LSQ: In our climate-changing world, the danger in “Sirens” feels uncomfortably close. This uncomfortable topic is made even more so by the protagonists being children. What was your motivation behind this choice?
Britani: There are several reasons I made the protagonists children – I believe that children are the ones who ultimately are most affected by the dangers posed by climate change; they are the ones who will have to deal with the fallout of mankind’s effect on the environment, and that fallout is everyday becoming more of a reality. So, it was important for me to make the protagonists children in order to think through and expose climate change as a very real threat that will have very real consequences for mankind’s most vulnerable group. I also find there is something about child protagonists that everyone can relate to, which makes the danger in “Sirens” feel still closer. Everyone can relate to the feelings of loss, fear, and confusion Isaac and Denver experience throughout the story, and when you displace these intense emotions and hardships on to children, their impact and the impact of environmental disaster is felt still more intensely. At least, that’s the idea.
LSQ: I hope I’m not wrong in my reading of Denver being autistic. Was this a conscious choice, or did she come to you fully formed?
Britani: You aren’t wrong! It was a conscious choice to make Denver autistic, but she didn’t come to me “fully formed” per se. I definitely tried to do my research on autism when writing Denver, as I wanted to do her character and those with autism justice. I’m sure I still made some faux pas in the story, but I aimed to show the need the world has for individuals with disabilities and differences. With the current advances and strides being made in genetic engineering, and the conversations surrounding “cures” for genetic variations such as Downs Syndrome, it was important for me to show that the world needs differences and that we can all learn from each other. Denver needs Isaac, but Isaac also needs and learns from Denver. Without adults to tell Isaac that Denver is autistic, he doesn’t have or need a label for her; he calls her “weird,” but that same descriptor can be applied to most kids. Ultimately, Isaac accepts Denver despite and because of her differences.
LSQ: What was your favorite part about writing this story? What was the hardest part?
Britani: I enjoyed just about every aspect of writing this story, so I’m not sure I can say I had a favorite part. But, a particularly enjoyable part and one of the hardest parts was writing Denver. As I said, I wanted to do her justice and watched many interviews with individuals with autism and did a lot of research in making her character. I also found the scene with the adults particularly difficult – I found it somewhat difficult to inject the right amount of “drama” and “realism” into the scene to make it readable and not feel forced; action scenes are fun but not my usual cup of tea.
LSQ: Are there any writers who have influenced your work?
Britani: I’m sure a lot of writers have influenced my work – I believe that everyone I have ever read has probably had some sort of influence on what I write. But, I guess that’s kind of avoiding the question. I particularly enjoy reading George Saunders’ and Stephen King’s short stories. I also enjoy Karen Russell, although I can’t say exactly what aspects of their work have overtly influenced mine – perhaps they all include a speculative element in many of their stories, so thematically they have influenced me. I also have a soft spot for YA literature, like Suzanne Collins, which may also have encouraged me to use children protagonists. The writers I have learned the most about writing from however are those I know personally in the graduate English program at the University of Southern Mississippi. Because I’m a PhD Literature student, I don’t take creative writing workshops, so the conversations I have with Fiction PhDs about writing, the feedback I get from close writer friends on my work, and being able to read and give feedback on their writing has been the largest influence on my work thus far. I’m not sure that’s really the answer you were looking for, but there you go.