LSQ: I love that this story is framed as if the reader is an inhabitant of this universe and knows the stories about the legendary Leonardo. Do you think you’d ever turn these myth-like in-universe tales into stories of their own?
Katerini: I definitely have thought of that! Starting this story, I basically knew that I wanted it to feature a circus and that I wanted it to feel like it was a story you hear directly from the main character. Other than that, I kind of just found the details as I went along. In the future, I want to revisit this world and see how else I can explore it.
LSQ: Why do you think circuses fit so well into the sci-fi genre?
Katerini: Circuses are places where deviating from the norm is prized. They travel from place to place, interacting with many different groups of people and places. In addition to that, they also can incorporate interesting and stylized aesthetics. All of those things work well for science fiction, which to me is about exploring new worlds and ways of being. A lot of times in science fiction, those explorers tend to be scientists and military personnel, but circuses allow for that same sense of exploration but with artists and performers. Looking back at history, circuses have also been organizations that are rife with abuse and mistreatment, which can also allow a writer to explore the darker elements of sci-fi. I wanted to incorporate both of these elements into my story.
LSQ: We never actually see Leonardo’s circus play out, but the description of his children’s body modifications leave their acts up to our imagination. Why did you decide not to describe the actual performance?
Katerini: Going into the story, I knew that I wanted Fiona to get out before she had to perform again. With stories about real-life circuses, we often see really laudatory tales about circus proprietors that praise their showmanship and achievements, while the actual harm they caused to their performers is ignored. I think The Greatest Showman is a good example of completely ignoring the extreme racism and cruelty of P.T. Barnum to paint him as a lovable pioneer. In “Leonardo’s Children,” I wanted to center on someone that was harmed in order for the circus to take place, hopefully honoring those whose circus stories often go unheard. That’s why I didn’t want to include Fiona’s actual performance, because the story is about her escaping from that system.
LSQ: Who and what inspires your writing?
Katerini: “Leonardo’s Children” specifically started out as a sci-fi retelling of the Irish legend “The Children of Lyr” that took place in a circus. Earlier this year, I was living in Ireland and completely fell in love with Irish mythology. I knew that I wanted to write something with that as a foundation. The original legend has a pretty dark ending, and I was initially going to follow that bleak route. As I wrote the story, though, I realized I wanted it to have a much more hopeful ending than the original story, and I also wanted to add some of my own worldbuilding into it. Because of that, the story does not resemble its inspiration in the final draft, but I definitely used the myth as a starting off point. I grew up on Star Trek and Doctor Who, and I definitely feel like the optimistic nature of those stories influences my science fiction writing a lot. Mainly, my writing is inspired by history, real life stories of resilience and resistance, and myths, folk tales, and legends.