“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.
Tomorrow is October 7 and we publish our very first short story: “Hunting Monsters” by S. L. Huang. To celebrate the release, we invited the author to talk about the story, about the fairytales that inspired it and how she developed her original idea and explored her themes.
Please give it up for S. L. Huang, everyone!
As other longtime SFF fans know, worldbuilding is not just about the immediate, convenient fun parts of “what if.” It’s about the ripple effects of “if, then” that propagate through every logical piece of the environment and society.
When viewed from this angle, fairy tales have terrible worldbuilding.
How does the existence of magic influence the economy and culture? What’s the physics behind turning straw into gold, or the biology of mermaids? If animals can talk and interact with intelligence, why is everyone still eating meat? A lot of old tales, too, have absolutely horrific acts on display—murder, abuse, rape, mutilation — without any real sense of ramification.
These stories rarely ask us to analyze their internal logic too deeply. Which makes them a fantastically rich milieu for digging in our teeth and shaking everything up.
In retelling or riffing on old folk stories, the most compelling part for me is finding the little nubs of what-if and turning them into full-blown questions and repercussions that reverberate through the characters’ lives.
“Hunting Monsters” attempts to touch on and explore a variety of points: What would happen if we had beasts wandering around walking and talking like humans? How would Little Red Riding Hood react after what happened to her as a child — what kind of woman would she grow up to be? What kinds of justice systems do the ubiquitous kingdoms have? And wouldn’t it be at least as likely for common folk to fear the power of princes and kings as it would be for them to grasp for their hands in marriage?
Of course, the natural consequence of drawing fairy tales into the realm of messy realism is to start bending those tales away from their black-and-white nature of good versus evil. To dig up and address the disturbing parts, or to tilt them on their sides entirely and say, “yes, we always hear it told THAT way. But couldn’t THIS be what really happened?”
We all distinguish truth through our individual filters of context and prior knowledge. It both fascinates and terrifies me how my own life experience informs my perceptions and opinions (I’ve changed my mind before—what if there’s something I’m missing, something I’ve yet to learn, that will turn everything I know topsy-turvy? It’s terrifying!). So for me, the most captivating transformative works swap our point of view around and pull the rug out from under the familiar narrative, forcing us to question if the story we thought we knew is really a different kind of story altogether.
Are the “bad guys” really good? Or is everyone just human? Which crimes are justifiable? Which relationships will we cheer on, and which will we condemn?
Now, one other angle of this reinterpreting I must mention here — one important to me — is the matter of queer people and people of color not showing up a whole lot in old European fairy tales. Obviously, that doesn’t mean they weren’t around, or even that they couldn’t be the protagonists of those same fairy stories! There’s no reason Beauty from “Beauty and the Beast” couldn’t be an Asian bisexual woman with a mixed-race daughter, and no reason she and Red Riding Hood couldn’t be both my ace riflewomen and hunters and also their own diverse and nontraditional family. In my experience, people rarely fit into the little boxed stereotypes others like to stick them in.
In the end, however, I wasn’t nearly as much trying to make a statement with “Hunting Monsters” as I was trying to ask questions. To ask as many questions as I could. To take readers into that snarly uncomfortable place where everything familiar gets examined and challenged, and leave them there when the story ends.
I do hope you’ll think I’ve succeeded.
Hunting Monsters will be available on October 7, 2014. You’ll be able to read the short story in full for free here on The Book Smugglers, but we’ll also have a DRM-free ebook (EPUB, MOBI, AZK) that contains the story as well as a Q&A and essay from the author, available for purchase on all major ebook retail sites.
Need a copy *right* now? Want to read it *today*? You can buy it directly from us!
And read Hunting Monsters for free online HERE on October, 7, 2014.