From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Flying Off Into the Unknown: Eilis O’Neal

Eilis O’Neal lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is Managing Editor of Nimrod International Journal. Her YA fantasy novel,The False Princess, is forthcoming from Egmont USA in July 2010. Her short fantasy has appeared or is forthcoming inFantasy MagazineLady Churchill’s Rosebud WristletAndromeda Spaceways Inflight MagazineZahir: A Journal of Speculative FictionInterfictions II Online Anthology, and others. She can be found online at www.eilisoneal.com.

What was the inspiration behind “The Wing Collection?”

I write two kinds of short stories. The first are stories that appear almost fully formed, then take me by the scruff of the neck and shake me, screaming, “Write me now!” I really like those, because they tend to be a bit easier to write. (The first story I published with Fantasy Magazine, “Swan,” was one of those.) The second kind are stories in which one really cool image or idea floats into my head, but all alone, without the actual story around it. I’ll have those ideas sort of haunting me for months or years, and every now and then I’ll get a flash of something that helps flesh the original idea out.

That’s how it was for “The Wing Collection.” I got this mental picture of cases and cases of wings without any bodies, but I didn’t know where they were, or why they were there, or who had arranged them. I tinkered with the concept for probably a year, but it wasn’t until I heard Emily’s voice in my head that I really understood where the story was going.

How relevant was the Icarus myth to your story? Besides the obvious (both involve characters with wings), what is the relevance of this particular myth?

Both Jeffrey and Icarus plan to use their wings for escape. But I think that neither of them really understands the full implications of their flights. They’re literally flying off into the unknown, and without perhaps being as prepared as they need to be.

The wings themselves make for fascinating images. How did you decide which species to mention when discussing the wings themselves? Is there any particular meaning behind the species chosen for the purpose of your story?

Some of the wings are just there to demonstrate the extent of Mr. Theodus’s collection. But some of them were chosen with certain themes or meanings behind them. For instance, I chose the brown pelican wings as the wings that finally push Jeffrey to steal from Mr. Theodus not only because they might be large enough to (magically) carry a boy, but because I wanted wings that would be easily identified with a particular region, one that Jeffrey feels a real need to go to. Also, the brown pelican was still on the endangered species list when I wrote the story, and I liked the precariousness of their situation, which reminded me of Jeffrey’s. Another example would be when Emily turns her nose up at the pelican wings, saying that she likes the swan wings better. Though certainly not stupid, Emily’s a little more of a surface person than Jeffrey, so it makes sense that she would like the obviously grand swan wings better than the more obscure brown pelican wings.

The collector’s name, Theodus, is very evocative. How did you choose his name? Does it have any significance?

His name was not an easy one. But I knew when I was creating Mr. Theodus that he was contradictory. Nice in some ways, but vaguely sinister and outright creepy in others. So I wanted a name that captured that ambiguity. I decided on Theodus because it has the soft, soothing sounds of “Theo” and then the abrupt, harder ending of “dus.” Also, it sounds a little antiquated to my ear, which ties into the Icarus myth and also to the fact that I’m really not sure how long Mr. Theodus has been alive.

Jeffrey is described as a very bookish character. Why do you think he spends so much time in his books?

Jeffrey’s a lot more like me when I was a kid than Emily is. And I read constantly as a middle schooler. Though I still take a book with me almost everywhere I go, I think I read for different reasons as a child than I do now. And a large part of that was escape—particularly from the seriously hard time I was having in middle school. I think Jeffrey reads for the same reason. He wants to get away from the life he’s really leading in any way he can.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. So tell me, what’s next for Eilis O’Neal? Do you have any upcoming publications or projects you would like to mention?

I’m really excited to say that my first novel, The False Princess, will be published in July by Egmont USA. The False Princess is a YA fantasy novel about a girl who has grown up believing that she’s the princess of a country, only to be told at the age of sixteen that she isn’t. She’s been a stand-in for the real princess, who had been hidden away as a child to escape a threat of death. Now, though, the threat has passed, and Sinda is basically booted out of the palace to make her own way, and discover who she is when the only identity she’s ever known is taken from her. I suppose you could say it’s a reversal of the more traditional commoner-turned-princess tale.

In short fantasy, I’m also happy have another story to come with Fantasy Magazine, and one with Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet.

TJ_HeadshotT.J. McIntyre has seen his short fiction and poetry published in numerous publications including recent appearances in Everyday Weirdness, Ruthless Peoples Magazine, and Scifaikuest. He is a member of various writing organizations, including the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA), and serves as a moderator for the Lobo Luna and Western Writers writing communities on LiveJournal. Until earlier this year, he published Southern Fried Weirdness, an anthology and web zine celebrating speculative fiction and poetry with a Southern perspective. He lives in a busy household in the muggy heart of rural Alabama with his wife, two young sons, an aging Doberman mix, five tiger barbs, and three salt-and-pepper catfish.

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