We’re celebrating the launch of Issue 19 by talking to our authors about what makes “Voyages” — and stories.
Lackington’s: Like many good travel stories, “Something to Light the Sunless Winter” is written as a chronological journal or logbook by one of the passengers on the spaceship Cressida. Do you have any favourite travelogues? Did you have any of them in mind as you were writing?
SB: The seed of this story arrived as a diaristic travelogue. Though I didn’t have any specific work in mind when I started writing, I’ve loved many works of diaristic, epistolary, and travelogue fiction (or combinations thereof), quite varied in tone and style—from Our Hearts Were Young and Gay to Dear Enemy to the “The Yellow Wallpaper” to The Historian. It seemed like the form’s immediacy and intimacy could be an interesting way to show the evolution of my main character’s (and our) understanding of her circumstances. The record of her daily impressions keeps reshaping how she/we perceive what’s happening.
Lackington’s: Although the Cressida is certainly on a voyage, its destination is never revealed and even the duration of the journey is unknown to the people on board the ship. Why did you want to write about a journey that keeps such basic information a secret?
SB: I feel like we’re already on a journey whose purpose and duration are never revealed. Yet we have no choice but to live our lives without an answer. One character’s experience as a passenger on an early gen-ship expedition seemed like an interesting way to explore this.
By the time the Cressida’s passengers can relax and consider the choice they’ve made (the blind leap they’ve taken), it’s futile—this situation has parameters over which they ceded control upon launch. So what now? The diarist’s interest in “what now” is almost nonexistent until she experiences a personal one-two punch that finally commands her attention.
Lackington’s: Late in the story, the narrator starts using the name Ozma to refer to a new development in the ship. Is this a reference to L. Frank Baum’s character? If so (without giving too much away), why did you want to include this reference in your story?
SB: The diarist remembers Baum’s Ozma as a near-perfect, almost messianic princess of Oz. In The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma’s first appearance is with her true form hidden from everyone—her companions, and even herself—and her eventual unveiling is to Baum’s characters a revelation and a delight. The diarist’s own Ozma development piques her interest, her curiosity, rather than her fear. By giving it a name, she’s deciding it’s a Good Thing that just hasn’t shown itself yet, and she finds herself almost relishing its possibilities.
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?
SB: Since I was a kid, I’ve always just liked weird stories (books, movies, television—any medium), and I’ve never reflected on what it was I found so particularly engaging. I think I like to be surprised! I’m happy when a story leaves a pebble I can worry in my coat pocket once it’s concluded, a knot to untie. That’s not a universal taste, so having spaces (like Lackington’s!) dedicated to unconventional stories and storytelling modes means they’ll have a chance to be told and enjoyed.
Realistic stories are wonderful and we want them and we need them, but it’s also very enjoyable to read a tale that bears no literal resemblance to what we know; it will still touch on emotions we recognize. All stories are an exercise in “What if?” of course, but it’s fun to explore the edges and creases of what we want to tell and how we might tell it.
Daily life is governed by routine for most of us. And even when you generally enjoy the way you’re filling your time, a person gets tired of the same fare. Pizza’s great but you likely wouldn’t want it every day. A jaunt through a completely sideways tale can be a hedge against tedium.
Sara Beitia lives and writes in dusty Southern Idaho. Her first novel was selected for YALSA’s 2011 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults list, and her recent short fiction has appeared with Shimmer and Not One of Us.