Welcome to Fantasy Magazine! We’re so happy to bring your story “One Day the Cave Will Be Empty” to our readers. Can you tell us what inspired this story and how it came about?
Thank you, I’m so delighted! I had the scene of a mother and a mermaid daughter pop into my brain a while ago. I set it aside for a few years, but when I started talking with my friends who were becoming new moms and hearing what the adjustment was like for them, the scene started bubbling up again. But it wasn’t until I took a writing class with Ploi Pirapokin, who encouraged us to follow your first idea, that I finally buckled up and banged out a working draft. By then, I think my brain had enough time to stew about postpartum mental health, how shame operates in East Asian communities, and how community support can be healing.
The concept of the story feels so rich to me. Is this particular expression of the mermaid-child original to you, or are you riffing off existing folktales? Either way, did folktales influence how you approached the story?
It’s funny because mermaids are popularly depicted as magically girlish, or seductive sirens. But I’ve always thought that evolutionarily, mermaids probably wouldn’t look like a traditionally beautiful woman. Like, can you imagine having long hair in the water while you’re swimming, or trying to hunt? It would be so inconvenient. I like to think that if mermaids were real, they would be apex predators instead. I imagined Pearl would fit the predator-build instead of the Little-Mermaid-build.
To me, this story was taut with the fear of being thrust into a situation that you’re completely unprepared for, and the cold indifference of reality as a whole. Were these the sort of emotions you hoped it would elicit?
For a woman like Li Shing, I empathized a lot with her fear and shame. I thought about how those emotions would limit her perception of other people and the world around her, and how that was part of the tragedy for Li Shing and this family.
Between Li Shing’s need to see Pearl as a monster and all the years she spent desperately trying to hide the truth only to find that nobody else shared her view at the end, I got a strong sense of metaphor—it would be easy to read Pearl as a stand-in for a queer person, for instance, in an unwelcoming family. Did you have that in mind while you put this together?
What I love about reading is how people can get different interpretations from stories, so I don’t want to be a party-pooper and take that away from anyone! But one of the other things I was definitely thinking about was Pearl’s life and her inner world, and how those were fully realized and running parallel to Li Shing’s even though we never get narrative insight into Pearl’s. Sometimes I imagined writing a draft from Pearl’s perspective and seeing how that would change the story.
Is there anything you’re working on now that you’d like to talk about? What can our readers look forward to seeing from you in the future?
Right now, I’m working on drafts of speculative short stories about Asian-American experiences. Hopefully, I can find homes for them in the future!
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