From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Humanizing Myths: Nadia Bulkin

Nadia Bulkin is a recent college graduate looking for a life path in Lincoln, Nebraska. She majored in political science but loves the outdoors and is hoping to devote more of her life to writing in the future. Her story “Intertropical Convergence Zone,” published in ChiZine, was nominated for a 2009 Shirley Jackson award and this week Fantasy Magazine is running her short story, “Lake Tahoe’s Lover.” Visit her at nadiabulkin.wordpress.com. 
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In “Lake Tahoe’s Lover,” the protagonist, Els, is chosen by the lake as its partner:

. . . Els momentarily stepped in and out of the water and the lake felt her feet and the roundness of her toes that he drew up to surround her, embrace her, engulf her completely.

The lake’s tenderness, and yet acute desire for Els, quickly turns to something of a haunting quality, an obsession. What was the impetus for this tale, the desired resonance?

There’s a webcomic called “Married to the Sea,” and the phrase got stuck in my head one day when I was walking back from the grocery store along the Hudson River (I went to college in New York City). There was a certain ancient, mythological, allegorical feel to the whole “married to the sea” idea, and I wondered how it would translate to a more contemporary setting, i.e., “what would really happen” if this was a real custom. I think there’s a lot to be said for humanizing myths.

The narrator describes salmon and trout as taking residence within the lake. As these are usually found in streams, and I’ve done some fly fishing myself, I found this choice interesting. Could you speak on the significance of these fish within the lake?

Actually, there are trout and salmon in Lake Tahoe — at least according to the fishing guides! There’s a lot of different trout species (Lake Trout, Rainbow Trout, Cutthroat Trout) and Kokanee Salmon. I try to be careful about those kinds of details. It makes the story feel more real to me. However, there was no particular reason I chose to mention trout and salmon, except to add some biological texture.

Lake Tahoe’s Lover” echoes strains of creation myth. Do you have a favorite, classic creation myth? Could you tell us what draws you to this particular story structure?

Ooh, tough question. I do agree that there’s a creation myth feel to this story, but it’s not a genre I know very well. When I think of creation myths I tend to think of the Pacific-type explanations — some interaction between land/sea and sky leading to the rise of people, which of course makes sense for island cultures.

As a political science major, how did you come to speculative literature as a reader and writer?

I grew up in Indonesia, which is really big on paranormal phenomena — and is a political science goldmine too, incidentally. They intersect a lot. Around the time a new president was elected in 2005 there was a major plane crash, and it was taken as a bad omen about his presidency instead of a sign that the airline industry needed more regulation. Besides, political science is ultimately about people, power, and extreme situations. It’s totally ripe for speculative fiction.

Could you tell us a little about “Intertropical Convergence Zone” and your experience as a Shirley Jackson award nominee?

“Intertropical Convergence Zone” is about the Suharto Era in Indonesia, and the compromises people were forced to make in the name of national security and moral decency. Being nominated for a Shirley Jackson award was a total shock, and is such an honor. I’m very happy that people have responded to the story — I’m glad I was able to share a little bit of the emotional turmoil that accompanied that period.

 

Rae Bryant is a short story author, poet, columnist, assistant editor for Fantasy Magazine, on staff with Weird Tales, and a reviewer for The Fix. She is a 2008 recipient of the Whidbey Writers’ Prize and editor nominated for StorySouth‘s Million Writers Award. Her works have appeared or will soon be appearing in Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales, Whidbey Writers MFA Zine, Literary Traveler, and Southern Fried Weirdness, among others. Rae is currently a graduate student at Johns Hopkins finishing an M.A. in Writing. She lives in a little valley just outside Washington D.C. Read more about Rae at Raebryant.com.

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