“Figs, Detached” is a superb example of a story written in the mythpunk aesthetic. Cat Valente coined this term for a “‘subgenre of mythic fiction’ in which classical folklore and fairy tales get hyperpoetic postmodern makeovers” (TV Tropes). Can you tell us a little more about mythpunk and your work in it, as a writer and academician?
I was writing odd, folkloresque poetry and stories before I knew that mythpunk was a thing, so coming across Cat Valente’s initial blog post about it (bit.ly/2m4E61D), kind of felt like coming home—to a home I’d never been to, but knew in my gut. She described this SF/F subgenre as “a weird kind of trend among a certain kind of writer these days—often young, often female, (though not always) almost always small press, something that were we older, and male, and middle-press, might be called a movement.” These writers begin “in folklore and myth,” which they then incorporate with SF/F, often using experimental techniques, such as “urban fantasy, confessional poetry, non-linear storytelling, linguistic calisthenics, worldbuilding, academic fantasy, etc.”
I’ll break down the word in brief. “Myth” is the material that mythpunk draws upon to create its narratives (folklore and folkloresque material); “punk” describes what happens to those “myths.” Mythpunk does not just take folkloric/folkloresque material and retell it; mythpunk makes something new. Its folkloric or folkloresque sources are often undermined, re-imagined, or simply demolished. In doing so, normativities such as heteronormativity or anthropocentrism (among many others) are subverted.
At the time I read Cat Valente’s blog post, I think I was writing a novel about a pair of pan-dimensional mythopoeisis-obsessed magpies who’d been stolen by a non-binary trickster storyteller whose pronouns sometimes changed mid-sentence. On purpose. So yes. All that mythpunk stuff sounded vaguely familiar. It really did feel like stepping across a well-worn, brand new threshold, smelling all those home-warm smells that I’d never actually smelled before. And maybe that’s a strange thing to recall, a sense of homecoming—considering that mythpunk is a lot about discomfort, breaking normativities. But it is, ultimately, about warmth and comfort—or building it, offering it, at least. More on that in a moment . . .
About a year before I started my graduate program (I have a MA in Foxlore . . . er, Folklore), I noticed that SF/F writers seemed to like writing about foxes. So I started the Storyfox Database (bit.ly/2my78Eb), which eventually veered into my thesis, “Mythpunk and the Queer Fox”—a sixty page paper examining the intersections of folktales, and science fiction and fantasy literature through the lens of the queer fox figure as it appears in mythpunk narratives. I also wrote a seventy-ish page collection of short fiction and poetry called Foxeology and it was about . . . yes! Also! Queer foxes!
What can I say? I try to stick to myself, do what I love in all that I do. It is not always easy, or possible, but I try. And well, mythpunk. Mythpunk I love because it’s often what I write/write about anyway (thesis, poetry, stories, database data-entry), whether or not it has a name. I feel comfortable not knowing, in the unknown, seeking and approaching and reading and writing about strange things (have I mentioned how much I like slugs? And their spherical chainsaw teeth? Or how lovely and magical sheep digestive systems are?! Radulas! Rumens!). So, mythpunk feels like home to me, because it is very often not home—but a not-home I would like to eventually feel at home in.
And this gets to the heart (or, one of the hearts—because I think it has many) of mythpunk—or at least, what mythpunk is to me. There is an intimacy that characterizes the subgenre. Theodora Goss (in her post “Mythpunk”) put it beautifully: “Here are the monsters, get comfortable with them.” Mythpunk confronts the other with open arms, transforming strangeness into familiarity—a monstrous sort of intimacy.
I guess I just want to sleep with all the monsters.
I loved this story, even more after reading it a second time. At times it’s simultaneously grotesque and beautiful, raw and romantic—and surprisingly sentimental. It feels both strangely familiar and deeply alien. I’m particularly interested in how you weaved in threads and echoes of mythological stories; I’m a fan of mythology, but I had to Google to catch all the references and brush up on my botany. Can you share a little about the inspiration and development of “Figs”?
Thank you for your kind words! I’ll start with two quotes.
First: “Write what scares you.”
Second: “No ideas but in things.”
Quote one is one of the first things Kelly Link told my Clarion class this past summer. I am incredibly grateful she was our week one instructor for many reasons, but that reason is at the top of all the reasons. To be honest, I’m still not sure what really scares me. But those words were knives, cutting all (well, some of) the fucks I may have had to give. If I found myself worrying over an idea because I wasn’t sure what others would think of it, I made sure to write that idea.
So, then, “Figs.” I think my initial story notes said something along the lines of “fruit babies that you eat and they make you feel things.” Still, there was a lot more of the story in mind, and a lot of that made me hesitate, and wonder what people would think, and if I should write it, and if it was too strange, and too sexual, and too personal, and also not about me at all, and, and, and. And then I thought, ah, I am scared. And then I wrote the story.
Started to, anyway. The narrative still needed meat.
Quote two is by William Carlos Williams. Those words, “no ideas but in things” are with me whenever I write, especially stories. Minutiae give stories grit, mucous, cum, whatever. Make them thrive. That’s where the myth comes from in the story—from the narrator, who is a lover of figs, but also a Classicist, but also someone who is both deeply intimate with, and disengaged from, their lover. And I wondered—where would they go, when they don’t want to be where they are? So while I wrote the story, I sought out as much figlore as I could. Botany, etymology, Greek myth, foodways, and on, and on. And all that became, to a great extent, the text. That meat.
What stories, books, or TV shows excite you at the moment, which you think Nightmare readers should check out?
I don’t watch much, so I’m just going to go with media in general. I will start with a film, though . . .
Rams, written and directed by Grímur Hákonarson. About two estranged sheepherder brothers weathering the slaughter of their family’s livestock. A microcosm of winter, endemic, and animal. Funny and endearing.
The Passing Light of Day, the newest album by Pain of Salvation. The musical fallout of the four months frontman Daniel Gildenlöw spent in the hospital with flesh-eating bacteria. It is an incredibly human album, and dirty, heartworn and heartwarming; often feral, fervent.
I will always recommend Sonya Taaffe’s Lightspeed story, “A Wolf in Iceland is the Child of a Lie” (bit.ly/2mnKDoL). “Now he crouches away from me in the bedside light, a wet holly spray in his frost-rick of hair, scarlet-spattered across his winter-haunted face, his coat’s hem trailing as darkly as the shadow that whines and worries at his heels, and when at last I have gathered him trembling into my arms, all ribs and elbows, hot as a hawk, I can hear his heart hammering the black miles of Surtshellir.” I mean, really. What poetry.
Finally, I’m currently adoring James Harriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, the first of a collection of memoirs written by a veterinary surgeon in the Yorkshire Dales. I grew up loving the BBC televisions series (which I also recommend . . . or, at least, my nostalgia does), and the books are—thus far—no less fantastic.
You like eating figs, but what is your least favorite fruit and/or the strangest fruit you’ve ever eaten?
Hm. I haven’t a least favorite fruit, per say—though, whoever thought the nasty white membrane in oranges and grapefruit was a good idea should be severely and immediately punished. Speaking of citruses. The oddest fruit I’ve eaten in the past couple of weeks was a finger lime. The experience was lovely: a bit like squeezing the contents of a rawhide pinkie finger into your mouth . . . if the contents of said finger were tiny, citrus-flavored fish eggs. Absolutely delightful (no, really!), would recommend.
Your first novel, Skyglass, was serialized in Sparkler Monthly from 2014-2016, and published as an eBook in June. It looks like the paperback is forthcoming . . . soon? Please tell us about it and how people can get it!
Skyglass is odd-couple, post-apocalyptic SF. That’s a real genre, promise . . .
Four years after his human mother and elven father died by double suicide, Moss lives a shadow of a life. He’s an anorexic, aromantic drummer who wallows in apathy and inadvertently wooed his boss in a bathtub. But when Phoenix—a pyromaniacal popstar/would-be murderess from outspace—decides to move into his apartment, his stale life gets torched. Phoenix is on a manhunt to find and kill her father, and she has no problem dragging everyone around her into the fire.
Truly, Skyglass is a strange, wild creature. On the one hand, it’s like a cyber-electric Pixy stick full of patricide and glam metal sexy-times. But on the other hand (or maybe it’s all the same hand, who knows?), it’s a quiet story about spitting in the face of whatever your existential chokehold may be, and relearning to thrive. It’s also an exploration of what sex means when you’re an essentially non-sexual human seeking physical comfort, and a rumination upon what a meaningful human relationship might look like when you aren’t exactly . . . human.
Writing a serial, such as Skyglass originally was, often takes the unique ability to run on fumes and copious amounts of power metal, so it’s kind of beautiful to see the pieces of the tale collected into one. You can snag the eBook (bit.ly/2mnHpSh), or Kindle version (amzn.to/2m4EuNO). It should be out in print sometime spring 2017.
What are you working on now, and what other work should readers look for in the near future?
Currently, I’m working on two books. The first is slow-burn horror about a sex worker/seaweed farmer, his werebog boyfriend, and a snailcrone who’s got the end of the world hidden in her shell. The other book-in-progress is a feminist kick-in-the-ass to the giant robot genre, featuring orgasm-powered mecha and angry women with chainsaws.
Besides “Figs, Detached”, I recently had some creative nonfiction come out in Hunger Mountain: “The Bones of What I Ate” (hungermtn.org). If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to dissect owl pellets, this is the piece for you! Finally, my neofolk metal band Felled recently put out our newest release, a four-track demo titled Bonefire Grit (cascadianalliance.bandcamp.com). We’ll be on tour this summer (keep an eye on our Facebook page for dates, facebook.com/felledband). If you live in the west half of the United States, come to one of our shows and say hi!
Spread the word!