This story could be read as a fairy tale retelling, perhaps “Rapunzel,” but also seems to contain hints of many tales and myths, and takes an unexpected (and brilliant) turn at the end. How did it come together?
This story came out of a project where I decided to write a series of stories based on legendary female figures in history and literature. For example, I did a science fictional riff on the Oracle of Delphi. The seed for “Who Binds and Looses the World with Her Hands” came from the myth of the Siren, and Mark Twain’s translation of an early 19th century German poem called “Loreleylied” by Heinrich Heine. Many of this poem’s images and themes made it into my story—a woman in the water, a golden comb, a hint of an ancient darkness that lingers just out of sight.
I also intended “Who Binds and Looses the World with Her Hands” to be a tribute to Deaf Culture, and specifically Deaf literature. Within Deaf Culture, capital-D Deafness isn’t considered a disability, but a linguistic and cultural difference, the centerpiece being sign languages such as ASL (American Sign Language). People who identify with Deaf Culture are proud of having a Deaf identity, and push back against well-meaning but misguided efforts by hearing culture to “fix” what isn’t broken.
The magic system in this story is based on some conventions of ASL poetry. ASL words can “rhyme” with one another by sharing the same handshape or position, but being signed with a different motion. This creates room for extremely creative wordplay and storytelling. In Deaf literature, hands and sign language are commonly used as symbols of independence and freedom from oppression. One particularly important sign for members of Deaf Culture is the name-sign. Name-signs are traditionally only given to someone by a Deaf person already in the Deaf community. They can be very simple—the first letter of your name signed in a position on your face to match your gender—or they can indicate something distinctive about your physical appearance or your personality. Most importantly, getting a name-sign is a major step into entering Deaf Culture. This is why Doriane’s name-sign plays such a major role in the story, and especially the ending.
What genre(s) do you most like to write in? Why?
I write the way I read: in cycles, in binges, as the mood strikes me. This translates into months camping out in science fiction, then migrating over to fantasy for a few stories, and then taking a quick dip into horror as a palate-cleanser when I think I’m getting a little too optimistic. Maybe because of this tendency, I have a special undying love for weird fiction, anything that’s messy with genre boundaries. Ridiculous mad science sci-fantasy with girl geniuses and absurd inventions, supernatural horror, disembodied brains in jars, reincarnated time travelers, you name it.
The only thing I don’t write so often is humor. This is great, because I really particularly love to read humor, and it means I never burn out on it because I’m not trying to take it apart to see what makes it tick.
You’ve had many short stories published. Any plans for a novel?
I’m happy to say that as of this writing, I’ve just finished drafting the first chapter of a novel! Trying my hand at a longform project is exhilarating and challenging after so much short fiction. One of the biggest upsides is that I finally have space to put just about everything I love into one story: narratives driven by diverse people, themes of exile and friendship, economic warfare across planets, body modification, and symbiotes.
Maybe even a few pirates. Just because I like pirates.
What are you working on now?
Aside from my novel, I’ve got a few short fiction projects in the work: a YA sci-fantasy novelette about a girl genius, a fantasy piece starring an evil sweater, and a humor collaboration with a friend of mine (and this after I said I don’t write much humor!). And I’ve been wanting to try out some Southern Gothic-style horror as of late, something in the style of Flannery O’Connor, one of my favorite short fiction authors. Summers in Georgia always put me in this mood, perhaps because the heat makes the whole environment feel sinister, even under a blue and cloudless sky.
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