Welcome to Fantasy Magazine! We’re so happy to bring your story “The Memory of Chemistry” to our readers. Can you tell us what inspired this story and how it came about?
Meche, the protagonist in “The Memory of Chemistry,” first appeared in my novel, Ink—an immigration dystopia originally issued in 2012 and reissued by Rosarium Publishing in 2018. Her character is, in fact, a reader favorite, and over the years a number of them have expressed interest in finding out what happened to her after the events of the book. I’ve always resisted writing a sequel, to be honest, because what follows dystopia is the unbelievably hard work of living.
But at a friend’s urging, I decided to write a prequel story focused on what made Meche who she was in the novel—a ferociously smart and self-possessed chemist who used her science as a form of resistance. Still (as she did while I was writing Ink) Meche wanted to take her story somewhere other than what I had first imagined. So I followed.
It turns out both Meche and I wanted to explore the emotional landscape of aging. How you cross a threshold after which, no matter how innovative or brilliant you are at your craft, no matter how deep your activism, no matter how rich the well of your experience—you will be defined, and invisibilized, by your age. So I set out to do the unpardonable to a favorite character: to let her get old and see her.
Chemistry is a very strong theme throughout this story, with sharp looks at how it can be a mechanism of art, freedom, and destruction. What led you to look at chemistry through this lens?
There’s always magic in my stories, and chemistry is magic. At one level, its processes demand as much ceremony and discipline, as much arcane knowledge, and the same kind of will and curiosity as the most complex imaginary magical system. At another level, it is a very ordinary form of magic—without barriers, and accessible to anyone who bakes, cooks, cleans. It is a science that appeals to me for this very reason—everyone can perform acts of chemical magic.
This story doesn’t shy away from politics, considering the emphasis it puts on revolution and change, and especially not the dark political clouds over the United States these days—and at the same time, the story deals with it in terms of anticipation or as memory. Was that your first choice during writing, or was it something that developed, or something else entirely?
In the process of writing, the story turned into both prequel and sequel, undoubtedly because I am—like Meche—an aging Latina in this country at this precise moment in history. We grapple with trauma. We fight in what ways we can for what we love. We grieve for what we’ve lost and for what cannot be reclaimed. We have long memories, in a society that insists on short ones.
And we live with our ghosts.
You tied the story tightly around insects. Beyond the clearer relations of luciferase and belief, where did the relationship between insects, chemistry, and this story manifest for you?
It started with bees, their uniquely transformative work and the astonishingly preservative nature of what results from that work. The other insects followed.
It’s always intrigued me that insects—creatures we rarely think about except when we are hellbent on exterminating them—are the repository of so much folk belief. They’re divine messengers, symbols of soul or scourge, portends of death and new beginnings. It’s no coincidence that, in our day and age, immigrants are represented by the monarch butterfly, which flies as far as 3,000 miles across the continental Americas to reach home.
Sadly, we have been less attentive to insects and the integral part they play in the wellbeing of our world than we should have been. According to reports, a third of all insect species are endangered. The total mass of insects has declined so precipitously that the data suggests they will vanish within a century, impacting the ecosystems in which they are essential—which is every ecosystem.
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?
One of my stories is upcoming in the anthology Dreams for a Broken World, edited by Julie C. Day and Ellen Meeropol. The anthology benefits the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which aids children in the U.S. whose parents are targeted progressive activists or who themselves have been targeted as a result of their progressive activities.
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