“Redder” is poetry. It is sensation and impression, violent impossibility and glorious imagery. Each read unveiled new details I had not noticed before. Were you conscious of the poetic nature of the prose while writing this story?
Thank you! It was written consciously in the sense that it was very much written with intention, though it was also written in a couple of intense sittings, in that submerged and fast-flowing state of no-mind in which you are barely aware that you exist and are typing. So perhaps it was also written unconsciously in a sense, in that it was more grown in a vat than constructed and fitted together like a house.
Tell us something of what inspired this story. What brought this dream into being?
Some of it is based on history, of course. The kind of history you live through and at the time you don’t understand how much it matters. I’d been thinking a lot about long cycles of grieving and hopelessness, and how to talk about them without, as best as I could, despair or platitudes. It’s a story of secrets and mysteries, which is to say, of things set apart and silences kept, of things grown red and sacred in the dark.
In many cultures, the power of women and night are intimately linked, and this power is echoed in the story. We see it when the grandmother first begins her story, when she dances on the mound beneath the open sky as a young girl, as she refers to the main character as “red of my red.” Here is a story where that power stretches into the future and the past. Do you feel the narrative would have been as potent if, instead of grandmother, it had been a grandfather or other male family member? Why?
I think it could have been just as potent, but perhaps it wouldn’t have been quite this story. Gender is a deeply weird gramarye with deep resonances, associations, and connotations that feel simultaneously primal and very tired, and changing something like that might have unravelled this story and braided it back together as something else. Though it also might not have, necessarily: it would depend on the characters, and their particular histories and relationship to that old magic. The particular unwritten grandfather I half-imagined in the margins of this story would definitely have had a very different story to tell in the grandmother’s place.
Were you raised a reader? What is one of your first memories of recognizing words on a page and feeling that first sense of wonder?
Very much so! I grew up in a house full of books. Mostly old, used, and weird. I don’t remember the first book I read in any language. I do remember being monolingual for most of my first half-decade, and what it felt like when the mysterious and exotic glyphs of English finally began to resolve into letters and words. Comic books were a big part of that, I think. I have a particular memory—around the same time, perhaps that I was unknowingly living through history—of trying to read the avalanche scene in Tintin in Tibet by looking at the pictures and making up a narrative of my own, until the switch flipped over and I found myself reading the words that were actually on the page. It was a fairly obvious scene, so the transition from story-as-imagined to story-as-written was smooth as a key turning in a lock. And even before that, I remember tracing tall black letters of newspaper headlines with my fingers, already knowing what they said from the pictures and from the grim talk of adults, but not able to read them except as signs and portents.
Life is change, an ebb and flow that can often catch us off guard. The same can be said for the publishing industry. If you could dance a similar dance and walk back in time to speak to the young Vajra, what might you say to him to encourage his passion for words when faced with such changes?
If I could walk back in time, I don’t think I’d talk to that person about writing at all. There is so much else I would want to say about our life! And I would worry about getting the threads tangled, I think. You want to spare your younger self pain, perhaps, but then without pain, who even are you? So in the end it could only be a platitude, intended to obscure the unspeakable but provide whatever small reassurance is causally safe: do what you can, do what you think is best, and in the end it will have mattered. That last part is unlikely to be true, of course but he wouldn’t know that for sure any more than I do. As always, the faint hope of it would have to be enough.
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