In this week’s Author Spotlight, we ask author M. Rickert to tell us a bit about her story for Fantasy, “The Machine.”
How did you decide to center your story around the song of the nightingale? What is it about this sound that makes it so evocative?
This story was originally published eight years ago in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, so I find myself reaching into dark territory to answer your question. Truthfully, I don’t remember why I made the choices I did. I wrote it initially as part of a failed novel in which the protagonist was dealing with the traumatic issues of the “novel’s” inciting incident by writing retellings of mythic stories.
I think the idea of a bird singing to the dark creates a tension that exists in opposites, in this case, a pleasing tension. One function of tension in fiction is to create a pull between opposites, which gives a sense of stretching space. Within that space there is opportunity for a reorganization of reality, and thus a foundation for story.
I often like to pull questions directly from the text: “Why uproot the beautiful flower to expose its ugly source?”
Well, you know, no one has to. I suppose there are people who live completely productive, happy, generous lives without even considering the ugliness of humanity. But in considering questions of what it means to be human, one has to look at it entirely.
Why would Pandion give Procne to Tereus?
Pandion considered his daughters to be his property. Tereus had helped Pandion out and he offered his daughter as property.
The story of Procne and Philomela is ancient and has been told and retold many times by many storytellers, from Ovid to Sophocles to Chaucer to Margaret Atwood. What is it about this story that makes it so timeless? When sitting down to write this story, why did you think it deserved another retelling?
Mythic tales tend to be formed within that tension of opposites, in a world where nothing is certain, even the behavior of the gods. In Literature and the Gods, Roberto Calasso quotes Stéphane Mallarmé (who is incorrectly translating the Reverend George W. Cox): “If the gods do nothing unseemly, then they are no longer gods at all.” Leaving aside the literary mystery of what was meant versus what was said, I do think this notion of god as possessing an expansion of human traits is particularly fascinating, comforting as it might be frightening (there’s that tension again) to a population often in search of redemption for the burden of human existence.
I’d like to take a moment to talk about structure. The central bulk of your story is a retelling of the Procne and Philomela myth. This myth is bookended by a series of questions, and the text contains scattered modern references throughout (i.e. “… candy games and Pokémon hours, teenagers glued to the power of screens, TV, computer, the messy world of tactile sensation diverged …”). How did this structure come about? What is the intended significance of the format?
Of the three myths I chose to retell for the failed “novel,” this was the one that retained its traditional setting, yet I did want it to speak to the modern concerns of the “novel’s” protagonist.
So, what’s next for M. Rickert? Any upcoming publications you would like to announce?
My recent collection, Holiday, came out this past November. I wrote the stories, so I can’t really comment fairly on that part of the content, but Tom Canty created beautiful art for the cover and interior illustrations.
I have a short story, “The Corpse Painter’s Masterpiece,” coming out in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
I also have a short story, “Burning Castles,” coming out in a young adult anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan, tentatively titled Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron.
That’s it. After several failed attempts I am once again working on a novel. Send me good wishes or dark chocolate, for I am either a fool or a writer.