From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Author Spotlight: Sarah Totton

Sarah Totton’s short fiction has appeared in Fantasy: The Best of the Year 2007 (Rich Horton, ed.), Writers of the Future XXII, and Polyphony 5. She is the Regional Winner (for Canada & the Caribbean) in the 2007 Commonwealth Short Story Competition. Her collection, Animythical Tales, is forthcoming in 2010 from Warren Lapine’s Fantastic Books.

One of the themes in “Choke Point” is “love is about sacrifice,” which is what Steve remembers Rachel once telling him. How do Steve and Rachel come to interpret this aspect of love so differently?

I’d say it’s because we’re dealing with two different kinds of relationships here: the sexual/romantic relationship between Steve and Rachel, which I think is inherently more demanding and selfish, and the platonic relationship between Steve and his dog, which is inherently unselfish.

The most significant love portrayed in the story is the love between a man and his dog. Your writing seems very informed by life with a dog. Have dogs played an important part in your life?

I was heavily influenced by reading Jack London’s The Call of the Wild and R.D. Lawrence’s memoir, The North Runner, as an adolescent. In both cases, I think the men in these books considered the dogs their friends, rather than simply pets.

I’ve never owned a dog myself, but I’m a vet and I spent 9 months living in India working with stray dogs there as part of a spay/neuter and rabies vaccination program. I interacted with over 1000 dogs in that time.

Your story sets up a strong contrast between life in the city and life outside it. How has rural life shaped Steve’s character and did his rural life play a role in his decisions at the end of the story?

Steve considers the country his home. However, I think that if he didn’t have a dog, leaving his home would have been a sacrifice he would have been willing to make for Rachel. As for how living in an isolated place has shaped Steve’s character–it’s probably made him far more tolerant of solitude and silence than the average city-dweller, and less tolerant of noise, clutter, pollution, etc.

Steve’s finding the snake and working with it show him to be observant of and skilled with nature. His slow and considered processing of the snake’s body shows him to be a patient man. Do you think contact with nature on a regular basis can help a person develop virtues like Steve’s?

I’m not sure I’d say that Natural History is a virtue-inducing field of study. I don’t think that any profession or hobby is. Natural History tends to attract people who love animals, but apart from that, I’d say naturalists are a pretty diverse bunch of people with a range of good and bad qualities, as you’d find in any group of people.

More of the world’s population than ever lives in cities today. What, if anything, do you think humanity is losing in that migration? What, if anything, do you think humanity is gaining?

Well, I think that question is outside my area of expertise. Except when I was doing field research as a Biologist (in Algonquin Park and eastern Ontario) I’ve always lived in cities. I *can* tell you that the first time I worked in Algonquin I really came to appreciate how dark it gets at night and how BIG the wilderness is. It never gets completely dark in the city, and you’re never completely alone there. You’re also a lot closer to emergency services. And less likely to get eaten alive by blackflies.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell your readers about “Choke Point?”

It’s included in my short story collection, Animythical Tales, which is coming out in 2010.

Bill Sullivan picWilliam Sullivan is a writer, computer programmer, and musician living in Austin, Texas. You can find his website at