Welcome to Fantasy Magazine! We’re so pleased to run your beautiful and tragic story, “Your Ticket to Hell” in this month’s issue. This one is truly a heart-breaker–can you tell us how this story came about?
The initial idea came from a trip to Ireland that I took with my partner a few years back. We’d planned a day trip to the Aran islands, but on the day the weather was gray and wet, with a rain that alternated between the kind that stings your face, and the kind that soaks into you no matter how wrapped up you are. The queue to wait for the ferry that morning was a miserable sight. When the ferry arrived, most everyone took shelter in the inside seating, but then, as the ferry departed, the waves got crazy and the whole ferry rocked violently. One by one, people all around us ran out to the deck to be sick, escorted by the ferry’s crew. I think that was when the “Ferry to Hell” idea first emerged. Later, on one of the islands, we wandered for a bit. At the top of a hill, I looked down on the island below us and the many stone pasture walls looked like the walls of an immense labyrinth. Those images stuck in my mind long after we returned home. They became the premise of the story, its shell, but the meat of it, the emotional center, was taken from my personal life. I like to take events that actually happened, to me or others, then alter them slightly. I find that for me, the writer, it lends them a kind of truth, while also giving them a separate fictional life.
Your use of second-person in this piece was really effective, I think because there really is something universal about the kind of suffering your character is experiencing that we can all identify with, so being addressed as “you” throughout felt natural in a way that it often doesn’t. It feels like a deeply personal piece, but just as personal to the reader. Did the narrative naturally begin that way? Was there a specific goal in the reader experience that made that the right tool for the job?
I’ve experimented with second-person narration before, but always as part of a story (interspersed with third-person, for example) and not the whole. I’m not sure what led me to it here, but it just felt right from the start. It’s always a concern that the experience you’re trying to convey won’t translate, and the reader won’t connect with it, like you referenced, but I’d hoped there was something universal about the subject matter to help bridge the gap. And even if specific events don’t resonate with a reader, the hope is that the emotional content does. That’s always the trick of it all; as a writer, even if you feel like you captured the feeling you were hoping to capture, it’s not a guarantee that the story will evoke that same feeling in a reader. That said, I don’t need the reader to feel exactly what I felt writing it, but I do want them to feel something.
The truly tragic thing is that mercy is what leads your characters to make the decision that they do, but it’s that decision that haunts them both. Tellingly, though, the protagonist’s mother isn’t there—which is the one thing that would have made their pain even worse. What can we take from that, both about their decision, and what might be the opposite of this Hell they’ve consigned themselves to, where she might be found?
I think there are different ways to look at it. I think if you accept the reality that this is a true Hell, then you’d probably logically assume there would be a Heaven and that that’s where the mother went. Or if not Heaven, then maybe some kind of rest. If Hell is eternal toil and drudgery, then maybe Heaven is peace and contentment, even for just a moment. Of course, if she went to Heaven, does that portray the “crime” of the story in a different light? I’m not sure. Another way to look at it is that when someone you love dies, and you’re left behind, you do live in a kind of Hell for a time. When it comes to serious illness, I think we often find some relief knowing that the person who died has escaped their hell, that their pain and suffering has stopped. But the pain and suffering of those grieving them is only just starting.
Like any number of Gen-Xers, I have a tattoo of the key to Hell from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: Season of Mists, the theme of which was that Hell is often of our own making, but importantly, “We don’t have to stay anywhere forever.” That ticket out of Hell is in your character’s pocket. What would it take for them to use it, and what would it look like if they did?
I think it’s possible that the protagonist of this story would use the ticket. At some point. At the time of the story, at that point in their journey, they haven’t come to terms with what’s happened. And it’s possible they never will. I don’t think grief ever truly goes away, but it does change over time. Guilt, however, is something that can be overcome, sometimes by forgiving yourself. I’d like to believe that, with time, that ticket would be used, and the protagonist would emerge from Hell a little wiser. I’d like to believe that will happen for all of us. I guess it’s the optimist in me.
What are you working on now, and what can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
After a bit of a break from writing, I’ve come back with a renewed enthusiasm. I have a story forthcoming in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and I’m working on several other stories that will hopefully see the light of day soon.
Spread the word!