In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Darby Harn to tell us a bit about the background of his story for Fantasy Magazine, “News Right Fresh From Heaven.”
What was the inspiration behind “News Right Fresh From Heaven?”
The short answer is I wanted to write a James Jean painting. The long answer is this story really started a few years ago, after the death of my uncle. I feared for my aunt who was older and living on her own and that manifested in the story of Kate, who lost her brother and was maybe losing her grip. Lily and the apple idea came later, and eventually the story evolved into what it is today.
“News Right Fresh From Heaven” has an interesting—and at times disorienting—structure. But when taken as a whole, it all makes sense and creates a very interesting picture. How did you decide how to format this piece? What challenges did you find in the creation of this story, if any?
I struggle with short stories. Novels come much more naturally, and really the only way I know how to approach a short story is to impose some kind of structure on it. I started thinking of them as paintings, or as songs, and once I did, it helped. Specifically for this story, Lily’s coming and going—“This is me”—and her inherent non-linearity informed the structure of the story.
Lily speaks exclusively through quotations from Walt Whitman. Out of all the poets to choose, why Whitman?
Whitman inspired Lily. His poetry contains so much passion for nature, and specifically certain lines—‘I guess the grass itself is a child/the produced babe of the vegetation.’—led me for whatever reason to think of a tree that grows apple babies.
Above all else I found “News Right Fresh From Heaven” to be a powerful character study of Kate. Despite the fantastic situations, there is a lot of realism at the heart thanks to the way your protagonist and the people around her were portrayed. How did you manage to strike this balance of the realistic and the fantastic?
I try to strike this balance in all my fiction. I don’t believe the fantastic and the realistic are oil and water—I don’t know they’re necessarily different things. The circumstances may be ‘unreal’ but I can’t think of a reason why the people would be. There’s often a debate over what constitutes genre or literary fiction, but this distinction is new; well, I should say, modern. A lot of our greatest literature, Shakespeare for one, contains heavy elements of the fantastic. It’s in our blood.
Speaking of balancing the fantastic and the realistic, do you think fantasy should always say something about reality? Why or why not?
I don’t know that it has to, but if it doesn’t, I don’t know what value it holds. Fantasy or myth exists primarily to speak to the deeper aspects of our lives.
Kate’s sexuality was a key element of the story. As a man, what preparation, if any, went into writing a story with a lesbian as a protagonist?
Everyone has secrets, and growing up in small town Iowa and being ‘different’ is something I know a little bit about, but that being said, I don’t think it’s any more of a challenge to write about Kate than it is Tanya, for instance, who is attracted to a man.
What’s next for Darby Harn? Do you have any upcoming publications you would like to announce for your readers?
I do have a novel coming out, The Book of Elizabeth. A real brief description if you’ll indulge me: When Queen Elizabeth I is torn from her time into a world where history as we know it never happened, she turns to her faith to cope. Elizabeth transcribes the Bible from memory, as she did passages as a girl. In doing so, she opens a Pandora’s Box she never could have anticipated, and can never hope to contain.