“Tiger’s Feast” is a thematically rich story, among other things, and I thought a lot about how it touched upon areas of life that are universal. One of the major aspects of theme that’s explored is sexuality connected to the wider breakdown of understanding between the adult world and that of the world of children, as well as other themes connected to this. In creating the story, how much did the various themes evolve as you developed the nuances binding the characters?
Like most people, I’ve had an exceptionally difficult 2020: pandemic mixed with personal heartbreak. Being me, I wrestled the resulting anger philosophically—and partly through the lens of my own Anglicanism.
“What does it mean, to forgive? What if the other party doesn’t feel remorse? Does forgiveness have to be earned? Hang on, isn’t the point of grace that it’s undeserved? Well, maybe for God, but I’m only human . . .”
And so it went. At some point, I thought, “This is interesting. I’ve never had rage as my baseline before.” But almost immediately, I realized that wasn’t true. All through grade six, I was bullied, and all through grade six, I was angry. In my memory, the impotency of that anger stands out most clearly. My classmates’ behaviour wasn’t fair. But nothing stopped it, and that wasn’t fair either; I think anger thrives on injustice.
So I took that context, those feelings, and I gave them to Emmy. Maybe I was just feeding a tiger of my own. Or maybe I was working through the notion—as Emmy does—that anger isn’t inherently bad, a thing to be fought and exorcised. Harnessed correctly, anger is rocket fuel.
There are some wonderful descriptive passages in the story. For example, “Loose skin hangs like a bad costume,” “. . . Emmy’s eyes water at its breath,” “. . . dusk spreads like a bruise,” “Mom’s makeup looks like a magazine.” What really works is that it’s never just description. With Emmy’s mother, that one line above gives us an incredible insight into her world, peeling back the true nature behind her quasi-religious words. Can you give us an insight into how you approached the descriptive elements of Tiger’s Feast and your wider work?
Thank you! That’s very kind. One of the best writing lessons I’ve learned (from the inimitable Elizabeth Hand) is that every word ought to punch above its weight. As you point out, it’s never just description. Ideally, every word pulls triple-or-quadruple duty. It’s setting, plot, character, theme, mood . . . all at the same time.
Sometimes, it’s not possible, but I try to hang onto the principle. In one example you give, “Mom’s makeup looks like a magazine,” it’s a visual image, it underscores themes of superficiality, and it suggests something about Emmy’s past and character—she must have seen those magazines lying around somewhere, if she thinks to make the comparison.
I’m not sure how much of this work is conscious during drafting. But I hope I reach a certain coherency, anyway—everything in the story working towards one end.
You are the co-chair of ephemera, a speculative fiction reading series held in Toronto, and were also nominated for an Aurora Award. Can you tell us a little more about the series, its origins, and what you’ve personally gained from being involved?
ephemera is a speculative fiction reading series with a mandate to support diverse, marginalized, and emerging artists. It was established in 2019 by myself and editor Jen R. Albert.
Pre-COVID, ephemera made its home at Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop (the world’s oldest queer bookstore; you can browse online at gladdaybookshop.com). During the pandemic, events have shifted to YouTube (bit.ly/31YIseK). Tune in the third Wednesday of every month at 7:00 p.m. ET; there is a robust (moderated) chat and audience participation! You can also follow @ephemeraseries on Twitter/Facebook.
I am so fortunate to be involved in ephemera. It’s brought me a new community—in Toronto and now more broadly. Every month, I get to listen to amazing fiction from incredible authors. And it’s given me examples to aspire to. When I hear the thunderous applause for an emerging author’s first reading—when I see new friends connecting over favourite stories—when the community comes together to affect concrete, real-world change—then I see what we can be, if we keep being kind and doing the work.
As well as short fiction, you’re also a playwright and podcaster. How much do the three areas feed into each other during the creative process?
Learning how actors approach text bolstered my prose fiction as well as my playwriting. They find the flow of intention in each line; they’re attuned to the rhythm of the words on the page. Short, curt sentences hit one way. Melodious, ornamented phrases that meander around a point, veer off into discursive digressions, amble sheepishly back, and finally, after much anticipation, and waiting, and breathlessness, very nearly conclude—only to go rabbiting off again into the distance . . . those sentences are read and spoken entirely differently.
Playwriting and podcasting have made my prose more intentional, I think. How is a break marked “—” different from “. . .”? an actor will ask. Beyond the level of pure prose, working with actors has also helped me with character motivation. Every action, every bit of dialogue is meant to help achieve the character’s goal(s). True throwaway lines are very rare.
Do you find that certain themes recur in your work? What are you currently working on, and what can we hope to see from you in the future?
Certain themes recur, yes. A few months ago, my story “When the Bone-Stag Walks” appeared in Lightspeed. Working with these two stories back-to-back let me think about the role of monsters in my work. There’s usually a monster. There’s a skeleton deer, or there’s a tiger, or a wolf, or a unicorn, or a white bird . . . they seem to externalize some part of the heroine’s own self, something that she can’t quite face until the story’s end.
Otherwise, winter and coldness recur frequently. Loss and grief. Starvation. I’ve heard that writers don’t write what they know; they write what they don’t understand. Almost as though by compulsively telling and re-telling a story to ourselves, we’ll finally make it make sense.
Right now, I’m juggling novel drafting with novella revisions. I still have a few short stories to work out, too. I’ve been terribly preoccupied by the Snow Queen . . . coldness, loss, and starvation again!
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