Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Jennifer Giesbrecht

Your story, “All My Princes Are Gone,” is fantastical and covers a variety of unusual horror and fantasy elements in a short amount of time, while also delving into Mesopotamian mythology. What lead you to meld these things together and create this world?

I’ll be honest here—I got caught in a Wikipedia spiral one night that began at “sixteenth-century Spanish Royalty” and ended at “Tzitzimitl.” Tzitzimitl are female Gods from Aztec mythology who are associated with change, said to eat the sun, and attack human beings during the eclipse. Despite their frightening qualities, however, Tzitzimitl are only considered demonic in postcolonial western interpretations. In the original context of the mythology, they are figures that play a dual role: of course change is scary, but it’s also a necessary and natural part of life. This got me thinking about the divide in how female mythological figures are represented in western, eastern, and American myth. There is a near universal synchronicity in world mythology, however, and the roles of female characters have always been a bit of a peculiar sticking point for me, especially female characters with monstrous qualities. I wanted to write a story about female monsters. I decided to use the Lilith myth because Lilith kind of straddles the distance between eastern and western religious myth, but there is also a lot of disagreement about who and what “Lilith” actually is. I chose to focus on the two extremes—Lilith, the disobedient first wife of Adam, and Lilith as a generic term for “monster.” Merging Lilith with Tiamat, mother of monsters, seemed like an obvious choice considering the wealth of shared source material between Babylonian/Sumerian myth and early Judaic writings.

The characters Ereškigal and Ishtar are wonderful opposites and provide a nice contrast in how one can view this world. But they’re also Mesopotamian goddesses. What inspired you to characterize them in this way, and even focus on these two figures specifically?

It became apparent very early on that this was a story about family and legacy. The opening scene is a birth. I wanted daughter figures to contrast against Adam’s sons. I chose Ishtar and Ereškigal because they are avatars of traditionally negative cultural artefacts—war and death—yet they are not viewed negatively in the context of their native mythology. I riffed their characterization (and some of the lines) from Ishtar’s Descent into the Underworld. I took a lot of liberties, so many so that saying, “I took a lot of liberties” is a pretty dire understatement, but I was interested in the enmity between sisters and the positioning of them as parallel opposites. My Ishtar and Ereškigal are a little more human and a lot more petty, but this is an Ereškigal and Ishtar born into Adam’s world, not their own.

There are feminist undertones to this piece, given the story’s focus on the daughters, Ereškigal and Ishtar, and their mother, as well as how they are treated by the human males. Was this intentional, and do these three female characters represent something in terms of women now, for you? 

Feminist reinterpretations of antiquated myth and fairy tales that read problematic by modern standards are kind of their own genre at this point. I was definitely going for that angle; however I was not actually interested in a feminist critique. I wasn’t interested in the redemption of female monsters or painting them to be sympathetic heroes. I was inspired by the role that Gods like Ishtar and Kali play in their mythic cycles and I think that we overlay a lot of our own misogynistic assumptions onto these stories. I wanted to tell a story about female monsters who are still monstrous, the way that Siegfried gets to exist as a creature of pure animalistic violence, the way that Zeus commits massive atrocities and abuses, the way male gods are allowed a monstrous appearance like Hephaestus and yet they are still meant to exist as paragons. I want that for women, I want that for female characters and female myth. Yes, Adam is cruel and he is a monster to his family, but Lilith/Tiamat is a monster too. He paid for trying to cage her nature.

Do the daughters return and wake up to an earthly throne of corpses, as the ending suggests? Or, as humans still walk the earth, would you rather leave that open ended?

2013 is a little soon to tell.

Nightmare Magazine is your debut publication; can you tell us about how you discovered this magazine and what publication has been like for you?

I followed the Kickstarter and am familiar with some of John Joseph Adams’s other publications. I also have a friend who published with Nightmare previously and recommended that I submit this story in particular.

What projects are you currently working on?

Well, I’m at Clarion West currently so, uh. I’m working on that. Sorry, I can’t really say much more about it until I’ve finished the workshop!

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Britt Gettys

Britt Gettys currently attends Pratt Institute where she is pursuing a BFA in Creative Writing. She is the editor of Pratt Success, a student-run blog, sponsored by Pratt’s Center for Career and Professional Development, which reviews the work of current Pratt students and alumni. Additionally, she illustrates graphic novels and her work has been featured in two Pratt sponsored exhibitions. An editorial intern at Lightspeed and Nightmare Magazine, Britt hails from Seattle, Washington where she spends her time writing, cosplaying, and painting.