Welcome to Fantasy Magazine! We’re so happy to be able to bring your story, “Beginnings,” to our readers. So, why bees and horseflies?
Thank you! I’m so glad to see it flying out into the world. The bees and horseflies I borrowed from Pushkin’s “The Tale of Tsar Saltan,” one of the first fairy tales I remember hearing as a child. In keeping with the pattern of threes found in lots of fairy tales, it actually features three insects: a bumblebee, a horsefly, and a mosquito. But mosquitoes have always had it out for me—when I was little my mom liked to say my blood was too sweet—so I try to avoid invoking them, even in stories.
Since this story is called “Beginnings,” we have to ask how the story got started—what was the initial spark? Did it start with the idea of a character being turned into a swarm of bees or did it begin elsewhere?
This story started with an idea I had for a structure: a twist on the fairy tale’s “Once upon a time.” I was interested in focusing on beginnings at the expense of endings, since traditional fairy tales, and specifically their endings, tend not to be very kind to their women characters—they’re banished into the woods, locked away at the tops of towers, and worse. I think a lot about fairy tales: who gets to live inside them and who can only wish to; how they help us to survive, and when they no longer serve us, what parts of them we can leave behind. With this story in particular, I wondered whether a prolonging of a character’s beginning could act as a refusal of their ending, and whether refusing their ending could be a way to save them.
While it’s not stated outright, I got the sense that Nat and June are not just best friends, but maybe in love with each other—and that the king, at least, thinks they’re in a queer relationship. If that’s how I’m reading it, then the line “it’s supposed to be a simple wave-it-in-their-faces, scare-’em-straight situation” has what feels like a more sinister vibe than its more common, face-value meaning. Is that interpretation what you intended?
Yes, I’m glad that came through. June and Nat love each other. They’re in love with each other. They’re best friends, of course, and at the same time they’re still figuring out everything else they might be. They have all the joy in the world ahead of them, all the possibility. Only they live in a town that’s hostile to that joy. I think many of us know those kinds of towns, grew up in them ourselves. They have a way of suffocating a flame that could burn long and bright. A way of crushing the bulb of a flower before it blooms.
Was this a difficult story to write, or did it come fairly easily?
It came quickly, at least. I wrote it in a single sitting. I’m not sure I can say it came easily. I had to mentally revisit the places I grew up, how claustrophobic they felt and how very unkind they were to queer kids. (One of them inspired the small American hunting town June and Nat find themselves in.) That was a long time ago, and there are still those places today, still those so-called kings intent on breaking into a million pieces those things they don’t understand. Queer kids should be able to grow up feeling safe and protected and loved and whole. A lot of writing “Beginnings” felt like screaming into that unfairness. In the world of a story, the writer can make the artistic decision to reject people’s unhappy endings and to dwell instead on the promise of their beginnings. That’s all well and good in stories. But in our world outside of stories, we’re going to have to do a lot better than that.
What are you working on now, and are there any other projects we can look forward to seeing from you in the future?
I just finished my first collection of short stories, and am currently at work on my second. I have something coming out soon in Lightspeed—“The Queen of the Earless Seals of Lake Baikal”—that I’m really excited for folks to read. It’s another tale of survival that has fun with structure, magical animals, and elements of fairy tale, this time with invented myth and a setting that’s very dear to me. Best read after an image search for “cute baikal seals.”
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