Issue 036 Author Interview: Diana Hurlburt and “The Curse of Apollo”

Our latest issue of the Quarterly, Issue 036, has been out about a week — are you enjoying it as much as we are? Containing thirteen amazing speculative fiction short stories written by women authors, we are excited to share it with the world and even more excited when we get the chance to hang out with our authors. Diana Hurlburt’s story “The Curse of Apollo” is our featured story this issue and we jumped at the chance to share our conversation with her with you all. Enjoy!

LSQ: Am I correct in that this is a re-telling of a Greek myth? Or perhaps pieces of a few different myths? How did you come across this story and what inspired you to re-work it? 
Diana: Less a retelling and more a remix, I think. The horses of the sun appear in the story of Phaethon, which is one of hubris and destruction. I wanted to depict a triumphant journey, in part because I was also writing to a horse named Justify who had just smashed what the Thoroughbred racing world refers to as “the curse of Apollo.” Apollo and Artemis were always my favorites of the Greek pantheon, so twin horses seemed right for a story featuring their influence. Constellations are a major trope in Hellenic tales, with many heroes (and some less heroic characters) ending up literally among the stars. I especially wanted to create something that read like my favorite collection of myths for kids, by Bernard and Dorothy Evslin, which led to the unnamed narrator and their occasional asides, editorializing, and stock epithet-heavy storytelling style.
LSQ: Can you tell us a bit about your personal interest in Greek myths, their influence on your own writing career, and what you believe their importance is to the modern reader and writer? 
Diana: I was definitely the Greek Mythology Nerd as a kid. I read and reread Evslin and Hoopes, and the “Groovy Greeks” edition of Horrible Histories in elementary school, and then Graves, Ovid, Hamilton, and Bulfinch in high school. Some of my all-time favorite books are reworkings of Greek or Roman myth, including Goddess of Yesterday, The Pomegranate Seeds, and Lavinia, and the more recent Thessaly series. However, it wasn’t until this story (and another constellation neo-myth that may be forthcoming in the new year…) that I overtly tried to mine that literary bedrock for my own projects. I think it’s pretty common for future writers to latch onto a set of myths as young readers, whether that’s pre-Islamic Arabian tales or Arthuriana or Norse Eddas, and even when a genre or myth cycle seems to have saturated the market, there’s always a new angle for stories. The things that captivated us as kids are almost always rich and surprising fodder for adult creativity.
LSQ: Horses lend themselves naturally to writing I think, given their beauty, grace, athleticism, and relationship to humans. Do you have an interest in horses outside of this story? 
Diana: I was also the Weird Horse Girl as a kid! So this story is really the mirror of myself around age 11. In the past couple of years I’ve returned to horse enthusiasm, particularly the sport of racing, with which I had no familiarity but which rapidly overtook my writing to the point of obsession. I’ve found it rewarding to tell stories of horsewomen and racehorses in fantastic settings, drawing in part on books like The Firebrand and The Foretelling, both of which feature Amazons. Poseidon’s underwater stables of hippocampi and Scots kelpie stories led to my story “Eel and Bloom,” which was collected in the Equus anthology. Horses are endlessly inspiring and have influenced so many literary classics. I doubt that humans will ever stop telling stories about them. I certainly feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface!
LSQ: An undercurrent in this story is the fact that both the horses and Kharis are outcasts and underdogs in this great race, which makes them even more appealing to root for. What was it like to write these characters? What did you enjoy most? What was the most challenging? 
Diana: I was so delighted to see LSQ’s call for ‘crone’ stories of older female characters, because many of my favorite heroines are hard-knocking grandmas and spinsters (Pratchett’s Nanny & Granny come to mind, as do books by Elizabeths Bear and Moon, Jo Walton, Anne Tyler, Alice Hoffman, Gloria Naylor…). Kharis was fun to write. She’s old enough to be set in her ways and a sort of established Town Character, and I liked the idea of a leathery old Amazonian woman being chief of the village’s horses. The horses themselves I tried to make what racing people would call “interesting,” meaning impressive, talented, but maybe a little intractable or idiosyncratic. They’re young and untried, having never run against other horses, and Kharis is aged and experienced and a bit taken for granted by her village, so that dynamic was appealing. The major challenge was creating a blend of the modern Kentucky Derby and ancient festivals that didn’t feel too contrived or anachronistic. Happily, the historic Greeks were very into horse races of all kinds too!
LSQ: Can you give us an update on your other writing projects? 
Diana: I’ve got a story included in the upcoming edition of saw palm, which will be out in early 2019, and I’m hoping to have more info about aforementioned Neo-Myth #2 soon too. Recently I’ve had work appear in Memoir Mixtapes and have launched a newsletter devoted to talking about, you guessed, horse racing literature.