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Interview: Charlotte Ashley on “The Joy in Wounding”

Charlotte AshleyTell us a bit about “The Joy in Wounding.”

“The Joy in Wounding” is a loose interpretation of the second part of the Classical Greek story, “Cupid and Psyche.” Most people know the part where Cupid falls in love with Psyche and carries her off to marry her, keeping her literally in the dark as to who her important husband is. But the second half, following Psyche after she has been exiled from her husband’s home, is far more colourful: Psyche wanders the earth for years, serving multiple goddesses. She undergoes a series of impossible trials, each of them properly Herculean, including collecting black water from the river Styx, facing down dragons, and entering into the underworld.

I wanted to explore that side of Psyche’s story, bringing to life the sort of woman who comes out of a kidnapping and forced marriage with a Hero’s journey. Of course, my final version ended up pretty angry at Psyche’s treatment in the original. So my Psyche kicks ass, but she (and her sisters) are very much raging at their fates.


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

When I saw Bob Eggleton’s artwork for this issue, especially with the green, windswept cliffs in the foreground, my imagination immediately flew to the landscapes of neoclassical artwork and their romantic depictions of Classical mythology. That ended up just being a springboard, since once I had decided to “rescue” Psyche and her sisters from their original story, I found darker themes than frolicking nymphs and cherubic gods would suggest. The real island of Lesbos is actually a lot hotter, dryer, and more yellow than those lush green paintings too, but that didn’t stop the neoclassicists and it didn’t stop me.


Was “The Joy in Wounding” personal to you in any way? If so, how?

I like to think every story about an older woman raging spectacularly against a fate she doesn’t want to be pinned to is fundamentally about me. Yes, a lot of me went into this story. I’m very aware that life isn’t fair, but that has never stopped me from moving heaven and earth
to make things right anyway.


Can you tell us about any research you may have done for this story?

I was already very familiar with the source material. I worked in an independent bookstore for 15 years, and just before they closed their doors, I splurged and bought gorgeous new editions of Mythology by Edith Hamilton, The Book of Greek and Roman Folktales, Legends, and Myths by William F. Hansen, and Apuleius’s The Golden Ass. My head was full of it. So my research mostly focused on Helenistic-period life on the Aegean Sea. I wanted to get the details right insofar as I could to really bring to life the messy business of wandering the earth in that period.


Why do you write?

Mostly, so I can read my own work. Sometimes you get the itch to read a really specific kind of story, and I found long ago that the very best way to scratch that itch and get exactly the story you want is to write it yourself. For every story I publish, I must have twenty more that I
have written just for me. I am slowly but surely coming around to the idea that people other than me have that same itch to scratch, and might actually appreciate “my” stories.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

Alexandre Dumas is the big gimme, right off the bat. I love him, I love his work, and I think everyone should read him. He soothes the soul. Many of my favourite authors cite him as an influence – Umberto Eco, Nick Harkaway, Michael Chabon, Arturo Pérez-Reverte. I think that’s company I’d like to be in. But Dumas’s legacy extends beyond swashbuckling adventure into historical fiction more generally, and I am in awe of what the best literary historical storytellers have written: Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall books, even Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. They are absolute inspirations, all of them.


What are you working on now?

I’m working on one novel (an 18th century dieselpunk ice age novel set on Canada’s east coast) and one accidental novel (a strange thing about cave monsters and romance that was meant to be a writing warm-up but which has stolen a lot of my time and interest.) Those will probably be in the pipe for eons, though. More imminently, I have been doing some RPG writing. That should be published before long!


“The Joy in Wounding” appears in the November/December 2019 issue of F&SF.

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