Our Issue 046 authors have been sharing their inspiration over the past few weeks, but we bet you’ll never guess how Nicole M. Wolverton got the idea for “Them Oranges“! Read on to find out:
LSQ: I just loved this, it goes from whimsical to so wonderfully dark in a flash. I love the hints of danger you seed in before we realize where things are going, like her being careful to bring a knife along. What gave you the idea for this story?
Nicole: The idea for “Them Oranges” started with me eating an orange while reading fairy tales (for a class that was NOT my creative writing class). I’ve never written fairy tales before–at least not in the way that sounds like a very classic fairy tale–but I thought it might be fun to try. I was downstairs at the house I share with my husband, noodling around with some ideas. My husband poked his head over the banister and asked if I wanted anything for dinner. I said no, because I was eating an orange, to which he replied, “You don’t even like oranges that much.” Elmer’s line about the oranges was born! After that, the rest of the story seemed obvious to me. Funny how that works.
I’ve never told my husband that he inspired a story in which the husband is killed in the end. Of course, it’s not the first time, and it likely won’t be the last. Not that I want to murder my husband (we’ve been happily married for about 20 years now), but he does tend to say things that immediately give me ideas for horror stories . . . which sounds creepy and awful, but I mean it in the best possible way. Perhaps a less premeditated murdery way to say it is that my husband is my unintentional muse.
LSQ: One has to wonder about the fathers in Lettie’s past. We learn about her mother and the mothers before her, and about their ends. Is it safe to suppose we know something about her male ancestors from Elmer’s end?
Nicole: I’ve always thought of the men who marry these monstrous Hanahan women as regular guys. Sweet guys, even, who are involved in town council or other leadership roles. Maybe some married into the family thinking it would save them come June 1. Maybe some just wanted to do what was right for the town. And maybe some were just awestruck by the Hanahan women. What none of them ever gave much thought to was their wives dying early and what might happen to them afterward. This story doesn’t go into that, but Lettie’s father would have died of grief after her mother passed. Everyone who marries a Hanahan woman does, but it’s perhaps not obvious because grief is specific to each person.
Elmer is most certainly just a nice, doting husband (although in my head he wasn’t FROM the town and didn’t know about Lettie’s secret . . . at least not yet). Elmer’s one of those awestruck types. He’s the kind of person who would have rubbed Lettie’s feet when she got back from running around the countryside doing her hunting . . . if she didn’t kill him and eat him at the end for the good of the town. Still, I suspect Elmer would have minded about his own death quite a bit more than what Lettie supposes–especially knowing that sacrificing a husband isn’t the norm. Still, maybe he got off easy considering he was destined to wither away from sorrow eventually.
LSQ: This story has such a lovely balance of utility and sacrifice and inherent understanding, if not entire approval, from the people around Lettie. It feels like a place where all sorts of skullduggery and subtle magic might be going on. Have you thought about expanding on this world, and if so, how?
Nicole: Keeping up the wonder of the town where Lettie and Elmer live in isn’t something I feel as though I could sustain for a longer piece–reality and the contemporary world would intrude too heavily. Sometimes I wonder if fairy tales tend to be shorter pieces in general for that reason. I did think a lot about who Lettie’s people are as I was writing “Them Oranges,” and I had scenarios mapped out that led up to her hunt on the day the story takes place. Interestingly, I’ve never written another piece that I felt was fairy tale-like in the same way this one is. My work tends to be a little darker, more menacing from the beginning. If I were to ever find myself in a place where it felt right to expand the world of “Them Oranges,” I would likely pick up with Lettie’s daughter, and the dynamics between them as the daughter is preparing to marry. It seems like it would be a fraught time for them, knowing what each of them knows–and in my head, Lettie’s daughter marries someone that she’s not entirely in love with because she’s worried that she might have to kill him and thinks it will be better if it’s not someone for whom she has a lot of feelings.