Dear readers! Welcome to Tuesday where we typically share behind-the-scenes interviews with the authors in our current issue. This week we chat with Janna Miller about her short story “Three Small Sacrifices.”
LSQ: The witch in your story lives a simple life, but is a complex person. Can you talk a bit about who she is and why she offers what she does, even if, in the case of the man, she doesn’t want to do it?
Janna: The witch, even though surrounded by potentially dark outcomes, is entirely neutral. She possesses knowledge and skill that could be considered both good and evil, though the path taken is entirely up to the asker. She passes no judgement. Curses or love potions could have the same impact, depending on who is being influenced. Death though, is a different barrier beyond the normal petty human desires and requires a much steeper personal price to break it. The witch knows about this particular arrangement intimately and is afraid that the man will regret the payment in time. Offering what he does opens him up to the same path as the witch, once there is nothing left to lose.
LSQ: The witch states that most people want love potions and curses, while the man wants a person he loved back from the dead. Can you speak about these wants? What does this say about the human race, our basic desires, and what we’re willing to pay for?
Janna: What the man wants is normally impossible–you can’t bring the dead back to life no matter how much you grieve. But what if there was a chance to make it real; what would you pay to make that happen? Even in the witches’ world, most would never even consider it, understanding the natural balance of the world. The man is different though, and without hesitation or even knowing what is expected of him, he agrees. Whatever the cost, he agrees.
Most people bargain a little of themselves to get by: a desire for money, for companionship, and for comfort. It’s not bad to want more for ourselves or our families, even though it is sometimes unknowingly at the cost of others. No-one worries too much if we covet our neighbor’s house, or keep the $20 we found on the ground. That is a normal acceptance.
There are a few though, whose hearts are so raw, there is no price too high for what they want, even actions potentially outside normal moral bounds. In the story, this sets both the man and the witch apart. They are kindred spirits in paying this price and realize that what they have done for love is far beyond what others would even consider, regardless if it was accepted to be right.
LSQ: What is your favorite part about this story? Where did the inspiration for the witch come from?
Janna: The end of this story, I think, is the most authentic, as it mirrors the messiness of real life. Even if we had access to magic, or spells, our stories could not be tied up perfectly – base wishes and desires are rarely neat. It is good to remember that sitting with our joy is important, even though it may not be in a form we expect.
The inspiration for the witch came from the book Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton. This collection of folk and fairy tales centered on African-American women during the 1800s, is unapologetically magical and historically telling. The characters in my story, as well as the setting, are strongly influenced by selections in this book.
The structured fairy tale aspect of this story is also purposeful here, though normally I like them to be more free-form. In this case, I thought the build to the end would benefit from the ritual of three tasks, each escalating in intensity. The violence also hearkens back to an older style of fairy tale, when telling stories was not necessarily to put children to sleep.
LSQ: Are you working on any other writing projects? If so, can you tell us about them?
Janna: I write a lot of short stories, some for contests and publications and some for myself. Most are some variety of science-fantasy or fairy tale. I really like happy endings, but I never seem to be able to write them! I am also currently editing the 2nd draft of an eco-science-fantasy novel called The Last Outpost. It is set in a valley in the Smoky Mountains where two caretakers have been charged with preserving a message that only one of them can remember. The valley, and more specifically, the land beneath, is doing its best to wake her up.