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Interview: Tamsyn Muir on “The Deepwater Bride”

– Tell us a bit about ‘The Deepwater Bride’.

It’s a love story. It’s also a story about responsibilities, a story about being too smart for one’s own good, and a story about ghastly, abyssal intelligences surfacing to crush mankind. But mostly it’s a love story.

I can’t talk too much about it because I’d give away the plot, but it’s basically What I Did On My Summer Holidays starring a teenage prophet and the Other Girl she’s trying to save from a horrible fate. It pays a lot of homage to Lovecraftian mythos, and probably some to Encyclopedia Brown.

 

– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I’ve always loved Lovecraft, but as all his fans know, there’s a long list of fairly important subjects he hardly ever goes near. Women are one; youth is another. I wanted to see whether you could write a Lovecraft story in which all the characters were female and the protagonist was a teenager into the bargain. I also have a long-standing fondness for small-town Americana, perhaps as a result of not being American, and I wanted to imagine Innsmouth with a Starbucks. I suppose you can think of it as The Strange Sweet Valley High House in the Mist.

 

– What do you think is the ongoing appeal of reading/writing Lovecraftian fiction, and what are the challenges in making it feel fresh?

I think what makes Lovecraftian monster stories still stand out from other kinds of monster story is the lack of a win/loss narrative. When the aliens come to Earth, humanity can go to war with them, or make peace with them, or give them all the flu. When the zombies rise from their graves, humanity’s courage and ingenuity and stockpiled shotgun cartridges mean that there’s always hope of a better dawn to come. When Cthulhu arrives, you’re screwed. Not just because he’s so big or powerful or whatever, but because he so profoundly defies human comprehension and human analysis that you simply can’t engage with him on any meaningful level. You can’t even run away. This is where I think some Lovecraftian fiction can go wrong – it can fall into the video game trap of thinking that you can kill a shoggoth if you brought enough bullets, or you can capture one and put it in a lab. The minute you start thinking like that, you’re just telling a monster story, not a Lovecraft story.

Over time, of course, whereas some kinds of horror have become harder to accomplish – stalked by the Strangler, but you’ve got your iPhone 5 – Lovecraftian horror just gets more and more horrifying. Because the more we understand, the more of the world we can tag and put in boxes, the more fascinated we become by the idea that there are things we will never be able to solve. Good horror knocks away whatever you rely on, and the more we rely on science and reason, the more thrilling it is to have them knocked away.

 

– Was ‘The Deepwater Bride’ personal to you in any way, and if so, how?

Well, as a young queer woman, I suppose writing a story about a young queer woman was always going to be personal in some respects. But it’s not a story that’s particularly close to where I live. I’m not Hester, I’m not Aunt Mar, and I’m certainly not Rainbow. This is a pity as I would actually quite like to be Rainbow.

 

– How has the experience of attending Clarion affected your writing?

If I listed all the things I learnt at Clarion we’d need a bigger interview, but one major thing it gave me was the ability to see my own work from the outside – or at least to get closer to doing so. At Clarion you write a story and then a lot of very smart, very thoughtful people come along and tear it to shreds – as kindly as possible, but that’s the game. And that makes it easier to, if you like, adopt the persona of your own critic: look at what you’ve written, spot the holes, spot the points where someone might come along and say ‘I have a problem with that’. And then you can decide whether it’s a problem you want to fix, or a problem you’re content to leave the way it is. No-one’s a good judge of their own work, so it helps to pretend to be someone else for a bit.

 

– Has the experience of being a New Zealander living in the US and now the UK had any impact on your perspective as a writer?

I used to think that being a New Zealander hadn’t affected my writing much, either in flavour or setting. Moving away has changed that. It’s easy to be a Kiwi writer when you’re physically in NZ. While living in the UK, I’ve noticed how I keep coming back to New Zealand in a way I didn’t bother to before – my stories were set in America or Germany or nowhere in particular. The first story I sold after coming to the UK, I’d set it in Whitford and Howick, where I grew up. I’m writing another set in a fantastical Waiuku, another town in Auckland where I used to live. I must have some particular stance in which I write from that’s peculiarly Kiwi – I’ve grown up reading the science fiction and fantasy of Margaret Mahy and Ken Catran – but I think I’ll only be able to identify it the longer I live and write away from home.

 

– What are you working on now?

Various things, too slowly. I have another Lovecraftian story with a female protagonist – although a very different story and a very different protagonist – coming out in an anthology this year. I have a story about skeletons which has been on the back burner for so long it’s reduced down to a gritty paste, but it’s one I’m very fond of and I’m looking forward to scraping it off the bottom of the pan. I have a story about lichen, because everyone loves lichen, and possibly a story about a princess, although I’m not completely sure where that one’s going at the moment. And then there’s the novel. But the less said about that, the better.

“The Deepwater Bride” appears in the July/August 2015 issue of F&SF, which you can order here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1507.htm.

comments

2 Responses to “Interview: Tamsyn Muir on “The Deepwater Bride””

  1. REVIEW: Short reflection on The Deepwater Bride | The Waverly Place on July 28th, 2015

    […] blurs into a wish to abdicate her familial responsibilities and help Rainbow to escape her doom. As the author would have it, The Deepwater Bride is very much a love story, and it becomes increasingly obviously so as […]

  2. World Fantasy Award nominee “The Deepwater Bride” brings a comedic touch to impending doom | Imagined Worlds | L.A. Barnitz on September 9th, 2016

    […] confounding it at the same time. (You can read Muir’s comments on how this came about at the Fantasy & Science Fiction […]

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