From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Stories Are How We Define Ourselves : Elena Gleason

Do you recall what inspired “Whisper’s Voice?” Where did this story come from?

Tales of my story inspirations are almost uniformly quite mundane and un-profound, so prepare yourself to be underwhelmed: One day, out of the blue, I thought, “What if whispers were some sort of creature?” And I made a note. (My computer and various notebooks and pads of paper are full of little snippets of ideas like “whisper-creatures” and “eating rainbows” and so on.) Then, that night as I turned the idea over in my head while I tried to fall asleep, the image came to me of all these whispers rushing through the ruins of a castle for some sort of whisper convention. And I dragged myself out of bed to jot down a very rough version of what became the first scene of the story.

One of the things I liked best about “Whisper’s Voice” was how you managed to give an intangible whisper such personality. What steps did you take to characterize the whisper in your story?

It was a huge challenge to write a character without a voice of its own, especially since dialogue is one of the things that comes easiest to me. I also tend to rely heavily on overused body language actions (damn you, raised eyebrows!), so it was a good exercise for me to write a character who had no eyebrows to raise. I had to pay much more attention to feelings and movement, and I was careful to always consider where the whisper was, what it was doing, and what it would be feeling in a given scene. Oddly enough, I think it actually helped that the whisper was essentially a non-entity prior to its meeting the boy and encountering his story. So the whisper was at first characterized more or less solely by its avid curiosity about the boy’s story, which meant I didn’t have to bring in the usual amount of back story, emotional baggage, and pre-established quirks that accompany most characters. So the whisper’s character was formed within the bounds of the story, allowing me to identify exactly what elements entered into its personality makeup.

In the story, the whisper declares “I want a story.” In another touching scene, the boy asks his mother “Will you tell me a story?” The children in the schoolyard yearn for a story. In your opinion, why? What is it about stories that give them such value?

I think that stories are how we define ourselves. Every time we hear or read a story, whether it’s fiction or a news story or an anecdote or a tale about our ancestors, we can’t help but imagine ourselves in as participants in the story. We imagine how we would feel and what we would do. And we furthermore think about what an ideal actor would do. Did the primary actor of the story react in the right way? What is the right way? Is it the same as or different from how we would act in the same situation? To a certain extent, our personalities are the result of a lifetime’s worth of imagining ourselves as participants in the stories we’ve heard or read, and comparing ourselves against the story’s actual actor and an ideal actor.

By the time we’re grown up, most of us have assembled in our minds some sort of ideal character to emulate. So for kids, stories are a way for them to discover their own ideal character against which to measure themselves. In “Whisper’s Voice,” the boy and the whisper use the boy’s story to create for themselves a model character who can guide them in their actions.

“The whispers can scour the world for its secrets, putting them all in one place and pushing them this way and that, but rather than becoming more clear over time, it only becomes more complex.” Is this representative of your own personal worldview? If so, why do you think this is?

I do think that understanding of the world (and life, the universe, and everything), which is what the whispers were aiming for (a bit obtusely), is akin to working on a marvelous jigsaw puzzle that we will never finish. Sometimes we hook pieces together and feel a little bit closer to the whole picture. Sometimes we just shuffle things around with no result. Sometimes we feel so frustrated at not being able to find a specific piece that we just want to mess it all up again. And sometimes we realize that some pieces we’d put together didn’t actually fit after all. But I don’t think working on the puzzle is futile. I quite like jigsaw puzzles, even when they’re frustrating and there’s no end in sight. (Are you tired of my utterly unoriginal metaphor yet?) What it comes down to is that true understanding of the world is something we’ll never achieve, but trying sure does make life interesting, and it’s worth it for those “aha!” moments when we learn something new about how everything works.

So, what’s next for Elena Gleason? Do your readers have any upcoming publications to look forward to you would like to mention?

Well, recently my energies have been somewhat diverted from writing by grad school, so first on the “what’s next?” list is to finish the semester so I can buckle down and get some writing and revising done over the summer. Ideas are always cropping up (typically when I’m at my busiest and can’t follow through on them, of course), and there are plenty of stories sitting on my hard drive in various stages of completion and revision. I have my fingers crossed for a productive summer. So I guess my answer is to keep an eye out for more from me next year.

T.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.