“What It Sounds Like When You Fall” is a story I liken to being smothered by a ton of feathers—it’s soft and cozy until you realize you can’t breathe, and the true horror sets in. Tell us about the inspiration behind this story.
Like many of my stories, this one came from smashing together two ideas I originally thought were two separate stories. That doesn’t always work for me, but, you see, this this story was written during my sixth week at the Clarion West Writers Workshop (and Ellen Datlow’s week!), so I had little enough good sense left to try it.
So the first idea, the hunting of angels, has to do with the value we attribute to things and to beings. Some animals are pets, others are pests, some are food, others simply prey, not even edible. The line is mostly, if not entirely, arbitrary. So I wanted to explore an extreme example of this by taking something that in many contexts is considered holy and is venerated, and to invert that, make it into something that is widely considered dirty, base, and vilified.
The other idea was an exceptionally capitalistic society in which you could only be alive for as long as you could afford to pay for your life (how far-fetched, right?).
While writing, I found these two topics to be closer and more intricately linked than I originally thought.
I loved the sparse worldbuilding for the story, the unanswered questions that stirred the imagination. I wanted to know to whom and how payment was made to extend a person’s life, why a person was buried before they truly died, why angels were considered a menace. How much thought did you give to the world before writing, or did the elements come together organically as you wrote?
Some of the worldbuilding elements were clear from the beginning because they came from the core of what I wanted to explore with this story: I have this thought that the extremity of capitalism in this world is actually what infected the cosmos and caused the angels’ fall. I hope to explore that further in another story set in this world, from a less limited point of view. But some of the other details popped up while I was writing (kissing an angel’s wound until it heals, for example; although I’m not sure how much we should trust the narrator in that matter).
I also appreciated the deft, gentle tone of the story. Children view the world very differently than adults, yet you never speak down to the intent of the prose. You guide the reader step by step along the path of childhood and desperation, and we know what happens next, yet that last sentence is brutal. What is it about the concepts of childhood and horror that you think appeals to so many readers?
Thank you, I am glad that the point of view worked for you, and I appreciate this reading of the story. I think part of the appeal is that we were all children once, and we’ve all stopped at some point (or will, eventually). Growing up is a trauma shared by all of us who survived childhood.
In addition to your fiction writing, you have written a number of nonfiction papers that explore cultural expression, identity, and art. How do you feel your nonfiction has informed your fiction writing, and vice versa?
My studies certainly play a major part in how I come up with ideas and in the way I approach character and plot. For example, I often touch on the theme of the world as theatre (see “Fixer, Worker, Singer”—bit.ly/2ggzl4f—in Shimmer) or draw directly from Greek tragedy (see “The Names of Women”—bit.ly/2KdcZLE—in Strange Horizons and “Every Black Tree”—bit.ly/2zkRKBw—in Beneath Ceaseless Skies), while religion and intertextuality are at the core of many of my stories (see “Android Whores Can’t Cry”—bit.ly/2qTodfd—and “The Nightingales in Plátres”—bit.ly/2xSVk7O—in Clarkesworld). But it’s not just the ideas; my studies have shaped the way I view the world, and so the lens through which I approach story. My media & cultural studies background has taught me that culture is the result of practices of representation and articulation, which always invites one to question and study power—where it resides, how it articulates the world. And when I study history, I always do so with the understanding that history is not a reflection of facts, but an interested, political, and violent assemblage, a constructed narrative created under a specific set of circumstances, for specific reasons, with specific, long-lasting outcomes.
What’s next for Natalia Theodoridou? What can eager readers look forward to in 2019?
In 2018, Choice of Games published my first interactive novel, Rent-a-Vice, a dark, dark cyberpunky noir. I am currently working on another project for Choice of Games, a queer, feminist epic adventure loosely based on the Odyssey. Hopefully, that will come out some time in 2019. And another one of my pieces from my time at Clarion West, titled “Poems Written While,” will be published in Uncanny. I can’t wait to share that one with everyone, as it’s one of my short stories closest to my heart.
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