Issue 037 is filled with 12 stories by women-identifying authors and is ready for your eyes! Today we get to pick the brain of Issue 037 author Jasmine Smith, about her story “Into the Flames.”
LSQ: Given the political intrigue as well as the literal funeral pyre in your story, can you speak to the meaning behind the title?
Jasmine: Usually, as I’m writing a story, my title changes drastically as I rewrite and dig deep into what the story is really about. But, I knew that flames were going to be a part of this title from the very beginning. I came up with the initial idea while sitting in my Shakespeare class discussing Julius Caesar and I had thoughts of love and betrayal and revenge running through my mind. That’s when I imagined the character that would become Laila standing in front of this massive fire and I knew that it was her lover’s funeral. So, the title has always just made sense to me, not only because of Jamila’s fate but also because Laila is jumping into the flames in a sense by seeking revenge for Jamila’s death.
LSQ: Can you talk a bit about the goddess Baast in your story? Is your world inspired by ancient Egypt in any way? What were your inspirations and influences for the culture you’ve created?
Jasmine: Growing up, I didn’t read a lot of fantasy stories with dark skinned characters who looked like me. They were mostly inspired by European history and filled with white princesses and my early writing reflected that. I didn’t write about black girls because I didn’t realize that we could be the protagonists of our own stories. It’s only been more recently with the push for more diversity in publishing that I’ve been able to see characters who look like me. So, I wrote a story where everyone is a person of color. Laila is a beautiful black girl with thick braids and dark skin. Her mother, Baast, is certainly inspired by the Egyptian goddess Bastet or Bast, but they’re not the same. Baast is the goddess of war and she is not a cat goddess at all.
LSQ: How nice and notable it is that Laila herself is a palace guard. Tell us a bit more about her character and why you gave her the profession she has.
Jasmine: Laila is the daughter of the goddess Baast and the Emperor of the Khenesian Empire. Before she works for Jamila, she is a soldier in her father’s army. War is in her blood, literally. Look at who her mother is. She is supposed to be able to protect her loved ones, so it makes the situation with Jamila that much more tragic.
LSQ: What was the most challenging part about this story to write, and why? What was the most enjoyable part?
Jasmine: The ending was both the most challenging and the most enjoyable part of writing this story. I am so grateful to the members of my fiction writing workshop. They gave me so much great feedback and I wouldn’t have ended up with the draft I did without them. The ending was such a struggle because at first I ended it too quickly. I wanted to wrap the story up with a pretty bow and a satisfying end, but I realized that wasn’t going to happen. Yes, the story is the end of Laila’s journey of revenge, but it’s certainly not the end of her grief and it’s not the end of her journey in life. So, I ended it the only way I knew how, which was allowing her the chance to finally grieve. To cry in her mother’s arms, the arms of an unyielding warrior goddess, who at the end of the day is just her mom. Writing an ending you’re happy with is the most satisfying feeling in the world.
LSQ: Do you know what the future holds for the citizens in this story? Will Laila ascend the throne? Why or why not?
Jasmine: I do know what the future holds for the people of el-Faiyum. I love this world so much. Laila is one of my favorite characters I’ve written and I definitely have more stories in my head waiting to be released into the world. So, I don’t want to say too much, but Laila is not going to ascend the throne. el-Faiyum will become the tenth territory in her father’s empire. She has two older brothers, as mentioned in the story, so she’s too far down in the line of succession to ascend any throne most likely. As the daughter of a goddess, she is one of the most influential people in her world, so there will be more adventures in store for her.
LSQ: Are you working on any other writing projects at the moment? If so, can you tell us about them?
Jasmine: I’m currently editing a draft of a young adult contemporary novel. It follows a sixteen-year-old girl as she navigates her first romance and the toll that it unexpectedly takes on the most important relationship in her life which is her relationship with her best friend. It also deals with mental health and is very near and dear to my heart.