On Shine Wings is lovely and poetic piece. For me [editor A.C. Wise] reading it was akin to viewing a series of snapshots from a dream. Could you talk a bit about where the imagery came from, or how the story originated and developed for you?
Culture plays a big part in colour language. Some colours are considered different in some languages, but the same in others. Some languages may focus more on whether a colour is light or dark, over whether it’s red or blue. It led me to think about how colour might be described for people who often see the world through the eyes of bees. For a bee, dark things are likely to be predators, such as bears stealing their honey. Bright things are flowers. That matters a whole lot more than whether those colours are shades of red.
From there, I considered if words might change depending on whether things had always been that colour. It matters if a flower is always a light colour, or if it only becomes light when it’s dying. This might matter less when describing something that can be painted, like a ship, over something alive, like a human.
So the story formed around the colours and the meaning behind them.
According to the author bio on your website, you have pet cockroaches, which makes you the first Unlikely Entomology author to openly admit to living with insects on purpose. Did the cockroaches influence the writing of On Shine Wings? Have they, or an interest in bugs in general, influenced your work in other ways, or is your professed love of invertebrates a stronger influence?
I’m afraid the cockroaches aren’t big on the idea of flying, and would likely find space rather horrible. They like warmth, apples and waking people up in the night by throwing their water bowls around.
My interest in invertebrates does find its way into a lot of stories. I’ve written about giant squid, scorpion aliens and sentient beetles. There isn’t an invertebrate I don’t like.
Authors are notorious for working strange jobs. Stephen King was a janitor and J.D. Salinger worked as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?
I worked for a while as a conservation volunteer, which included some contract work for farms. One of the team’s jobs was putting up a fence for a small organic farm. They needed a fence to divide the cow field and the wood where the free-range chickens lived, because European Union rules stated there must be a fence.
To which we replied, “You know chickens can fly, right?”
This didn’t matter. The rules only stated there must be a fence of a certain height, not that it had to actually contain the chickens. So we put up the fence, and everyone was happy. The chickens got a new perching spot. The EU got its fence. As long as the politicians never meet a chicken, all will be well.
I’ve not yet written a story about chickens or fences.
We all have our favorite authors, some of whom everyone has heard of, and some of whom are relatively obscure. Who is one of the more obscure writers you love? What do you love about their work? Tell us which story or novel of theirs we should drop everything to read right now.
I like Emily Jiang’s work, and think she’ll be one to watch. Her short story “The Binding of Ming-tian” was the first I read, about footbinding. She also has a lot of poetry out.
We all start somewhere, and the learning curve from first publication is a steep one. What’s your first ever published work, and how do you feel about it now?
The first story someone paid to publish was “Carousel Princess”. I still like the piece, though it was an early lesson in how certain works are considered not-a-story, and get a harsh reaction based on that. I tend to hedge my bets now by listing such work under flash fiction/prose poetry, and letting the reader decide what they want to call it. People tend to judge it then by whether they like it, not whether it’s correctly labelled as a story or not.
What else are you working on have coming up you want people to know about?
I’ll have a story called “After the Rain” in Lackington’s next year. I’m also working on a cozy mystery novel with a fairy godmother sleuth, which will be out some time next year.