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Interview: Natalia Theodoridou on “The Shape of Gifts”

Author photo of Natalia TheodoridouF&SF: How do you describe “The Shape of Gifts” to people?

NT: It’s the story of an oracle running from her gifts. Of ecological disaster, of love and hope lost and found again.

F&SF: This story is grounded in the hard science of global climate change, but it uses fantasy elements to approach that topic in a really fresh and unexpected way. It’s something we haven’t seen before here at F&SF. What inspired you to write this story in this way?

NT: That’s a hard question to answer, because, as I recall, the seed of the story was this very specific moment of Terry receiving an oracle from the flight of birds and trying to deny it. Destiny and powerlessness and the terrible fates of living beings, the cause of which are sometimes clear and legible, and other times entirely haphazard; how do you escape that kind of bind, or how do you surrender to it, make it liveable, find joy in it, even? This is the question that birthed the rest of the story. The birds were already there, the landscape, too, so the theme of climate change installed itself inevitably; that is the world we live in.

F&SF: This story has a lot of elements that we’ve seen in your other stories: “birds, tall trees, gender weirdness, ancient greek myth, queer love,” to quote something you said on twitter. What parts of the story are personal to you and how did that affect the way you wrote it?

NT: Even though Terry’s experience of sex and gender is fantastical, the genderfeels that go with it are not. I have been steeped in greek myth from a very young age, and the story of Teiresias always spoke to me in my bones, in all sorts of problematic and productive ways. Also, I am queer, and so queerness is always at the center of all I do, one way or another.

F&SF: What were some of the challenges you had writing this story?

NT: I tried my best not to have Terry stand in for any group of people; I did not want her to be a metaphor. I wanted her to be a person, with a unique history and a unique understanding of her world, representative only of her own experience. It took a while getting there, and I don’t know if I succeeded. As a reader, I am generally wary of speculative fiction premises that are supposed to function as grand metaphors for some flavor of queerness because, you know, we’re right here! We exist, and we contain multitudes. As a writer, I’m more interested in sharp, specific questions run through the complexities of a character’s circumstances: their personal and cultural histories, their identity and all the intersections they might inhabit.

F&SF: Can you talk a bit about your writing process?

NT: Hmm, another tough question, because so much of the writing process for me is ineffable, “happens underwater” (as my good friend and Clarion West classmate B. Pladek has said). I tend to mull over ideas for a very long time before they become stories. Just last week I wrote a story the idea for which I was working on in my head for two years. Then the story itself was written in a single day. I need the idea to feel mature before I sit down to write it. A mature idea may mean: a firm voice, a character I know well, a beginning, an ending, a question I want answered or, at least, posed.

F&SF: What are you working on right now?

NT: Oh, so many things. A new Choice of Games project that I can’t talk about just yet; a novella that I’ve been kicking around for two years; a new short story about a haunted building; a maturing novel; a mental health game; a short story collection…

I live in front of my laptop.

You can find Natalia Theodoridou at…

Twitter: @natalia_theodor

“The Shape of Gifts” appears in the July/August 2020 issue of F&SF.

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