We’re celebrating the launch of Issue 18 by talking about all sorts of “magics” (bold or subtle) with our authors, and what inspired their stories.
Lackington’s: “Love Letters from Velveteen” is presented as a series of fragments that have seemingly been preserved in a museum or archive. This gives the story the sense of reflecting the flotsam and jetsam of a life: random glimpses that give us the hint of the whole while remaining incomplete. Why did this structure feel right for this story?
MR: Three of my favourite novels use ‘found manuscripts’ as narrative devices—The Name of the Rose and The Island of the Day Before, both by Umberto Eco, and House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I finally got brave enough to try the idea myself with “Velveteen.” And yes, I did decide on the format first, which might be a bit backwards.
Anyway, I think it’s romantic when authors distance themselves from their own creations with that particular device. “I’m not saying I wrote this. I’m saying I found it and I think you might want to read it.” You know, like someone who doesn’t want to admit they’ve got a crush. I decided to be as romantic as possible and chose a love story for my attempt.
My writing tends to lend itself to short scenes, so the decision to have the love letters on small pieces of junk came about organically. “Well, what would Velveteen have had to write this one on?” which almost always ended up followed by “And what intimate details is she going to tell her husband using this cigarette pack which she might well have stolen?” It almost ended up being more of an approach to the character than to the narrative.
I say that and I got really into making the pieces sound authentically destroyed, including annoying third parties for random numbers and letting my cat go to town on a few pages.
Lackington’s: Speaking of flotsam and jetsam, this story takes place primarily on a sailing ship. Do you have any personal or professional connection to sailing? Is there any literature of the sea that especially inspired you?
MR: I used to work for a gentleman who flew out to Catalina to go sailing almost every weekend. It was a big draw for his business that he could talk about it with clients, so I overheard a lot. At the time I was drafting a novel that included pirates, so I ended up using what I knew and doing some research besides. The novel ultimately blew up in my face, as did the job, but the knowledge stayed with me. Turns out, ships and sailing travel surprisingly well in spec fic. From having an old assassin lament that he doesn’t get to use the word “forechains” in everyday speech to an android describing the watches on her starship, it’s definitely one of the most useful things I’ve ever learned. Plus, it’s fun and it gives readers a sense of wonder without having to resort to unicorns.
Lackington’s: Magic in this world is very tactile. It is worked and manipulated like yarn or thread, and requires great manual dexterity to control. This feels like a very original conception of magic. What inspired it?
MR: Oh, I’m a beader. In fact, I used to teach, but my local bead store sadly closed a few years ago. I’ve also taken classes with several world-class instructors… It’s more formal education than I’ve gotten in the writing department, I have to say.
The techniques the husband uses are all actual beading stitches. I even tried to make it sound like he preferred a stop-bead free start. The descriptions of him beading were inspired by a certain squiffy customer chatting while watching me work—the bead store was down the street from two bars, so this wasn’t unusual. Apparently, I’m entertaining after someone’s had a couple glasses of wine!
Anyway, author V. Medina and I had been talking about how beadwork-based magic would function in a story for a few years. We went so far as to attend a bead show together for inspiration. I got their blessing to go for it with “Love Letters from Velveteen” and this was the result.
It was kind of surreal to write about beading when I picked up beading as something to do instead of write, but I enjoyed it in the end.
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?
MR: I started a serious answer here, but in the end, there’s nothing serious about unconventional storytelling to me. Dropping my cat on “Love Letters from Velveteen” and watching her destroy a few pages was fun. Reading Lackington’s and seeing other writers lather the page with unbridled creativity is fun. Holding House of Leaves up to a mirror so I can decipher the next page is fun. I love me some straight prose, but straight prose cannot give me that particular kind of joy. I have a drive to touch and feel and move things as I experience them. I am definitely not alone.
For every person who brings their odd, little story to life in the way that story needs to live, there are ten thousand more who need that story. As writers, as readers—no two people experience joy the same way. We do not all engage in the same way. Writers don’t even write the same way, even if we’re all writers. Modern storytelling standards haven’t been generous to many of us creative people alike.
Offbeat tales are just what some of us need and I’m thrilled for the opportunity to share one at a venue that’s brought me so much squee over the years. I sincerely hope that everyone even dreaming of submitting to Lackington’s does so. Your stories are wonderful and I look forward to finding them there someday.
M. Raoulee is a queer author and artist currently roaming with a pack of coyotes somewhere in Arizona. You may remember her from Broken Metropolis, Robot Dinosaurs!, or other fine venues that have chosen to drag her out of the desert. She has never set an unsatisfactory draft on fire and is not currently drinking a martini.