LSQ: The images of the drought, the struggling village, the livestock, the monk, the buffalo calf, and the mangoes are so vivid throughout your story. How did you conjure such strong sensory details? Have you written about Buddhist culture before?
Rachel: They say we read to escape, but I think we often write to escape as well. Part of the joy of writing this story was the research I did on Buddhism and Thailand–reading personal blogs, perusing photos online, essentially trying to transport myself there so I could portray the setting and characters accurately (though I’m sure I didn’t succeed 100%). I always start my research with nature, because that’s what interests me most: the climate and weather, the plants and animals, the relationship between the people and the land. These ideas were integral to this story in particular, where the people, livestock, crops, and drought are all tightly interconnected.
LSQ: Do you consider this a coming of age story? What do you see as the narrator’s purpose when she’s finished with her transformation at the end?
Rachel: Absolutely. Like most teens, Kanokwan is grappling with the joy and heartbreak of first love, taking on more responsibility at home, and worrying about her future. She is also searching for a purpose in life, which is something many of us (myself included) struggle with long after adolescence. She finds new purpose in caring for the buffalo, and after her transformation, her purpose becomes protecting the buffalo and the village. I love the idea that sometimes what we need most is to be needed by others.
LSQ: Deep reading of this story could conjure many types of symbolism hidden within. Do you have anything along this line you’d like the reader to focus on?
Rachel: I never intended to cram in so many symbols–water, mangoes, snakes, colors, just to name a few. Instead, they emerged naturally as the story progressed. What I love about symbols is how every reader interprets them differently based on their own unique worldview and experience. So I would say go into every story with an open mind, and let yourself discover as you read. Think about which symbols emerge and what they mean to you. If a story resonates with you, read it again–you’ll probably discover something new.
LSQ: What was the most challenging aspect of this story to write and why? What are you most proud of?
Rachel: I think the greatest challenge, and the thing I’m most proud of, was patience. I worked on this story for four years before it finally found a home at LSQ. I workshopped it with critique partners, submitted it to magazines, got rejections and feedback from editors, and revised, revised, revised. The process was slow but rewarding, because with each new draft I watched the story bloom a little more. The story’s various layers, its themes and images and symbols, needed that time and patience to grow.