Sarah Monette’s first four novels were published by Ace Books. Her short stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, among other venues, and have been reprinted in several Year’s Best anthologies; a short story collection, The Bone Key, was published by Prime Books in 2007. She has written one novel (A Companion to Wolves, Tor Books, 2007) and three short stories with Elizabeth Bear, and hopes to write more. Visit her online at www.sarahmonette.com.
What can you tell us about the writing process involved in “After the Dragon?” Was this story a fully formed idea that came at you in a rush, or was it something that required an incubation period to become fully realized? “After the Dragon” is dedicated to Elise Mattheson. Would you like to tell your readers (who may not know of her) a little bit about this person and why your story is dedicated to her?
Elise Matthesen is an artist and metal-worker (and a good friend). She has a habit of naming the jewelry she makes, and her titles are so wonderful and evocative that they frequently inspire art in other forms. I’ve written several stories from Elise’s necklaces and earrings (including my first published and most reprinted story, “Three Letters from the Queen of Elfland”), as have many other science fiction and fantasy writers. This story is dedicated to her in thanks for both her friendship and her art and because she has taught me a lot, by example, about finding grace and joy in an imperfect and often hurtful world.
Elizabeth Bear and I have an odd sort of tag-team game going with Elise’s jewelry and dragons and stories. I wrote “Draco campestris” from a necklace of Elise’s; then Bear wrote “Orm the Beautiful,” which is in some ways and from odd angles a response to “Draco campestris,” as well as being inspired by another of Elise’s necklaces. “After the Dragon” is, in some ways and from odd angles, a response to “Orm the Beautiful,” and it is also a response to Elise’s sculptural necklace, “After the Dragon, She Learned to Love Her Body.” (Bear has written a fourth story in the sequence, “Snow Dragons,” and I have a pair of earrings called “Dragons of Earth and Sky” that are telling me there needs to be a fifth, so the game is still going on.)
So that’s where the dragon came from.
The other side of the story–Megan’s recovery from the dragon–comes from something I’ve realized recently is a theme in my work (and dude, you have no idea how weird it is to be saying that: “one of the principal thematic elements in Monette’s work is …”), namely what happens to heroes after they save the world. I wrote about that in “Straw,” and–from a different perspective–in “The Half-Sister” (which I just posted last week as part of Crossed Genres‘ Post A Story For Haiti fundraiser). And this story is about that, too. It is probably inspired, down at its roots, by being profoundly affected by Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, when I read it as a child, and now that I think about it, it’s also a response, because while Aeryn is nearly killed by the after-effects of slaying her dragon, she isn’t disfigured by it; in fact, if I remember correctly (and I may not, since it’s been years since I read the book) her suffering makes her beautiful in a sort of Hollywood consumptive way. So this is a story that attempts a moderate degree of realism about what might happen to you if you survived slaying a dragon. Also, like The Hero and the Crown, it’s about trying to reconcile being a hero with being a woman. Or, in Megan’s case, reconciling being a woman with being unable to perform the standard of femininity she’s been taught she has to achieve, about trying to find a definition of womanhood that has room for who she is, instead of who her mother wants her to be.
The story took a long time to germinate, and then several months to write, and it fought me every step of the way.
“They could not erase the dragon from her body, and she hated them for it.” What, exactly, is the “dragon” in this story?
The dragon is a dragon. I mean, sure, you can say that it symbolizes catastrophic life-changing tragedy (there’s a reason Megan’s friend Louise is specifically a breast cancer survivor), or you can say that it symbolizes the negative effects that industrialization has had on the planet–hence the references to Trinity and Pikinni Atoll–but really, it’s a dragon. In this particular story, I’ve constructed dragons to be the force of geology cranked up to a speed that human beings can perceive, like earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, only animate and predatory. Part of the fun in writing this story was in imagining the dragon and its effects on the beach.
At one point, the protagonist’s mother brings in a photograph of Megan as a teenager. “Her eighteen-year-old self smiled at her from the bedside table. Megan snarled back.” Why would Megan snarl?
Because she’s disfigured and maimed and full of hatred. Because her mother only wants that version of her daughter, not the real one. Because her eighteen-year-old self is full of innocence and self-confidence and Megan can remember being those things, but like the old joke says, you can’t get there from here.
After a vivid scene involving a mirror we are told that “After the dragon, she (Megan) tried things she’d never tried before.” This indicates that tragedy and loss may be a means to rebirth? Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?
I think “rebirth” is too strong a word. I think that surviving tragedy and loss is one of the most desperately important things we have to learn as human beings–how to pick up the pieces (those that remain) and keep going. And to be open to new experiences even after devastation, rather than closing yourself off. That’s what this story is about–not about rebirth, but about surviving in spirit as well as in body.
So, tell me, what’s next for Sarah Monette? Are there any upcoming publications you would like to mention?
My next novel, The Goblin Emperor, will be coming out from Tor under the name Katherine Addison. Once I’ve turned that in, I’m hoping to be able to write more short fiction, which I will continue to publish as Sarah Monette.