We’re excited to share a chance we recently had chatting with Issue 035 author Alessia Galatini about her short story “Winter Flowers.” Go read her story then continue here to see what she has to say about it.
LSQ: There are countless re-tellings of the story of Persephone, as if people just can’t resist her. What is it that drew you to her?
Alessia: First of all, I’m a huge Greek mythology nerd. An entire section of my high school education was dedicated to learning the language of ancient Greece and its culture, which included countless legends with the most diverse themes. Much like other figures such as Troy’s Elena or Medea, stories about Persephone vary immensely according to who’s telling them. There is a big debate as to whether Hades kidnapped her or she fell in love with him willingly and how much choice did she actually have when it came to staying in the Underworld. Most re-tellings tend to favor the kidnapping or Zeus and Demeter making choices for her. But I’ve always liked to think of Persephone as a character with her own agency, both from a feminist standpoint and from a writer’s. She’s the daughter of Demeter, goddess of life and prosperity, and yet she falls in love with the God of Death. This gives her enormous complexity and internal conflict – it was very challenging but rewarding to explore this in writing. I think every young woman who’s coming of age and has to try and reconcile society’s expectations of what it means to be a ‘daughter’ or a ‘figure of fertility’ can, at some level, identify with Persephone’s refusal of her role and her struggle to create her own identity.
Philosophically as well, exploring how much life and death only have meaning because of each other ought to be intriguing for any writer. It’s a story from over a thousand years ago and yet it proved itself to be perfectly adaptable to events from not even half a century ago. That’s the beauty of ancient myth.
LSQ: The world changes immensely between the years in this story, but gods tend to stay the same. What was the most challenging aspect of writing about ageless beings?
Alessia: Making sure readers don’t get bored by the lack of change. Just kidding (maybe). Luckily short stories are a great medium for investigating characters who tend to remain the same – you have space to get inside their mind and know what makes them tick, but it’s short enough that as a writer I don’t grow tired of them and as a reader the story cuts away exactly when I think I’ve figured out what happens next.
In this case particularly, the characters’ lack of change was helpful thematically. Like you said, yes, the world changes immensely, and I purposefully chose world-changing events from a relatively recent past, but if you look at them through a god’s perspective, then humanity is ageless too. It doesn’t change. It goes from stages of thinking they can do better, to ages of destruction, some more devastating than others. A tricky part was the historical research and crafting the setting in a way that could significantly parallel the relationship between Persephone and Demeter at that stage as well as writing ancient characters in a way that could be both modern but also evoke the aura of respect goddesses like them should have.
LSQ: Unlike other stories about Persephone, “Winter Flowers” focuses heavily on Demeter. Why did you choose to use her as one of your narrators instead of, say, Hades?
Alessia: When I wrote the story, I was coincidentally learning about a lot of artists who had a mother-daughter relationship at the core of their work. The first was Louise Bourgeois, and particularly her most famous sculpture: a giant horrifying spider called ‘Maman’, about which she said:
“The Spider is an ode to my mother. (…) Like spiders, my mother was very clever. Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother.”
Bourgeois was always very open about how the death of her mother scarred her. She never would have gone into art if not to get over the trauma. So her choice to create something so apparently scary and terrifying and yet choose to give it a positive meaning left me baffled and curious to explore the subject more. At the same time I was reading Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber, where she retells many famous fairy tales in a way that often involves the heroine having to get rid of the mother/grandmother before accomplishing her task. In her youth, Angela ran away to Japan to escape her controlling mother and that complicated relationship influenced her writing.
Finally, I was also obsessed with Frida Kahlo’s painting “My Birth”, which explores the roles of mother, daughter, and woman through a horrifying depiction of a monstrous child being born in a pool of blood as the mother’s face is covered and a painting of an older woman hangs above them, staring at the scene. All of this made me crave to find a story that would allow me to explore an equally complex mother-daughter relationship and the theme of legacy. From there, I fell back on my love for Greek myth to find the perfect metaphor for it. From a writer’s standpoint as well, my best shot at developing Persephone’s character and her conflict would be to make her face her worst antagonist, hence her mother. Hades, in “Winter Flowers”, is more of a catalyst to push Persephone to explore another side of life, so he wouldn’t have been as helpful as Demeter.
LSQ: Are you working on other projects currently? If so, can you tell us a bit about them?
Alessia: I have a fantasy novel that’s been sitting on my desk for a good two years and is craving a re-write. The Greek influence is clear there as well – the main character’s name is Antigone and she lives in a world where humans are only characters in books. I’m focusing on screenwriting at the moment and developing an LGBT short called “Say Grace” – you can find out more about it at @saygracefilm on IG and FB. I’m also working on two TV pilots and a feature film script.