Issue 039 Author Interview: Linda Codega and “Tonghai”

Have you checked out our Issue 039 yet? What are you waiting for? Today we chat with one of our Issue 039 authors (and editors of the Quarterly!) Linda Codega about her story “Tonghai.”

LSQ: You take your readers on a trip navigating the Tonghai, with all its dangers and adventures of life at sea. Added to the danger is the world of toxic oceans. Tell us a bit more about the time and place you’ve set this story, since the Tonghai is, after all, one of the main characters.

Linda: This story is set in a speculative far-future Earth. I don’t think that the prospect of a fully aquatic Earth is scientifically possible, but I saw Water World at an early age and it made an impression. I imagined the Tonghai as a desert, wide-reaching and impossible to truly navigate from the landscape itself, an ever-changing and tumultuous environment caused by human hubris.

The setting is unfortunately hard to pin down. On one hand, any ocean can be the Tonghai, and on the other, this story is centered around Chinese mythology and space. The constellations and navigation that happens is a simplified and extravagant version of the South China Sea. I wanted to make sure that the descriptions of the entire world would be applicable to any ocean and tried to avoid using specific markers or species, opting for fauna that could have been from anywhere.

The Tonghai in this story is an ocean poisoned by all the causes of the environmental crises we find ourselves in. Fracking, oil, plastics, pollutants, and chemicals have combined into a gloopy, heavier-than-water, toxic sludge that is carried along by currents as the world turns. This is inspired by the ways in which the world often turns and adapts to correct itself, much like a living organism seeks to eject poison and infection.

LSQ: Do you have experience or an interest in open sea sailing? Jian proves more than adept on the Green Moon and your descriptions of both classic and futuristic boating make this story very rich and plausible, so that the reader feels she is alongside Jian the whole time. Where did you get your inspiration for the solar sails and other technologies onboard the Green Moon?

Linda: I have been a sailor almost my entire life, and have been on a handful of open sea voyages myself. My entire family has a keen interest in boats, sailing, fishing, and the ocean, so I grew up on the water and on deck. I’m lucky that I have the right kind of sailing experience to translate sailing-speak to a clear story! I love boats and it’s great to see that come through in my writing.

Much of the inspiration for the technology on the Green Moon comes from inventions and advancements that are either being tested or are considered speculative futures for sailing. Many long-distance boats are already outfitted with solar panels for the deck, so it was just another step to move the panes upward. I thought about what I would want on a long journey, and I thought about the ways in which one could sustainably survive on a boat with limited resources.

LSQ: Jian’s interactions with ocean life are fascinating — for example, the giant sea turtle and the nudibranches. What do her interactions with each of these animals tell us about her character? 

Linda: Jian is, at her core, a romantic. She believes in life, and in stories, and in the future. Her search for Clean Water and her interactions with the world around her can be read as naive, but I wanted to emphasize that she is deeply empathetic, caring, and hopeful. There are plenty of opportunities for her to give up, to take the easy way out, or to even stop caring altogether, but she survives.

I wanted a character who was built on hope, who saw herself reflected in the world around her. She is enchanted by the Earth, and she loves it dearly. Each interaction with the animals that survive alongside her is based on a deep love and respect for their resistance and strength. I really wanted to emphasize the duality of self-interest and empathy.

LSQ: It could be argued that the tellerites are the unknown in this story. Can you comment on this? At the end, has Jian found what she was looking for all along? Why or why not? 

Linda: I wanted to have something in the story that indicated either a secondary civilization or another world outside of the struggles of life on the Tonghai. I don’t have a clear idea about what the tellerites were made for, or who created them, but the core of it was that there is hope out there for a different life. I didn’t want to imply the presence of alien life in this story any more than I wanted to imply human survivors. The tellerites could be space stations created in the late 22nd century. They could be aliens. They could be satellites that simply dipped too low in orbit to revolve above the atmosphere. The takeaway from their presence is the idea that things could be different.

At the end, I don’t know if Jian found what she wanted or not. She thought she had found something different, and I don’t want to confirm an ending outside of what was written. I think that Jian has embarked on a new journey, even if she’s still on the Tonghai.

LSQ: What other writing projects are you working on right now?

Linda: I’m always working on a couple of short stories and I’m currently working on a larger novel with my best friend. I’ve become more interested recently in horror and fantasy, and I’m trying to find a way to bring those things together without being too corny, cliche, or reliant on exploitative horror tropes to make a point.

I’m also working on a few role-playing games and projects. I hope to have more to announce on this soon, but you can always follow my narrative games and adventures here, on my page!

Otherwise, that’s about it! Twitter is the best place to keep abreast of my writing, so give me a follow for nerd content, writing tweets, and sad lamentations at @_linfinn

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