Interview: Alyssa Wong on “The Fisher Queen”
– Tell us a bit about “The Fisher Queen.”
“The Fisher Queen” was the first story I wrote at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop of Science Fiction & Fantasy. My instructor Andy Duncan convinced me that if I really wanted to write a mermaid story, I should follow my impulses and write one, and Nalo Hopkinson was kind enough to give feedback on it.
I love fish. No, really. Fish are one of my favorite life forms to study and observe. I think they’re very cute, but I also eat them. A lot. That strange dichotomy definitely gave birth, in part, to “The Fisher Queen.”
– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?
I wrote “The Fisher Queen” as a wedding present for my friend, Katie. Since her favorite fairytale is “The Little Mermaid,” I really wanted to write her a mermaid story.
I think I wrote four other stories, none of which managed to contain mermaids, before I could figure this one out. The closest I got to mermaids before “The Fisher Queen” was a story about sand whales, which, uh, isn’t the same thing at all.
– Was “The Fisher Queen” personal for you in any way, and if so, how?
Absolutely. Two prominent themes in “The Fisher Queen” are the effects of systematic violence against women and the costs of not speaking up in the face of injustice. These are issues that impact us, our loved ones, and everyone around us, every single day, and have the power to destroy us–sometimes slowly over a lifetime, sometimes in a burst of passion and hate.
It is also a story about being young, full of wrath, and surrounded by atrocities that you can’t yet name but also can’t ignore. I was very much like that when I was fifteen years old, and sometimes even now.
– Did you do any research for “The Fisher Queen?”
I had to do a lot of research. I grew up in the desert and I’ve been on a boat once, maybe twice; the strongest memory I have of being on the water was clinging to a rope in a tiny fishing boat, bobbing through a Chinese harbor, seasick out of my wits. I was probably 10 years old.
For this project, I watched a lot of documentaries about the Mekong and about fishing. I also watched a lot of River Monsters. Like, three seasons of it.
– Would you say that you wrote a transgressive story? Lily exacts a harsh retribution on her father and the other crewmen of their fishing boat, but one could say that the behavior they engaged in, i.e., raping captured mermaids, is also transgressive; perhaps not to the society described in your story, but certainly to the reader. Could you expound on this at all?
Rape culture is a distressing reality in both our world and the world of the story. However, Lily’s demands for justice are enacted through personal violence rather than rallying her community for greater societal change. Her methods are presented as undeniably destructive, but somehow, personally acceptable… and hopefully, by the end of the story, very satisfying.
Lily is a kind, violent, selfless, and selfish young woman. Having her choose to destroy her family through her final actions in the story is transgressive, but one could also argue that the family was deteriorating already: her father is a rapist, her sister and her mother are victims… everyone is a victim of this system, including Lily and her father.
The first stories I heard about mermaids as a kid were about how sailors, homesick and horny, either mistook or imagined various ocean animals as part woman, part fish creatures. Is it really a huge stretch of the imagination to wonder if some of these men, ‘starved’ for female sexual attention that they thought they deserved, might have raped animals or each other?
The world of “The Fisher Queen” is strange, perhaps, and the crimes are sickening, but they are very firmly rooted in our own reality. If the idea that rape is evil and deserves punishment, even and especially violent punishment, seems absurd, then this story is indeed, and sadly, transgressive.
– What are you working on now?
I’m working on a biopunk, neo-noir novel, a Southern gothic horror story, and am buckling down for a hardcore revision session with a sci-fi piece from Clarion.
– Anything else you’d like to add?
I owe a lot to my instructors Kelly Link and Karen Joy Fowler for pushing me to send “The Fisher Queen” out into the world, and to Ellen Datlow for guiding me through the short story market to F&SF.
Also, thank you for reading my story. It means a lot to me.
“The Fisher Queen” appears in the May/June 2014 issue of F&SF.
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