“The Woman With No Face” features such a complex protagonist in Ankuin. Tell us how this story came about.
Thank you for your thoughtful questions. I wrote the first draft freshly unemployed and on the heels of a bad breakup. I wrote the second draft as the pandemic hit the United States, and I entered what is now (at the time of writing) a year of isolation. And I polished the final draft as nightly waves of police brutality seized my city. So, I was definitely in a safe and happy headspace! Writing this story was cathartic.
With Ankuin I wanted a protagonist who was intelligent, powerful, and savvy. I wanted the reader to find pleasure in watching her work, as she outmaneuvered an enemy who ostensibly had every advantage. Sure, Ankuin raises ethical questions, but her story is so heartbreaking and her revenge so intoxicating that those questions don’t really land until the story is over. Writing Ankuin was fun, and I hope reading her is, too.
When Ankuin notices the trail of lights on her mother’s arms, there’s a moment where she gets a warning—the air crackling, the pain—but she charges ahead anyway. Is this simple curiosity or something else?
A key aspect of Ankuin’s personality is her eagerness to belong. She wants to know her mother so badly and be a full member of her community so much that she ignores the warning signs and charges ahead, toward her mother. She wants acceptance and closeness. She wants to be respected as an adult. And in the moment when she is about to receive her dearest wish, she loses everything. Ankuin is a tragic character, and every step she takes after this moment is a reaction to it.
One of the things that struck me about this story was the underlying theme of how people often react negatively to things they don’t understand. What are you trying to convey with regards to the villagers’ condemnation after Ankuin’s mother’s death and its impact on who Ankuin ultimately becomes?
The villagers aren’t ignorant, but they are scared. And they don’t consider themselves cruel; after all, they want Ankuin to be healed. But, ultimately, they inflict cruelty on this child by banishing her from the only life she knows when she is at her most vulnerable. And when presented with other opportunities to make this right, such as when Ankuin emerges from the cave in the sergeant’s body, they continue to fear and mistrust her. And Ankuin continues to seek validation while shielding herself with stubbornness.
I think there’s a lesson here about people who make snap decisions out of fear and double down on those decisions out of pride. The villagers do this to Ankuin, by banishing her to the cave and refusing to ever fully trust her. Ankuin does this to Jingula, by fearing their judgment and continuing to isolate herself on a lonely road. And Jingula judges and fears Ankuin, never truly letting down their guard. But they also love her; and that love is not in vain. It’s admirable to counter fear with love. Ankuin will feel Jingula’s absence greatly.
This could be a villain’s origin story. This could be what sets Ankuin on a dark path; and if she takes down Horizon Syndicate, she then replaces it as the new evil on her world. But that’s only one possible outcome. Being hurt doesn’t destine you to hurt others.
When Ankuin’s village is raided, she kills all of the soldiers, frees and spares the survivors despite their mistreatment of her. Why does Ankuin make this decision?
In some ways, Ankuin’s imprisonment in the cave forced her to mature fast, but in other ways she’s stunted. When she spares the survivors, she is still partly that child who yearns for acceptance and validation from her community. Ankuin never stopped feeling guilty over her mother’s death and has spent years trying to find a reason for it. She wants to prove that she is a good person.
In this scene, Ankuin is reinventing herself. She is designating herself a protector, a leader, someone her village needs instead of someone the village cast away. She cloaks it all in bravado and confidence, because she has learned how to survive. But she wants to be welcomed back home. She will never stop trying to make up for what she has done, however petulant and misguided her actions. She wants to be a hero.
What are you working on now, and what can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
“The Woman With No Face” is my first pro market sale, and I’m thrilled that it’s found a home at Fantasy Magazine. I have a soft, second world fantasy romance on submission, and I’m polishing a horror story that I hope disturbs an editor as much as it disturbed my first readers. There’s also a queer space opera knocking around my head that might become a novella. I enjoy the flexibility of short fiction and have quite a few stories in my backlog to polish and send out.
My main writing goal for this year is to attend at least one industry conference (virtually). It’s a community I’ve been hesitant to step into, due to my own insecurities, but I look forward to making friends. I’m also on Twitter (@alicegoldfuss), where I’ve amassed a good deal of anxious lighthouse keeper energy. Sometimes I live-tweet DS9.
Spread the word!