Congratulations on your recent Creative Writing MFA in Fiction from North Carolina State University, as well as your even more recent graduation from the Clarion West Writers Workshop. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process and what inspired “Loneliness is in Your Blood”?
The funny thing is, “Loneliness is in Your Blood” didn’t come out of my typical writing process. My writing process usually involves thinking up large concepts. I start with an idea and then I obsess over it until it is too big to write. Then, because I’ve overwhelmed myself, I pick something small, some small germ of the idea, and then I write about that. I am usually not satisfied with that, so I write more parts of the idea, linking them with the larger overarching concept. Because of this, I tend to write linked stories. This often means my short stories feel incomplete and so they eventually turn into parts of a larger work. I worked on a novel in stories at N.C. State and so when I went to Clarion West I decided I wanted to do something different, write something small and focused, not connected to anything I’d written. I remembered a story from when I was a little kid about sukunya, a creature that lived off the blood of children and took off its skin at night. That story frightened me as a child, but now I was just curious. I asked myself, what if we are wrong about this creature? What if there was a deeper story there? I obsessed about it for a few days and then the story came to me.
The second person narrative can be effective for a horror story, but difficult to do well. Why did you choose to tell this story from a second person point of view?
I wanted people to feel connected to the sukunya, to empathize with a being that is often demonized. I had some ideas about her: that her origins are a mystery to herself, and that she is driven by both a will to live beyond the human world and the desire to be a part of humanity. Somewhere along the way she got trapped in a vicious cycle of loneliness and decay, one she is helpless to get out of. When I watch horror movies about “evil” creatures, I always wonder about how the world seems to them. Is it evil that motivates them to hurt people, or is it psychology and fate? Maybe if we were them, we’d understand. I feel that second person gets closest to the understanding of the other as equally worthy of empathy.
A wangla lady is a terrifying character out of Caribbean folklore. What kind of research was required in order to do this story justice? Was there anything about this story that was particularly difficult to write?
I borrowed heavily from what I heard as a child. This is something that a lot of children hear about growing up, always with slight differences depending on who you talked to. This made me feel like I could borrow from that oral history. I researched the other names for the being (I’d only heard of sukunya) and some of the variations on the story, but I always knew that I wanted to add my own imagination to the myth. So I did. What was difficult was figuring out how to make the details I imagined feel deeply personal, and not distantly threatening like the stories I heard growing up. That wasn’t easy.
I’ve read that you are working on a science-fiction novel set in the near-future Virgin Islands. What draws you to the Caribbean as a setting for your fiction?
I grew up in the Caribbean. My family is from the Caribbean. It is home for me. It will always feel like home. I find that even in memory I know it more intimately than anywhere else I’ve been. I’m also just really interested in the Caribbean as a place: its complicated relationship with colonialism, its unique relationship with race, its particular prejudices, its variation. I mostly write about the Virgin Islands because it is what I know, but I have family from all over the Caribbean, so I feel connected to those places as well. When I write about other places, I often bring that Caribbean perspective to those locales. For me, a Caribbean perspective feels just as objective as a perspective from anywhere else. Why not look at the world through my natural eyes?
I found the old heg to be incredibly sympathetic by the end of the story. Despite having her physiological needs met, she was unable to satisfy her need for love and belonging, which led to terrible loneliness. Is this theme—the need to belong in order to achieve happiness—important to you? What are the themes you tend to explore in your writing?
I would say it is important, though it is more the desire/search for something that shows up most often in my stories. It isn’t always love or belonging. Sometimes it is a search for purpose, or the answer to an important question. Sometimes it is an ideal my character is trying to create or maintain. My characters are often trapped in cycles, trying to find their way out through their own efforts. Sometimes they fail. Sometimes they find something else that satisfies them. Rarely do they achieve or find the thing itself. I guess that is all a bit vague, but it is a common theme in my stories. My characters often have the same obsessive quality that I have, just applied differently.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about this story? What’s next for you?
No, I just hope people enjoy it. I always loved reading stories that reimagined myths and folklore, so it was a pleasure to write one of my own. As for what’s next for me: maybe finishing this novel? I’ve been struggling with it for quite a while. It would be great to get to the end of it. I’d also like to write more stand-alone stories. Right now I’m revising stories from my MFA and Clarion West. Hopefully some of them will find their way out into the world someday soon.
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