Interview: Kali Wallace on “Botanical Exercises for Curious Girls”
– Tell us a bit about “Botanical Exercises for Curious Girls.”
“Botanical Exercises for Curious Girls” is the story of a young girl
who lives a very isolated, very restricted life, and the day she
learns certain things about herself and the people around her, who
they are and what they’re doing, and from that begins to realize how
she escape to something else.
– What is the genesis of this story – its inspiration, or what prompted you to write it?
Conversations about robots, of all things, and a lot of time staring
out the window at trees. I was talking to some friends about robots
who don’t know they are robots, and from there I started thinking
about a character who doesn’t know she’s a mad scientist’s experiment.
The idea went through several iterations after that, various robots
and machines, biological and mechanical creations, magical constructs
and so on, until I found the right one.
– What would you say is the tone of “Botanical Exercises…?” Dark?
Hopeful? Or something else entirely?
There’s a definite creepy, sinister edge, but tempered by the fact
that the story is told through the perspective of a character who is
more inquisitive than fearful. My goal was to balance the fact that
where Rosalie lives and the realities of her life are quite
unpleasant, but she still finds them to be full of wonder and beauty.
Put the same character in a different setting, or put somebody else in
that same old house, and what they see and how they feel will be
completely different, and all of that is a puzzle of layering the
right words in the right places. That’s the fun of developing a tone
that suits the story. I do like to think it ends on a more hopeful
– Most authors say their stories are personal. If that’s true for you,
in what way is your story personal?
I think everybody has days – weeks, months, years – in which we wake
up and look around us and realize that where we are, who we are, and
what we’ve been made into is not all we want it to be. That feeling,
the feeling of looking out the window and thinking, “I don’t want to
be here,” I think that’s universal, but a universal experience alone
isn’t enough to make a good story. That’s where the personal
experience comes into it. There’s no specific correlation to any event
in my life, but it is a summation of experiences: What does that
restless dissatisfaction feel like? What do I notice? What do I
remember? What am I scared of when I’m on the verge of a tremendous
decision, something that could change everything or end very badly?
Those are the questions I asked myself, and poked and prodded the
answers in a mildly uncomfortable manner before sorting out what I
wanted to say about them.
– What kind of research did you do for your story?
Very little. I looked up the genus names of a few plants and trees,
because I wanted them to have identifiable real world counterparts,
and then made up the species names.
– “Botanical Exercises…” is your first published story. What
motivates you to write science fiction?
Science fiction is the perfect outlet for combining the two things I
love best about writing: telling stories I have no other way of
telling, and making stuff up. All of the trappings of science fiction
are great fun; I’m a scientist by training and love exploring the
edges of what isn’t yet possible, or might never be. But more than
that, what I love most of all that uneasy border between the literal
and the metaphorical, the point in good speculative fiction where the
reader asks, “What is this story about?” then does a double-take,
gives it another look, and asks again, “No, wait, what is this story
really about?” When it’s good, speculative fiction can do that better
than anything. There are rules, but they are fluid. Even in a story
full of familiar realism, we can find those spots to slip over into
something bigger and weirder and – if we’re doing it right – end up
with something that isn’t less than reality, or removed from reality,
but is instead this world, the one we live in but don’t entirely
understand, examined from a different perspective.
– What are you working on now?
I’ve got a number of short stories in various stages of completion,
and I’m currently working on a YA novel that involves spending an
awful lot of time assessing cemeteries in terms of the potential ease
of midnight body-snatching. For research purposes. I promise.
“Botanical Exercises for Curious Girls” appears in the March/April 2011 issue.
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