This story is about a population of fungal people living secretly within our human society. I love the trope of a “secret race amongst us”—how did you come up with this particular take on it?
Full disclosure, I was scrolling through Instagram when I came across a Bon Appétit post of a mushroom pasta recipe. It was captioned with something about “we’ll turn you into a mushroom person—no, not someone who’s half mushroom, but someone who really likes mushrooms” and I thought, “Well, why not half mushroom?” Everything sort of spiralled from there, haha.
The humans the main character encounters are all so good at casual cruelty. How did you find your way to writing these characters?
A lot of those characters are sort of condensed versions of people I encountered growing up. Thank you for that term, “casual cruelty”! I don’t think I’ve ever been able to quite verbalize it before. I drew a lot on my own experiences of being on the autism spectrum just enough that there were tensions and a lot of confusion interacting with people as a kid. Those characters were written through a lot of trawling through and verbalizing the people I’ve met throughout my life and stringing them together into something coherent.
The voice in this story is second-person, with occasional parenthetical asides that, while still in second-person, are more internal than the primary voice. What did you do to select and develop this voice?
The second-person narration came somewhat as an impulsive choice, where I wanted to tell the story of mushroom people being connected to our world but in an adjacent way. First-person and third-person didn’t quite feel right for that decision, with the former being almost too personal and the latter being too distant. The parenthetical asides developed as the story developed, when I decided that I wanted a story where the narrator is talking to herself rather than the reader, interjecting advice and wisdom that she only later gained and wanting to present it to her younger self. It’s kind of the voice you get when you come to the realization in hindsight and you’re in the shower, telling yourself how that interaction could’ve gone better.
From the 1954 classic The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet to David Walton’s Campbell-winning thriller The Genius Plague all the way to Jeff VanderMeer’s complete works, SF/F has a powerful legacy of fiction about fungi and fungal people. What’s your favorite fungal fiction? And do you see your story being in conversation with any other fungal works?
Oh, I’m not sure! I think I was engaging primarily with the traditions of using fungi as body horror in visual media, like art and video games. In those, though, fungi kind of work as a shorthand for decay sprouting on the undead or otherwise-living things in a very quick way to elicit that “gross” response from the viewer. I was instead interested in taking that and turning it into an extension of life rather than death, where the mushrooms are perfectly edible, so why not share?
I found myself drawing a lot from the conversation of the sort of #ownvoices depiction being the “other” as being “monstrous,” but instead here you’re just a quiet mushroom person who dabbles in autocannibalism from time to time. I think fungi occupy an interesting space in that conversation; they’re not quite animal, not quite plant, and turn decay into something full of life, just as something can be strange and difficult to comprehend for people, but still carry on living, given the capacity.
It has to be asked: Do you like eating mushrooms? If so, what are some of your favorite mushroom dishes?
I love them! I dump them in everything from button mushrooms in creamy pastas to wood ear and enoki mushrooms in hot and sour soup to straw mushrooms in . . . well, anything where they can soak up brothy goodness. I’m particularly fond of wood ear mushroom salad, which is a lovely, crunchy, vinegary dish with a bit of a kick. Enoki mushrooms in Sichuan-style hotpot? Also delicious.
Where can our readers find more of your works? And what are you working on right now?
My current project is a secondary-world dark fantasy/horror novel about the destructive pursuit of power, the sinister side of academia, and the exploited rising up against their oppressors. You can find more of my work over at Fireside Fiction and the Queen of Swords Press anthology, Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space).
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