Welcome to Fantasy Magazine! We’re so pleased to run your beautiful story, “A Gift From the Queen of Faerie to the King of Hell” in this month’s issue. Can you tell us how this story came about?
The idea for this story came all in a rush during a conversation with a friend of mine about fairies. We were talking about the Seelie and Unseelie courts and connecting those with different parts of the queer community. I had the idea of the courts having their showdowns in the manner of drag balls, ala Paris is Burning. It felt like such a natural and obvious idea, fitting in with other worlds that I love, like LA as described by Francesca Lia Block, and capturing the heightened, otherworldly sense that is necessary to make you feel like faerie is real. But I also knew that queerness is an essentially human thing. Fairies are outside human standards, and our boundaries don’t exist for them. This is why I latched onto the tale of Tam Lin as the basic structure for the story—one human who has traded their humanity to be the pet of the Faerie Queen, and one human who is strong enough to hold onto them until they can find their way back.
Tattoos are so personal; even ink that a person might get on a whim says something about who they were in that moment. Why flowers for these two characters, and why those flowers in particular?
The story began with roses as a reference to the ballad of Tam Lin, and then they just kept weaving through the piece. There’s a lot about identity in this story—when fairies steal your name, what does that mean?—and tattoos are a way to tie yourself to yourself, to mark your sense of yourself and your history on your skin. Flowers also felt right for these characters; flowers are the rock stars of nature—flamboyant, dramatic, and unexpected, which was the vibe I wanted for the world of faerie they inhabited—a punk rock version of the natural world. Flowers are also incredibly genderqueer. The specific ones described: roses, tiger lilies, wisteria, all have beauty and delicacy, but also connote power and violence. Wisteria can rip the roof off your house!
Gender-coded names and pronouns are fluid in this piece. Is that a thread that runs through your body of work, and is it directly tied to your expertise as a linguist?
Gender is definitely a preoccupation of mine, both personally and in my fiction, and shows up in quite a lot of my work. As a linguist, I can know that pronouns are entirely arbitrary and therefore meaningless, and, at the same time know that the act of naming, of using words, has concrete consequential effects in the world. Perhaps the fact that my area of study was Welsh makes it obvious that I’ve always felt faeries were a ripe place for interrogating this seeming contradiction. Stealing your name—something faeries are wont to do—is a strange thing to think about when you have experience feeling discomfort with your name, or being deadnamed. ‘Take it, I don’t want it,” you might say. The move to assert your own name and your own pronouns marks a shift from naming being something society does to you to it being something you choose for yourself. I wanted to show this as something that makes queer people who claim the ability to name themselves strong in a way that can defeat the clutches of fairies.
Who—and what—are the strongest influences on your writing? Do you find story inspiration in media other than literature?
I am definitely a magpie when it comes to inspiration. Anything I read or see becomes fair game, and intertextuality has always excited me, ever since I read Ovid’s Heroides way back in undergrad. My influences are wildly disparate, from early poetry and drama, to children’s books, to comics, and queer romance. I’m always striving to learn from writers I admire, and I’m also very motivated by the act of resistance—of reclaiming or subverting texts in a way to make them a joyful or triumphant queer space.
What are you working on now, and what can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
Right now I’m trying to finish my MFA thesis, a speculative novel about archaeology, gods, intellectual colonialism and who forbids forbidden knowledge. It’s set in the same world as my story “Concerto for Winds and Resistance,” recently published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. I’m also hoping to get back to writing about faerie again soon, specifically reality TV cooking competitions in faerie. Keep up with what I have coming out at caradigirolamo.com.
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