Welcome to Fantasy Magazine! We’re so happy to bring your story “How I Became MegaPunch, Or, Why I Stayed with Dylan” to our readers. Can you tell us what inspired this story and how it came about?
In university, I knew a person who said they read on the toilet, specifically while doing number two. At the time, not knowing this was fairly common practice (apparently), my book-loving self was a little horrified to hear this, and imagined all kinds of ways it could go wrong. As a child, books were extremely precious to me, and I pretty much only received them as Christmas or birthday presents.
Reading on the toilet doesn’t seem like such a startling thing anymore, and now I own so many books they are threatening to swallow my room. In the back of my mind, however, I still fear what would happen to my favourite book if someone had borrowed it and had Dylan’s reading habits. Maybe that’s why I have a “for lending” copy of my favourite book (to be fair, Xiaoyu did have an extra copy too, but . . . ).
I’ve been seeing prose superhero stories become a lot more common in the last 10-15 years. Is there anything in particular that drew you to writing about a superpowered individual’s empowerment?
It’s not strange to see superheroes—and probably more supervillains—who are former professors, researchers, or scholars. Many of them, however, study physics, chemistry, or biology, with their superhero “awakening” tied to their research. They are also often the top experts of their field.
I wanted to write about a less glamorous professor, whose pedestrian lifestyle is more akin to what modern academics could expect, and whose field of study (economics) is decidedly not related to her superhero powers. Instead, the acquisition of her powers is related to her single-minded devotion to a very niche book.
As a Torontonian, I felt a surge of “whoa, FAMILIARITY, amazing” when I saw that your story was set in the area. What opportunities do you think setting superhero fiction outside its often-American haunts can bring to stories?
I’ve lived in Toronto for most of my adult life, so it was quite natural to set the story there. I usually write secondary-world fantasy, so real-world locations do not play a role in those cases. American haunts can still yield wonderful stories, and I have nothing against them, though a more varied array of settings would, of course, be welcome in the genre.
Interestingly enough, Xiaoyu’s employer, York University, is the only one of the Toronto universities that I have no personal connection with.
Between the fate of Mining and the Cactus Industry, the house, and Xiaoyu’s pre-and post-Awakening life, there’s a strong thread of loss and recovery in this story. Do you think it’s important that superhero-type stories pay attention to this, and are there other emotional threads you’d like to see more often in stories like this?
Any superhero origin story is, in essence, a tale of loss and recovery. You gain superpowers, but what do you lose? Your old job (lame as it was), potentially old friends (if they were really friends), and your old lifestyle. You gain the power to protect—or destroy—the things you or other people hold dear, but lose the chance to ever live an ordinary life.
In the case of Xiaoyu, she loses her job as a professor, her house, and her book. She only recovers the last of these. To most people, it would seem like the least important item (especially with a title like Mining and the Cactus Industry). But to her, it is the most important thing.
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?
I am currently working on a time travel novel set in the same universe as “The Lady of Butterflies,” a short story that was originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I am also working on a visual novel (which can be described as either a game book played on a computer, or a video game without gameplay outside of choices). I also have a couple of short stories which are set to be released in the not-too-distant future: “The Auger Process” in Dark Matter Magazine and “Fall from the Heavens” in On Spec. My current and upcoming publications can be found on my website at http://www.ympang.com
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