From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Those Inexplicable Weirdnesses: Sarah Totton

In this Author Spotlight, we ask Sarah Totton to tell us a little bit about her story for Fantasy Magazine, “Malleus, Incus, Stapes.”

First and foremost, what inspired “Malleus, Incus, Stapes”?

I read a short story called “A View from a Hill” by M.R. James. It featured a set of binoculars that allowed people to look back in time through a dead man’s eyes. I decided to use the same idea, but with a twist—an object that allowed people to listen to the past through a dead man’s ear.

I saw on your website that you are veterinarian by trade. How does this fact inform your writing? Specifically, what impact might it have had on this story?

Practically none, actually. I acquired a basic knowledge of anatomy through a couple of courses I took in university. Apart from the anatomical detail about the bones, the story wasn’t influenced by my scientific or medical training.

Out of all the bones you could pick for a story about “bone magic,” why did you choose the tiny bones of the inner ear?

It always struck me as such a bizarre coincidence that a tiny bone in the ear that’s involved in the conduction of sound could look exactly like a stirrup (the Stapes of the title), something that was made by humans for a completely different purpose. I’m always attracted to those inexplicable weirdnesses that crop up in natural history from time to time. The anatomy of ear is full of such fantastical terms besides: the oval window, the semi-circular canals, the tympanic membrane. It all sounds like something out of Mervyn Peake novel.

What was the significance of the boat and the tiny animal sculptures it contained? Why did it have to sink?

The ark of animals wasn’t planned and wasn’t (at least consciously) symbolic of anything. Things that float and then sink (or sink and then float) have always held a fascination for me. What changes inside those things to make them sink or float? It’s one of those real-life things that feels fantastical. It was the sort of detail that felt right for this particular story.

So, what’s next for Sarah Totton? Are there any upcoming publications your readers can look forward to?

I’m currently revising a novel. Unfortunately I’m not one of those lucky authors who can write short stories and novels at the same time. It might be a while before my next story (or book) comes out.

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.