|Art by S. Bell|
So this is my most recent sale but this is also my oldest story to find a home in quite some time. It's…been around the block a bit with twelve rejections before finding a home, which is fairly high for me (in part because I tend to start trunking stories before this point). But this story probably saw the most personal rejections I've ever had on an individual piece, and those notes did keep me sending it out. And I do rather like it. It has a certain longing that is definitely part of my style and the setting is one that I find fascinating, even if it's not really all that likely. Second Ice Age stuff I'm pretty sure has been largely thrown out by science, but living in a place with long winters and some bitter cold really makes me want to write about it and this gave me ample opportunity. The stretch of road described in the beginning is actually based on one that I walk regularly and Nara is based loosely on my dog, BAM! (we did not name him and yes, his adoption papers were in all caps and with the exclamation point).
This story in many ways was a reaction to the idea of dystopias and apocalyptic stories, which I feel often erase queer characters because such an emphasis is placed on survival. There's this strong procreative thread to a lot of apocalyptic literature and I…really don't like that. Especially because survival for survival's sake just seems so terribly awful. That it justifies far too much cruelty and pain. And so when I was writing this I was trying to convey some urge toward the idea that survival doesn't mean much. That in these places where there are no good options and no real safety, it's not enough to just hunker down. When Aspen thinks about putting down roots and rot and things like that, he's trying to figure out what to do next when everything seems impossible. But as his fathers proved, staying put just means waiting to die, because no matter how good you are there are always accidents. And going south just means dealing with what known dangers lurk there.
[SPOILERS] And I'll say when I first wrote the piece it was darker. First draft implication was that Aspen dies at the end. That he lets the snow devil lift him away because there's no real reason to stay. And I'm lucky that I have such excellent writers around me that I get the advice to go against my first tendencies and rewrite my endings. Pretty much always it turns out to make the stories much better. And with this story it worked out much better, capturing some hope while also rejecting the idea that the answer to adversity is to put down roots. That sometimes the real hope is to catch a breeze somewhere else, somewhere better. And maybe the attempt fails and maybe you die anyway, and even die sooner, but that without the trying then you're already accepting death, just trying to hold on for as long as possible. So it's a story about letting go of the perceived safeties in order to strike out and try to find something that's not so stifling and oppressive as the loneliness and cold that Aspen lives in.
[Oh, and additional SPOILERS!] Oh, and Bry in the story was written as non-binary but obviously that's not a convesation that they get to have with Aspen, so I don't think it really counts as representation, but I do like Bry as a character, as this bit of warmth and sun that drifts past Aspen. Their name is actually based on bryophytes, which is a sort of moss that grows on the bark of aspens. Actually, in the story when Aspen touches the tree and the spores lift up into the air, that's bryophytes. It's something completely random that I found while researching aspen trees but I loved it a bit and so decided to put it in.
And the story is something of a romance but more about Aspen deciding that he's not going to just wait for death. That he's going to do something, go somewhere, to try and break the isolation that he was living in. He's had to be careful his whole life because of his braces and because of the dangers of the world, but here he is finally believing enough in himself to try anyway. To trust that despite his physical impairments he is still skilled enough to travel and navigate the world. That he can do more than survive. That he can live.
Okay, and there you have it! I apparently had a rather full January (with two stories and a nonfiction thing at Strange Horizons), and am hoping that I'll have some more news and stories out soon. Thanks for reading!
All the best,