Thank you for taking some time to chat about your story. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process and what inspired “Which Little Dead Girl Are You? Take Our Quiz and Find Out!”?
You’re welcome! So, a couple of years ago, I was listening to a lot of horror podcasts/radio dramas and true crime stories. “Tragically Murdered Little Girl” was a running plot element, and it grossed me out to no end. Whoever it was that said that the death of a beautiful woman was the most tragic, poetic thing didn’t account for the modern fixation on little dead girls. Dead kids are shorthand for “ultra-tragic” but they’re also dead children. They existed for themselves, they were complicated beings who had desires and bad days and relationships. Why shouldn’t those girls get their own stories? Moreover, why shouldn’t they be their own heroes?
This story owes a spiritual debt to Lumberjanes (which is one of my favorite odes to the friendships between girls) and Sunny Moraine’s “eyes I dare not meet in dreams” (bit.ly/2y3j45i). I heard Sunny read their story at Wiscon in 2016, and it is 1) brilliant and will wreck you, and 2) deals with the same themes with more complexity and ferocity.
The format breaks expectations. This is a powerful story, despite its initial appearance as a light-hearted quiz. Why did you choose this structure to tell this story?
I love playing with structure and format. This past year, I’ve worked on stories that were told as audio transcriptions, Wikipedia articles, and editorial notes. With this story, I was more interested in exploring character than plot, which the quiz format—something I remember fondly from reading Seventeen a couple decades ago—emphasizes nicely. But the most thrilling thing about working in those kinds of structures isn’t a purist adherence to them, but finding ways to make them bend and break in interesting ways. Some beta readers asked for more narrative and more emotional punch, which is how this story ended up being an origin tale told through a personality quiz.
As I read this story, I found myself thinking about the pain adults are capable of inflicting on children. Each Little Dead Girl’s story had a sad beginning, but ended with the idea of friendship and hope. What are the themes you tend to explore in your writing? What would you like an ideal reader to take away from this story?
Gender and queerness. Hope and despair. Monstrousness. The ways that people experience and deal with trauma is definitely a theme I deal with in my fiction. I believe, down in my gut, that we’re only as strong as our communities, and that works its way into my stories as well.
My ideal reader for this story is an artist that will want to collaborate on making this into a comic. Or just people who want to draw fanart of it. I have never craved fanart for a story like I have for this one.
What’s the appeal of speculative fiction for you?
Horror was my gateway drug into speculative fiction, going back to when I was a child. I craved stories that dealt with emotional and situational extremes, which reflected my lived experience as a kid in a way that a lot of realist kid-lit didn’t. Children’s literature is miles better now, but in the ’80s and early ’90s, it was a lot of moralizing after-school specials or the kind of boring Issue Books that guidance counselors dealt out to tiny fuckups like myself. Horror got me into fantasy and science fiction. And while I’ll happily read stuff outside these genres—I love atmospheric mysteries, thrillers, queer and trans coming-of-age or ensemble stories, and solid nonfiction—I’m not really moved to write it.
You are working on your MFA in fiction from the University of Kansas and are a graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. What’s the best writing advice you ever received, and who gave it to you?
I’ve been seriously blessed to have so many excellent teachers. The English Department at KU has been amazing, and Kij Johnson is an invaluable mentor. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer provided a lot of support. And I think I learned more about both world-building and the business of writing from Nora Jemisin than anywhere else. The one downside to having all these wonderful teachers is that I don’t remember who gave what tips. To make up for that, here are the three pieces of advice that I hold dear:
1) The only thing a first draft has to do is exist. Everything else can be fixed.
2) Trying something and failing at it will teach you a lot, possibly more than if you’d succeeded.
3) Make friends in the writing community and take care of those friendships.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about this story? What’s next for you?
I am utterly unable to work on one thing at a time. I have a backlog of short stories I need to revise. I just finished my first personal essay in years, on taking pole-dancing classes as a nonbinary trans person, which will be appearing in Letters For The Rest of Us in 2018. I’m also hoping to present my first academic paper next year, about moral panics, transmedia narratives, and Slenderman. I’m about halfway through my MFA program, which means it’s time to start thinking about my thesis project. I’m planning on writing a novel, an unlikely love story between a transgender person that’s been paroled from prison, and the AI that’s been grafted onto their face. That should be fun.
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