We’re celebrating the launch of our Gothics issue by finding out what it is about the Gothic that appeals to our authors, and what inspired their Issue 17 stories.
AJH: I fell in love with the concept of Rome in an ancient history class in sixth grade the way some people fall in love with their first crush. The famous saying attributed to Augustus, “I found Rome in clay and left her in marble,” sparked all kinds of adolescent fantasies. I majored in Classics in college, and while I did focus on Greek literature, I couldn’t escape my fascination with Rome, from the austerity of the early Republic to the decadence of the Empire. It wasn’t until 2015 that I was able to visit myself, and, of course, there’s a lot of me in the tourist in the story. Even now Rome exerts a pull and a power that can’t be denied—and there’s something magical about turning a corner and being face to face with a temple Cicero or Caesar might have seen.
Lackington’s: There are some famous female vampires in literature, starting with Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. Did you have any examples in mind as you created your own version?
AJH: My feelings about Carmilla are complex and not actually relevant! While, of course, any story is in dialogue with others in its genre—and my vampire, who is, if not sexless, at least not a seductress, is in part a reaction to, say, The Brides of Dracula—I wanted to create a vampire whose power has more to do with the glamour of words than physical attractiveness.
Lackington’s: Storytelling is an important part of “Satia Te Sanguine.” What is the significance of the interactions between your two main characters taking place mostly in telling and hearing stories, respectively?
AJH: Going to Rome, as the tourist does (especially if one projects her author’s feelings onto her, which, I must admit, is a reasonable thing to do), is about entering a story or a history. The streets and stones of Rome are imbued with history and, to go back to the idea of vignettes, layered with the stories of different times. I would have loved if, during my week in Rome, a vaguely sinister figure had told me historical stories, instead of me having to invent for myself a Coliseum full of roaring crowds and colour. Besides, telling stories about oneself and one’s actions is one of the better ways to make them feel real and significant; and if you know the stories someone chooses to tell about themself, you know a lot about them.
Lackington’s: Is there something about unconventional modes of storytelling that you find especially compelling? Why do we need to make space for stories that don’t always work the way that readers have come to expect?
AJH: There are so many potential answers here. One is that I enjoy forms of storytelling that make you work for the satisfaction you get from them. Or else maybe that the world is a kaleidoscope of different stories that change in mood and meaning when you change the focus, and all of them together make up History. I am, however, wary of completeness, especially in history: I hesitate to say the word “real,” but real history is rarely satisfying. The whole of a life rarely follows a satisfying storyline or narrative arc, though parts of it might. Which means, I think, that the meaning of a life is what you make of it; your future isn’t always in your own hands, but the story you tell about it is.
A.J Hammer has a B.A. in Classics from Princeton University and has worked in the field of education policy. She used to be a speed skater, but now writes fantasy. “Satia Te Sanguine” is her first published short story, and she is honoured that it is appearing in Lackington’s.