Welcome to Fantasy Magazine! We’re so happy to be able to bring your story “Potemora in the Triad” to our readers. Can you tell us what inspired this story and how it came to be?
Thank you so much! This story has several influences that were percolating in my head before I began to write. This will be a long answer!
First, the emotional core of the story was inspired by a conversation I had with my younger brother. He asked me, “If we were in an anime showdown, and we had to fight each other to the death, who would win?” and I knew my answer immediately. I said, “You would win. I wouldn’t fight—I’d let you best me. I wouldn’t want to go on after besting you.” That conversation stuck with me, and I had that scenario in mind as the story’s climax since the very beginning.
Another core influence was Sofia Samatar’s short story “Selkie Stories Are for Losers,” published in Strange Horizons. “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” is told from the point of view of a teenage girl, in fragmented sections. I was blown away by how the form, the distinct rhythm of the prose, and the voice all worked together to achieve this incredible emotional resonance. Since I hadn’t tried before, I really wanted to attempt telling a short story in fragmented sections.
The next core influence was Seth Dickinson’s craft advice about indirection. Seth Dickinson, author of the novel series beginning with The Traitor Baru Cormorant, has written about the value he finds in using indirection when writing emotion, as opposed to having characters be forthright with the audience. As I was reading that, it struck me that my characters usually divulged their emotions to the audience, and my plots usually had some baseline level of directness. I decided I wanted to try his advice, and I challenged myself to write not only an emotionally indirect story, but an extremely indirect story overall, to try and give nothing away directly and only nudge and weave and imply.
The fourth and last core influence before drafting was the title of Seth Dickinson’s short story in Clarkesworld, “Morrigan in the Sunglare.” I was reflecting on how much I liked that title, so I was like, let’s make up a title in a similar vein, and came up with “Potemora in the Triad.”
So, when I sat down to begin writing, I had these four things in mind. I didn’t have anything else—the characters, that there was going to be a giant snake god, the setting, the religiosity. The first draft was a progressive improvisation—planting details and dynamics in the first few paragraphs and seeing how they grew. It took shape pretty clearly, but the revising process was really where this story absorbed the most time and effort.
The use of fragments as a structuring device is very well done. Did your vision for the story include this structure from the start, or did one story come before the other?
My vision for the story indeed included this structure from the start! I wanted to specifically attempt telling a story in fragments.
The story includes many tactile aspects like scales, sponging, and lots of references to different parts of the body. Is there a particular intention behind delving into this sensory plane?
Part of it did have an intention—to orient readers who were unsure of what Potemora looks like as a half-snake-god/half-human being. But unintentionally, I believe another part of it is that I really enjoy writing the body, sensuality, sensation, and texture. I also keep writing about teeth? Even when I’m not trying to! In my poems and drafts and other published work and things. This is my third published piece that contains teeth.
At a particular point in the story you shift your voice to the second person. Could you elaborate on this aesthetic choice?
I feel like second person has a way of pressing toward the reader and shrinking the space between the reader and the story. Potemora was in this specific claustrophobic setting and headspace, so I thought it would be another fun, effective way to play around with form if I switched to second person in that moment.
And also, shortly before that point I had already switched the voice to third person, to heighten the sense of Potemora’s distressed out-of-mindedness and disorientation. Going into second felt like a good next possible step.
What was the most challenging part of writing this story? What was the easiest?
By far the most challenging part of writing this story was balancing the indirectness! My first draft was the most indirect one, and after my critique partner and I talked, it became clear that a lot of the plot, stakes, and motivational throughlines I thought the story was communicating just . . . weren’t coming across! It was like the details of the story were fumbling and failing a relay race, where their baton was the reader’s understanding.
This story eventually went through the attention of no less than six people, and each time I revised it to try and make it clearer. I am so grateful to them for their time and energy; without their feedback the story wouldn’t be half as legible as it is now.
I think the easiest part of writing this story was the emergence of the emotional arc, and the voice. Both the emotional arc and Potemora’s kind of ornate, youthful voice arose naturally through the first draft!
What are you working on now, and are there any other projects we can look forward to seeing from you in the future?
I’m working on a fantasy novel that is toothy and kaleidoscopic and monstrous, and also features gods! I’m also writing more short stories, and for my senior thesis to graduate college, I’m working on a mixed poetry and short fiction collection about computer and machine poetics.
At the time of writing this I don’t have any pieces forthcoming in other magazines, but should that change, I’ll add them to my list of work at sarasmessenger.com. If you’re interested in reading more work right away, my diaspora magic story “Mochi, With Teeth” is available to read on the Diabolical Plots website!
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