From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Puppet Strings: Rachel Swirsky

I realized that I wanted to examine the reason why people are drawn to stories about the coupling of gods and mortals. Of course, there are the originals from the myths — Zeus as a golden shower, a bull, or a swan, seducing mortal maidens. At the time I was writing this story, there had also recently been a call for submissions to an anthology about mortals sleeping with divinities. It’s a plotline that seems to have cultural and psychological attraction.

This week’s behind the story features Rachel Swirsky, author of Marrying the Sun. We asked her to tell us a bit about drawing on mythology when creating her story.


In 2006, as my friend Vylar Kaftan was planning her wedding, she kept having horrible visions. What if there was a storm? Or lightning struck the groom? Or she suffered spontaneous human combustion?

That summer, Vylar and I participated in the Clarion West Write-a-thon, a fundraiser for the workshop. Writers take pledges for marathon writing, much the same way that people take pledges for walk-a-thons. During the write-a-thon, Vylar organized an exchange in which several writers contributed first lines to stories they didn’t intend to write. I submitted “The trouble with claiming to be a shapeshifter is someone eventually expects you to prove it.” In exchange, I received the line Vylar had written: “The wedding went well until the bride caught fire.”

I’ve been fairly amused by the amount of praise that line has drawn in critique groups, since of course it’s the part of the story I didn’t write.

As I wrote this story and filled in the plot and characters, I realized that I wanted to examine the reason why people are drawn to stories about the coupling of gods and mortals. Of course, there are the originals from the myths — Zeus as a golden shower, a bull, or a swan, seducing mortal maidens. At the time I was writing this story, there had also recently been a call for submissions to an anthology about mortals sleeping with divinities. It’s a plotline that seems to have cultural and psychological attraction.

This story was also an experiment for me in terms of style. I wanted to write something straightforward and dialogue-driven with “transparent” prose. For me, this style naturally trends toward humor. I tried to mix elements of farce with some more somber emotions. Some of my early readers had problems with that mix, but I’m intrigued by tragicomic stories. At Clarion West, Connie Willis told us was that tragedy and comedy are identical events, told from different perspectives. I think it’s interesting to blend those perspectives.


Rachel is participating in this year’s Clarion West Write-a-thon (going on right now!). Check out her page and drop a pledge to spur her toward even greater experiments. For the next five days, she’ll answer any questions about Marrying the Sun, her inspiration, her other Fantasy story, and perhaps even her own wedding (which took place on Saturday). I have it on good authority that her dress did not catch on fire.

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