“Ally” has a wonderful narrative voice that perfectly captures Sally’s character and the nuances of the social dynamic of this circle of friends. How do you set out to define a character’s voice in your works? Do you play with tones and intents, or do you have a clear idea of how the story will present itself?
Thank you. I rarely have any kind of clear intent when I begin writing. I write to discover the story, which means I have to try out a number of different takes on it. I’ve recently become a professor, and I’ve been told that in academe, creative practice is considered the equivalent of the research that happens in scientific practice. I’m beginning to agree, because drafting a story is experimentation. I have no clear-cut sense of how I create a character. Sometimes I begin by writing a monologue, feeling around for the overall tone they may take in the story, their habits of speech, some sense of what life experiences they might have had and how those might play out in my piece. I try stuff on, see what fits, put aside what doesn’t seem to fit, try more stuff on.
Tell us the inspiration behind this particular story.
You know, I think the inspiration showed up well after I’d begun writing the story. It’s difficult to remember, but I think I was playing around with the initial paragraph, trying to find my protagonist’s mode of expression, and when it came time to name the protagonist, I did what one always has to do when writing science fiction or fantasy; I questioned my own initial impulse, which was to have her be a man in this tight circle of gay men. The story took off once I made her Sally.
You are as known for your social commentary as you are for your intricate, engaging plots. If writers leave a part of themselves on the page, what of your own struggles as a queer woman of color made it into this story?
It’s not as simple an equation as that, else I’d run out of stories pretty quickly. Being Black, female, Caribbean, queer, and so on doesn’t mean that every story I write is an attempt to recapitulate some tragic aspect of my life in particular. This is a variant of a question I get a lot, and I’m ever aware that it’s a question my straight, white, male, et cetera fellow authors are rarely asked, if at all. And perhaps they should be! Here’s the thing; all humans bring ourselves to our creative work.
Sally and Pete quote Alice in Wonderland, and on your website, you make mention of your early love of reading. As a child, what authors sparked a love of the strange and wonderful in your imagination?
Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Louise Bennett-Coverly’s retellings of Caribbean folk tales. Lucy M. Boston’s “Green Knowe” books. William Mayne’s Underground Alley (horrible man, but a wonderful writer). There are so many! I even managed to overlook the racism of the Asterix comics and Enid Blyton’s children’s books. Until I couldn’t any longer, that is.
You’ve written about your love of cooking and eating. What are some of your favorite comfort foods?
Buttered pumpkin or squash soup with flaked hot pepper and grated nutmeg. Oxtail stew with dumplings. Oatmeal porridge with raisins, vanilla and a pat of butter. Fried green bananas. Goat curry and roti. Doubles. Jamaican patties. Black cake with hard icing. And almost any fruit ever, with otaheite apples and mami apples probably at the top of the list. I haven’t tasted mami apple in decades, and I really miss it.
What’s next for Nalo Hopkinson? What projects do you have in the works?
I’m writing a serialized graphic novel for Neil Gaiman’s new Sandman series. It’s called The House of Whispers, and will feature Erzulie, a deity of love in the Ifa pantheon. Those previous two sentences sound really calm, but inside, I’m jumping up and down and going, “Eeeeee!” and have been since I got the news. I get to create a new house in The Dreaming, and it’s run by a Black woman deity! I’m also doing yet another draft of Blackheart Man, a revisionist historical fantasy novel set in the Caribbean. I’ll continue work on Duppy Jacket, a fantasy set in nineteenth century Jamaica. It’s got monsters, mayhem and grad students. I’m working on a graphic novel project with artist John Jennings. And I’ll probably be making more Black mermaid art dolls.
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