sounds like you got from the story exactly what I was trying to evoke! I think the story has several creative roots, but one of the main ones is thinking about what the cap of a Redcap would actually be like. They’re often illustrated with bright red caps, naturally. But if they’re really, actually, dipping their caps in blood as the stories say they do, the cap wouldn’t be red at all. It would be dark, brownish, sticky, dripping, possibly covered in flies, and very stinky. So I wanted to write a story about that. And the fear that the really old fairy stories reference. My biggest source and inspiration is Katherine Briggs’ Encyclopedia of Fairies, which collects and catalogs many old versions of English, Irish, Scandinavian and Germanic fairy stories. These beings are a bit more alien and mysterious than we’re used to hearing about.
After I read “Redcap,” I reflected on the complexity of engaging with well-known stories, both commenting on them and breathing new life and perspectives into them. You always handle this incredibly well, but I wonder how you approach the balance of assuming many readers already know the original stories and purposefully changing pieces of mythology to serve your version. Perhaps it’s not so different from adapting a popular comic book into a film or remaking a classic movie. But in this case, I feel you intended to subvert readers’ expectations—and Violet’s expectations, in a somewhat meta fashion.
Thank you! I got some early feedback on the story about rules: since I was messing around with the rules, I needed to define them better than I did in the story, I should make clear what I changed, and so on. I felt this was the wrong direction for the story—part of the terror comes from Violet realizing that all the rules she grew up with don’t work, and she has no idea what to do. As the Redcap itself implies, maybe there aren’t any rules, and there’s nothing she can do about her situation. These really old fairy stories are about survival: what terrible things are out there waiting to get you and what can you do to survive? What charms do you need to protect yourself and your home? So yes, part of the point of the story for me was undermining the rules entirely—what if the stories are wrong? Just like if you meet a Redcap and expect it to be wearing a bright red cap, you’d be wrong.
We’ve talked before about the influence of stories, particularly fairy tales and mythology, on much of your previous work, but what other stories and genres (or even nonfiction) do you see influencing your projects right now?
I’ve actually been delving into mysteries right now, looking at mystery structures and thinking of why people read mysteries—is it the problem solving, or is it the pleasure of taking the journey with engaging characters? Or both?
You write in a variety of genres and lengths, with a fairly impressive output. Do you tend to work on both novels and short stories concurrently? If so, is it difficult (or perhaps refreshing) to switch gears to work on one or the other, particularly when they are so different?
I do work on both novels and short stories concurrently. It seems to be part of my process. When I get stuck on a novel (which I always do, at least a couple of times), I really need to take a break to let my subconscious noodle with the problem. Working on stories on the side keeps me productive, and keeps me stretching my creative muscles. I haven’t had much problem switching gears. For me, if I’ve got the voice of the story in mind, and I know what I’m trying to evoke with the story, I can put those ideas front and center and dive into whatever world I need to.
Speaking of switching gears, your new novel, Martians Abroad, is out this month from Tor Books. Congratulations! I believe this is your first science fiction novel. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Martians Abroad is about Polly Newton and her twin brother, who are third generation Martian colonists. Their mother decides to send them to Earth for boarding school, and Polly isn’t happy about it at all. Remedial P.E. is the least of her worries. This is my own take on the old-school, gee-whiz space adventure story, incorporating more current science and knowledge about Mars, and also featuring the kind of girl hero I would have liked to read about when I was a kid.
What other work do you have out now or soon?
I always seem to have short stories coming out in the near future. Tor.com will be publishing one of my Wild Cards stories, “The Thing About Growing Up in Jokertown,” in December. Martians Abroad is due out in January, and after that my next big release is my novel Bannerless, a post-apocalyptic murder mystery. That’ll be out in July from John Joseph Adams Books.
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