Mondays can be a bear, so why not start your week off with an interview with Issue 033 author Brittany Pladek as she tells us about her story “Notes from an Unpublished Interview with Mme. Delave, Fairy“?
LSQ: The sense of time and place is eloquently presented in your piece — you’ve managed to capture both the French Revolution and early 20th century Manhattan. Do you have a particular interest in either era? What was it about the French Revolution that prompted its inclusion in this piece (say, as compared to some other revolutions or social upheaval)?
Brittany: I study the era of the French Revolution, though as a literature scholar rather than a historian, and with a focus on England rather than France (so apologies to any actual historians who read the piece and find my inevitable errors). But I’m fascinated by the post-French Revolutionary period and the early twentieth century because they’re both eras of profound disillusionment. They’re times when people had to figure out how to continue working towards the good despite feeling like their hopes had been shattered. Those are instructive moments, I think.
LSQ: The interest of the fairy to massive social change (“What courage, to attempt such a spell!” Mme. says) I think says something very potent about society’s ability to sometimes make huge changes. Can you speak to this? Is there perhaps something in the current state of events that echoes these thoughts?
Brittany: Yes. This is the bluntest allegory I’ve ever written. It’s 2018, I live in the United States, and I’m too tired for subtlety: I’m watching a country that was at least nominally a republic become an autocracy. I wrote this story to try and keep my own hopes up and to remind myself that losing faith in the possibility of change is a sure way to keep it from happening. It’s so easy to lock yourself out of a world where revolution is possible.
LSQ: The narrative style of this piece (mostly newspaper interview) is somewhat unique. Did this story naturally lend itself to this format, or was it something that you carved out gradually between edits? Do you have any experience or background in journalism or digging through archives?
Brittany: I do spend a lot of time in the archives for my research. But I also love fiction that incorporates documentary artifacts, like Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, which use archival fragments as part of their world building, or Sofia Samatar’s short fiction, which is often crafted from different (imaginary) texts layered together. This piece was a deliberate formal experiment following those models. It takes some pretty big liberties with the interview format—for example, I doubt any seasoned reporter would take such flowery notes.
LSQ: Fairies come off somewhat hedonistic in your story — also as tricksters and something more sinister. Can you comment on the state of fairies as portrayed in your view versus perhaps the “Disney” version of fairies that the general public may hold? How do you view the benevolent nature of the “modern” fairy versus the darker version of fairies in older fables?
Brittany: There are so many different fairy traditions! The one this story references is very specific, though. It’s a tradition popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—think Lord Dunsany’s The King of Elfland’s Daughter—that uses “Faerie” to express nostalgia for a vanishing world (usually coded as more mystical, hierarchical, agrarian, and conservative). The fading of Faerie symbolized the loss of that world. As an emotion, I find that nostalgia very compelling, though I don’t miss the world Faerie represented for people like Dunsany. But I’m fascinated by how powerful nostalgia is, and how complicated, as a type of desire. This story was an attempt to turn Faerie nostalgia towards something different, and it got grim pretty quickly. Nostalgia usually presumes you can’t get the thing you’re pining for back. Mme. Delave’s nostalgia for the days of revolutionary possibility means she believes they’re gone for good.
LSQ: What was the most difficult aspect about this story to write and why? What inspired this idea? Have you written about fairy lore before?
Brittany: The most challenging aspect of this story was deciding how much of the reporter’s personal life I wanted to include. In the end, she ended up being pretty marginal so I could focus on Mme. Delave. As for inspiration, I’d just finished a novel by John Crowley, whose most famous book, Little, Big, is a revision of the “fading of faerie” myth.
LSQ: Are you currently working on other writing projects? If so, could you tell us about it?
Brittany: I’m working on a few short stories and revising a post-apocalyptic novella about a city where every year, a group of debaters have to convince god not to destroy humanity.