From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

What Our Reflections Say: Angela Slatter

Angela Slatter is a Brisbane, Australia, writer of speculative fiction. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies such as Jack Dann’s Dreaming Again, Tartarus Press’ Strange Tales II, Twelfth Planet Press’ 2012, Dirk Flinthart’s Canterbury 2100, and in journals such as Lady Churchill’s Rosebud WristletShimmerOn Spec, and Doorways Magazine. Her work has had Honorable Mentions in the Datlow, Link, Grant Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies #20 and #21; and two of her stories have been shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards in the Best Fantasy Short Story category. She is a graduate of both Clarion South and Tin House, and blogs at angelaslatter.wordpress.com.

What was your inspiration for “The Chrysanthemum Bride?

I read about two men in a remote part of China who had been murdering prostitutes and selling them as brides for afterlife marriage to families who’d lost unmarried sons. The idea was so weird and so grotesque and so strangely juxtaposed in modern society that it stuck in my bowerbird brain. I couldn’t get the story to shift onto the page, though, until a few months later when I was on a visit to Sydney and went to an art gallery and saw the quote that appears at the beginning of the story. I saw that and everything fell into place – I could see the main character and the setting and everything. I actually scribbled the story during a Billy Crystal performance at the Princess Theatre!

Where did you come across the quote for the beginning of the story?

Ah! Answered above. The exhibition was one of art from Imperial China, with beautiful silk paintings and porcelain pieces.

How interested are you in Chinese culture in general? Who are your favorite Chinese authors/authors who write about China?

It’s not my area. The story idea just appealed to me. I do like Chinese mythology, but then I like pretty much all mythology. I find the period when empresses managed to take the throne in China quite fascinating, because women like Empress Wu and the Dowager Cixi were so extraordinary. I don’t see myself writing in it too much more – it’s an incredibly complex cultural history and I don’t think a knowledge of the area as shallow as mine would do justice to the period! My friend Aliette de Bodard is probably the main person who works in this field whose work I read regularly. She’s very, very knowledgeable as well as an awesome writer.

Would you please talk a little bit more about the bronze mirror that shows up in “The Chrysanthemum Bride?” Is that something you invented or does it have a basis in Chinese mythology/culture?

Mirrors are a motif in a lot of cultures – they used to be made of bronze in China, Ancient Greece, Egypt, etc, before people worked out how to make ones using mercury and glass. I have a story in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet called “The Girl with No Hands,” in which the Devil uses mirrors to look out onto the world. The mirror is such a symbol of female beauty and vanity, and I liked the idea that it was something inherited and maybe it carried some of its past with it. There’s also the idea that your reflection might be caught in a reflective surface and I thought it appropriate that a soul not at peace might end up trapped there. It’s also about what our reflections tell us about ourselves, what we want to see in the mirror and I guess it also harks back to the idea of the legend of Narcissus. When I write something like the mirror, I don’t necessarily know how I’ll use it later in the story, but when I got to the end I just knew how it should appear in the last scene.

Where did you do the research for the Chinese cultural practices in the story (foot-binding, undertaking, etc.)? Do you have any favorite non-fiction sources that might be fun reads for those interested in reading up on the subject?

For what I regard as my “first level” research, I go to the internet. I read a lot there and take notes of things that interest me. Then I go to ‘second level’ research, which involves going to actual books to check facts – because let’s face it, fun as the internet is, it’s not necessarily a reliable academic source for knowledge. I did buy a book from the UK, Burkhardt’s Chinese Creeds and Customs. I admit straight up that I couldn’t work out Chinese naming rules, so the names are pure fantasy on my part – but I figure it’s a fantasy story, when you start writing, fact is your jumping-off point. Anything after that is free rein.

What’s next for you? Do you have any forthcoming projects?

I’m finishing a short story collection (Sourdough and Other Stories), I have a novel, Well of Souls, that I’ll spend 2010 doing a major rewrite on. And there’s another novel called Finbar’s Mother that’s sitting in the back of my head. And I need to finish my PhD.

horn girl for cardMolly Tanzer earned her degree of Artium Baccalaureus in Art History from Rollins College in 2004, and she recently completed her Master’s in Humanities at Florida State University. Her non-fiction has appeared in Herbivore Magazine, and her interviews with Garth Nix and Jesse Bullington have appeared on the Fantasy Magazine site. She is an aspiring genre author, an occasional if out-of-pracitice translator of ancient Greek, and an avid Anglophile who is not necessarily a huge fan of Shakespeare. Visit her at her blog, paper fruit.

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