What inspired “Saving the Gleeful Horse”?
It was written for a fundraiser auction. The deal was that I’d write a story for someone, based on a prompt from a list they gave me, and I chose “A man cares for a wild animal that has been injured.” The receiver came up with some great prompts for strange stories, but that was the one that my imagination went for. The animal becoming something like a piñata goes back to when I was a kid. I hated bursting balloons, and when I had a piñata at my birthday party I didn’t want to break it. I had a strong sense of life in inanimate objects, which I admit I still have somewhat. Things that I rationally know aren’t alive seem semi-alive to me.
Molimus uses his best words and phrases to tell the tale of the Grinning Horse to White Ma’at. Could you tell us a little about your own writing process?
It varies, but often it starts with me just following a character around and listening to them. Molimus was a strong character in my mind, and he was telling me the story, so I tried to hear what he was saying. Then I pulled back and tweaked it, but not all that much. Sometimes I get quite fanatical about the tweaking and really agonise over words, but I didn’t get into that sort of state with this story. I did muck around with Molimus—changed things about him, then changed them back. Mucking around with things and then putting them back the way they were is a pretty standard part of my writing process.
The first thing Molimus says is that “Children are cruel.” He claims that they take pleasure in the assassination of a life. Do you think Molimus takes pleasure in harming the children whose lights he steals? Is he as unaware of the seriousness of the consequences as the children who beat the piñatas? Or did the physical expulsion of shame cause him to lose sympathy for others?
I don’t know whether he enjoys it. My take on it is that Molimus is basically the “troll under the bridge”, even if somewhat evolved and integrated into society, and that it’s a bit hard for humans (myself included!) to be sure what’s going on in his mind. I think it’s important that you can’t quite understand him, or he’d be too normal. My guess (and it’s only a guess!) is that he’s aware of the seriousness in an abstract way but that “the children die” isn’t as interesting or important to him as what goes on in his individual world. I’m not sure that what he expelled was definitely shame—it only feels like shame to him, or maybe inspires a feeling of shame as it comes up.
Molimus chooses to save the Gleeful Horse by becoming smoke. In doing so, he becomes a nightmare while the Gleeful Horse becomes the Grinning Horse, a legendary hero that defeats the forces of Prince No-Never and Wheat Mate. Do you think that there are such things as the true identities? If so, which is the true Molimus, the flotsam trader or the smoke? If not, is Molimus’s impression of himself more valid than others’ impressions of him?
I think they’re all equally true. You can’t really say that one version of a legendary or folkloric character is more true than another version, even if one is closer to historical reality. I can’t answer the other question, though I like it. Is any person’s impression of themself more valid than others’ impressions? I don’t know.
The stories that grow about the Grinning Horse, Prince No-Never, and Wheat Mate come from dreams and alter the story just enough so that the origins are obscured. Are you fond of any particular word or phrase whose origin is less well known?
Gordon Bennett. I’ve only just looked up who Gordon Bennett was!
What’s next for you?
A cup of ginger tea. Then a short story collection, I hope.