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Interview: Leah Cypess on “Blue as Blood”

Leah CypessWriters often say that their stories are personal to some degree or another, but the writer is not necessarily his or her narrator.  How much do you tend to identify with your protagonists, in both this story and your other work?  What are your thoughts, if any, on authors writing protagonists that are either very similar or very different from themselves?

Blue as Blood was a very personal story for me, in a very specific way — I took one aspect of my personality and my emotional reaction to things, and a story came out of that. As a writer, that’s a frightening thing to do, because people will look at the story and think, “This is who you are,” when in fact it’s only a very small part of who you are. (And in my case, this is actually a part I don’t necessarily think is positive and generally try to suppress.)

It’s essentially an angry story, and I am not an angry person, so presenting that side of myself to the world (or at least to the readership of F&SF) has, to be honest, induced some anxiety in me.


An overarching question that “Blue as Blood” appears to pose is, who has the right to be offended?  Could you go into any depth on this idea as it relates to your story?

In this case, I would prefer to let the story to stand for itself. Although obviously my own thoughts and emotions about real-world situations went into the story, I almost never try to make my stories specifically parallel to any real-world situations. The Pinj are not a stand-in for some real-world thing, and neither is the color blue.

In fact, one of the ways I knew this story was ready to go was when a bunch of my critique partners all had different interpretations of it, but Nina’s emotions rang true to all of them — even to those who heavily disliked her.


Can you discuss any significance that you see in Nina’s character arc, that ultimately she becomes hardened in her point of view rather than changing it?

As I said above, this is an angry story, and I essentially gave Nina permission to be as angry as she wanted to. Even though I strongly prefer to write stories with happy or redemptive endings, and I considered such an ending for this story, I didn’t think that was what the story needed.

There was an early draft where Nina had a very different arc — the plot revolved around the leader of an underground movement of Pinj-sympathizers who recruited her; suffice it to say, it was one of those messy wrong turns that can completely wreck a story if you don’t recognize it and cut it in time. Luckily, I realized that Nina didn’t need to have another angry and extremist character to feel conflicted about. She was the angry and extremist character.


Could you discuss your decision to give Nina blue eyes? 

I knew from very early in the process that Nina was going to have blue eyes. When I started writing the story, in fact, I thought it was going to end with the reveal that her eyes are blue — it would have been a fact that influenced the story all along, but the reader wouldn’t realize it until the end. But as the story developed, that started to feel like a bit of a cheap trick to me. While her blue eyes are integral to the story, they aren’t actually the point of the story, so I revealed their existence earlier.


What do you think the fact that none of the characters in “Blue as Blood” can articulate a rational justification for the Pinjs’ and Nina’s beliefs about the color blue says about those beliefs?

Oh, I could go on and on about this, but I won’t. Suffice it to say, I think that for most people, rationality is not the sole underlying reason for any of their beliefs or attitudes. Some people are lucky enough to be able to rationalize well, and to have beliefs and attitudes that *can* be rationalized well in the culture they live in. Others are not.

(Note the words “most” and “only” in that paragraph; I’m not as extreme about this as I probably sound, and I’m aware that it’s only an opinion. But it’s an opinion that is very much in the forefront of this story.)


This is your third story for F&SF and they’ve all been so different. “Cupid’s Compass” (Sept/Oct 2016) was about marriage and happiness. “Neko Brushes” (May/June 2017) was a retelling of a Japanese folk tale. Do you see a common thread in your work that might not be obvious to readers or do you let inspiration take you off in many different directions?

The latter! Like most people, I have many different areas of interest, preoccupation, and concern in my life; my ideas tend to stem from any of these areas, and I approach each thing I write as its own contained unit. With that said, there are some things that loom larger in my life and tend to appear in a lot of my work (I’ve got quite a number of stories about parenting, for example). But there are also some that come out of more particular interests — i.e. I absolutely love retellings, but I don’t tend to feel the need to retell any particular folktale more than once. And “Blue as Blood” is, I think, different in tone from any of the other stories I’ve written so far.

Of course, sometimes a writer is the last person to see the truth about their own work; if someone else says they see a common theme in my books and stories, well, I wouldn’t necessarily argue with them.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

I believe that every single writer I read and loved as a child influences my writings now, often in ways that are opaque to me. For example: I’ve watched The Last Unicorn about twice a year since I was seven years old, until I literally knew it by heart; I used to mentally replay the entire thing in my head whenever I was bored in school. My first novel, Mistwood, starts with two men riding into an enchanted forest inhabited by a supernatural creature who is going to end up trapped in the form of a human girl — pretty much the exact opening of the film. And yet I didn’t realize how strongly Mistwood was influenced by The Last Unicorn until I had already sold the book and was working on revisions with my editor.

All of which is to say that when asked to talk about my influences, I really can’t do better than to rattle off the list of authors I read multiple times as a child, and therefore assume have influenced my work! David Eddings, Connie Willis, Dave Duncan, Juliet Marillier, Diana Wynne Jones, Edward Eager, L.M. Montgomery, Mercedes Lackey, Isaac Asimov, Herman Wouk, Agatha Christie… I could probably go on for another page, but I won’t.

And of course, it doesn’t stop. Those might be the authors baked most deeply into my subconscious, but I constantly discover new amazing works of fiction, and think, “Oooh, look how they did that, I want to do something like that, too.” Just this weekend, I read an incredible YA fantasy novel called The Graces by Eve Laure, and am now determined to write something where I pull off what she pulled off in that book. (Read the book, and find out what I’m talking about! Trust me.)


“Blue as Blood” appears in the January/February 2019 issue of F&SF.

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