Issue 032 author interview: T. D. Walker and “All the Songs the Little Birds Sing”

Society. A woman’s place. A woman’s fight. We had the opportunity to interview T.D. Walker about her short story in Issue 032 titled “All the Songs the Little Birds Sing.” Please: go enjoy, then come back here and read what she has to say about women, society, and writing.

LSQ: Where did the idea for this story come from? Was there something in particular that inspired it or parts of it? 

T.D.: The original ideas for this story and a companion novella came from a couple sources. First I was thinking about the restrictions our state legislature has put on reproductive rights in recent years here in Texas. And second was a long ride in a tow truck. My car had broken down in bad weather, traffic had stalled, and the driver told me a few stories about jobs that had unnerved him. The latter made me think about how we’re affected by our work, how that shapes who we are, even if none of his stories have anything to do with Alice and her narratives.
LSQ: There seems to be an unspoken commentary on female gender roles — the work done by Alice, her coveralls, the dresses from Dani and Alice’s consideration of them, her fear of losing Desmond — can you speak to this?
T.D.: Alice keeps thinking about the idea of the middle ground. She’s not as feminine as Dani and the women who take more traditional women’s roles in this society are, or at least present themselves to be. She can’t be and keep her career. She’s not entirely comfortable in the masculine presentation of herself, either. Some of the backlash against progressive ideas about gender seems to take the form of reducing gender down to one set of possibilities. I’ve thought about how this restrictiveness would manifest itself, and how it would affect the lives of women who do want to live in the middle ground.
LSQ: The fact that Alice so strongly identifies herself as a runner, and yet she mentions a history of being a starver . . . What does this say about how she views her own body? What does being a runner really mean to her? 
T.D.: In the society of the story, the government has restricted access to family planning technologies and information. (Which goes back to my fears about state and national politics.) Since extreme exercise and extreme dieting are ways in which women can stop their menstrual cycles, and motherhood–especially single motherhood–would force Alice out of her education and then her career, she’s tried both. Running, for Alice, is a way of maintaining her life. But she’s also trying to run away, to escape from social restrictions.
LSQ: What is the most important thing you’d like readers to get from this story?
T.D.: Alice decides to fight. She decides to help Petra fight. While the story is dark–it has to be, given the subject matter–I hope readers are reminded to fight whatever injustices they encounter.
LSQ: What was the most challenging part of this story to write?
T.D.: The sections in which Genesis plays a role were emotionally hardest to write. What happens if that much basic science is stripped from the educational curriculum? As a parent, I fear what may happen to our public school system here and what has already happened. I do worry about how to best equip my children with knowledge, critical thinking skills, and the fortitude to challenge what assumptions and conclusions must be challenged.
LSQ: I love how each section starts with a brief description of a bird, with the time stamp as the day progresses, as well as the commentary at the start about how the birds’ habits are attenuated due to the unnatural lighting. Can you comment on significance of the birds in this story?
T.D.: The lights allow the government and corporations to watch the citizens quite closely. In a sense, Alice feels like the small birds flying into windows: she’s trying to escape into a space that isn’t there. And to me, birds are details that most people don’t pay attention to–perhaps because I grew up in a more rural suburb, I’m used to seeing them and distinguishing them. We have great flocks of grackles here, and I’ve heard so many times people exclaiming: “Look at all those ravens!” The same is true for politics. If we don’t pay attention to the details in what legislation our elected officials propose, we’re likely to make those kinds of mistakes.
LSQ: What are you reading currently? Does what you read influence whatever you are writing at the time? Who are some authors that inspire you?
T.D.: Recently, I read Cosmovore, by Kristi Carter, which I quite enjoyed. I’m also reading Sisters of Tomorrow, which is a wonderful reminder of the history of our field.
Perhaps one of the benefits of reaching midlife is that I find I’m less influenced by others’ voices as I once was. My voice and my subjects are solidified just enough to be mine, but not too much so that I’ve stopped trying to improve my writing. Years ago, I studied early 20th century British and American poetry, so every once in a while, I’ll step back and wonder if a line is a little too H.D., not enough mine. Reading Atwood and LeGuin a few years ago brought me to science fiction, and as I read more widely, I find many more voices if not influential then inspiring in how they challenge me.
LSQ: Do you have any other projects you’re working on at the moment and can you tell us a bit about them?
T.D.: I just submitted my first full-length poetry manuscript to a number of presses. Ordering the poems to make a coherent whole challenged my ideas about what narratives come from the poems themselves as well as the stories that come from their juxtaposition. And in January, after I finish up another project, I’m revising a novella that expands on Alice’s decision to stay and work against these social restrictions.