Issue 035 Author Interview: Rose Strickman and “The Ghol”

Did you know Issue 035 is still available? With 16 fantastic speculative fiction short stories by women authors? It is! Go take a peek, especially at Rose Strickman’s “The Ghol“, the topic of today’s author interview.

LSQ: In my admittedly quick Google search, I could not find a definition of “ghol”. Could you tell us a bit about this ghoulish creation? Is it a creature found in other tales or something of your imagination?

Rose: The idea of a “ghol” is taken from the general idea of a ghoul: a monster that comes back from the grave. I used this slightly different spelling for two reasons. One, I wanted to emphasize that this is another world, similar to ours, but not quite the same. (They have different monsters in this world–also, I imagine people’s attitude toward them would be a bit different if those monsters were actually real!) Second, I wanted to create the ghol myself: to build its character, behavior and motivations, free of any previously established fantasy or folklore traditions.

LSQ: The twist of a loving husband coming back as a thing of evil is an interesting spin — can you tell us a bit about how and why this story went in that direction?

Rose: The identity of the ghol revealed itself to me slowly: at first I wasn’t sure who or what this thing was or why it was tormenting Miranda and her family. That it was the husband–the idea of love twisted into a murderous force–dawned gradually. It seemed like the perfect metaphor for the human cost of war, and a pointless death. Also, it threw another twist into Miranda’s dilemma: the ghol isn’t just a faceless monster out to get her and her children, but the last remnant of the man she loved. Does she stay true to a dead husband or does she protect her living children? The story came down to that choice.

LSQ: The strength of a mother’s love and her desire to protect her children — this is really felt in the character of Miranda. What was it like to write her character? Where did you find inspiration for Miranda?

Rose: It was wonderful to write about Miranda. I really like her as a character: her strength, her vulnerability, her determination, her grief, her fierce love, and her desire to survive. Mothers and maternal figures are often portrayed in fantasy in one of three ways: dead, abusive, or useless. While there are reasons for this (imagine the Harry Potter series if Aunt Petunia had been a loving, protective surrogate mother who refused to expose Harry to the dangers of Hogwarts and fought to keep him safely away from the wizarding world), it does get old after a while. I don’t have children myself, but I’ve been fortunate enough to know many wonderful women in my life. I drew inspiration from them, and imagining how they would act in such a situation. Also, my favorite stories have always been those in which a woman saves herself or others, instead of waiting around to be rescued.

LSQ: The stress on the children is almost an unspoken character in the story, seen most via its effects on Violet. This is something many stories involving kids doesn’t adequately reach but you’ve captured it starkly in this piece. Can you comment on this?

Rose: Portraying the effect of the ghol on the children was both fun and harrowing. I was a pretty anxious kid growing up, checking for monsters in the closet and afraid of the dark, so it was easy to imagine how I would have felt at their age in such a situation. And with a monster creeping closer and closer over a long period of time and cutting the family off from the outside world, it would have been pretty unrealistic if the children hadn’t suffered extreme stress and fear. Kids are smart enough to know when their lives are in danger. Violet and Lily aren’t just props to the action; they’re full characters, and I wanted to portray that. Also, this is a major factor in Miranda’s final decision: her daughters are suffering terribly, and will die if she doesn’t take action.

LSQ: What was the hardest part of this story to write and why? What was the easiest? Where did the overall idea come from?

Rose: The hardest part to write might have been the setting: I wanted to demonstrate that this is an alternate, steampunk world experiencing the equivalent of the American Civil War without overdoing it. Also, the specific setting–an isolated farmhouse–didn’t make that easy! It was surprisingly difficult to portray the steampunk technology and the war when the household is both poverty-stricken and cut off from outside communication. I’m not sure if any part of writing is easy, but the story flowed organically. I could easily enter my characters’ psyches, and greatly enjoyed writing about Miranda’s final plan of attack and its effect on the ghol. Also, I enjoyed exploring the idea of ghols, and the reasons why they manifest and behave the way they do. There may be other stories to write in this universe . . .

As for where the idea came from, I originally wrote this story as a submission to a fantasy anthology, Sword and Sonnet. I got hooked on the idea of poetry as a weapon–specifically, written poems as opposed to spoken or sung. In what situation would written poetry be a useful defense? The rest of the story flowed from there. As it turned out, however, “The Ghol” wasn’t what the editors were looking for, so I’m glad it’s found a good home!

LSQ: Can you name a few other authors you draw inspiration from and why?

Rose: Whoa, so many choices! There are so many authors I admire and draw inspiration from, but if I have to pick a few, I’d say that Diana Wynne Jones has always been a major influence on my writing, with her fabulous fantasy settings inhabited by very human, fallible, sympathetic characters (young wizards who get lines for losing one of their nine lives, magical cats who steal the steak meant for dinner, dark lords hired as attractions in theme parks . . .). I also love what might be termed anthropological science fiction, as found in the works of Ursula K. Le Guin or Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent books: what if dragons were real, natural creatures? What if women outnumbered men sixteen to one? How would that change things? It’s amazing to see how altering just one thing can change an imagined society or ecology so completely, if the author applies both imagination and logic. I love the juxtaposition of fantasy and realism.

LSQ: Are you working on other projects at the moment? If so, could you tell us a bit about them?

Rose: I’m working on several projects at the moment, writing short stories for submission to various anthologies and magazines. Also, I’m working (very intermittently) on a novel set in a world I’ve visited before, where humans are born female and turn male around age forty (see my short story “Changeover” in the 2015 anthology Rejected if you want a foretaste). I’ve only just gotten back to this novel after six months’ hiatus, though, so we’ll have to see.