From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Vaguely Elemental: E. Catherine Tobler

I found the title, “Liminal”, to be evocative. Would you care to explain the meaning of this word and how you decided on this as a title?

The meaning of the word, as I’ve found it, is that it is the state where a thing is neither here nor there, it’s a place of limbo, an in-between; not wholly dark or wholly light. It ties to the Latin for “threshold,” which very much fit the place in which my main character finds herself. She is no longer what she was (human). She is crossing over to become something else. Titles don’t always come easily; this story went through several jumbles of words, before I discovered it needed only one.

The scent of metal is a recurring image throughout this story. Why is that?

The story began with the small idea that three sisters would each have a different ability when it came to discovering parts of their world. The world I chose to place them in was one of mountains and silver mining. Thus, I focused on the senses for them. One sister could taste metal, another could hear it, while the third could smell it. As the main character is no longer grounded in this physical world, I still wanted her to have something vaguely elemental to hold on to.

Trains are central to this story. In fact, we are told about a train in the very first line: “I was already dead when the train came. . .” What, in your opinion, is it about trains that make them a source of such enduring fascination?

Much of what I write has a historical bent to it. In those years, I think trains were a source of freedom. Being able to reach parts of the country/world you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Trains are about opportunity, possibility, and (in the timeframe I’ve used them) new technology.

This story also revolves around freak shows and the travelling circus. What do you think it is about the circus that makes it such an ideal setting for fiction, especially American fiction?

For me, the circus is much like the train: it’s about possibility. The circus is a place of magic, much like the stage of a theater, where anything can happen. It’s also a place where anyone, regardless of their appearance or beliefs can be welcomed, accepted, made part of a family. In fact, the strange and unconventional are often valued in these places as they are nowhere else. I come back to Shel Silverstein often: “If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean-buyer. If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire, for we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!” The circus, to me, is America.

So, what’s next for E. Catherine Tobler? Are there any upcoming publications you would like to let your readers know about?

I have a story forthcoming this spring from Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and continue to work on other stories of the traveling circus. I am also currently working on a novel–but everyone says that in November, don’t they? For the latest doings, readers are welcome to visit my website, where, much like the circus, things are always changing and full of possibility.

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.